NAIROBI, Kenya, August 5- The wait for gold in London 2012 for Kenya is finally over as Ezekiel Kemboi won the men 3000m steeplechase race and his place in history as the first two-time Olympic champion on Sunday night to spark raptures in a nation starved of glory.
And there is no doubt that the man who was vilified in the country in June after being charged with assault is arguably the best steeplechaser of all time after deploying his finish to perfection to once again, become the beloved son of the land.
“I’m very happy. The race was tactical but I knew the right time to go. I would have won in Beijing but I was sick but I’m feeling great and that is why I had to dance again. Now, I will go on holiday before I decide what to do,” the elated grand master of water and barrier running who begun a career as a Deejay said after breaking the country’s duck in London.
It was a race that eagerly-awaited with tension around the country after Kenya missed out on top honours in the women 10000m, men 10000m and earlier in the day, the women marathon.
American pair, Donald Cabral and Evan Jager nosed ahead after the start, with the former passing through 1000m in 2:52.70 before African champion and Olympics upstart, Abel Mutai stepped up to the plate to take charge.
As they came for 2000m, defending champion, Brimin Kipruto, the third Kenyan in the race stumbled but recovered to stay in the lead pack that had Mutai who led at that point in 5:43.26, France’s silver winner from Beijing, Mekhissi-Benabbad, Ethiopia’s Roba Gari and of course, Kemboi.
The lead quartet of Mutai, Roba, Kemboi and Benabbad crossed the penultimate lap with Kipruto trying to storm back to contention but at the back straight coming to the bell, he once again tripped.
With 400m to go, Kemboi caught up with his compatriot and as they came for the last 300m, the Athens winner took charge with a measured dash that saw him clear the final water barrier with panache.
Only one more hurdle stood in his way and with this expertly dispatched and after checking to ensure all was clear, he then re-enacted his cross-lane finish in Daegu, arriving at the line pumping his fist.
Behind him, Benabbad repeated his Beijing performance in 8:19.08 to once again deny Kenya a first podium sweep since 2004 as brave Mutai etched his name in the podium light in 8:19.73.
Gari came home in 8:20 flat as unfortunate Kipruto saw his famed final sprint return fifth (8:23.03), his second stumble tearing apart his title defence.
The ecstatic Kemboi first laid prostate at the London Olympic Stadium track before waking up for another ‘Pamela Chepchumba’ jig and the Usain Bolt arrow as he then jumped on to Benabbad topless whilst pumping his fists again in joy.
His personal collection now leads two Olympic and two world titles, cementing his name in golden letters in the annals of Kenyan and indeed steeplechase running legend.
Although his retinue of post-race celebration was interrupted by the start of the men 100m final won by his friend, Bolt in 9.63, there is no denying that Kemboi has once again hogged the limelight he so craves in the most glittering of fashion.
His London 2012 Olympic bid and a dalliance with history almost came unstuck when he was accused of stabbing a woman in Eldoret in a night out on June 27, four days after booking his ticket by finishing second to Kipruto at the Trials.
The alleged victim, Ann Njeri, who runs a restaurant in the town, told police that they had been drinking at a pub with the champion, before he offered to drop her to her parent’s home in West Indies, in the outskirts.
Kemboi adores nothing more than command the attention, commanding headlines and his penchant for attracting publicity has endeared him to the hearts of Kenyans.
Whether it his ‘Pamela Chepchumba’ dance, his hurdling celebration when he won his maiden steeplechase title in Berlin or his bold declaration, “If I don’t win gold, I will never come back to Kenya,” ahead of Beijing Olympics, Kemboi is a media darling and the consummate showman.
“I feel so great to be in the Olympics. I’m so happy since this is my third Olympics. I will go now to start new plan for London, Agenda 1 is done, to make the team, now it’s time to Agenda 2,” Kemboi gushed after winning.
Julius Korir (1984), Julius Kariuki (1988), Matthew Birir (1992), Joseph Keter (1996), Reuben Kosgei (2000), Kemboi (2004) and Brimin Kipruto (2008) are responsible for the choke hold Kenyans have had on the water and barriers race.
1 KEMBOI Ezekiel 8:18.56
2 MEKHISSI-BENABBAD Mahiedine 8:19.08
3 MUTAI Abel Kiprop 8:19.73
4 GARI Roba 8:20.00
5 KIPRUTO Brimin Kiprop 8:23.03
6 JAGER Evan 8:23.87
7 EZZINE Hamid 8:24.90
8 CABRAL Donald 8:25.91
9 AKDAG Tarik Langat 8:27.64
10 LUCHIANOV Ion 8:28.15