Cheruiyot, Kemboi Back on top at IAAF World Champs: Order is restored, by David Monti, RRW, used with permission


Kemboi_EzekielQ1-Beijing15.JPGEzekial Kemboi, photo by

The men's steeplechase and women's 10,000 meters were events of great import and drama for American sports fans. Molly Huddle was supposed to medal in the 10,000 meters, and she looked like it, for 9,999 meters, raising her arms as Emily Infeld, running the race of her life nipped her at the line, and took the bronze medal. In the steeple, Ezekial Kemboi, who can get himself ready for a World Champs like no one else, took his fourth gold medal, with Evan Jager, poised for a medal run at the bell, falling back to sixth, being passed by a hard charging Dan Huling for fifth.

Vivian Cheruiyot, returning from having a baby, won the 10,000 meters over Gelete Burka, who had run a recent 10,000m at the Stanford Invitational this past spring. Here is a fine piece on those two races by David Monti of Race Results Weekly, which we use with permission.

By David Monti, @d9monti
(c) 2015 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved, used with permission.

BEIJING (24-Aug) -- Order was restored in the distance running world here tonight, when Kenya's Vivian Cheruiyot and Ezekiel Kemboi again won world titles at the 10,000m and 3000m steeplechase, respectively. Cheruiyot regained the title she won in 2011 before taking maternity leave, and Kemboi won his fourth straight world crown, leading a Kenyan sweep of the medals with an explosive sprint finish.

For the 31 year-old Cheruiyot, the 25-lap race played out perfectly. In the early laps, Japan's Rei Ohara and Yuka Takashima took turns at the front, leading the field through the first 5000m in a gentle 16:11.99. There were several half-hearted moves in the next few laps, but nobody wanted to take the pace.

"There were a lot of mind games," observed Sally Kipyego, the 2012 London Olympic 10,000m silver medalist, who would finish fifth.

The pace hovered in the 76 to 78-second per lap range through 8400 meters, when finally things got serious. American champion Molly Huddle dropped a 74-second lap to string out the field. She was followed by Ethiopia's Alemitu Heroye and Gelete Burka, Kipyego, and Cheruiyot. Huddle was frustrated by the early slow pace, but she didn't want to go too early.

"It was really slow and tactical and I thought it would be more of a two-mile, mile race down to the last lap," Huddle told the media after the race. "I just thought, everyone is in it, everyone."

Huddle stayed on the front for two more laps, squeezing down the pace to under 71 seconds for the penultimate circuit. She appeared to be in great position to medal.

"I knew I couldn't blow it in the first 200 (of the last lap) like I had done before," Huddle said. "I was waiting for people to come on my shoulder, and the two passed me I thought, just defend your position."

The two were Cheruiyot and Burka, who scooted away from Huddle with about 200m to go, then battled for the win down the homestretch at National Stadium. Despite her sub-3:59 1500m credentials, Burka could not match Cheruiyot's final sprint, and had to settle for second.

"You know, the lady from Ethiopia, Gelete Burka, is a little bit stronger with her kick because she used to be a 1500-meter runner," Cheruiyot told Race Results Weekly. She continued: "Everybody came here to win a medal. I just used all my strength to the finishing line. I used all my strength. I said I want to die in the finishing line."

At the line, Cheruiyot had about a half a second on Burka, winning her fifth overall world title (all surfaces and distances) in 31:41.31 to Burka's 31:41.77.

"I feel so great," Cheruiyot said. "I have to say I'm happy. Nothing else I can add because to come here and become the world champion again is not something easy. I want to thank God for everything."

Huddle was in bronze medal position as she sprinted behind the two Africans, but she was not aware that her USA teammate, Emily Infeld, was closing fast. Her elbows swinging vigorously, Infeld was using everything she had to catch Huddle.

"I was just trying to run through the line, give it everything I had," Infeld told reporters, wearing one red and one black shoe.

Just before the line, Huddle raised her hands to celebrate, slowing just slightly. But Infeld was still coming.

"I feel like I could medal, and I just ran through the line and I feel a little guilty because I feel like Molly let up a little," Infeld explained, showing genuine empathy for her teammate. "I don't think she realized how close I was."

By just 9/100ths of a second, Infeld pipped Huddle for the bronze. When she saw Infeld pass, Huddle's face fell with horror.

"That last half-step I just let up too much," Huddle said, speaking bravely to the media. "Emily was right there the whole time, with just more momentum and she got that bronze. This will take a long time to get over."

Infeld's medal was the first for Team USA in this discipline at the World Championships since Kara Goucher won bronze in 2007. Shalane Flanagan, who trains with Infeld under the Nike-sponsored Bowerman Track Club in Portland, Ore., won a bronze medal in the same stadium in 2008 at the Olympic Games. Finishing sixth, she was overjoyed for her teammate's success.

"I'm taking partial credit," Flanagan said, her left arm around the shoulder of the now-weeping Infeld. "We've been working on her running through the line. I beat her at nationals by just the same margin as Emily and Molly tonight. I was like, Emily, you have to work on closing."

In the steeplechase, Kemboi was content to go with the slow early pace --just 2:49.50 for the first kilometer-- then didn't overreact when his teammate, the #1-ranked Jairus Birech, put in a big surge with four laps to go. The race calmed down again, and when the bell sounded it was the American, Evan Jager who was in the lead.

"I definitely had a plan for the race," Jager would later explain. He continued: "Those guys? They're just so freaking tough over the last lap, running extremely fast over those barriers."

The four Kenyans --Birech, Kemboi, Conseslus Kipruto, and Brimin Kipruto-- whooshed over the final water jump like a freight train, ensuring a Kenyan medal sweep. Kemboi, who isn't a big factor in the paced races of the IAAF Diamond League, showed his superiority as a championships racer, blasting over the final barrier to beat Conseslus Kipruto by over a second, 8:11.28 to 8:12.38. Brimin Kipruto got third, leaving Birech as the odd man out.

"I'm so happy about my fourth consecutive world title," Kemboi told IAAF flash interviewers. "It was a strong race. We maintained the pace, but I never went in front, only on the last 400 meters. I would like to thank the fans here in Beijing; they have been cheering for us all night."

Jager would end up sixth, eclipsed by his own training partner, Dan Huling, who got fifth.

"I wanted to run for sixth or seventh," Huling told reporters. "That gave me an opportunity to pick up some guys."

Since Kemboi first won in Osaka in 2007, men from Kenya have won 12 of the 15 steeplechase medals given at IAAF World Championships. In reality, their domination stretches back even farther.

"There's a reason that these guys, the Kenyans, have won every single world championships they have competed in," Jager said, including the victories by the Kenyan-born Qatari Saif Saaeed Shaheen in 2003 and 2005. "It's really tough."

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