2013 Nike Pre Classic: Kenyan Stars Lead Stellar Steeplechase, release, note by Larry Eder

Ezekiel Kemboi, 2011 Nike Pre Classic, 
photo by PhotoRun.net

The steeplechase is one of the most challenging events in the middle distances. The successful steepler, or so it was thought, was a strong middle distance runner who could hurdle. Former Washington State coach, John Chaplin was fond of saying that one should take your 1:48 class 800 meter runner and put them in the steeple. In Kenya, they put some of their best middle distance runners into the steeple, and while their hurdling may be wanting, their running BETWEEN the hurdles made it tough on their competition. 

In 1968, Amos Biwott changed the steeplechase for good. Having been told that there might be crocodiles in the water pit, Biwott was ungainly over the barriers, but he used his speed to wear down the world record holder at the time (Kerry O'Brien of Australia) and the great George Young of the U.S. After that, the Kenyan dynasty in the steeplechase really began. With the exception of the 1976 Olympic Games, and 1980, one has see 1984 and since as the time the steeple has been owned by Kenya. 

Ezekiel Kemboi, the clown prince of the steeple, was the 2012 Olympic champion. Kemboi leads a stellar field in Eugene on June 1. Kemboi is an animal. He hurdles and races and stays out of trouble. Just how fast will they go? That is anyone's guess. Now that we have two very strong steeplers, in Evan Jager and Don Cabral, it will be fun to see how fast these two gentleman can run! 



            Eugene, Oregon - The two best steeplechasers of the modern era are of course from Kenya, home of every Olympic gold medalist for the past 28 years.  One is king of the Diamond League, having won all three previous titles, while the other has claimed the lion's share of major gold medals in recent memory.  Paul  Koech and Ezekiel Kemboi headline a stellar field at the Prefontaine Classic.

            The 39th Prefontaine Classic, to be held June 1 at historic Hayward Field, annually provides America's best fans with the world's best talent.  The Pre Classic is a member of the prestigious IAAF Diamond League, comprised of the 14 best meets around the globe.

           This year's men's steeplechase field will include all three Olympic medalists from London, as well as an incredible nine of the top 10 ranked runners in the world as rated by Track & Field News.

            Koech and Kemboi have dramatically different world-class resumes.  Koech is the only steeplechase Diamond League winner. Yet Koech owns only one major medal, the silver from the 2004 Olympics.  Meanwhile, Kemboi has seven major medals, including golds from the 2004 and 2012 Olympics as well as the 2009 and 2011 World Championships.  The two have battled a stunning 48 previous times in the steeple, with Kemboi owning a 28-20 edge.  The two oldest athletes in last year's T&FN steeple world rankings, Koech (No. 1) and Kemboi (No. 3) will be 31 when they race again at the Pre Classic.
            The youngest world-ranked steepler last year is also from Kenya, 18-year-old Conseslus Kipruto.  Kipruto won the 2012 World Junior Championships after taking gold at the 2011 World Youth Championships.  His best of 8:03.49 is the fastest ever by an 18-year-old, and he ranked No. 4 in the world last year by T&FN.

            Two more London medalists are in the loaded Pre Classic field.  Silver medalistMahiedine Benabbad of France and bronze medalist Abel Mutai of Kenya are set to make first-time appearances in the U.S.  Benabbad was also the Olympic silver medalist in 2008.  Mutai was ranked No. 5 in the world last year by T&FN, while Benabbad was No. 7.
            American record holder Evan Jager is an obvious bright spot for U.S. fans.  The Wisconsin graduate made his first commitment to running the event last year and shattered a 6-year-old U.S. record in only his fourth final ever.  Another American, Princeton grad Donn Cabral, won the NCAA title last year.  He was runner-up at the Olympic Trials at Hayward Field.  Former national champ Dan Huling also helps to bolster the American presence, having a best of 8:13.29.

            An experienced Ethiopian and yet more world-class Kenyans are  also confirmed in the Pre Classic field.  The Ethiopian is 31-year-old Roba Gari, who finished 4th in the  Olympics last year, moving up from a 5th in the 2011 World Championships.  He was runner-up at the 2009 Pre Classic.

            The remaining Kenyans are a great mix of talent.  Jairus Birech, just 20, was ranked No. 6 in the world last year.  Hillary Yego, now 21, was the 2009 World Youth Championships gold medalist.  Bernard Nganga is 28 and has a best 8:05.77. Even the pacesetter, Haron Lagat, a former collegian at Texas Tech, has run 8:15.80!

Men's 3000-Meter SteeplechasePersonal Best
Paul Koech (Kenya)7:54.31 
Ezekiel Kemboi (Kenya)7:55.76 
Abel Mutai (Kenya)8:01.67 
Madiedine Benabbad (France)8:02.09 
Jairus Birech (Kenya)8:03.43 
Conseslus Kipruto (Kenya)8:03.49 
Bernard Nganga (Kenya)8:05.88 
Roba Gari (Ethiopia)8:06.16 
Evan Jager (USA)8:06.81 
Hillary Kipsang Yego (Kenya)8:07.71 
Dan Huling (USA)8:13.29 
Haron Lagat (Kenya)8:15.80 
Donn Cabral (USA)8:19.14 

            Tickets for the 39th annual edition of the Prefontaine Classic, to be held May 31-June 1 at Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore., are available now from www.PreClassic.comand from 1-800-WEBFOOT.  Sponsored by NIKE continuously since 1984, the Prefontaine Classic will be shown live to an international audience and by NBC Sports from 1:30 till 3:00 p.m. PT on June 1st.

            The Prefontaine Classic is the longest-running outdoor invitational track and field meet in America and is part of the elite IAAF Diamond League of meets held worldwide annually.  Last year's Pre Classic presented the most 2012 Olympic gold medalists (20) of any invitational meet in the world.

            Steve Prefontaine is a legend in the sport of track & field and is perhaps the most inspirational distance runner in American history. He set a national high school 2-Mile record while at Coos Bay High School that lasted nearly two decades.  While competing for the University of Oregon, he won national cross country championships (3) and outdoor track 3-Mile/5000-meter championships (4) every time he competed, and never lost a collegiate race at any distance.  As a collegiate junior, he made the 1972 U.S. Olympic Team and nearly won an Olympic medal, finishing 4th in the 5K at the 1972 Munich Olympics, at age 22.  After finishing college in 1973 and preparing for a return to the Olympics in 1976, he continued to improve, setting many American records.  His life ended tragically on May 30, 1975, the result of an auto accident, at age 24.  The Pre Classic began soon after and has been held every year since.

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