The 2016 World U20 Champion, Amos Kirui took the top honors at the Meeting International de Marseille, a World Athletics Continental Tour silver level meeting, held at the Pierre-Delort Stadium in Marseille, France.
The 24 year-old who came to this race with a life time best of 8:08.37 that he got at the Roma Golden Gala in 2017 lived to his expectations as he thrashed a strong field that included the 2016 African Champion, Chala Beyo who wrote history as the first non-Kenyan to win that title since Brahim Boulami in 2002 and Mehdi Belhadj from France.
Kirui who is also the 2017 Kenyan cross-country champion, changed the race dynamics as he pulled away from the leading group to cut the tape in a season best of 8:14.63 with Hichem Bouchicha from Algeria who came to this race with the fourth fastest time on paper pulling a surprise when he came home in second in 8:22.71. France’s Louis Gilavert closed the podium three finishes in a season best of 8:25.72.
Morocco’s Abderrafia Bouassel finished in fourth in a personal best of 8:27.00 with Istvan Palkovits setting a new Hungary Under 23 National Record of 8:27.06.
Midway through the final lap of the men’s 3000m steeplechase at Saturday’s Prefontaine Classic, the third meeting of the IAAF Diamond League, a common thought rippled through the 12,000-strong crowd at Hayward Field: who?
As in, who exactly was that Kenyan out front, the guy charging into the final bend with a 15-metre lead over world and Olympic champion Conseslus Kipruto?
The race had been expected to boil down to a head-to-head clash between Kipruto and Evan Jager, the darling of the home crowd in Oregon and an athlete with Olympic and World Championships medals to his name.
But at that point, the script had been well and truly shredded by a 24-year-old Kenyan by the name of Benjamin Kigen, the man with the golden kick.
For Jager, Kigen was a recognisable face, one he’d raced and easily beaten in both Monaco and Brussels last year, a guy to be respected but certainly not feared.
“I’ve seen him on the circuit but I wasn’t expecting him to be the guy today, for sure,” admitted Jager. “I thought it was going to be Conseslus and me battling over the last lap.”
Kipruto himself was more wary, particularly given the slow pace and his knowledge of Kigen’s background.
“I know the guy,” said Kipruto, “and I know he can run the last lap very well because he was a 1500m guy.”
Kigen’s last lap – which he ran over five barriers – was covered in 57.9 seconds.
Truth be told, though, Kigen didn’t have as much confidence in himself as others had in him. “I was not expecting it,” he said. “This was my first time beating them.”
Just 13 months ago, Kigen was still a 1500m runner, but all that changed at a low-key meeting in Thika, Kenya, last April when his manager Juan Pineda watched him sprint to victory in 3:42.9. He could be a good 1500m runner, he thought, but didn’t seem to possess the natural power and pace to truly match the world’s best, so they soon plotted a move to the steeplechase.
A native of Baringo County in the Rift Valley, Kigen does not come from an area renowned for producing world-beating distance runners, at least not in the same frequency as places to the west like Eldoret and Iten.
He is a member of the Kenyan Defence Forces and trains in Ngong, a town outside Nairobi that sits at an altitude of 2000m (6,500ft). There, he works under the guidance of coach Isaac Rono alongside Amos Kirui, the world U20 steeplechase champion who has a best of 8:08.37.
Kigen’s transition to the steeplechase was promising, though not paved with success from the outset. He finished second at the Kenyan Defence Forces Championships in his first try at the event in 8:26.6, which secured him a place at the Kenyan World Championship trials last June. But there Kigen miscounted the laps and with 400m to run, he had yet to make any move believing he still had two laps to run. By the time the bell shook him to life, it was too late and he wound up fourth in 8:20.54.
But his ability became obvious just four days later in Ostrava, Kigen taking victory at the Golden Spike in a huge PB of 8:11.54 before lowering his 1500m PB to 3:36.36 in Madrid. He then finished fourth in Monaco and sixth at the IAAF Diamond League final in Brussels.
He started 2018 with an indoor 3000m PB of 7:44.77 in Ostrava, though last Saturday’s race in Eugene was his first attempt at the steeplechase this year – and what an attempt it was.
ELECTRIC FINISH IN EUGENE
As Kigen soared over the final water jump at full speed – without placing a foot on the barrier – gasps rippled through the crowd at Hayward Field. Though he landed awkwardly at the last, he nonetheless had built an unassailable advantage over Jager and Kipruto, who were left to fight for a distant second, which Kipruto edged in 8:11.71. Kigen had a good 20 metres to spare when he crossed the line in 8:09.07.
“I dreamt of this and I’m very proud of this day,” said Kigen. “This year I have a new training technique so I will do better.”
How much better? His time goal this year is to go below eight minutes, which Kigen may well threaten at the upcoming IAAF Diamond League meeting in Rome. Rabat, Budapest and Monaco are also in his plans, and somewhere along the way he will undoubtedly renew his rivalry with Kipruto and Jager.
