Steeplechasers face huge barriers as they hurdle to Olympics glory

Kenya's Beatrice Chepkoech celebrates after winning in the Women's 3000m Steeplechase final at the 2019 IAAF Athletics World Championships at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha on September 30, 2019. (AFP)

The writing is on the wall. In less than 40 days, Kenya’s men and women’s 3000m steeplechase team face an uphill task at the Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan.

For the men’s team, it remains a riddle as to whether they stretch Kenyan dominance in the race that started way back at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City where Amos Biwott wore the crown –a record 11 titles so far. Kipchoge Keino became the second Kenyan to win gold in the race at the 1972 Olympics in Munich.

The nation basks on wins in nine editions including 1-2-3 sweeps in 1992 Barcelona and 2004 Athens Olympics.

Ezekiel Kemboi and Volmari Iso-Hollo of Finland are the only two-time Olympic champions. Kemboi won in Athens (2004) and London (2012) while Iso-Hollo won back-to-back titles in Los Angeles (1932) and Berlin in 1936.

But there has been an invasion from Ethiopia, France and USA in the last few years.

In 2019, Olympic champion Conseslus Kipruto won by the thickness of his vest against then Ethiopian teenager Lamecha Girma.

Former world silver medallist Soufiane El Bakkali of Morocco and reigning Diamond League trophy winner Getnet Wale of Ethiopia have also posed serious threats. Kenya’s winning margin has been narrowed over the years and the East African nation no longer breath with ease.

At the national trials next week, Conseslus will battle reigning Africa champion Benjamin Kigen and Commonwealth Games silver medallist Abraham Kibiwott. World under-20 silver medallist Leonard Bett, Lawrence Kemboi, Nicholas Bett, Barnabas Kipyego and Amos Kirui are also in the mix.

Kigen, who finished sixth at the 2019 Doha worlds in 3000m steeplechase, ruled out Ethiopian threat in the water and barriers race.

Kenya's Conseslus Kipruto crosses the finish line in front of Kenya's Abraham Kibiwott during the athletics men's 3000m steeplechase final during the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games at the Carrara Stadium on the Gold Coast on April 13, 2018. [AFP PHOTO]

Kigen, who is the reigning African Games champion, said: “Kenyans should not worry at all. Indoor and outdoor events are quite different. But let me assure you that we will beat them.”

Since the women’s 3,000m steeplechase was introduced at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, no Kenyan has won gold save for Kenyan-born Ruth Jebet, who ran away with the title at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

But Beatrice Chepkoech, the world 3000m steeplechase champion and record holder over the distance, has vowed to kill two birds with one stone this season: win an Olympic gold and lower her all-time mark.

But she has a mountain to climb against Emma Coburn and Courtney Frerichs at the Olympic Games.


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