By David Monti, @d9monti
(c) 2022 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved with permission to use
EUGENE (20-Jul) — Norah Jeruto, the Kenyan-born steeplechaser who only changed her allegiance to Kazakhstan last January, dominated tonight’s women’s steeplechase final winning her new nation’s first-ever World Athletics Championships gold medal and setting a new championships record of 8:53.02.
Running from the front, the 26 year-old led for nearly every step of the race and sealed her victory when she emerged first from the final water jump and could not be caught in the homestretch by her main rivals, Ethiopia’s Werkuha Getachew and Mekides Abebe, and Bahrain’s Winfred Yavi.
“The race was not easy,” said an obviously exhausted Jeruto. “I tried to push the pace, but my fellow athletes –like the two Ethiopians and the Bahrain guy– was tough. So I tried to push the pace to be in front.”
Jeruto took the field of 15 women through the first kilometer in 2:57.8, and that quickly whittled down the lead group to six: Jeruto, Getachew, Abebe, Yavi, 2021 Olympic champion Peruth Chemutai of Uganda, and 2017 world champion Emma Coburn of the USA. Jeruto kept the pace high (5:58.29 through 2000 meters), and it was too fast for both Chemutai and Coburn who would finish 11th and 8th, respectively.
“I thought I was fit enough to cruise through 2-K in six minutes; that’s what I’d done in year’s past,” Coburn told reporters. “I guess I’m just missing that a little bit this year. It’s disappointing.”
The four remaining women seemed evenly matched in the final lap, and actually hurdled the final barrier at the top of the backstretch together. But Jeruto injected some additional pace as she exited the final water jump and had two steps on Getachew and Abebe. Jeruto was able to open that gap just a little more in the homestretch and Getachew had to settle for silver in a national record 8:54.61. Abebe got bronze in a personal best 8:56.08. Yavi, who appeared to be limping slightly in the final meters, ended up fourth in 9:01.31.
“When I was in final barrier we were together,” Jeruto observed. “But I tried to push the pace in (the last) 100 meters.”
Courtney Frerichs, the 2021 Olympic silver medalist, finished sixth in 9:10.59. She was passed by Albanian veteran Luiza Gega just before the line (Gega broke her own national record, clocking 9:10.04). Frerichs said she was a little short on training but was proud of her performance.
“A little bit of my slow start to the season caught up with me in the first half,” Frerichs said. “Maybe let them go a little too much given how much I had at the end. I’m proud of the effort.”
In the first round of the men’s 800m, it was a tough day for the American team. None of the four athletes entered —Donavan Brazier, Bryce Hoppel, Brandon Miller or Jonah Koech– were able to advance to the semi-finals.
Brazier, the reigning world champion who had battled injuries this year, was only able to finish sixth in the second of six heats in 1:46.72. He told reporters that he wasn’t yet healthy due to an Achilles issue, and tried to compete here on “cross training and some limited miles” because it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to run in a World Athletics Championships on home soil. He revealed that he has surgery scheduled for next week to fix an Achilles condition called Haglund’s deformity.
“I did the best I could with what I’ve got, I’d like to believe,” he said. “I didn’t want to go out like this coming off of last year (meaning 2019). But, it is what it is for now. I’ll be back.”
Hoppel, who won the 2022 USA title and finished fourth at the 2019 World Athletics Championships, also did not advance out of heat three. In that race, there was a multi-athlete collision about 200 meters into the heat, which saw Hoppel get shoved to the outside, and Canada’s Brandon McBride fall hard to the track. Hoppel was able to finish in fifth place, but his time of 1:46.98 wasn’t good enough to advance. He said the shoving incident caused him to lose all of his momentum and he burned a lot of energy getting back into the position he wanted to be in.
“It threw me out of my head space,” Hoppel told Race Results Weekly. “You see the race going a certain way. Once you get that kind of upsetness and a little anger it messes with you. I didn’t really know how to carry the race from there.”
