Staggering. There’s no other way to describe Kenyan dominance in this event. In 15 of the championships’ 16 editions, the first man across the finish line wore the country’s black, red and green. In 10 of those races, Kenya took home gold and silver. The only certainty at the moment is that there won’t be a repeat of the latter – simply because the east African powerhouse has, surprisingly, entered only one athlete in the event.
So the pressure to add to that unbeaten streak of 15 straight – the only title Kenya lost came at the inaugural edition in 1986 – falls firmly on the slight shoulders of 17-year-old Leonard Kipkemoi Bett, who stormed to the world U18 2000m steeplechase title before a home crowd in Nairobi last summer. Bett has moved up to the longer distance admirably, clocking 8:21.40 to win the Kenyan trials laast month, the second fastest U20 performance in the world this year. Given Nairobi’s elevation of 1795m above sea level, it’s an impressive performance, setting him up as a man to beat in Tampere.
But he’ll have his hands full in what appears to be a three-way battle for gold.
The world U20 leader is Ugandan Albert Chemutai who at 18 already has a senior World Championships final appearance to his credit – he was 10th in London last year in a then-PB 8:23.18 – and has since become a regular fixture on the global circuit. Fifth at the Commonwealth Games in April in 8:19.89, he has produced impressive performances in IAAF Diamond League competition, finishing sixth in both Doha and Rome, improving to 8:18.80 and 8:17.17 in the two races. In his last appearance, he notched his first career IAAF World Challenge triumph, winning in Madrid in 8:22.31. Few competitors gathered in Tampere this week will bring that kind of high level experience to the start line.
Ethiopia’s top man Getnet Wale comes close.
Wale took bronze in Bydgoszcz two years ago and, like Chemutai, reached the World Championships final in London the following summer where he finished ninth, 0.66 ahead of the Ugandan. In the London lead-in, he raced to an 8:12.28 national U20 record in Hengelo, making him the fastest man in the Tampere field. And he won’t turn 18 until 16 July – the day after the championships conclude.
His teammate Takele Nigate, the African U20 champion who has clocked 8:35.53 this year, could be a factor in the medal hunt. As could Mohamed Er Rachdi of Morocco, who has clocked 8:40.62 this season, chopping 22 seconds from his pre-2018 best.