Far from being upset at his breakout performance, Jager welcomed Kigen’s arrival to the big leagues last Saturday.
“It’s nice to have another face in contention for the win; it would have got boring if it was the same three guys every year,” he said. “Hopefully this puts pressure on everyone else to go after him now and takes the pressure off us. It’s fun there’s another guy to go after.”
And like a true pro, Kigen remains far more concerned with championship performances than fast times. “My main goal is to represent Kenya at the African Championships and race in international races like the Continental Cup,” he said.
And now that he’s a familiar face, Kigen’s rivals will have a new-found respect for his ferocious finish.
Conseslus Kipruto and Evan Jager will return to the Prefontaine Classic on 25-26 May to renew their steeplechase rivalry at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Eugene.
The field includes six of the top seven finishers from last year’s World Championships and every IAAF Diamond Trophy winner since its 2010 inception.
World, Olympic and Commonwealth champion Kipruto has won medals at every international championship he has contested, dating back to the 2011 World U18 Championships. The three-time Diamond Trophy winner was only 18 when he won his first Pre Classic race in 2013.
Olympic silver medallist Jager has been North America’s best steeplechaser since first taking up the event in 2012. The world bronze medallist recorded the fastest time in the world last year with 8:01.29, his fastest time since setting his third North American record of 8:00.45 in 2015.
After just missing an Olympic medal in Rio, Morocco’s Soufiane El Bakkali finished in between Kipruto and Jager at last year’s World Championships to take the silver medal. The 22-year-old won at the IAAF Diamond League meetings in Stockholm and Rabat last year before setting a PB of 8:04.83 at the IAAF Diamond League final in Brussels.
Jairus Birech won the first of his two Diamond League trophies as a 21-year-old in 2014. Now 25, the Kenyan has twice broken the eight-minute barrier and is the field’s second fastest at 7:58.41.
Paul Kipsiele Koech is history’s third-fastest ever at 7:54.31 and no one has cracked the eight-minute barrier more times than his nine such clockings. After a season of focusing on the marathon, the 36-year-old is returning to the steeplechase, the event in which he won the Diamond League’s first three trophies.
Four Kenyans in the field will be making their US debut: Commonwealth silver medallist Abraham Kibiwott, world U20 champion Amos Kirui, Benjamin Kigen and Nicholas Bett.
Stanley Kebenei finished fifth at the World Championships last year. Earlier that season, he recorded a PB of 8:08.30 to move to second on the US all-time list. US compatriot Hillary Bor missed out on last year’s World Championships final, but finished seventh at the 2016 Olympics.
Others in the field include USA’s Andy Bayer, Canadian record-holder Matt Hughes, and Ethiopian teenagers Tesfaye Deriba and Getnet Wale.
Organisers for the IAAF
2018 IAAF Diamond League calendar
4 May – Doha, QAT
12 May – Shanghai, CHN
26 May – Eugene, USA
31 May – Rome, ITA
7 Jun – Oslo, NOR
10 Jun – Stockholm, SWE
30 Jun – Paris, FRA
5 Jul – Lausanne, SUI
13 Jul – Rabat, MAR
20 Jul – Monaco, MON
21-22 Jul – London, GBR
18 Aug – Birmingham, GBR
30 Aug – Zurich, SUI
31 Aug – Brussels, BEL
World and Olympic 3,000m steeplechase champion Conseslus Kipruto is upbeat that his late arrival for the Commonwealth Games here in Gold Coast will translate into good results.
Kipruto said their delay back home was deliberate because they wanted to train in familiar environment.
“This kind of weather in Gold Coast is always tricky and that is why we preferred to stay back and train a bit longer at home,” he said.
He said they will use the next three days to acclimatise before swinging into action this Friday. “I am ready and as usual, I will be going for gold,” he noted.
He said he decided to honour the Commonwealth Games despite other elite athletes staying away because it was on his schedule from the word go.
“I always plan my schedule early and this time, Commonwealth Games featured prominently because it is a less busy year with no World Championships or Olympic Games,” he added.
He said there is no much this year and that is why he opted for the games. “From here, I am headed for the Diamond League and I intend to do around five meetings starting with Doha next month,” he added.
He said the Africa athletics Championships in Nigeria are also top on his agenda and if everything remains constant, he will honour the event.
As usual, he believes steeplechase will be a Kenyan affair and sees no much opposition here.
Obiri, who also arrived together with Kipruto, echoed the same sentiments.
She said Commonwealth Games hold a special place in her heart and that is why she is here.
Like Kipruto, she said she intends to honor the Diamond League series and the Africa Championships in the coming months.
She also said she is feeling great after delaying back home for the purposes of training.
Obiri and Kipruto arrived alongside Margaret Chelimo, Eva Cherono (5,000m); Amos Kirui, Abraham Kibiwott (3,000m steeplechase) and 10,000m trio of Rodgers Kwemoi, Jonathan Muia and Josphat Bett