There was little to suggest that Meresa Kahsay would emerge as the 2000m Steeplechase champion in Donetsk but he arrived in the Ukrainian city fully confident that he could not only take the gold medal but also go into new territory for a boy.
In the end, Kahsay became the first youth boy to break the 5:20 barrier when he crossed the line in 5:19.99, barely 10 seconds away from the senior world best of 5:10.68 run by France’s Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad in 2010.
He improved on the former World youth best of 5:21.36 held by Morocco’s Nabil Ouhaddi since 2006 and the championship record of 5:24.69 run by Kenya’s Abel Mutai at the 2005 edition.
It also meant that, perhaps surprisingly considering the domination of the Kenyan men in the Steeplechase, that Ethiopia now is in possession of both the boys’ and girls’ World youth best performances, his compatriot Korahubsh Itaa having won the girls' 2009 World youth title in a still-standing best of 6:11.83.
A super-fast time in Donetsk was on the cards from the half waypoint which was passed in 2:39.90, with Kenya’s Nicholas Kiptonui Bett leading the way from Kahsay and another Kenyan, Justus Kipkorir Lagat.
The Ethiopian’s Rift Valley rivals Bett and Lagat eventually finished with the silver and bronze medals respectively.
“I knew exactly what the World youth best was, I knew the time. I didn’t know exactly what I was capable of but I knew I could beat this time,” said Kahsay through a translator.
“I wasn’t too worried to start with, I was confident, but in the middle of the race they (Bett and Lagat) were still together and we were going very fast, and then I began to suspect myself a little bit.
“However, I made it through my talent,” added Kahsay, after pulling away from Bett off the final barrier with a hugely impressive turn of speed.
Kahsay, who hails from close to the famed Mosobo mountain in the Tigray region, graduated to being the best in the world after finishing only as second at the African Youth Championships in Nigeria back in March.
It was there that he clocked his previous best of 5:42.20 but that was far from a true reflection of his ability.
“I have not run any 2000m Steeplechase races before this year. I prefer the 3000m Steeplechase. In fact, I must say that I am better at that event.
“I finished seventh at the World Junior Championships in Barcelona last year, and so I am already looking forward to being a junior next year and running at these championships again. After this result I will go there looking to win.”
Kahsay has a best of 8:36.13 over the longer distance but that was set last year in Barcelona and is surely due for some substantial revision.
The best youth time on record for the 3000m Steeplechase is 8:17.28 by Kenya’s Jonathan Ndiku, who ran that standard in the Polish city of Bydgoszcz six years ago.
On Friday, Kahsay was uncertain where he would be racing next but wanted to go after the World youth best over the longer Steeplechase distance and mix it up with some of the elder statesmen of the event.
In the longer term, he wants to break Roba Gari’s Ethiopian record of 8:06.18 or, if that target has moved, become the first Ethiopian to run under eight minutes.
Phil Minshull for the IAAF