Few athletes exude such class, grace and sheer natural ability as Celliphine Chepteek Chespol, and here in Tampere on Friday night (13) the Kenyan exhibited them all as she cruised to gold in the 3000m steeplechase in 9:12.78, a championship record.
With that, she became the first athlete to successfully defend her world U20 title this week, and the Kenyan appears to have set up a future paved with gold.
The time was all the more impressive in light of the conditions and early pace. After a torrential downpour in the hour before, the track was still soaking wet at race time, and the early pace appeared to negate any chance of a fast time.
A large group passed 1000m in a pedestrian 3:16.90, with Ugandan challenger Peruth Chemutai towing the field along out front. Chespol, however, was nestled on her shoulder and covering every possible move.
As it turned out, she was the one to make the decisive one, surging to the front with three laps to run and cranking the pace up further as she clicked through 2000m in 6:15.04.
Those behind – Chemutai and Bahrain’s Winfred Yavi – were under immediate pressure, and on the penultimate lap Chespol had them wading in deep waters.
Unfurling a 2:57.26 final 1000m, Chespol looked like she was out for an evening jog, taking the barriers in her stride and opening up more of an advantage with each one she soared over. At the line, she was full of running as she crossed in 9:12.78.
“It is very special to defend my world under-20 title,” she said. “I felt the pressure to win and it was a tough race because my rivals were very good but I won the title again, so I’m so happy.”
Chemutai came through well for second in 9:18.87, while Yavi needed the line badly in third, paying heavily for her early exertions as she crossed in 9:23.47.
“This means a lot to me and for my country,” said Chemutai. “I didn’t have any tactics going into the race but it was a very tough race. It feels great to win silver.”
“The steeplechase is a tactical and eventful race,” said Yavi. “The last few laps were really fast. I wanted to win but getting a medal means a lot to me.”
Kenya’s Mercy Chepkirui was a distant fourth in 9:43.65, with Agrie Belachew leading the Ethiopian duo home in fifth. The first non-African finisher was USA’s Alice Hall, who finished seventh in 9:57.04, a lifetime best in just her third ever steeplechase.