Eugene: Kipruto, Jager Ready to Rock Again in Pre Classic Steeplechase
Conseslus Kipruto and American record holder Evan Jager will duel once again, joined by a stacked list that includes 8 of the top 10 from the Track & Field News world rankings, including the top 6.
The event traditionally dominated by Kenya will feature two other No. 1 rankers to give the Pre Classic every IAAF Diamond Trophy winner since its 2010 inception.
Conseslus Kipruto, 23, owns gold medals from Rio and last year’s World Championships and has medaled in every international championships he’s started dating back to the 2011 World Youth Championships. He kicked off the year earlier this month with a world-leading 8:10.08 from his first Commonwealth Games – the fastest ever achieved before the month of May.
Kipruto – a three-time Diamond Trophy winner – was only 18 when he won his first Pre Classic race in 2013 in a dramatic finish with two-time Olympic gold medalist Ezekiel Kemboi. Kemboi crossed the finish line first but was disqualified for shoving, giving Kipruto the win.Evan Jager, 29, is America’s best steeplechaser and has been since first taking up the event in 2012. The Illinois native who trains in Oregon with the Bowerman Track Club recorded last year’s world-leading time of 8:01.29 – his fastest since his third American record of 8:00.45 in 2015.
Jager’s Rio silver was the best Olympic finish in this event by an American since Horace Ashenfelter won gold in 1952, and his bronze in London at last year’s World Championships was the best yet by an American. His current streak of 6 U.S. titles is the longest since Henry Marsh won 7 in 1981-87.
Morocco’s Soufiane El Bakkali, 22, was the silver medalist in last year’s World Championships after just missing a medal in Rio with a 4th-place finish. He was the closest last year to beating Kipruto. El Bakkali will be racing in the U.S. for the first time since a 4th-place finish at the 2014 World Junior Championships at Hayward Field.
Jairus Birech won the first of his two Diamond League trophies as a 21-year-old in 2014. Now 25, the Kenyan has twice broken the 8-minute barrier and is the field’s second fastest at 7:58.41. Birech – world-ranked every year by T&FN since he was 19 – owns Hayward Field’s second-fastest time ever with his 8:01.83 from the 2015 Pre Classic.
Paul Kipsiele Koech is history’s third-fastest ever at 7:54.31 and no one has cracked the 8-minute barrier more times than his 9 such clockings. After a season of marathoning, the 36-year-old is returning to the steeplechase, where he was ranked No. 1 in the world four times by T&FN and No. 6 in 2016, the last of his 15-straight appearances in the top 10. Koech won the Diamond League’s first three trophies and is a two-time Pre Classic winner.
Stanley Kebenei gained U.S. citizenship while he forged an All-American career at Arkansas. The 28-year-old was born in Kenya and made his first U.S. national team last year, finishing 5th at the World Championships as part of an impressive season that found him No. 4 in the T&FN world rankings. Kebenei is No. 2 on the all-time U.S. list at 8:08.30 and was third in February’s U.S. cross-country championships.
Kenya will have four more exciting runners, each a T&FN world ranker, set to make a U.S. debut. Abraham Kibiwott and Amos Kirui followed Kipruto for a Kenyan sweep of the Commonwealth Games medals and are also sub-8:10 runners. Kibiwot, 21, won the 2016 Kenyan nationals and Kirui, 20, was the 2016 World Junior gold medalist. Kibiwot was No. 5 in the 2016 T&FN world rankings, Kirui No. 8 last year.
Benjamin Kigen, 24, is a 3:36 1500-meter runner who debuted in the steeple last year, good enough for No. 6 in the T&FN world rankings but only 4th in the loaded Kenyan World trials. Nicholas Bett, 21, has already made the world rankings twice, both times at No. 9. Bett was silver medalist at the 2013 World Youth Championships.
Hillary Bor, 28, set six PRs in 2016 and made the Rio Olympic final. The Iowa State grad continued his improvement last year with another national team and becoming No. 6 time in U.S. history at 8:11.82.
Andy Bayer, 28, won the 2012 NCAA 1500 title as a senior at Indiana and almost made the U.S. Olympic team, finishing 4th. Two weeks later he ran his first steeplechase race. The 3:52.90 miler has trained with Jager and has just missed joining him on the U.S. team, finishing 4th at the last three U.S. championships.
Canadian record holder Matt Hughes, 28, won the first of his two NCAA titles for Louisville at Hayward Field. The four-time Canadian champion has made every major final since 2013 and finished 4th in the Commonwealth Games ten days ago.
Rounding out the field are two Ethiopian teenagers, who might well be the future face of the event. Tesfaye Deriba, 19, was 7th in last year’s World Championships and recorded a best of 8:13.33.
Younger still at just 17, Getnet Wale set an Ethiopian Junior (under 20) record of 8:12.28 last year, and won the Ethiopian National Championships steeple this past Sunday. The Pre Classic will be the first race in the U.S. for both athletes.
|Men’s 3000-meter Steeplechase||Personal Best|
|Paul Kipsiele Koech||Kenya||7:54.31|
|Soufiane El Bakkali||Morocco||8:04.83|