Soufiane El Bakkali ends Kenya's steeplechase reign as Sifan Hassan bags first gold medal


One of the fun things about the Olympic Games is that our team of senior writers (Justin Lagat in Kenya, David Hunter in Ohio, Stuart Weir in Tokyo) write daily, almost daily, or more than daily to keep us updated on all the Olympic track goings-on.

Justin Lagat did this piece on the two distance finals on day 4, the men's steeplechase and the women's 5000m. In both races, athletes who had endured challenges came through, Soufianne El Bakkali won the steeplechase and Sifan Hassan won the 5000m.

Olympians yes, and Olympian efforts as well.

Thanks to Justin Lagat for helping us appreciate the never overnight success for athletes pursuing Olympic dreams.

soufinanne el bakkali .jpgSoufianne El Bakkali picked up a different color medal in Tokyo! photo by World Athletics

In another evening of thrilling action on track, the Netherlands, Kenya, and Morocco finally won their first athletic medals in Tokyo.

It was the fourth day of athletics in Tokyo and runners from the three nations were yet to win any medal. Stakes were especially higher for the Kenyan runners in action as they sought to defend titles that were won by their compatriots at the 2016 Rio Olympics, in both the men's 3000m steeplechase and the women's 5000m. The defending champions; Conseslus Kipruto for the steeplechase race and Vivian Cheruiyot for the 5000m race, were not part of the Kenyan national team to the Tokyo Olympics.

soufianne el bakkali .jpgSoufianne El Bakkali , he got the big one today! photo by World Athletics

The first of the highly anticipated finals of the evening was the men's 3000m steeplechase. It was almost obvious, given his recent performances and the experience he had against the rest of the field that the title was most likely to be going to Morocco's Soufiane El Bakkali, but Kenyan fans still had hopes that their winning tradition in this event was somehow not going to be broken.

Ryuji Muira of Japan took the initiative to open up the race when everyone else seemed to be unwilling to move to the front, crossing the first kilometer in 2:50.1 as he ran slightly ahead. The rest of the group caught up with him soon after that and the Ethiopian duo of Getnet Wale and Lamecha Girma controlled the better part of the remaining distance at the front.

Just after the bell, the trio of El Bakkali, Wale, and Girma broke away as Kenya's Benjamin Kigen followed and fought hard to close the gap. Kigen caught up with Wale with about 150m to go as Bakkali extended his lead at the front to win the race in 8:08.9. Girma followed to take second in 8:10.38 ahead of Kigen in 8:11.45. It was the first gold medal for Morocco at the games and the first medal for Kenya.

IMG_4373.jpgIn London 2017, Sifan Hassan was one of the contenders, in 2021, she looks at medals in 1,500m and 10,000m, having taken gold in the 5,000m, photo by Mike Deering/ The Shoe Addicts for RunBlogRun

The last stages of the women's 5000m final turned into the usual Ethiopian versus Kenyan affair as seven remained in contention in the leading pack going into the last lap. The only two runners not from the two countries were Ethiopian-born Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands and Kenyan-born Yasemin Can of Turkey.

Kenya's Hellen Obiri did much of the pacing in this race and Hassan would eventually produce a devastating kick to overtake her in the last 200m. Hassan won the race in 14:36.79 as Obiri followed her in 14:38.36 for second place and Ethiopia's Tsegay Gudaf coming in for third place in 14:38.87.

Hassan's quest to win three gold medals at the Games is well on course.

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