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Regarded as something of a young pretender to Kenya’s steeplechase crown, the 21-year-old sprinted clear of the field to seal gold in an Olympic record of 8:03.28. Evan Jager of the USA won silver, while the bronze went to France’s Mahiedine Mekhissi on appeal, after reigning two-time Olympic champion Ezekiel Kemboi of Kenya was disqualified for having stepped off the track.
A two-time world championship runner-up, Kipruto was so far ahead of his rivals that he started celebrating and waving to the crowd at the start of the final straight. “I saw the screen and I saw I was far from them, and I knew nobody was going to catch me,” he said. “I knew I was going to win the gold in the final 100m. Even before the race I knew I would win.”
After taking up the early running in hot conditions at the Olympic Stadium, Kipruto was happy to let Jager set the pace. But with the field stringing out before the bell, the younger Kenyan powered clear down the back straight to build up what proved to be an unassailable lead.
After coming in ahead of Kemboi for the first time in a major competition, Kipruto thanked the 34-year-old for having inspired him over the years. Promising to work hard to maintain Kenya’s hugely impressive record in the event, the young champion said: “I’m ready to take up the mantle.”
Jager’s silver was his country’s first in the men’s 3000m steeplechase since 1984. The American, who overtook Kemboi in the last 50m in clinching second place, recalled his feelings on crossing the line: “It was indescribable, a lot of years of hard work. I was able to truly enjoy the moment and the emotions that come with it.
“I didn’t know I had a medal wrapped up until 100 metres left to go, and as soon as I got over the last barrier I could enjoy it. I experienced complete joy as I crossed the finish line. I think I had the perfect race today and I was just enjoying every second of it.”
Kemboi, who won his fourth steeplechase world championship in a row last year, announced his retirement after the race. “After 18 years I have done my best,” he said before revealing that his glorious career was at an end. “This is my fourth Olympics and I just want to say that I am retiring from athletics, at the moment. Sometimes you just need to make a decision and I have come to the conclusion that today is my last event.”
Following the French team’s ultimately successful appeal against Kemboi, Mekhissi commented: "I would honestly have preferred to win the medal on the track. Even if I don’t get it, it would still be the most beautiful medal for me to finish fourth because I wasn’t even able to run four months ago. What I’ve achieved already is amazing.”