By David Monti, @d9monti
(c) 2022 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved
EUGENE, Oregon (July 18) —— The men’s steeplechase final was anything but fast. In windy conditions, nobody in the field had an interest in pushing the pace, and the first kilometer went out in only 2:57.4.
“I’ve never been in that kind of steeple,” said reigning USA champion Hillary Bor who finished eighth. He added: “Nobody expected this. It was a real surprise.” Read more: Men’s 3000m steeplechase full results; Soufiane El Bakkali gets gold – World Championships 2022
In the very first lap, the 15 starters had to avoid a wayward television camera operator who had been shooting the women’s triple jump and wandered into the track. Thankfully, nobody ran into him, but the pace was just deathly slow. Evan Jager, the 2016 Olympic silver medalist, didn’t like how the race was playing out.
“I probably would have fared better in a faster race, which I thought it could have been, but the wind was just crazy today,” Jager told reporters. “The race was even slower than I thought it would be which doesn’t really play to my strengths.”
Spain’s Sebastian Martos led the first two laps before Ethiopia’s Lamecha Girma took over. With four laps to go, Girma had Bor, Kenya’s Conseslus Kipruto, France’s Mehdi Belhadj, Jager, and Ethiopia’s Getnet Wale close behind him. Reigning Olympic champion Soufiane El Bakkali was farther back.
There was a lot of bumping and pushing because of the continued slow pace, just 5:52.5 through 2000m, and that set up a frantic last lap which played perfectly into El Bakkali’s hands.
The tall Moroccan was running third into the final water jump, but he shot out of the water pit to pass both Wale and Kipruto (the 2016 Olympic champion) and run away with the win in 8:25.13, the slowest winning time in championships history and the first gold medal for Morocco at a World Athletics Championships since Jaouad Gharib won the marathon in 2005.
Girma got second in 8:26.01 and Kipruto, who did not compete in the 2019 World Athletics Championships due to injury, got third in 8:27.92. The 27 year-old Kenyan was excited to meet El Bakkali again at the next World Athletics Championships in Budapest in 2023.
“I think, and I am very sure, next year I will be back I will fight with him and bring that gold home,” he said.
Jager, who spent the last four years overcoming injuries, finished sixth in 8:29.08. The 33 year-old appreciated the significance of his comeback, but had wanted more tonight. He said he had been training very well the last six weeks and could have run very well in a fast race.
“It’s been a long journey though,” he said. “After I have a few hours to kind of let the emotions wear off I’ll be very proud of myself, but I’m pretty disappointed now.”