Despite what must be described as an “extraordinary” hurdling technique Ronald Kipchumba Rutto had demonstrated his intention to make a mark on these Championships by winning his first round heat in 5:38.03. The world leader at 5:35.0 - set at 5,000 feet altitude no less - said he was capable of breaking the world record and that he did with a superb time of 5:30.27.
Rutto’s Kenyan teammate Justus Kipchirchir Kiprono has run 5:38.3 also in Nairobi but until this day the two had never competed against one another. Their times were accomplished in separate heats of the Kenyan schools championships on June 18th.
The picture of composure Rutto arrived at the stadium nearly three hours before the competition wearing his Kenyan warmup suit and a brand new pair of street loafers. Immediately he was surrounded by other athletes who wanted to swap souvenirs. The distraction obviously didn’t bother him.
Rutto sprinted to the lead running the first lap in a shade over 63 seconds, remarkable considering that the water jump was on the outside of the track and he hurdled it each time. Kirprono soon moved into second position and gave chase.
After Rutto passed the first kilometre in 2:40.80 the question became whether he could hold onto the lead from his compatriot who had begun more cautiously but who was always within striking distance. With a lap to go the margin was about five metres and Rutto kept looking at the scoreboard television screen to see where the competition was.
The pair hurdled the last water barrier and then began a furious sprint to the finish with Rutto remaining composed enough to beat the record previously held by Mykola Matyushenko of the former Soviet Union (5:31.54).
“We had agreed that we would help each other but after the first lap I realised he was slowing down. So I decided to move,” said the happy 17 year old from Marakwet, “I was fearing when I saw on the television screen that those people were going to close the gap.”
Kiprono closed to within a second, also finishing under the old world record with 5:31.24 while the bronze medal went to Chris Winter. The Canadian produced a stunning finish in the home straight to surprise Stefan Patru and Marcin Chabowski with a personal best of 5:44.23. While the medalists were all happy with their performances Kiprono said he might do things differently if he had the race to run over.
“There were many of us on the line and I was afraid that I might fall and injure myself. So I decided to remain at the back,” Kiprono said. “ I would run as fast as I can. I would move earlier. Because on the last lap I had accepted that I would be number two at the finish.”