Takele Nigate wins the 3000m steeplechase at the IAAF World U20 Championships Tampere 2018 (© Getty Images)
For the first time since these championships' inauguration in 1986, the winner of the men's steeplechase is not from Kenya.
Then, it was Spaniard Juan Azkueta who took a confortable one-second victory over a Kenyan rival, but here it took a fierce homestretch battle between Takele Nigate of Ethiopia and Kenyan Leonard Bett before the Ethiopian would wrestle away Kenya's reign in the event after 15 consecutive editions.
"This is my first international competition and I'm very happy," said the unheralded 18-year-old who arrived in Tampere with a modest 8:35.53 season's best. "My plan was to kick with 100 metres to go. I was pleased to snatch the gold medal in the final second."
He executed that plan to the proverbial 'T', making his move for the lead and the win off the final hurdle. But he was close to the front from the outset, shadowing early leaders Bett and Ugandan Albert Chemutai, an 18-year-old who is already a regular fixture on the IAAF Diamond League circuit.
Bett did most of that early leading, heading a quartet that also included the second Ethiopian Getnet Wale, who took to the front at the bell, with Chemutai, Bett and Nigate following, nearly single file.
Bett was the first to attack over the final lap, trying to secure the lead with just over 200 metres to go but Wale held him off as the four headed towards the water jump for the final time.
But the order didn't shift much until the final barrier, where Nigate made his decisive move to take command. But Bett fought on, leaving the pair entangled in a stride-for-fight scuffle over the final 50 metres. The battle wasn't over until the two dipped at the line with Nigate prevailing in 8:25.35, just 0.04 ahead of the Kenyan, surprisingly his country’s only entrant in the event this year.
"I'm very happy with the silver medal but my main goal was to win the race," said the 17-year-old Bett, who took the World U18 title in the 2000m version of this event in Nairobi last year. "These championships along with last year's championships have given me a lot of confidence for the future."
But he was also keenly aware of the magnitude of Nigate's victory.
"I'm a bit bitter than the event normally dominated by the Kenyans went to Ethiopia," Bett said.
Wale took bronze in 8:26.16, equalling his finish from two years ago. He now accounts for half off the medals Ethiopia has won in the event at the U20 championships.
Rounding out the final four was Chemutai who clocked 8:28.63. Such was their dominance that the next finisher, Takumi Yoshida of Japan, didn't reach the line until more than 22 seconds later.
Bob Ramsak for the IAAF