When the 21-year-old Conseslus Kipruto crossed the line at the end of the men’s 3000m steeplechase, he became the latest addition to Kenya’s long line of Olympic champions in the event.
The youngster was able to claim a new Olympic record, while the disgruntled 2004 and 2012 Olympic champion, Ezekiel Kemboi was stripped of a bronze medal after stepping out of his lane.
The East African nation has been a strong force in the 3000m steeplechase since the 1968 Mexico Olympics, which was the first time that Kenyan and Ethiopian distance runners were recognised on the world stage.
The last non-Kenyan to win the event was Poland’s Bronis≈Çaw Malinowski way back in 1980 at the Moscow Olympics.
However, this is partly due to the fact that Kenya boycotted the 1976 and 1980 Olympic Games. Hence Kenya have won every gold medal in the event that they have contested since 1968.
Well known for their success in long distance athletics, the statistic does not seem surprising, yet while Ethiopia has produced the fastest 5,000m and 10,000m athletes over both genders, the last time an Ethiopian made the podium in men’s steeplechase was Eshetu Tura’s bronze back in 1980.
Both Kenya and Ethiopa have produced a large array of exceptional talents in distance running.
Yet Kenya far outshines Ethiopia in terms of world class 3,000m steeplechase athletes. Of the top 175 IAAF ratified fastest times for 2016 over the 3000m steeplechase, 11 have come from Ethiopia, though this figure is dwarfed by Kenya’s 37.
Naturally, competent athletes in the 5,000m might drop down to the 3,000m steeplechase or even move up from the middle distance event of 1,500m.
If 10 of the fastest 21 5000m times in the world in 2016 were recorded by Ethiopians, one would expect such a crossover, yet Kenya still has a wider pool to choose from than Ethiopia.
A staggering 49 of the top 157 fastest runners from 2016 at 5000m were done by Kenyans while only 20 were Ethiopian – less than half.
Meanwhile, 26 of the top 177 1,500m runners for 2016 are Kenyan, while only five are from Ethiopia.
Furthermore, many of the all-time top ten best 1,500m and 5,000m runners have been Kenyan but none of them have bothered to take up the 3,000m steeplechase, whereas all of the best steeplechasers have experience in the flat races.
This reiterates the fact that the best distance runners might not find it necessary to take up the race featuring hurdles and pits. The last time Mo Farah participated in a steeplechase event was way back in 2000.
Also when there is so much success in the event, this could result in a snowball effect and attract more Kenyans to try it out. At the 2015 World Championships in Beijing, the top four places were all occupied by Kenyans.
Having a much wider base of elite level distance runners means that there is a higher probability of Olympic 3,000m steeplechasers coming from Kenya than Ethiopia, or indeed anywhere else, though Bahrain and Qatar have featured some good steeplechasers from former Kenyans who have switched allegiances.
With seven of the top ten 3000m steeplechasers for 2016 being Kenyan,eight if you count Kenyan-born Bahraini athlete John Kibet Koech and all but one of the top ten 3,000m steeplechasers of all time of Kenyan origin, it is likely that the next 3,000m Olympic champion in Tokyo 2020 will also be Kenyan.