The men’s 3,000 meter steeplechase is a very intriguing race heading into the World Championships this August. The event has two heavy hitters up front in Lamecha Girma and Soufiane el Bakkali. Both are turning into some of the greatest steeplechase runners in history, and it will be an absolute battle in Budapest. Beyond those two, there is much more uncertainty on who could push onto the podium. It is all setting up for fireworks in Budapest.
The Battle Up Front
There are two athletes that standout in the steeplechase currently. Ethiopia’s Lamecha Girma and Morocco’s Soufiane el Bakkali have separated themselves as the two best in the world.
It seems that it would either take a bad day or a heroic effort for either of these athletes to finish outside of the top 2.
Both athletes are some of the greatest steeplechasers of all time, but in very different ways.
Lamecha Girma has raw ability over the flat distances that has translated to a world record in the steeplechase. El Bakkali is better known as a master of the steeplechase itself, and hones in his ability through many races over the barriers.
Although el Bakkali is 7-2 against Girma over the 3,000m steeplechase, this year’s World Championships is certainly not a given. Girma is coming off a world record and could be ready to take the crown. Will el Bakkali be able to fight him off and defend his title?
Lamecha Girma has had a season for the ages. In his one and only steeplechase thus far in 2023, he smashed the world record in 7:52.11.
Girma’s incredible performances this year extend well beyond the steeplechase. During indoors, he broke the longstanding indoor 3,000m record of the great Daniel Komen, in 7:23.81. Girma is masterful over the 3,000m distance both with and without barriers.
One of Girma’s performances that may be getting overlooked is his personal best over 1500 meters. In the Lausanne Diamond League, Girma took a solid second place in 3:29.51. To be able to step down in an off-event and run 3:29 is simply spectacular. Clearly, his speed is ready to go for the World Championships.
Perhaps what is even more impressive about this race was that he beat Olympic 1500m medalist, Josh Kerr. Girma showed tremendous tactical awareness with this performance. It could signal more preparation for a championship race come Budapest. He will be looking to capture his first gold medal on the world stage.
Soufiane el Bakkali
El Bakkali is truly one of the greats over the 3,000m steeplechase. His personal best of 7:56.68 (which he set this past May) ranks number nine all-time.
What is even more impressive than the time that el Bakkali has run, is his racing ability. To put it simply, el Bakkali knows how to win. He is the defending Olympic and World champion, and is showing no signs of slowing down.
What makes el Bakkali so special is that he remains very consistent. Since the Tokyo Olympics, he has only lost one steeplechase race. Consistency is ultimately what breeds medals and championships. He seems to have nearly mastered that in the steeplechase.
El Bakkali is incredibly masterful in how he prepares for major championships. He almost always has a couple very hard efforts over the steeplechase early on in the season. These efforts seem very calculated as he only does a couple, and they are almost always fast. It seems to prepare him very well for later on in the season.
El Bakkali also does not race in a lot of off-distance races. When he does, it seems that it is very strategic as it best prepares him to perform well in the steeplechase.
Depth of the Field
Outside of the top two, there is quite a bit less clarity in the favorites.
The steeplechase this year seems to quite a few athletes right around each other performance and time wise. There are almost clusters of athletes, rather than specific standout contenders.
In order to help conceptualize this, it helps to see a few statistics about the so-called ‘clusters’:
- Three athletes have run between 8:04-8:05 (#3 through #5 in the world)
- Eight athletes have run between 8:09-8:11 (#6 through #13 in the world)
- Eight athletes have run between 8:12-8:15 (#14 through #21 in the world)
These clusters make it that much more interesting, as there are no clear favorites to push for that podium. That means that it is going to come down to who can race the best on the day. This makes the World Championships that much more exciting to watch, as anything could happen.
The men’s steeplechase is setting up to be one of the most intriguing races at the World Championships, as there are so many athletes that have the potential to have a big performance. In an event that already has quite a lot of variability, there seems to be even more this year than ever.
Make sure to check out all of the action at the World Championships in Budapest.
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Featured image courtesy of Matthew Quine.
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