Moroccan double world medallist lands Olympic gold with perfectly timed charge to the line
Soufiane El Bakkali ended the Kenyan monopoly of the Olympic 3000m steeplechase as he timed his run perfectly to take gold in Tokyo on Monday night.
The Moroccan who won world silver in 2017 and bronze two years ago in Doha, produced the fastest closing kilometre ever seen in an Olympic steeplechase final – 2:32.4 – as he overtook Lamecha Girma midway through the final lap and strode to the finish line, clocking 8:08.90.
The Ethiopian world silver medallist, who had forced the pace for much of the contest, was second in 8:10.38 while Kenyan Benjamin Kigen landed bronze with 8:11.45 and pre-race favourite Getnet Wale finished fourth in 8:14.97.
Not counting 1976 and 1980, years in which they boycotted the Olympics, Kenyan athletes had won 11 successive titles in the event but, with defending champion and double world gold medallist Conseslus Kipruto absent, that record looked like it would come under serious threat.
So it proved as Girma and his compatriot Wale moved to the front towards the end of the first lap and looked to dictate matters. Apart from a 500m spell when home athlete Ryuji Miura led, there was an Ethiopian in control at the head of affairs – the first kilometre was passed in 2:50.04 and the pace increased slightly as the field went through 2000m in 5:35.66 – until the back straight of the final circuit.
El Bakkali had edged his way on to the shoulder of the leading pair at the bell and began to move through the gears. While Wale faltered, Girma – who lost the world title to Kipruto by the width of a vest two years ago – was also overhauled and there was to be no reply to the Moroccan’s final push as he covered the finishing circuit in 57.90.
“I am so used to seeing Kenyans win, it’s a big accomplishment for me,” said El Bakkali, who was fourth in Rio and achieved his country’s first gold in the event. “I have been aiming for this for years and this was my opportunity to show that Morocco is capable of winning this prize in front of the Kenyans.
“It was not easy for me to be in front of the Kenyans and Ethiopians. I have been thinking about being more confident, working on my self-confidence and also trusting that I can win. I have tried so many times to compare myself with the Kenyans and Ethiopians to see whether I could reach this gold, and I did.”