This is a thought-provoking column on one of the most iconic relationships that Kenyan Athletics has with the global championships. Kenyan steeplechasers have a long-time relationship with the Olympics (first gold in 1968 with Amos Biwott) and World Championships (1991).
From 1984 for the Olympics and 1991 for the World Championships, Kenyans have never missed a medal on the world stage, in the men’s 3000m steeplechase event, the majority of the medals being gold medals. They barely maintained that streak by winning a single bronze medal at the last Olympics and at the last two World Championships.
What has changed? What is the feature of Kenyan men’s 3000m steeplechase? Is it heading in the right direction, and is there any hope of the country doing well at the Paris Olympic Games next year?
A Kenyan TV station, NTV Kenya, interviewed a number of current and former Kenyan runners in the event, and they had some interesting observations to share.
“Reclaiming the men’s 3000m steeplechase event should be treated as an emergency case. The country should come up with a team to handle the Steeplechase crisis, and we have good guys who can reclaim the glory. With the right training, we are going to get it back.” Paul Kipsiele Koech, the 2004 Olympic bronze medalist, said.
However, the 1991, 1993, and 1995 world 3000m steeplechase champion, Moses Kiptanui, was a little less optimistic and more factual in his opinions.
“It may be hard to get back to where we were in the past because other countries are coming up in the event as well, and some Kenyan-born runners are now representing nations that offer them better training facilities and amenities,” he said.
Four-time world champion Ezekiel Kemboi pointed out the need for Kenyan runners to focus more on the world championship events than on the Diamond League circuits if they are to reclaim the world titles.
“Lamecha Girma and Soufiane El Bakkali did a few races before the world championships this year compared to our top guys in the event,” Kemboi said.
“We need to have advanced planning, specialized coaches for different events, and more sponsorship,” the legendary Dr. Kipchoge Keino said, adding the need to put the emerging talents together in one camp and giving them the necessary support and specialized coaching for their specific events.
This could, however, be quite challenging to do, given that these athletes are in different managements with different interests.
Leonard Bett, the 2017 World U17 champion, talked about the need to have athletes train in their usual training places after the national selections are done, as changing the training environments often affects some runners. Kenyan runners are usually put in one national training camp after the national team is named.
“The steeplechase is a technical sport, and it needs a specialized coach and a stadium where runners can practice how to clear the barriers,” Bett added.
Conseslus Kipruto, the 2016 Olympic and two-time world champion, believes that Kenyans can still reclaim their favorite event. “The problem with some Kenyan runners is that they believe some athletes are stronger than them, and they only aim for positions behind them,” said the 2017 London and 2019 Doha World Champion.
As another Olympic year comes up, it will remain to be seen whether Kenyan runners in the men’s 3000m steeplechase event will hang on to the last medal on the podium, move to a better medal, or get more than one medal in Paris.