Morocco’s Soufiane El Bakkali ended Kenya’s reign in the 3,000m steeplechase at the World Athletics Championships on Monday – but not before a bizarre moment during the first lap when the 15-man field was forced to dodge a camera operator who was standing in the middle of the track with his back to the competitors.
All of the athletes parted en masse to successfully avoid the cameraman, whose back was turned to the oncoming traffic as he filmed the women’s triple jump.
“I was a little worried that he was going to dart one way or another, right at the last second,” Evan Jager of the United States said afterward. “But thankfully he didn’t realize we were there until we all passed him.”
El Bakkali, the 2020 Olympic champion, had stayed near the back of the leading pack for much of the race before making the decisive move in the last 200m at Hayward Field, then surged past Lamecha Girma of Ethiopia to win gold.
Girma had to settle for silver once again after finishing second in Tokyo and in Doha three years ago, while Kenya’s Conseslus Kipruto, the 2019 champion, finished with bronze.
It was the first time since 2005 that a Kenyan did not finish top of the podium and El Bakkali said his finishing speed had been the key to victory in Eugene, Oregon.
“The course was very tactical, slow. We had very good runners like defending champion Kipruto,” said El Bakkali, who beamed as he waved the Moroccan flag over his head.
“I positioned well in the last lap. I am very strong in the 400m and it worked out for me.”
Girma said he was pleased but not satisfied with second place and would reassess his training with an eye toward next year’s worlds.
“The pace was very slow today, my tactic did not work and that [cost] me the gold,” he told reporters. “I was trying to change the tactic but the pace limited me very much. I will go for gold next year and my training is starting from now on.”