For most spectators in Friday’s steamy and spectacular IAAF Diamond League meeting in the Stade Louis II, Beatrice Chepkoech’s 3000m steeplechase world record looked on with about three laps to go. As far as Chepkoech was concerned, however, it was on from the moment the gun went…
What became clear soon after she had taken an extraordinary margin of eight seconds off the world record mark of 8:52.78 in running 8:44.32 was how little of a surprise the achievement was to this 27-year-old Kenyan – albeit that even she had not anticipated running quite as fast.
“I wanted to break the world record; that was the plan from beginning of the season,” she said. “And I was aware the biggest chance will be in Monaco due to weather, crowds and the whole environment. And this plan worked well.
“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.”
After pacemaker Caroline Tuigong, the 2006 world U20 champion, had led to the 1000-metre mark in 2:55.23 before veering off, Chepkoech pushed on relentlessly, running her next two laps in 68.6 and 70.5.
When she reached 2000 metres in 5:49.81, looking smooth and untroubled, something special was clearly on.
Chepkoech slowed on the penultimate lap, running 71.4, before accelerating to embrace her historic moment with a final lap which the meeting organisers gave at 66.8.
“On my last lap I watched the time and I knew that I was going to break the world record and that was what I wished for,” she told the IAAF.
“It is great feeling I brought back to Kenya the women’s steeplechase record, I’m very proud of it. And that after six years of running and three years with steeplechase.”
According to Kenyan news sources, the question of whether Chepkoech would be running the steeplechase this season was something of an issue following the debacle at last year’s IAAF World Championships. She put paid to her excellent chance of winning the title when she missed a water jump and had to double back and put it right before finishing fourth in a race that ended with unexpected success for the United States as Emma Coburn and Courtney Frerichs won respective gold and silver.
“Of course I was angry,” she said as she reflected on her gaffe on Friday. “But that did not stop me from continuing to believe in myself, on the contrary.”
Nevertheless, it seemed that some others were not convinced. It was reported that she had been obliged to run the 1500m rather than the 3000m steeplechase at this year’s Commonwealth Games – where she took silver in 4:03.09 behind South Africa’s Caster Semenya – and has since wanted to prove a point by running a “strong PB”.
But there is no doubt that Chepkoech is an unusually adaptable athlete in terms of events. She began as a road runner, switching to the track in 2015, when she set a 1500m personal best of 4:03.28 and earned a bronze medal at the African Games.
She finished that season with a run in the 2000m steeplechase at the ISTAF Berlin meeting and made a successful transition to the full-distance event the following year, finishing fourth and second respectively at the Eugene and Stockholm IAAF Diamond League meetings before missing out on an Olympic medal by one place.
Chepkoech, who runs for Kenya’s national police service, underlined her outstanding breadth of talent at last month’s service championships, where she retained her steeplechase title in 10:00.60 before winning the 1500m in 4:07.69 – beating the 2013 world champion Eunice Sum into second place – before completing a hat-trick of titles in the 400m hurdles, where she ran 60.70.
Coached by 2006 European 800m champion Bram Som and a training partner of world and Olympic 1500m champion Faith Kipyegon, Chepkoeche is now due to represent Kenya – this time back in the 3000m steeplechase – at the African Championships in Asaba, Nigeria from 1-5 August, along with the world U20 champion Celliphine Chespol, 10th in Monaco, and Fancy Cherono.
It was a measure of her superiority on the night that second-placed Frerichs broke Coburn’s US record of 9:02.58, finishing in 9:00.85 to become the sixth fastest woman of all time – and she was more than 16 seconds adrift of the Kenyan.
“That race was incredible!” said Frerichs. “Eight seconds under the world record – it's such a huge step for the event, such a promotion.
“I’m so proud of this American record and what will keep us going is the nine minutes line and that's what I’ll be aiming for. It feels amazing to be an American among all the Kenyans and I have to give so much credit to Emma for making this event what it is now in America. Who knows what's coming next?”
On that subject, Chepkoech has already begun speculating: “Maybe my next target could be to run under 8.40.”
Mike Rowbottom for the IAAF