Conseslus Kipruto wins the 3000m steeplechase at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games (© Getty Images)
Conseslus Kipruto ran an Olympic record of 8:03.28 to win Kenya’s ninth consecutive gold medal in the men’s 3000m steeplechase.
Silver went to USA’s Evan Jager in 8:04.28, also under the old Olympic record of 8:05.51, with defending champion Ezekiel Kemboi taking the bronze in 8:08.47.
Kipruto’s victory extended a streak which has seen Kenya win every Olympic final they’ve entered beginning in 1968, broken only by boycotts in 1976 and 1980. The past three, in particular, went to Kemboi (2004 and 2012) and teammate Brimin Kipruto (2008), seventh here in 8:18.79.
The race was run in hot and mostly windless conditions just before noon, with the track thermometer showing 36C.
Kipruto took the pace out from the beginning, with Jager on his heels, and passed the first kilometre in 2:41.64, already on pace for the record. The pair opened a small gap on the field which would ultimately prove difficult for the pursuers to bridge.
Jager took over the lead midway through the second kilometre, and led Kipruto through 2000m in 5:25.82.
Just before that split, USA’s Hillary Bor moved to the front of the chasing pack, prompting Kemboi to move past him and bridge the gap to Kipruto and Jager, finally acknowledging that this race was being dictated from the front and that he needed to cover the breaks.
As the trio approached the penultimate water jump, Kemboi moved up to Jager’s shoulder, signalling the beginning of real racing. Kipruto, however, hadn’t needed to make the effort of coming up to the front, and when he made his big move at the bell he had more to spare than Kemboi.
Kemboi chased Kipruto down the backstretch, but Jager wasn’t dropped. As Kipruto pulled away on the backstretch and opened a gap which wouldn’t be closed, Jager closed on Kemboi.
Kipruto waltzed down the homestretch, acknowledging the crowd as he came off the bend for the final time.
"I knew nobody was going to catch me, so I started celebrating," said Kipruto. "I was so happy because I knew I was going to win the gold in the last 200 metres.
"He (Kemboi) told me he was going to win. Kemboi usually destroys somebody's mind, but I told him 'let the track show who is to be the king'," added the gold medallist.
Jager gets memorable silver
The 2011 world U18 and 2012 world U20 champion, who took silver medals behind Kemboi at the past two World Championships, assured himself a safe clearance of the final barrier and then allowed a well-earned additional celebration. The youngest of the Kenyan trio, Kipruto dealt Kemboi his first championship loss since 2008. He covered the last lap in 1:00.20.
Meanwhile, Jager chased Kemboi through the final water hazard around the last bend and overtook him at the top of the homestretch.
Remarkably, especially considering the ease with which he captured the Olympic record, Kipruto hasn't yet gone under the eight-minute barrier for the event, his best being 8:00.12 when winning at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Birmingham earlier this summer.
However, speaking to Kenyan media before the Games, Kipruto promised a full-on world record attempt at an end-of-season meeting if he won the gold medal in Rio, probably at an IAAF Diamond League meeting in the coming weeks. He is already as good as assured of winning the Diamond Race so will have no other distractions if he chooses to take a tilt at Saif Saaeed Shaheen's 12-year-old mark of 7:53.63.
The defending champion, who has won gold or silver at all but one major championship since 2003, slowed almost to a gentle jog from 50 metres out but crossed the line in third place. A protest was presented by the French team, claiming that Kemboi had stepped outside the track on the curve after clearing the water jump.
France’s Mahiedine Mekhissi, silver medallist at the past two Olympics, was then awarded the bronze medal, having crossed the line in 8:11.52.
Before learning of his disqualification, Kemboi declared that this race would be his last.
"This is my fourth Olympics and I just want to say that I am retiring from athletics," said the four-time world champion. "Sometimes you just need to make a decision and I have come to the conclusion that today is my last event."
Jager’s silver represents the USA’s first men’s steeplechase medal since 1984 and their first better than bronze since FBI agent Horace Ashenfelter memorably won the gold medal in 1952.
Parker Morse for the IAAF