Year in review: Kenya’s new steeplechase era?

World Athletics Championships - Men's 3000 Metres Steeplechase Final - London Stadium, London, Britain – August 8, 2017. Conseslus Kipruto of Kenya wins the final. REUTERS

Hyvin Kiyeng lost title to Emma Coburn of USA

The season that Americans won more medals than Kenya in the water and barriers race in history.

The men’s 3,000 steeplechase has no doubt remained as Kenya’s number one track speciality –often billed as ‘Made in Kenya for Kenyans’.

But there has been on a sliding trend despite basking in three podium sweeps at worlds from 1997, 2007 and 2015 when Ezekiel Kemboi orchestrated the historic 1-2-3-4 sweep in Beijing.

On paper, they fielded another formidable major championships team in London: four from the world all-time top 12 with 8:00.12 as the slowest personal best of the quartet.

But in lead-up to London, Kenyans didn’t dominate as much as they had done previously. Conseslus Kipruto won at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Rome, but only just from Morocco’s vastly improved Soufiane El Bakkali. Afterwards a foot injury started to hamper Kipruto who did not finish in Rabat where El Bakkali won in impressive fashion.

In Monaco, the final tune-up before London, USA’s Evan Jager won in a world-leading 8:01.29, more than six seconds ahead of number two Kenyan Jairus Birech. Kenya clearly needed Kipruto to return to top form in order for the east African nation to keep their golden championship streak alive.

But America won more steeplechase medals than Kenya at the 2017 World Championships.

Jager, whose victory in the IAAF Diamond League in Monaco in 8:01.29 is the fastest time this season complicated the Kenyan equation as he settled for bronze in London.

Kenya also lost women’s 3,000m steeplechase title to America’s Emma Coburn, the Olympic bronze medalist while her team mate Courtney Frerichs settled for silver leaving defending champion Hyvin Kiyeng to contend with bronze.

In women’s 5,000m, didn’t take long for Olympic silver medalist Hellen Obiri to set out her stall in 2017. After setting Kenyan indoor 3000m records of 8:29.46 in Karlsruhe and 8:29.41 in Birmingham, her first international 5000m race of the outdoor season propelled her to a new level.

Obiri ran a 14:22.47 personal best to win at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Shanghai in May and followed it with a 14:18.37 national record and world leader in her next race in Rome in June.

She was undefeated at 5000m throughout the season and was in a class of her own at the IAAF World Championships in London.

It was a quiet year in the 5000m as the numbers of sub-13:00 races (one) and of sub-13:00 runners (three) were the lowest since 1994. Compare that to just five years ago when there were five races and 16 runners at that level. One factor was that super-power Kenya had an off year. In 2012 there were 17 Kenyans with season’s bests of 13:10.

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