On a night that was all about winning rather than times, Conseslus Kipruto of Kenya found a way to retain his IAAF Diamond League steeplechase title at Zurich’s Weltklasse meeting on Thursday (30).
Despite losing his shoe during the first lap, he moved past Morocco’s Soufiane El Bakkali in the final few strides after clearing the final hurdle in second place. That effectively ignited the 25,000 capacity crowd in what was the first of two IAAF Diamond League finals in the space of 24 hours, with a few athletes having travel planned to get over to Brussels for part two.
The excitement levels peaked again as the women’s 5000m produced another classic head-to-head sprint finish, with Kenya’s world champion Hellen Obiri eventually retaining her title despite huge pressure from European champion Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands – who then faced a drive through the night to get to Belgium.
The evening had first come alive as the final lap of the steeplechase played itself out in dramatic fashion, with world and Olympic champion Kipruto eventually finding a way past Morocco’s 22-year-old world silver medallist in the final 30 metres after clearing the last hurdle marginally behind.
Kipruto has proven himself over and again as a competitor, winning the 2016 Olympic title and beating El Bakkali to last year’s world title, but he has surely never faced such a challenge as this.
“I have big pain,” he said after finishing a stride ahead in 8:10.15, with his taller opponent dropping, exhausted, to the track after clocking 8:11.19.
“I am injured because I lost my left shoe. That was a mess. But it motivated me to fight as hard as I could, so the race went well.”
Evan Jager of the United States, Olympic silver medallist and world bronze medallist, took third place in 8:13.22 having led five men through the bell as excitement in the stadium had begun to gather. First El Bakkali moved past him on the back straight, then the hindered hunter, Kipruto.
On a cool but thankfully dry evening that was all about racing rather than timing, there was no more deserving winner of the 16 Diamond trophies handed out by IAAF President Sebastan Coe, and their accompanying cheques for US$50,000.
Six women, including Obiri, Hassan and Ethiopia’s Senbere Teferi and world 1500m record-holder Genzebe Dibaba, had reached the bell together – and with drama imminent. Hassan, facing a night drive to Brussels in order to contest the 1500m in the second IAAF Diamond League final of the season, made her break on the back straight, floating to the lead, but very soon the smaller, dogged figure of Obiri, the world champion, had moved past her.
As the two women reached the straight, Hassan, an emphatic winner of the European title earlier this month, moved wide for another challenge.
But Obiri, serenely confident beforehand, simply wasn’t having it, claiming one of the sixteen Diamond trophies on offer, and its accompanying winner’s cheque for US$50,000, as she crossed in 14:38.39, with Hassan second in 14:38.77 and Teferi third in 14:40.07.
“Before the race I felt would win,” said Obiri, who covered the final 200 metres in 27.39. “Finally everything came together, and I am proud.”