On a night that was all about winning rather than times, Olympic, world, Commonwealth and African champion Conseslus Kipruto found a way to retain his IAAF Diamond League steeplechase title at Zurich’s Weltklasse meeting on Thursday.
Despite losing his shoe during the first lap, he moved past Morocco’s Soufiane El Bakkali in the final few strides after clearing the final hurdle in second place. That effectively ignited the 25,000 capacity crowd in what was the first of two Diamond League finals in the space of 24 hours, with a few athletes having travel planned to get over to Brussels for part two.
The excitement levels peaked again as the women’s 5000m produced another classic head-to-head sprint finish, with Kenya’s world champion Hellen Obiri eventually retaining her title despite huge pressure from European champion Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands – who then faced a drive through the night to get to Belgium.
Kipruto has proven himself over and again as a competitor, winning the 2016 Olympic title and beating El Bakkali to last year’s world title, but he has surely never faced such a challenge as this.
“I have big pain,” he said after finishing a stride ahead in 8:10.15, with his taller opponent dropping, exhausted, to the track after clocking 8:11.19. “I am injured because I lost my left shoe. That was a mess. But it motivated me to fight as hard as I could, so the race went well.”
Six women, including Obiri, Hassan and Ethiopia’s Senbere Teferi and world 1500m record-holder Genzebe Dibaba, had reached the bell together – and with drama imminent. Hassan, facing a night drive to Brussels in order to contest the 1500m in the second IAAF Diamond League final of the season, made her break on the back straight, floating to the lead, but very soon the smaller, dogged figure of Obiri, the world champion, had moved past her.
As the two women reached the straight, Hassan, an emphatic winner of the European title earlier this month, moved wide for another challenge. But Obiri, serenely confident beforehand, simply wasn’t having it, claiming one of the sixteen Diamond trophies on offer, and its accompanying winner’s cheque for US$50,000, as she crossed in 14:38.39, with Hassan second in 14:38.77 and Teferi third in 14:40.07.
“Before the race I felt I would win,” said Obiri, who covered the final 200m in 27.39. “Finally everything came together, and I am proud.”
A men’s 1500m unfortunately lacking the presence of Norway’s 17-year-old European 1500m and 5000m champion Jakob Ingebrigtsen, who was reportedly unwell with a sore throat, was won in emphatic style by the Kenyan who has dominated the distance this season, Timothy Cheruyiot. After his training partner Elijah Manangoi, who beat him to the world title last summer, had led through the bell, Cheruyiot made his challenge around the final bend and moved clear in the final straight to collect the spoils in 3:30.27 ahead of Manangoi in 3:31.16.
World and Olympic 800m champion Caster Semenya ran the race she felt, without pacemakers, just the way she likes it – and she obviously felt good despite having had such a long season that began with a Commonwealth Games win in April as she took route one once again and pushed to the line for a winning time of 1:55.27.