Ezekiel Kemboi of Kenya celebrates after winning the gold medal in the Men's 3000m Steeplechase Final on Day 9 of the London 2012 Olympic Games on 5 August 2012 (Getty Images) © Copyright
The 30-year-old readily fended off the late race charge of Frenchman Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad to win in 8:18.56 to become only the second two-time Olympic champion in the event, after Finn Volmari Iso-Hollo took back-to-back titles in 1932 and 1936.
"In Beijing I was sick so I did not win," Kemboi said of his seventh place finish four years ago. "So I’m so happy to have won here."
He did however win both World titles on offer since Beijing, and arrived in the British capital as a solid favourite, a role he fulfilled admirably. The slow tactical start played perfectly into his hands but did cause some havoc with jostling and shoving for position resulting in slips, trips and falls.
Ethiopian Nahom Mesfin and U.S. duo of Evan Jager and Don Cabral controlled the modest pace early on, until Abel Mutai, the Kenyan No. 3, took command of the tightly wound pack through 2000 metres. Mutai, along with Kemboi and 2008 champion Brimin Kipruto, were in good position to set up a possible podium sweep, but it was foiled when the defending champion fell with some 600 metres to go, seemingly knocking him out of contention.
The final lap proved to be a four-way battle for the medals, between Kemboi, Ethiopian Roba Gari, Mutai and Mekhissi-Benabbad, the 2008 silver medallist. Kemboi broke away for good with about 200 metres remaining, with the Frenchman mounting his final assault as he approached the final water jump. First dashing by Gari, he narrowed the gap on Mutai with every stride before finally moving into second with about 50 metres to go. He didn’t however have enough in the tank to challenge Kemboi, who cruised the final 20 metres with arms held high and running wide across the track before crossing the line in lane eight. Less than a minute later, he was already bare-chested at the side of the track adding moves to the victory dance he made famous in Daegu.
"They call me the mini-Bolt," the animated Kenyan joked.
Mekhissi-Benabbad was uncharacteristically pleased after the race, smiling as he embraced his long-time rival.
"I had given everything in this race and lost to a better opponent," the Frenchman said. "He is a great champion, the best of all time. I have no regrets at all."
Mutai held on for the bronze in 8:19.73 for yet another Kenyan two-medal finish with Gari fourth just a step behind in 8:20.00.
Kipruto meanwhile fought back from his fall admirably, finishing fifth in 8:23.03, just ahead of U.S. record holder Jager (8:23.87).
Bob Ramsak for the IAAF
- Ezekiel Kemboi of Kenya celebrates after winning the gold medal in the Men's 3000m Steeplechase Final on Day 9 of the London 2012 Olympic Games on 5 August 2012 (Getty Images) © Copyright
- Silver medalist Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad of France celebrates with gold medalist Ezekiel Kemboi of Kenya celebrate after the Men's 3000m Steeplechase on Day 9 of the 2012 London Olympic Games on 5 August 2012 (Getty Images) © Copyright