MOSCOW – Kenyan showman Ezekiel Kemboi won his third 3,000-meter steeplechase world title in convincing style at the World Athletics Championships on Thursday night.
The 31-year-old two-time Olympic champion timed 8 minutes, 6.01 seconds to take the gold medal, while compatriot Conseslus Kipruto earned the silver in 8:06.37 and France’s two-time Olympic silver medalist Mahiedine Mekhissi claimed the bronze in 8:07.86.
Kemboi, also a three-time world silver medalist, had taken the lead at the bell, but dropped back entering the back straight after being elbowed by team-mate Kipruto, who also signaled something was up as he raised his arm angrily.
Mekhissi made his move at that moment cruising into second, but just as it seemed he might finally get the better of his close friend Kemboi he stumbled on landing after the third-from-last steeple.
Kemboi saw his chance and went wide to pass the Frenchman and then Kipruto rounding the final bend.
Kemboi, sporting a new Mohican style haircut, had a clear lead approaching the final obstacle and any hope Kipruto had of catching him ended as the 18-year-old made a mess of hurdling it.
It left his older teammate to drift out wide on the track in his traditional style and cross the line pointing his finger derisively behind him.
Kemboi celebrated in his usual offbeat style, pulling up his team vest to reveal a message in Swahili written on a T-shirt and then dancing a jig in front of the photographers.
He and Mekhissi — whose arms the Kenyan jumped into in a highly unusual celebration after winning Olympic gold last year — kept their post-race performance more muted although Kemboi went over and shook hands.
In other action, Sweden’s Abeba Aregawi won the women’s 1,500 meters, beating defending champion Jenny Simpson of the United States with a great last-lap effort.
Earlier in the day, Aregawi’s teammate Emma Green Tregaro flaunted her rainbow-painted fingernails in the morning as she qualified for the weekend high jump final, a show of support of gays and lesbians in Russia.
It set off Yelena Isinbayeva, the Russian pole-vaulting star, who criticized homosexuality and defended the new anti-gay law which has drawn sharp criticism and led Western activists to call for a boycott of next year’s Winter Olympics in the Russian resort of Sochi.
The law means that anyone wearing a rainbow flag on the street or writing about gay relationships on Facebook, for instance, could be accused of propagandizing.
“We are just against the publicity in our country and I support our government,” Isinbayeva said.
High jumper Bohdan Bondarenko of Ukraine seized the spotlight when he just missed out on a world record of 2.46 meters and had to settle for a championship record of 2.41 for gold, edging Mutaz Essa Barshim of Qatar by 3 cm.
On a night of almosts for Americans, Simpson was not the only one to settle for silver.
Jehue Gordon of Trinidad and Tobago threw himself across the finish line to hold off Michael Tinsley by .01 seconds and win the 400-meter hurdles.
Gordon came on strong down the stretch and finished in a world-leading time of 47.69 seconds to edge Tinsley. Emir Bekric of Serbia was third and two-time Olympic champion Felix Sanchez wound up fifth.
It was a similar story in the women’s 400 hurdles, even if the margins were bigger. Zuzana Hejnova of the Czech Republic beat American duo Dalilah Muhammad and defending champion Lashinda Demus.
The U.S. silver medal tally ballooned to eight, with a championship leading 14 overall. The United States also leads the gold medal standings with four.
Kenya and Russia both have eight medals overall, including three gold.
Jamaica is only sixth at the moment but is expected to add many more to its tally when sprinting takes back precedence over the last three days of the championships.