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3000m steeplechase dominance by Kenyans and training methods

April 11, 2023
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Runners running the 3000m steeplechase event
Runners running the 3000m steeplechase event

Kenya's dominance of the 3000m steeplechase

If there is one event that Kenyans have and continues to dominate, it is the 3000m steeplechase. It used to be the men in the past, but Kenyan female runners are also beginning to take after their male counterparts. There is the emergence of Hyvin Kiyeng, Beatrice Chepkoech, who now holds the world record of 8:44:32, Celiphine Chespol, Faith Cherotich and Jackline Chepkoech, who have continued to dominate the Diamond League races in recent years.

The 3000m steeplechase training regime is almost identical to the 5000m and the 1500m events. The areas to work on are speed, endurance and strength. For the better part of 2009, I often met with Ezekiel Kemboi, the four times world champion (2009, 2011, 2013 and 2015) and two-time Olympic Champion (2004 and 2012), and occasionally joined his group at Kipchoge Keino Stadium and also along the trails around Eldoret, during my training sessions.

He used to train mostly in a group of 5000m and 10,000m track athletes, and not a day did I see him use any special program for the steeplechase. Nevertheless, he went ahead to win a Gold medal at the World Championships that year and repeated the same in three other consecutive World Championships perhaps the only difference between the steeplechase and other middle-distance track events is in the agility needed to jump over the barriers efficiently and also in the ability to run at constantly changing pace variations, i.e. slowing down to clear a barrier or a pool of water, then accelerating again before approaching the next one.

However, having trained occasionally alongside other great Kenyan steeplechase runners, including Jairus Birech and Conseslus Kipruto, it has been interesting to observe that the world's renowned steeplechasers hardly spend time on these drills. Much of their training is really on the running itself. Jumping the barriers is natural and does not require a lot of specialized training and trying to study various articles on "technique." Most of the articles tend to complicate this natural running event with terms like "low waistline," turning your feet on your back outwards while jumping over a barrier, landing on the water pit at a particular posture, etc.


It is possible for any athlete who has been training on their speed, strength and endurance to run in a 3000m steeplechase competition, without ever having practiced on jumping over the barriers, and win. For example, Faith Kipyegon just ran a cross country race recently -The Sirikwa Classic- with all the "steeplechase barriers and water jumps" and won it despite having no background in the steeplechase event.

But, for the 110m or the 400m hurdles, a lot of training may be needed on leaping over the barriers because they are closer together, and one has to get right the number of steps they take before each hurdle. Moreover, talking with various 3000m steeplechase athletes here and having witnessed some of them rising to stardom, many never had past experience jumping the barriers.

In fact, while selecting athletes to represent some regions in the national competitions in Kenya, it is only on the provincials or the nationals when they are exposed to the barriers, having been running a plain 3000m in the previous stages.

The standard barriers for the steeplechase are 91.4cm (36 in) tall for men and 76.2cm (30 in) for women. In one lap, an athlete clears five barriers; the fifth barrier is situated in front of a pit of water which is 3.66m long and 70cm deep closer to the barrier and sloping upwards till it meets the track's surface. Unlike the 400m hurdles, the barriers for this event are firmly fixed so they do not fall down when hit by an athlete. This is one of the reasons why athletes with the talent to do well in this event would prefer to go for other events because of their fear of hitting barriers and sustaining injuries.

At the 1968 Olympic Games, Amos Biwott of Kenya amazed the world by leaping over the entire pit of water without putting his foot on top of the barrier! From then on, Kenyans began dominating this event in all the major world championships, mostly scooping the first 1-2-3 positions.

Qatar and Bahrain are two other nations that have also recorded some success in the 3000m steeplechase event, only that most of the athletes representing them are Kenyan-born. An example is Stephen Cherono, who holds the world record for the event after changing his name and citizenship to Saif Saeed Shaheen of Qatar.

Although Kenyan athletes dominate it, the steeplechase event is believed to have originated in the British Isles. The women's event only began to feature in major championships as late as 2005, with Russian and Kenyan women seeming to dominate it.

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