This year’s World Championships in Athletics are ongoing and as usual, African (or Africa-born) runners win most if not all middle- and long distance events. But no other event is dominated by one country as is men’s 3000 metres steeplechase. It will almost certainly be won by a Kenyan (of Kalenjin ethnicity), and this year did not make any difference, in fact the four Kenyan participants filled the first four positions on the results table. Usually countries can send a maximum of three athletes per event, but defending champions will get an automatic entrance on top of that.
The winner this year was no one else than Ezekiel Kemboi, who won gold in fourth consecutive World Championships. No other athlete has managed the same in one event, although Usain Bolt has a good chance to achieve the same in 200 metres and relay events to be competed later this week. In addition, Kemboi got three silver medals in World Championships before his gold streak, meaning he has won a medal at every World Championships since 2003! That’s seven editions in total.
Kemboi has also won two Olympic gold medals, in 2004 and in 2012. He failed at the 2008 Olympics finishing only seventh, so winning World Championships at the same “Bird’s nest” stadium in Beijing was a sweet revenge. Brimin Kipruto who won Olympic Gold in 2008 was now left to third place. One can expect Kemboi will try to defend his Olympic gold in Rio next year, and maybe even World championships in 2017, despite age being not on his side (he is now 33 years old).
Amos Biwott won the first steeplechase gold for Kenya at the 1968 Olympics, and since then the event has been won by a Kenyan at every Olympics except in 1976 and 1980 as Kenya boycotted those games for political reasons. So a Kenyan has won men’s steeplechase gold at the Olympics eight consecutive times, since the 1984 Games in LA!
Kenyan runners participated the steeplechase event at first two World Championships editions in 1983 and 1987 but were somehow left out of medal positions. But in 1991 edition another steeplechase legend Moses Kiptanui won first of his three consecutive World Championships gold medals, followed by one silver medal. Kiptanui never won Olympic gold, but got silver in 1996, behind his little known training partner Joseph Keter. Kiptanui would have been a strong favourite at the 1992 Olympics, but failed at the ever tough Kenyan trials.
Since 1991 Kenya has won men’s steeplechase at World Championships every time except in 2003 and 2005, these events were won by Saif Saaeed Shaheen representing Qatar. He is, however, Kenyan born, and his native name is Stephen Cherono. He was one of many athletes Qatar controversially “bought” to improve its success in athletics. Shaheen would have probably won Olympic gold in 2004, but was not allowed to participate since he had competed for Qatar for less than three years and was not waived by Kenya. After the 2005 World Championships Shaheen’s career was hampered by injuries, otherwise his medal tally could be like that of Ezekiel Kemboi. According to IAAF statistics Shaheen has not competed since 2010, and has apparently retired, although in 2014 his manager said he is still training.
Despite all their success in steeplechase, one thing Kenya does not possess is the World Record. It is held now by Saif Saaeed Shaheen (who is Kenyan-born, though). Shaheen’s record time is 7:53.63 minutes and was set in 2004. Brimin Kipruto became incredibly close four years ago by running 7:53.64.
Ben Jiphco was the first Kenyan steeplechase World Record holder, setting the time 8:20.8 in 1973. He lost the record to Anders Gärderud two years later. Another two years (in 1978) and Kenyan Henry Rono improved the record to 8:05.4. This record lasted until 1989 when it was improved by Peter Koech. In 1995 Moses Kiptanui became the first steeplechaser to run under eight minutes (7:59.18). The record was then held by Kenyans Wilson Boit Kipketer and Bernard Barmasai, but Brahim Boulami of Morocco set a new world record in 2001 (time 7:55.28) and since then the record has been held by others nationals than Kenyans.
Women’s steeplechase was added to global calendar relatively recently, being competed at World Championships since 2005. It was only in 2013 when the event was won by a Kenyan, namely Milcah Chemos Cheywa. While Kenya has also produced good female steeplechasers, they are yet to meet the success of their male compatriots.