For those of us who have another life beyond running and track & field athletics in general, it’s only natural that we’re going to miss some important events. But as a former occasional steeplechaser, I really should have noticed that Ruth Jebet ran 8min 52.38sec in Paris at the end of August, a sensational time that has just been ratified as a world record by the IAAF.
Jebet, of course won the Olympic steeplechase title in Rio (I did notice that). In doing so, she clocked 8.59.75, a time second only to the 8.58.16 with which Gulnara Samitova-Galkina of Russia won her Olympic title in Beijing almost eight years to the day previously. Jebet suggested that the sweltering heat of Rio may have held her back, and underlined that two weeks later when she creamed the Russian’s world record by all of six seconds. Now this is in a similar register to Almaz Ayana’s 10,000 metres world record of 29min 17.45sec on Day One of the athletics in Rio, a performance which I suggested at the time meant that women’s distance running had finally come of age.*
As with Ayana, there will be the inevitable suspicion and caveats that accompany any superlative athletics performance nowadays. But that way lies madness; until proven otherwise, we have to take these marks at face-value.
I’ve long got used to women running faster (at most distances) than I ever did, and this is just one more example. And I’m enjoying it. Honestly! There is a certain predictability about men’s athletics; not surprising since little has changed in the events for over a century in most cases. Whereas the reactionary forces which determined that women should only be admitted to the Olympic Games in 1928, and should only run 400 metres in 1964, the marathon in 1984, the 10,000 metres in 1988, and the steeple as late as 2008, means that those latter events could be considered as developing disciplines. No longer! Ayana and Jebet have brought them up to date with as much impact as a narcissistic sociopath winning the US presidency!
A Kenyan masquerading as a Bahraini since she was 16 (three years ago), Jebet is reminiscent of the mercurial Stephen Cherono, the first Kenyan to change hands for a massive sum of money, in his case, an alleged million dollars from Qatar to compete as Saif Saaeed Shaheen, in which guise he electrified crowds (and threatened to give his coach a heart attack) by alternating sprints and jogs while winning steeplechase gold at successive World Championships in 2003 and 2005.
The Kenyan federation ensured that Cherono would not run, either for them or for Qatar at the Olympic Games in 2004, but given that Jebet has been running for Bahrain without massive reward since 2013, there was little demur from the Kenyan federation, otherwise occupied with drugs scandals and corrupt officials (actually selling team kit!).
But Jebet gets her massive reward now. She received a reported half million US dollars for her Olympic gold, compared to the $10,000 that the peerless David Rudisha received from the Kenyan sports ministry for his 800 metres gold. Doubtless Jebet’s world record will be similarly rewarded.
I remember once getting two shillings and sixpence (22½p, or 30 US cents) expenses for winning a Mile at half-time during a local football match back in the 1960s. Those were the days, eh?