Beatrice Chepkoech on her way to winning the steeplechase at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Monaco (© Philippe Fitte)
On a night of sensational running at a hot and humid Stade Louis II, Kenya’s Beatrice Chepkoech produced the crowning performance of the tenth IAAF Diamond League meeting of the season as she took more than eight seconds off the women’s world 3000m steeplechase record*, coming home, alone and triumphant, in 8:44.32.
That obliterated the mark of 8:52.78 set by Ruth Jebet of Bahrain in winning at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Paris in 2016, and the 8:58.78 set in Eugene last year by her compatriot Celliphine Chespol, who was on her shoulder halfway through this race but slipped back to a 10th-place finish in 9:12.05.
It was the fifth world record set at this gem of a meeting at the business end of the season.
The 27-year-old Chepkoech, who had come into this race with the fastest time of the season, 8:59.36, has never won a major global medal – missing a water jump and having to run back during last year’s World Championship final hardly helped her chances – but she gave an indication of her sharpness this season by taking silver in the Commonwealth Games 1500m final.
She was clear of the field with three laps remaining as the rising tone of the commentary highlighted the growing possibility of a monumental performance that was duly delivered.
“I wanted to break the world record, that was the plan from the beginning of the season,” said Chepkoech. “And I was aware the biggest chance would be at Monaco due to weather, crowds and the whole environment. And this plan worked well.
“I knew I was running fast splits, but I was not worried. I felt strong during the race. I was thinking maybe I can break 8:50 but not at all was I dreaming about 8:44. And this time still could be improved I’m sure. Maybe my next target could be to run under 8:40.
“It is a great feeling I brought back to Kenya the steeplechase world record. I’m very proud of it.”
In fact, she is the first Kenyan woman to hold the 3000m steeplechase world record.
Behind her, Courtney Frerichs of the United States, surprise world silver medallist last year behind compatriot Emma Coburn, made the most of the fabulous pace by pushing to the line for second place in a North American record of 9:00.85, with Kenya’s 2015 world champion Hyvin Kiyeng finishing third in 9:04.41, one place ahead of Coburn, who clocked a season’s best of 9:05.06.
Meeting records for Semenya and Lyles
Fleetingly, it looked as if there might be a second world record on the night as world and Olympic 800m champion Caster Semenya, face set with determination, dominated a world class field from gun to tape.
At the bell the powerful figure in white had the race completely won, passing in 55.76. Hopes, and the commentary level, once again rose. Semenya, who has often seemed to glide along, was clearly working hard all the way here, but as she gained the final straight, the field behind her seemed to have been able to make up a little time.
The South African crossed in the phenomenal time of 1:54.60 – a meeting record, and narrowly outside the African record of 1:54.25 she set in winning at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Paris on June 30.
“It was just fantastic, only the last 100 metres were a little off for me,” Semenya said. “I was not thinking about the world record today and actually it is not on my mind.”
Burundi’s world and Olympic silver medallist Francine Niyonsaba was second in 1:55.96, with Natoya Goule of Jamaica setting a national record of 1:56.15 in third place and world bronze medallist Ajee Wilson of the United States finishing fourth in 1:56.45. Eleven of the twelve runners finished inside two minutes.
Noah Lyles, meanwhiles, continues to float on as a rising sprint phenomenon in the post-Bolt athletics world.
The defending IAAF Diamond League 200m champion from Gainesville, Florida, who turned 21 on Wednesday, lowered his own personal best to 19.65, also a meeting record, as he easily defeated a field that contained Turkey’s world champion Ramil Guliyev, who was second in 19.99.
Lyles, who had passed the Turk, one place outside him in lane seven, as they entered the final bend, maintained his lead before producing some of the post-race jollity that – he is pleased to observe – is now becoming expected of him, this time adding an extravagant backflip to his accustomed dancing steps.
“It was a great race, improving the meet record!” said Lyles. “I did the same start as I did in Prefontaine and I could feel it, it gives me confidence in what I can do next. Now I’m going to the Birmingham Diamond League, and finally Zurich to hopefully get a win!”
The weather suited the sprinters very well tonight. Marie-Jose Ta Lou of the Ivory Coast won the women’s 100m in 10.89, clear of her fast-starting compatriot Murielle Ahoure, the world indoor champion, who clocked 11.01.
Winning has become a habit this season for the woman who took world 100m and 200m silver last summer. As it has for the man who took world silver in last year’s 110m hurdles final, Sergey Shubenkov.
The 2015 world champion kept up his gold standard, although he may have been slightly underwhelmed by his winning time of 13.07 given the fact that he has dipped under 13 seconds three times already this month, lowering his national record to 12.92 in the process.
Spain’s Olympic silver medallist Orlando Ortega was second in 13.18, with home runner Pascal Martinot-Lagarde finishing third in a season’s best of 13.20.
Lysenko clears 2.40m
The high jump, lacking the injured world champion Mutaz Essa Barshim, nevertheless witnessed a 2.40m clearance as world silver medallist Danil Lysenko rose to the occasion after winning the event with a first-time clearance of 2.33m.
His personal best equalled the meeting record and the mark with which Barshim led the 2018 world standings coming into this meeting.
The event contained its own mini-drama with the presence of the flamboyant Italian Gianni Tamberi, whose rising career came to a sickening halt at the meeting here shortly before the Rio 2016 Olympic Games when he set the Italian record of 2.39m but then severely injured his ankle attempting to go higher.
Tamberi, he of the half-shaven beard, has been rebuilding his career slowly having missed over a year of activity, and tonight he put in another significant block as he cleared a season’s best of 2.27m at his third attempt. He finished third – but in terms of receiving love from the crowd, even on a night like this, he was a clear winner.
An already busy rivalry at the highest levels of women’s pole vaulting became that much more lively earlier in the week when New Zealand’s Eliza McCartney moved to the top of the 2018 world list with a 4.94m clearance at Jockgrim in Germany on Tuesday.
That took her a centimetre ahead of the 36-year-old 2012 Olympic champion Jenn Suhr of the United States, with compatriot Sandi Morris, the world indoor champion, third on the list with 4.88m.
As things turned out, the winner was somewhat unexpected as Anzhelika Sidorova equalled her personal best with a 4.85m clearance, with Cuba’s 2015 world champion Yarisley Silva second with a season’s best of 4.80m, on countback from Greece’s world and Olympic champion Katerina Stefanidi and world indoor champion Sandi Morris of the United States.
France’s Ninon Guillon-Romarin beat her own national record with an effort of 4.75m.
With four women over 4.80m, eight women over 4.75m and 10 women over 4.60m, it was a competition of unprecedented depth.
Mike Rowbottom for the IAAF
*Subject to the usual ratification procedures.