There is a reason why Conseslus Kipruto has won as many championship medals as he has done: he simply knows how and when to perform.
Before heading to the IAAF World Athletics Championships Doha 2019, the defending champion had raced just four times this year. He failed to finish two of those races and had finished fifth in Paris and seventh in Lausanne.
The likes of world silver medallist Soufiane El Bakkali of Morocco, Diamond League winner Getnet Wale of Ethiopia and Kenyan champion Benjamin Kigen appeared to be the in-form athletes throughout the season and they all navigated their way through to the final without much fuss.
As was the case in the men’s 5000m final a few days prior, the Ethiopian entrants appeared to work together as a team. Chala Beyo led for the first two laps, then Wale took a turn at the front as he led the field through 1000m in 2:39.55 with Kipruto tucked close behind.
Ethiopian teenager Lamecha Girma led the pack through the second kilometre, the pace dropping only slightly with 5:22.95 on the clock, putting them on course for a finishing time just outside eight minutes. Girma had Wale, Kipruto, Abraham Kibiwot and El Bakkali for company, all of them looking comfortable.
At the bell, with 7:02.65 on the clock, El Bakkali moved past Wale into pole position but his lead only lasted the length of the back straight. Girma kicked to the front with 200 metres remaining as El Bakkali started to grimace. Kipruto then moved past the Moroccan into second place and in pursuit of Girma, the possibility of retaining his title now a distinct possibility.
The two men flew over the final barrier with Girma still managing to hold a slight advantage over the Olympic champion, but Kipruto was gaining on the young Ethiopian with every step. They crossed the line almost in unison, both unsure of the outcome as they waited nervously for the times to come up on the screen.
Finally it was confirmed: Kipruto had successfully defended his title in 8:01.35, the third-fastest time of his career and the second-fastest winning time in World Championships history. He now joins Moses Kiptanui, Saif Saaeed Shaheen and Ezekiel Kemboi as multiple steeplechase gold medallists at the World Championships.
Girma, who is still an U20 athlete, took the silver medal in an Ethiopian senior record of 8:01.36, just 0.01 behind the winner, making it by far the closest ever finish in the steeplechase at the World Championships.
El Bakkali held on for bronze in 8:03.76, finishing comfortably ahead of Wale, who set a PB of 8:05.21, and France’s Djilali Bedrani, whose 8:05.23 PB takes him to fourth on the European all-time list.
“The Ethiopians had a plan before we started the race,” said Kipruto. “I had a plan for us Kenyans to push hard and I wanted to go in front to control the pace but it was not possible. Those guys, Girma and Wale, simply destroyed my tactics.
“But at championships, I always believe that that experience counts for a lot; it’s not about shape. I set my mind and my heart very well. When I got to the start line, I told myself, ‘I’m going to do it’. This strong mentality helped me win the race.”
Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF