In contrast to Beijing in 2015 when Kenyan athletes won all three heats en route to sweeping the medals, the east African nation did not enjoy the smoothest of starts to its 3000m steeplechase campaign at the IAAF World Championships London 2017.
Only one of the Kenan quartet – Olympic champion Conseslus Kipruto – made it through to the final in an automatic qualifying spot.
Kipruto looked strong on the final lap as he came through to win the third heat in 8:23.80, dismissing any uncertainty about his fitness after he dropped out of last month's race at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Lausanne because of a painful ankle. Having taken silver in 2015, the 22-year-old will be hoping to upgrade to gold in Tuesday evening's final and maintain his country’s dominance in an event they have won at 11 of the 15 editions of the IAAF World Championships.
Another of the favourites – Olympic silver medallist Evan Jager – got his World Championships campaign off to a good start, winning the second heat in 8:20.36. As the fastest athlete in the world in 2017, the 28-year-old will be bidding to become the first US steeplechaser to collect a World Championships medal in Monday's final.
Eritrea's world U20 silver medallist Yemane Haileselassie led the second heat through 1000m in 2:50.23 from Morocco's Hicham Sigueni, with Jager looking strong in third. Defending champion Ezekiel Kemboi of Kenya was still well back with four laps to go, as the pack bunched together through 2000m in 5:39.86. With 800m to go, Ethiopia's Tafese Seboka led from Jager, Kemboi, France's 2014 European champion Yoann Kowal and 17-year-old Ugandan Albert Chemutai.
As Jager pushed on at the bell, Kowal was the first to go with him. Seboka ultimately came through late to snatch second, but the Frenchman just held on for the third automatic qualifying spot, despite the fast-finishing Kemboi, whose 8:20.61 saw him through to the final as the fastest non-automatic qualifier. Chemutai was rewarded in fifth with a lifetime best of 8:23.18 and a place in the final.
The first heat had seen another Kenyan – two-time Diamond Trophy winner Jairus Birech – only make the final in a non-automatic qualifying spot in fifth (8:23.84), as he was run out of the top three on the final lap after falling at the penultimate water jump.
Morocco's Soufiane Elbakkali – the third fastest in the world this year behind Jager and Kipruto – won the first heat in 8:22.60 from three-time Olympic medallist and twice world medallist Mahiedine Mekhissi of France and Ethiopian Getnet Wale. Bilal Tabti of Algeria and Jacob Araptany from Uganda also bagged non-automatic qualifying spots alongside Birech, placing fourth and sixth respectively.
Behind Kipruto in heat three, USA's Stanley Kibenei took second in 8:24.19, while Canada's Matthew Hughes was rewarded for pushing the pace on the closing few laps by holding on for the third automatic qualifying spot in 8:24.79, just over half a second ahead of Ethiopia's Tesfaye Deriba (8:25.33), who secured his place in the final as a non-automatic qualifier in fourth.
Kenya's 2007 gold medallist Brimin Kipruto failed to make the final after finishing only seventh in heat three.
Emily Moss for the IAAF