Looking ahead to the IAAF World Athletics Championships Doha 2019 and the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, we're highlighting the rise of a new generation, 10 exciting prospects under the age of 21 who are set to become stars of the sport over the next few years.
The series, which began last week, has so far featured Swedish pole vaulter Armand Duplantis, US sprinter Sydney McLaughlin, Ethiopian distance runner Selemon Barega, Jamaican sprinter Briana Williams, Cuban long jumper Juan Miguel Echevarria, Bahraini sprinter Salwa Eid Naser, Kenyan distance runner Rhonex Kipruto, Ukrainian heptathlete Alina Shukh and Norwegian middle-distance runner Jakob Ingebrigtsen.
The final instalment focuses on up-and-coming Kenyan steeplechaser Celliphine Chespol.
Profile: Celliphine Chespol
Event: 3000m steeplechase
Born: 23 March 1999
Coach: Boniface Ndiwa
Celliphine Chespol made a splash – both figuratively and literally – when she made her international debut in 2015.
Little was known of the Kenyan 16-year-old before the IAAF World U18 Championships Cali 2015. Indeed, she wasn’t tipped as a likely gold medallist because she had finished a distant second at the Kenyan trials, eight seconds behind teammate Sandra Tuei.
But she timed her peak to perfection in the Colombian city and won comfortably in 6:17.15.
At the IAAF World U20 Championships Bydgoszcz 2016 one year later, Chespol was unable to fly under the radar again. Not only was she the reigning world U18 champion, she had also clocked a PB of 9:24.73 at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Shanghai earlier in the season, a world U18 best and the fastest time in the world that year by an U20 athlete.
She duly won in Bydgoszcz with a nine-second margin, clocking a championship record of 9:25.15.
Before focusing on the track season in 2017, Chespol started her year with a brief cross-country campaign and earned a bronze medal in the U20 women’s race at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships Kampala 2017.
She was back steeplechasing just six weeks later and opened with a world U20 record of 9:05.70 at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Doha. There was more to come, though, as she chopped another seven seconds off that mark when winning at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Eugene.
Despite having to stop to fix her shoe that had become dislodged, Chespol crossed the line in 8:58.78 to become just the third woman in history up until that point to break the nine-minute barrier. She moved to second on the world all-time list and consolidated her top spot on the world U20 all-time list.
A victory at the Kenyan Trials secured Chespol’s spot on the national team for the IAAF World Championships London 2017 later that year. After winning her heat, she finished a respectable sixth in the final in 9:15.04.
Chespol once again focused on cross country at the start of 2018 and won the gold medal in the senior women’s race at the African Cross Country Championships in Chlef.
Although she didn’t better her steeplechase PB in 2018, Chespol improved her consistency and finished in the top two in all but two of her races. She took silver at the Commonwealth Games, finished second at the Kenyan Championships and at the senior African Championships.
She also successfully defended her title at the IAAF World U20 Championships Tampere 2018, taking 13 seconds off her own championship record with her winning time of 9:12.78.
Chespol ended her year by taking victory at the prestigious Manchester Road Race in Connecticut on what was her road racing debut.
Three different surfaces, three significant victories. Chespol isn’t just a fantastic steeplechaser; she is a genuine triple threat on all terrains.
10 facts about Chespol
1. She hails from Mount Elgon.
The area near the Ugandan border also produced the likes of three-time world cross-country champion Edith Masai and, from the other side of the border, 2012 Olympic marathon champion Stephen Kiprotich.
2. Her school is something of an athletics powerhouse.
Chespol studied at Nairobi’s Riruta Central School, whose alumni include world 5000m champion Hellen Obiri, world U18 800m champion Jackline Wambui, world U18 800m silver medallist Lydia Jeruto, 2009 world U18 1500m champion Nelly Chebet, 2006 world U20 3000m silver medallist Pauline Korikwiang and 2008 world U20 steeplechase silver medallist Elizabeth Mueni. Imagine what their school sports day is like…
3. When she made her international debut at the IAAF World U18 Championships Cali 2015, her name was misspelt on her bib.
She competed wearing a bib saying ‘Chespot’. Turns out no one is immune from typos, not least the people who input names into entry systems.
4. She takes to new experiences like a duck to water…
Or, more accurately, a steeplechaser to a water jump. Her first overseas competition was the IAAF World U18 Championships Cali 2015, which she won. And in her first ever IAAF Diamond League appearance, she clocked a then PB of 9:24.73, which ended up being her fastest time of 2016.
5. She is just as proficient on mud and roads
An U20 bronze medal at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships Kampala 2017 and a gold medal in the senior race at the 2018 African Cross Country Championships show that Chespol is one of the best in the world at cross country. She made her road racing debut last month at the prestigious Manchester Road Race in the US and won against a quality field.
6. She is coached by her husband, Boniface Ndiwa.
She does most of her training in Ngong with a group of other top athletes including Lilian Kasait Rengeruk, the world cross-country bronze medallist.
7. Chespol’s idol is 2013 world steeplechase champion Milcah Chemos
“I always wanted to be a great runner like her,” Chespol says of the first Kenyan woman to win a world steeplechase title. “I also get a lot of motivation from mum (Beatrice Naliaka), she has supported me since I started as a junior while still a pupil at Kipsabula Primary School before moving to Nairobi.”
8. She is the first woman in history to win back-to-back world U20 titles in the steeplechase.
Just 22 athletes in the history of the World U20 Championships have successfully defended an individual title. In 2018 Chespol became the first to do so in the women’s steeplechase.
9. She dominates the world U20 all-time list.
With seven of the fastest times in history by an U20 athlete, Chespol is almost 10 seconds faster than the second-fastest woman ever in her age group.
10. She is one of only three women to beat world record-holder Beatrice Chepkoech in both 2017 and 2018.
The other two – Hyvin Kiyeng and Emma Coburn – have both won senior world titles. Not bad company.
World all-time top 10, 3000m steeplechase
8:44.32 Beatrice Chepkoech (KEN) Monaco 2018
8:52.78 Ruth Jebet (BRN) Paris 2016
8:58.78 Celliphine Chespol (KEN) Eugene 2017
8:58.81 Gulnara Galkina (RUS) Beijing 2008
8:59.62 Norah Jeruto (KEN) Brussels 2018
9:00.01 Hyvin Kiyeng (KEN) Eugene 2016
9:00.85 Courtney Frerichs (USA) Monaco 2018
9:02.58 Emma Coburn (USA) London 2017
9:05.36 Habiba Ghribi (TUN) Brussels 2015
9:06.57 Yekaterina Volkova (RUS) Osaka 2007
World U20 steeplechase record progression
10:23.47 Courtney Pugmire (USA) Atlanta 23 Jun 1996
10:10.73 Melissa Rollison (AUS) Sydney 25 Feb 2000
9:47.30 Melissa Rollison (AUS) Brisbane 29 Jun 2001
9:30.70 Melissa Rollison (AUS) Brisbane 4 Sep 2001
9:25.25 Ruth Bosibori Nyangau (KEN) Osaka 27 Aug 2007
9:24.51 Ruth Bosibori Nyangau (KEN) Daegu 3 Oct 2007
9:22.51 Almaz Ayana (ETH) Brussels 27 Aug 2010
9:20.37 Birtukan Adamu (ETH) Rome 26 May 2011
9:05.70 Celliphine Chespol (KEN) Doha 5 May 2017
8:58.78 Celliphine Chespol (KEN) Eugene 26 May 2017