Bahrain’s Winfred Mutile Yavi saw off the challenge posed by her more fancied rivals to win the women’s 3000m steeplechase title at the World Athletics Championships Budapest 23 on Sunday (27), running 8:54.29 for the fifth-fastest time in history.
To many, there had been one big question ahead of the final: which Kenyan Chepkoech was going to have their name engraved on the gold medal?
Jackline or Beatrice? The supplementary query was whether any of the leading lights of the seven-and-a-half lap event could crash the party and make a name for themselves.
The form book pointed to Jackline. The 19-year-old won the Commonwealth Games title in Birmingham last year and smashed through the nine-minute barrier for the first time at the London Diamond League on 23 July, finishing almost seven seconds ahead of Beatrice in 8:57.35, a world lead.
As it transpired, in the heat of battle in Budapest, the teenager was never a contender and she finished ninth in 9:14.72.
While one Chepkoech passed through the race virtually unnoticed, the other grabbed it by the scruff of the neck.
Beatrice set off looking something like the woman who set the world record of 8:44.32 in Monaco in 2018, and who followed up with World Championships gold in 2019.
Such was the 32-year-old’s relentless pace, only Yavi could stay in touch – and, even then, the Bahraini was always some two metres behind. Until the penultimate lap, that is.
Fourth in the previous two World Championships finals, Yavi was not going to miss her chance to finally make it on to the podium as a winner. She steadily closed the gap, then overtook Beatrice at the bell and forged ahead.
The 23-year-old crossed the finish line in 8:54.29, not just eclipsing the younger Chepkoech’s 2023 world lead but moving to fourth on the world all-time list.
The elder Chepkoech was more than four seconds down, clocking 8:58.98 for silver. Her Kenyan teammate, the 19-year-old world U20 champion Faith Cherotich, comfortably won the race for bronze in 9:00.69 – a first podium finish in the event by a teenager.
Next home and finishing fourth in 9:05.51 was Zerfe Wondemagegn, the Ethiopian who gained world U20 silver behind Cherotich last year. France’s European indoor 3000m silver medallist Alice Finot was fifth in 9:06.15, with Slovenia’s Marusa Mismas Zrimsek sixth in 9:06.37.
“It was a fast race but I did not realise it was that fast. I knew I would have the power on the last lap. It was perfect,” said Yavi.
“I have never felt like this before. I worked hard and I am grateful for this amazing achievement.
“After finishing fourth at the past two World Championships, the gold medal gives me additional motivation to train hard.”
Beatrice Chepkoech was a happy woman, too.
“This silver feels like gold to me,” she said. “The last few years have been tough due to injury. Coming back is something special for me.
“It has been hard. Since the Tokyo Olympics I have been struggling and I thought I might never come back but tonight proves I am still strong.”
As for Cherotich, the bronze medallist reflected: “Nine minutes is a fantastic time. I know I am in shape to go under nine minutes. It is very possible.
“Last year I won the world U20 title and I worked hard to make the Kenyan team for Budapest. It’s my debut at the senior World Championships, but I did not worry. The feeling is pretty much the same I had a year ago as a junior. It is a huge responsibility to represent your country.
“I am very surprised to know that I am the first teenager who got a medal at the World Championships in women’s steeplechase. Now I am looking forward to being highly prepared for the Olympics.
“Why not? Everything is possible for people who believe in themselves.”
|WOMEN’S 3000m STEEPLECHASE MEDALLISTS
|Winfred Mutile Yavi 🇧🇭 BRN
|Beatrice Chepkoech 🇰🇪 KEN
|Faith Cherotich 🇰🇪 KEN
Credit: World Athletics