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Jepkemoi Takes Women’s Steeplechase Title at Worlds

Emma Coburn of the U.S. takes fifth.

(c) 2015 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission.

BEIJING—Kenya increased their lead in the medal table here tonight to 11 (six gold) when in a period of just 90 minutes Julius Kipyego and Hyvin Kiyeng Jepkemoi won the men’s javelin and women’s steeplechase, respectively. It was the second consecutive edition of these championships where a Kenyan woman won the steeplechase title. Another Kenyan, Ezekiel Kemboi, won his fourth straight steeplechase title on the men’s side two days a go.

While Kipyego overwhelmed the field with a massive 92.72 meter toss—the second longest in the history of these championships—Jepkemoi squeaked out her win by a fraction of a second in 9:19.11 over two strong rivals, Tunisia’s Habiba Ghribi and Germany’s Gesa Krause, in a tactical race. The three medalists finished in a span of just 9/100ths of a second.

“At the finishing,” she answered when asked when she knew she had won the race. “Because we were three.”

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Those three were part of a tight pack of five heading into the race’s final water jump. Team USA’s Emma Coburn was among them.

“A lot of girls going in and taking different angles to get out,” Coburn said about the final water jump. “I was on the inside line and ended up getting cut-off.”

Coburn was two steps behind rounding the final bend, and in just a few seconds was out of contention for a medal. Ethiopia’s Sofia Assefa, the bronze medalist from these championships in 2013, couldn’t hang on to the leading three as they fought for the best position coming into the final barrier. She had to settle for fourth.

Ghribi, who is one of the best hurdlers in the sport, stutter-stepped several times ahead of the barrier, losing her momentum. At the same time, Jepkemoi was pouring it on, and hurdled the barrier at full speed. She was third over the barrier, but was still accelerating.

“I think it was very fast,” Jepkemoi said of the final lap. “The last 400 was not so easy. But, I think the last barrier is where I put my whole effort. When I finished the barrier, I had all my energy.”

Running in Lane 2, Ghribi’s form broke down in the final sprint, while Jepkemoi strode smoothly to the line on the outside. Krause, on the inside, battled to get the silver, and would finish just 1/100th of a second behind Ghribi, getting the bronze in 9:19.25. She could barely believe that she medaled.

“I dreamed about it, but I think I never imagined it,” she told Race Results Weekly. “That’s a scenario which is happening in my dreams, so it’s kind of motivating me for hard sessions. But, I actually never thought it will happen at this point.”

Ghribi, who was the silver medalist at both the 2011 World Championships and 2012 Olympics, had to settle for silver again. She was not happy with how the race played out.

“Nobody wanted to run,” she lamented about the slow opening laps. “I wanted to finish fast as usual but, unfortunately, everyone was there and I was a bit disturbed. I tried to win the final sprint, but the Kenyan was faster, unfortunately.”

Coburn, who matched the place of her training partner Jenny Simpson who finished fifth in these championships in 2009 in Berlin, was also disappointed. Although she had set a goal for top-5, she felt in the last lap that she could have medaled, but lost too much momentum when she got cut off coming out of the final water jump.

“I’m really disappointed right now. I’m not going to cry. I’m not going to beat myself up. I feel like I did everything I could. I really thought, I really thought that with 250 to go I was in contention for a medal. It’s a hard pill to swallow when it doesn’t go your way.”

The victories for Kipyego and Jepkemoi were overshadowed, however, by news from the IAAF that two Kenyan athletes, Koki Manunga and Joyce Zakary, had tested positive for a banned substance and had accepted provisional suspensions. Manunga had finished sixth in her heat of the 400m hurdles, while Zakary had set a national record of 50.71 in the first round of the 400m. She did not start in the semifinals.