(04-Oct) -- Conseslus Kipruto capped off an injury-shorted season tonight in Khalifa Stadium in Doha with a stunning, come from behind victory in the men's 3000m steeplechase at the IAAF World Athletics Championships, successfully defending the title he won in London two years ago. The diminutive Kenyan, who did more running in a pool in his backyard than he did on land due to a stress fracture, edged Ethiopia's Lamecha Girma by just 1/100th of a second at the line to win his third consecutive global title (he was also the 2016 Olympic champion). The bronze medal went to Morocco's Soufiane El Bakkali who, to many, was the gold medal favorite.
PHOTO: Conseslus Kipruto of Kenya (left) narrowly defeats Lamecha Girma of Ethiopia to win his second world steeplechase title at the IAAF World Athletics Championships in Doha (photo by Getty Images for IAAF; used with permission)
"For me in championships we always believe that experience matters a lot, it is not about shape," Kipruto told IAAF interviewers. He added: "So this strong mentality made me to win this race."
Kipruto, 24, only led the race twice and only for the briefest of moments. The first time was just past the bell when he swept to the outside in front of both Girma, his teammate Getnet Wale, and El Bakkali. But the Ethiopians and the Moroccan responded immediately, and at the top of the backstretch El Bakkali had the lead. The pace was fast.
"Actually it was a very strong competition," Kipruto said. "The Ethiopians really pushed hard because they knew I was kicking. They had their plans before we started the race."
Girma and Kipruto rolled-up El Bakkali just before the final water barrier, and Girma began to surge away from Kipruto. The Ethiopian had a small lead both exiting the water pit and over the final barrier. But Kipruto, who has run a 1:49 800m at high altitude, began to sprint furiously. It seemed impossible that he would catch Girma. As the two men crossed the line, Girma on the inside and Kipruto on the outside, it seemed impossible to separate them. The timers credited Kipruto with 8:01.35, this season's fastest time, and Girma with 8:01.36, an Ethiopian record. It was only the fourth steeple of the year that Kipruto had finished (he dropped out of two other races).
"I set my heart when I came to the start line and I said, 'I am going to do it,'" Kipruto said later.
The stress fracture (to his left foot) nearly ended Kipruto's season before it began back in May. Doctors said he wouldn't be able to run for five months, but running in a small pool in his backyard with a runner inner tube around his waist got him into good enough shape to compete in the Paris Diamond League meeting on August 24. He failed to finish the steeple in Rabat on August 26, but that was to protect his foot. He ran the Brussels Diamond League on September 6, finishing seventh, then dropped out of his race at the Kenyan Trials on September 13. That didn't prevent him from running in Doha because as the reigning world champion he had a bye into the meet and was named to the Kenyan team.
While Kipruto had hoped that the Kenyans could sweep the medals, his teammates Benjamin Kigen, Abraham Kibiwot, and Leonard Bett finished sixth, seventh and ninth, respectively.
"But the most important thing is the medal and I did that," he said.