As a kid growing up in St. Louis, I remember watching Channel 11 for Professional Wrestling, Roller Derby and Three Stooges Marathons. While my TV tastes have improved (Weeds, Borgias, Californication, Jon Stewart), my appreciation for the strange and unique have not.
This steeplechase final was one strange final. In a final that pretended to be a 1,500 meter championship race (sleep, walk, fall, kick), this was one of the slowest in ages. But, the race was fascinating over the last three laps and the press conference, dear God, was one of the most amusing that I have ever witnessed ( I was watching it from the stadium).
Here is how I saw the race.
The race took off pretty slow (8:36 pace), as Don Cabral and Evan Jager, the two new US finds in the steeplechase took the lead. Behind them, Brimin KIpruto, the defending champ, Roba Gari of Ethiopia, Abel Mutai, the third Kenyan.
Brimin Kipruto, photo by PhotoRun.net
Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad of France is one of my favorite characters. This guy just got off a suspsension for kicking the living hell out of another French athlete (their 1,500m superstar), and also took the silver in last years Daegu race. He is big, a great hurdler, a can hip check, throw a punch or play power foward ( added that in).
So newbie to the Kenyan Steeple party, Abel Kiprop Mutai took the second kilometer and it was as mundane as the first! Hitting the 2,000 meters in 5:43.26, one knew this was about to get ugly. And it did.....
Don Cabral and Evan Jager had drifted back, but Jager, the new AR holder in 8:06.81 was looking good, but this was his first time in a global roller derby race, which is essentially what the steeplechase is in World or Olympic champs.
Don Cabral, photo by PhotoRun.net
Let's put it this way. Ever since Amos Biwott won the first steeple for Kenya 1968, Kenya has seen this race as a turf war. Biwott used to surge over the barriers, as he had been told that alligators lived in the water jumps, so one would just be not prudent (or have two feet anymore) if one landed in a water jump.
Seriously, if these guys did not win the steeple for Kenya, they were probably moving to Bahrain or Uganda (sorry, just had to do that).
Ezekiel Kemboi, with a new do he told us was in shape of gold medal (made him look like the singer from Eak a Mouse), was running well.
The pace really began to pick up with lap six. Mutai took the lead, and then Kemboi went off, charging to the lead. Mekhissi was in fifth, right behind Jager, as Brimin Kipruto fell, and went down hard, but got up and went after the field.
Evan Jager, AR in Herculis Monaco Meeting, 20 July,
photo by PhotoRun.net
By now, Ezekiel Kemboi was flying, with Abel Mutai in second, Roba Gari in third, Hammid Ezzine in fourth, Jager in fifth and Kipruto, who had moved up from dead last to seventh, in a half lap.
The sixth lap was run in 65, and seventh was going to be much faster. Ezekiel Kemboi, with 600 meters to go, just took off, guaranteeing a win for his country, Kenya.
Ezekiel Kemboi went on to win the race, in a slow 8:18.56. Like Daegu, Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad of France charged past fourth, past Mutai and into the silver position, running 8:19.03 for the silver. Abel Mutai, the third Kenyan, took the bronze in 8:19.73. Roba Gari just missed the bronze, running 8:20.00.
A heart broken Brimin Kipruto took fifth, running 8:23.03.
In sixth place, Evan Jager, in his seventh steeplechase, ran 8:23.87. Jager had competed well, and was in it until the last 300 meters. The change in paces looked like it got to him, and he could not kick over the last lap.
Ezzine Hamad of Morrocco, a veteran of many of these steeple battles, ran 8:24.90. Donald Cabral ran 8:25.91 for eighth.
The two American runners gave us two finalists in the steeplechase, and they performed well.
OH, and the victory celebration by Ezekiel Kemboi. Kemboi did his own version of Iggy Pop's stage show during his heyday. Kemboi's dance included a bit of gyrations and some pelvic thrusts. This was then followed by trading vests with Mekhassi and then Mekhassi virtually carrying Kemboi around a bit. Perhaps it was a new rite that steeple medalists have to do as part of their initiation into the great order of the steeplechaser (in case you wanted to know, I made that up).
Anyway, the press conference was a hoot, and I am tired, so that is it for the steeple!