Len Johnson Reporting from the World Champs, London – Runner’s Tribe
Courtney Frerichs crossed the line in second place in the women’s 3000 steeplechase with a look of absolute shock and incredulity on her face.
But shock at what. Incredulous about what. That she had improved by over 15 seconds in a world championships final. That she had got a silver medal. Or that she had got a silver medal and the woman in front of her was not from Kenya, but from the U S A!
Emma Coburn, bronze medallist in Rio, went two places better to take the gold medal here in 9:02.58. Frerichs, who did so much to take the race off the Kenyans in the tumultuous last lap, finished second in 9:03.77. The best of the Kenyans on the day, Hyvin Kiyeng Chepkemoi, took the bronze in 9:04.03. World record holder and Olympic champion Ruth Jebet was only fifth. Celliphine Chespol, who set a world U20 record at the Pre Classic Diamond League, was sixth.
It was a complete up-ending of the established order. Kenyan women have never dominated the event in the manner of Kenyan men. There has been a more equal sharing of the medals with Russian, Ethiopian and Moroccan athletes. But they have established hegemony recently, especially if we broaden it out to include the likes of Kenyan-born Jebet.
In the manner of crumbling empires, Kenya contributed to its own demise this night, but we’ll get to that in a minute. First, let’s give credit where credit is due, to Emma Coburn.
A few years back, at the 2014 Shanghai Diamond League, Cobrun won the steeple, beating a strong field packed with the best Ethiopian steeplers. But it was the manner of the victory that impressed. She went for it from the gun, building a lead approaching the length of the straight at its peak.
Now the Chinese love their hurdles, but only in the 110 metres version and even more so when it involves Liu Xiang. Steeple, especially women’s steeple, not so much. I was the only journalist who wanted to have a chat with Coburn, a ‘chat’ that was more an offering of congratulations than anything else. But she clearly had her sights on improving still further. Just as clearly, she has.
Circumstances played into her hands a little, but good runners make their own luck. Beatrice Chepkoech forgetting to take the first water jump and then losing 50 metres going back to rectify her fault, was one stroke of fortune. Incredibly, the lead was then taken up by the second Bahraini, Winfred Yavi, who had done the same thing herself while pacing at the Stockholm Diamond League meeting.
Then there was a fall in the second lap, taking out Germany’s world championships bronze medallist Geza Krause and another one of the four Kenyans. Finally, Hyvin Kiyeng Chepkemoi bizarrely allowed Coburn through on her inside at the water jump for the last time.
Coburn went straight through the door and on to gold. Frerichs followed to silver. An American 1-2: it seemed not even Frerichs could believe it.
Possibly not so pleased as Frerichs to take a silver medal on the night was Marie-Josee Ta Lou. After finishing second to Torie Bowie in the 100 by 0.01 seconds, this time she lost a gripping battle with Dafne Schippers along the straight to be 0.03 outside the gold medal in the 200. Schippers retained the title she won in Beijing with a 22.05, Ta Lou took her second silver in 22.08 and Shaunae Miller-Uibo the bronze in 22.15.
The men’s 1500 semis went down without either of the two Australians advancing to the final, but both Luke Mathews and Jordan Williamsz ran competitive championship races which will stand them in good stead on the Gold Coast next year and the full international stage.
Mathews just never got a clear run in the first semi-final, trapped on the inside with the openings never coming. He was just a stride out of fifth, and automatic qualifying, in the slower heat.
Williamsz was a similar margin behind Nick Willis and John Gregorek who took the non-automatic places in the slightly faster second semi.
The final looms as a very open affair, especially if there is not much pace on early. Elijah Manangoi and Asbel Kiprop finished 1-2 in the first semi and may well go that way again in the final. Kiprop may not be at his best, but he looked like a man not far from it as he swept around the field in the last lap to finish alongside his teammate. There is rarely a dull moment in a Kiprop race.