Brandon Miller, third at the USA Championships, also did not advance after finishing fifth in the fourth heat. That left Jonah Koech as the last American with a chance to advance, and it seemed like he did when he finished second in heat five. But after the race, Koech was disqualified for jostling about 200 meters into the race. Speaking before he was disqualified, he said: “Contact is part of the game. We can’t complain about it. It is just like how to see how mentally strong you are. But, things like that will happen so you have to be ready mentally, that you can just handle it.”
Among those who did advance, Kenya’s Emmanuel Korir, the reigning Olympic champion, seemed to have the easiest time. He won the first heat in a slow and energy-saving 1:49.05. Also advancing with medal hopes were Morocco’s Moad Zahafi (the 2022 NCAA champion for Texas Tech), Algeria’s Djamel Sedjati, Canada’s Marco Arop, Mexico’s Jesus Tonatiu Lopez, and Kenya’s Wyclife Kinyamal. Poland’s Patryk Dobek, the 2021 Olympic bronze medalist, failed to advance.
Despite blazing hot temperatures (90F/36C), both of the women’s 5000m qualifying heats went fast, and all but one of the medal favourites advanced to Saturday’s final.
In the first heat, Japan’s Ririka Hironaka set a fast pace (2:57 for the opening kilometre), and the race quickly went to single-file formation. Ethiopia’s Gudaf Tsegay and Dawit Seyoum, Kenya’s Beatrice Chebet and Margaret Chelimo Kipkemboi, USA’s Karissa Schweizer and Emily Infeld, and Eritrea’s Rahel Daniel made up the lead pack. Tsegay, who won the silver medal in the 1500m two nights ago, took over the lead on the final lap and got the win in a fast 14:52.64. Seyaum, Chebet, Kipkemboi and Schweizer –who all ran sub-14:54– were the other automatic qualifiers. Germany’s Konstanze Klosterhalfen, who won the bronze medal in this discipline in the 2019 World Athletics Championships, finished eighth and did not advance.
Schweizer, who finished ninth in the 10,000m here four days ago, felt good about her race.
“Going into a world level there’s just a lot of really big names,” she told reporters. “A lot of them have run some pretty crazy times. So, sometimes it’s hard to really trust yourself and trust your fitness.”
Looking ahead to the final, she added: “I know I can hang with the best of them, so I’m just going to put myself into the race, and at the end of the day, I’m going to be proud of the race for putting myself in it instead of hanging back.”
Her USA teammate Emily Infeld, who finished sixth in 15:00.98, advanced on time and was the fifth and final time qualifier. She had to work extra hard to get into shape for these championships because she caught COVID at the USA Championships in late June and lost a week of training.
“I feel like I did everything I could,” the always upbeat Infeld said. “I prepared for the heat. The women are just incredible. I really wanted to be in that top five. I knew it was going to be tough.”
Remarkably, the second heat went at nearly an identical pace to the first. Britain’s Liz McColgan led all the way to the 4300-meter mark explaining later that she had picked up a hamstring injury and knew that a fast pace would be her best path to qualifying for the final.
“I picked up a hamstring niggle so my sprint’s just non-existent,” McColgan said. “So for me, I know I can run a strong pace, so my best bet for today was to take that out at sub-15:00.” She added: “I knew if it was a sit-and-kick I ain’t making it through.”
The fast pace was perfect for recently crowned world 10,000m champion Letesenbet Gidey who won the heat in 14:52.27. Other medal favourites –Kazakhstan’s Caroline Chepkoech Kipkirui, Netherlands’s Sifan Hassan, Norway’s Karoline Grovdahl, and American Elise Cranny– got the rest of the five automatic qualifying spots. McColgan, and her British teammate Jessica Judd, advanced on time as did Kenya’s Gloria Kite and Japan’s Nozomi Tanaka.
“The race went beautifully,” said Hassan, who was the Olympic champion at 5000m last year in Tokyo. “It went a bit harder, under 15 minutes. I have not trained much this year. I want to get my body sharp for the final. I wanted to be top five, and finishing top three gives me more confidence. I need to be more focused and dig deep in the final.”