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Kenya’s Kemboi dances away with 4th steeplechase title

In Photo: Ezekiel Kemboi dances a jig after winning the men’s 3,000-meter steeplechase.

BEIJING—Usain Bolt has his lightning pose. Ezekiel Kemboi, Kenya’s four-time world steeplechase champion, has his shimmy.

After leading a Kenyan sweep of the medals in the men’s 3,000-meter steeplechase at the world championships on Monday, Kemboi celebrated like only he can by grabbing a Kenyan flag, wrapping it around his waist and performing his signature hip-swiveling, shoulder-rolling dance.

“If you want to learn to dance, I can invite you later to do the dance,” he said when asked about his postrace routine. “You can buy me a [Cola] and then we dance.”

And if you want to beat the Kenyans in the steeplechase?

Kemboi extended another invitation, this time to his foreign competitors: “They can come to Kenya to train with Kenyans—[then] they beat Kenyans.”

A dejected Evan Jager, who was aiming to win the first steeplechase medal for the United States at the world championships but slipped to sixth when the Kenyans outkicked him on the final lap, would love to know the secret to Kenya’s dominance.

“Those guys, I don’t know, they’re just so freaking tough,” he said. “There’s a reason why the Kenyans have won every single steeple world championship.”

Well, not every championship, though it certainly seems that way. Kenyans have long been dominant at distance racing, but they’ve had a particularly vice-like grip on the men’s steeplechase.

They’ve won 11 of the past 13 gold medals at the worlds, including the last four by Kemboi and three by Moses Kiptanui, who is now Kemboi’s coach.

Three times, the Kenyans have managed to sweep all the medals, including here in Beijing, where Kemboi took the gold in eight minutes and 11.28 seconds, followed by Conseslus Kipruto in second and Brimin Kiprop Kipruto in third. As if this wasn’t enough, Jairus Kipchoge came in next to make it 1-2-3-4 for Kenya.

The Kenyans have also captured 10 of the last 12 Olympic gold medals, with Kemboi winning in 2004 and 2012.

But this year, the Americans felt they had a good chance to break the Kenyan monopoly and sneak into the medals for the first time.

Jager was coming off a career race at a Diamond League meet in Paris last month where he led Jairus Birech of Kenya by 30 meters down the final stretch only to clip the top of the final barrier, fall to the track and finish second. He still beat the US record by more than four seconds.

All six American runners also qualified for the men’s and women’s steeplechase finals in Beijing—a first for the US at the world championships.

The men fell short, with Daniel Huling finishing fifth, Jager sixth and Donald Cabral 10th. The women’s final is on Wednesday.

“With how I ran at Paris, I was definitely hoping for top 3, if not first place, so it’s really tough seeing myself kind of take a step back,” Jager said after the race, his feet streaked with blood.

Then again, it’s tough to beat the Kenyans at their own game.

Image credits: AP

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