Eunice Jepkorir (641) and Ruth Bisibori Nyangau of Kenya celebrate finishing third and fourth in the women's steeplechase final (Getty Images) © Copyright
General News Osaka, Japan

Led by Jepkorir, Kenyans closing the gap in the women’s Steeplechase

  After several seasons on the fringe of the women’s 3000m Steeplechase, Kenyan women are beginning to narrow the gap.

“I believe we are getting there,” said Eunice Jepkorir after taking the bronze medal in the event on Day Three of the World championships. “Obviously it will be difficult to beat the Russians, but we are coming nearer already.”

Jepkorir clocked 9:20.09, finishing 11 seconds behind the Russian 1-2 of Yekaterina Volkova (9:06.57) and Tatyana Petrova (9:09.19). The 25-year-old Kenyan had battled with the Russians for much of the race, but then dropped back with about 600 metres to go.

Jepkorir’s optimism about the future battle between Russia and Kenya in a discipline that has been dominated by Kenyans (or athletes originating from Kenya) in the men’s event for many years also comes because of the fourth place finisher in the Osaka final: 19-year-old Ruth Bisibori Nyangau broke the World junior record, clocking 9:25.25 * minutes and improving the mark by more than five seconds. Australia’s Melissa Rollison had been the record holder with a time of 9:30.70 from 2001.

When the women’s steeple was first held at a major championship two years ago in Helsinki, Kenya had also won a bronze medal (Jeruto Kiptum) and taken a fifth place (Salome Chepchumba), but in the meantime they have clearly improved.

“We are getting stronger, and my friend Ruth has run a great race as well. But there are many more women steeple talents in Kenya. I would say that a group of ten have the ability to come through on the international stage in near future,” Jepkorir said.

Asked about a certain time goal for the future, Jepkorir said: “I am not thinking much about times. For me it is about winning. I hope to further improve. And next year in Beijing it is my goal to win the Olympics.”

Career began in early teens

From Eldama-Ravine, which is near Eldoret, Jepkorir has four sisters and four brothers. “I am the fourth oldest and my parents are farmers,” said Jepkorir, who this year had run 9:14.52, an African and Commonwealth record. “I ran to school when I was a child, but it was not far.” She improved the African mark set by Dorcus Inzikuru (UGA) at the World championship in Helsinki, despite a jumping technique that could be well improved.

“When I was in high school I discovered my talent at the age of 15. I was then running Cross Country and started doing the 5000 and 10,000m,” Jeporir said. “At the age of 17 I had a personal best at 10,000 metres of under 33 minutes.” After school she began to fully concentrate on running and came to Europe for the first time in 2003. Her first manager was German-based Volker Wagner, so she ran a number of road races in Germany.

Motivated by men’s Steeplechase success

“At that time I was running 5000 and 10,000m as well as road races.” She placed seventh at the World Cross Country Championships in 2004 and was 14th in the World Road Running  Championships over 20km in 2006.

“But now I am concentrating on the steeple. The success of the Kenyan men in this event is a big motivation for me. And it is very important for the development of the women’s steeplechase in Kenya. I very much admire athletes like Moses Kiptanui and Ezekiel Kemboi.” Jepkorir is self-coached and is managed by David Kipelio, a somewhat unique situation since Kipelio is a Kenyan.

Refering to Bisibori, Jepkorir said, “She has only come through this year and has already done great.” Picking up running at 15, the new World junior record holder claimed the African Games title running barefoot earlier in the season.

“I had heard of Isabella Ochichi and Catherine Ndereba and wanted to be like them,” Bisibori said. 

“It may well happen that Ruth will be stronger than me and beat me one day. But together we will be that much stronger and can then challenge the Russians,” Jepkorir added.

Jörg Wenig for the IAAF

* pending the usual ratification procedures