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Rutto answers the Kenyan call

Ronald Kipchumba Rutto of Kenya wins the Men's 3000m Steeplechase Final (Getty Images)Ronald Kipchumba Rutto of Kenya wins the Men's 3000m Steeplechase Final (Getty Images) © Copyright

The IAAF World Junior Championships had not been one to remember for Kenya's men until Ronald Kipchumba Rutto stood on the start line of the 3000m steeplechase on Saturday.

Four days of the championship had come and gone without a Kenyan man taking a title, with the 800m, 1500m or 10,000m gold medals - events which Kenyans have won on numerous occasions in the past - all going elsewhere.

However, in a thrilling race over the last lap, Rutto responded to the challenge and salvaged Kenyan pride by holding off Qatar's Obaid Musa Amer after a titanic tussle down the home straight.

Rutto clocked a personal best of 8:23.32 while Amer, who was born in Kenya and lived there until 2001, was rewarded with an Asian junior record of 8:23.38.

"I am very happy because the coaches said that I had a big responsibility, I had to bring home a gold medal and bring honour to the national flag. I am very proud to have responded," said a beaming Rutto, who also won the IAAF World Youth title in Sherbrooke, Canada, last year.

"The two Qataris were very strong, I saw that they were good in the heats, but fortunately the tactics I had been given worked out well."

Rutto's tactics, such as they were, were very simple - get to the front, and run very hard!

He lead through the 1000m mark in 2:47.66 and then passed through 2000m in 5:38.11 before finishing with the second fastest time in championship history.

Only Rutto's compatriot Raymond Yator has run faster at the World Juniors, his spectacular solo effort four years ago in Santiago de Chile when he posted the current championship best of 8:16.34.

Images of Yator and many other Kenyan steeplechasers were going through Rutto's mind as he heard the gun.

"I was thinking that we have such a long history in this event. There have been so many Kenyans, like (reigning Olympic champion and 1998 World Junior champion) Reuban Kosgei, that have won the junior title. I said to myself I can't let the gold medal fall into anybody else's hands," reflected Rutto.

By six-hundredths of a second, Rutto managed to keep Kenya's remarkable 3000m steeplechase winning streak alive. The country has won the event every time it has been contested at the IAAF World Junior Championships in a run going back to 1988. (The steeplechase at the inaugural Championships in 1986 was over 2000m and won by Spain's Jon Azkueta.) 

Now, Rutto is looking to the future having ensured that Kenyan pride has not been consigned to the past.

"I came here with the intention of running under 8:25 so I am very happy for this as well. But I know that I can run much faster. I am also starting to think about the World Championships next year. I want to go there and win a medal."

Rutto admitted he did not know about the unique feat of South African high jumper Jacques Freitag who won the World Youth title in 1999, the World Juniors the following year and then a gold medal on the senior stage last summer in Paris but it seemed to provide Rutto with food for thought when presented with the fact.

"He is the only athlete right? Winning the world title next year will be tough but if I do it then I will have gone one step further every year and I will have done it quicker than him (Freitag). I will try!" said Rutto brightly, at the thought that another opportunity to enter the annals of athletics history lay before him.

Phil Minshull for the IAAF