It will be a do-or-die battle in men’s 3,000m steeplechase heats at the 18th World Athletics Championships that start at Hayward Field inside University of Oregon in Eugene, USA, tomorrow morning.
But it would turn out into a two-man showdown for the title between Morocco’s Olympic champion Soufiane El Bakkali and Ethiopia’s silver medallist Lamecha Girmaif if their form in the Diamond League meetings is anything to go by.
Athletics fans know there’s a world of difference between those paced races and the cagey, cat-and-mouse affairs that tend to unfold in major championship finals.
The fate of the medals in the men’s steeplechase could hinge on what tactics are employed. If it’s an eight-minute final, or slightly below that, then it will come as a huge shock if it’s not – as it was at the Tokyo Olympics – Girma and El Bakkali duking it out for gold.
But the slower the race goes, the more they would be at risk from a pair of big kickers from Kenya: Conseslus Kipruto and Benjamin Kigen.
Since 1991, and the first of Moses Kiptanui’s three world titles, Kenya has won 13 of the 15 men’s steeplechase gold medals, the two exceptions being 2003 and 2005, when Saif Saaeed Shaheen – a Kenyan-born athlete running for Qatar – claimed gold.
He’ll be joined in Eugene by Kigen and compatriots Leonard Bett and Abraham Kibiwott. Kibiwott is the quickest of that trio this year, clocking 8:06.73 to finish second in Rome, but Kigen – the Olympic bronze medallist in Tokyo – is the best kicker and would be highly dangerous in a slow race.
Meanwhile, Rio 2016 Olympic silver medallist Julius Yego has 80.62m as his best throw this season.
He now has a mountain to climb as he takes the likes of Anderson Peters, who heads to the World Athletics Championships, who is a stand-out contender for gold.