BERLIN, August 16 – Kenyans usually grab the headlines in 3,000 metres steeplechase at any championship world wide but the 12th World Athletics Championships have been different.
Much has been said in Berlin of a certain Frenchman by the name Mekhissi Benabbad breaking Kenya’s strangle hold in the water and barriers race. Some were even putting him as favourite ahead of the quartet of Kenyans.
With an Olympic silver medal in Beijing and some convincing wins, the 24 year old Algerian born athlete has come to the fore in the past year.
Heat three thus attracted most attention as the gangly athlete looked to qualify on Sunday morning. But when he dropped out of the race with two laps to go clutching his stomach, his moment of fame ended almost as abruptly.
Kenyans though qualified for Tuesday’s final with consummate ease.
Africa champion Richard Mateelong set the pace with a domineering win in the first heat. The Police instructor from Kiganjo started at the back before moving forward and upping the pace to win in the fastest time in all the qualifiers of 8:17.99.
“I wanted a fast pace because when a race is slow, anything can happen in the final lap. Am happy that the first part of my work here is done and we can now look forward to the final,” said Mateelong.
“I have won two bronze medals in both Olympics and world championships and now I would like to improve on that and get silver or even gold,” he added.
2004 Olympic bronze medallist Paul Kipsiele Koech who did most of the early running in the same heat was third in 8:18.16.
“Today was all about qualifying and I am happy to get through to the final. Now we need to do sit down and plot for the final,” said Kipsiele.
Reigning World Champion Kipruto also ran well within himself to make the final. The quiet Olympic champion stayed in fourt until the final five metres when he easily moved forward to win in 8:18.07.
I just wanted to make the final. We are wary of the Frenchman but we shall do everything we can to make sure that the gold medal stays in Kenya.”