Getnet Wale and Soufiane El Bakkali in the steeplechase at the IAAF World Championships (© AFP / Getty Images)
The men’s steeplechase could be one of the most wide-open track events at the IAAF World Athletics Championships Doha 2019.
Soufiane El Bakkali won at three IAAF Diamond League meetings but was beaten to the African Games title by Benjamin Kigen. Both El Bakkali and Kigen were then defeated by Ethiopian teenager Getnet Wale at the IAAF Diamond League final.
The fuller head-to-head records among the trio doesn’t clear up much either. Wale leads El Bakkali, 3-1 this year, El Bakkali has the edge over Kigen at 4-2, but Kigen tops Wale at 3-2. There have been three races this year featuring all three of these athletes – Monaco, Rabat and Brussels – and they resulted in one win apiece.
If experience counts for anything, though, it might give El Bakkali the edge. The Moroccan claimed silver in London two years ago and was fourth at the 2016 Olympic Games. He is also the only man in the field to have bettered eight minutes for the discipline.
For someone so young, Wale also has considerable experience. He has taken bronze medals at the past two editions of the World U20 Championships. He finished ninth at the 2017 World Championships just three weeks after his 17th birthday and took bronze at the African Championships last year. In Doha he could become Ethiopia’s first medallist in the men’s steeplechase at the World Championships.
Kigen is still a relative newcomer to the discipline but has established himself as one of the best steeplechasers in the world and recently won the African Games title. Kenya has won 12 of the 16 world titles up until now and Kigen is the country’s best hope of adding to that tally in Doha.
In a year with no single dominant force, Conseslus Kipruto may fancy his chances of retaining his title. The Olympic gold medallist missed most of the season through injury and only made his season track debut at the end of August, placing fifth at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Paris in 8:13.75.
He withdrew from the African Games just two days later, not too surprising given the quick turnaround, and came close to his season’s best with 8:14.53 in Brussels earlier this month. If his health has continued to improve since then, he could feature in the medal hunt.
European silver medallist Fernando Carro made a big step up in July when clocking a Spanish record of 8:05.69 in Monaco to finish close behind El Bakkali, Kigen and Wale. He was some way off the pace in his latest IAAF Diamond League appearance, though, placing eighth in Brussels.
Chala Beyo and Lamecha Girma add further strength to Ethiopia’s medal ambitions, while Abraham Kibiwot and Leonard Bett make up the other half of the Kenyan quartet.
Other men expecting to feature in the final include US champion Hillary Bor, Canada’s three-time world finalist Matt Hughes and French champion Djilali Bedrani.
Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF