As expected, the Kenyan quartet made qualifying for the final look easy as they won all three heats.
The first heat started at almost pedestrian pace as the field trotted through the first kilometre in 3:07.77. The tempo barely increased as the second kilometre was passed in 6:06.02 before there was a sudden increase in pace with two laps to go, engineered by Canada’s Matthew Hughes.
Hughes, sixth in Moscow two years ago, was still in front coming into the home straight but was passed on the run in by 2013 silver medallist Conseslus Kipruto and US champion Evan Jager. The Canadian hung on for the third and final automatic qualifying spot, a vital position in a race as slow as this in which non-automatic qualifiers were unlikely to proceed.
Kipruto was first in 8:41.41 with Jager 0.1 behind and Hughes third in in 8:41:52.
Miscalculating both the pace and his finish, France’s European champion Yoann Kowal was fourth in 8:41.65 and failed to progress as a non-automatic qualifier, the biggest name to miss out on a place in the final.
The second heat started significantly faster and the first kilometre was covered in 2:50.51. Two kilometres was reached in 5:43.18, more than 20 seconds faster than the first heat and giving some hope of making the final to the men who did not finish in the top three.
Down the home straight, Kenya’s Jairus Birech showed why he has been the No.1 steeplechaser in the world since the start of last year by going through the gears before winning in 8:25.77. He was followed home by Algeria’s Bilal Tabti and USA’s Don Cabral.
Knowing what was needed to make the final, it might have been expected that the third and final heat would have been slightly faster. The winning time was eventually quicker than the first two heats, but the pace was almost identical to the second heat with the first two kilometres reached in 2:50.74 and 5:44.86.
Three-time world champion Ezekiel Kemboi played a waiting game until about 200 metres to go when he started to kick hard and he sprinted off the last barrier before winning in 8:24.75, followed home by Morocco’s Brahim Taleb.
The only one of the Kenyan runners to look anything less than completely comfortable was the 2007 world and 2008 Olympic champion Brimin Kipruto.
He had to work hard off the final barrier to secure third place but with the four men immediately behind him qualifying as non-automatic qualifiers there was no real likelihood that he would not make the final.
Two slightly surprising casualties in the fourth heat were two men who have run faster than 8:20 this season. Canada’s Taylor Milne finished a distant eighth and Spain’s Roberto Alaiz failed to finish.
As extensively predicted beforehand, on the evidence of Saturday morning, the final appears shaping up as a Kenya v Evan Jager duel.
Phil Minshull for the IAAF