• 2022 Rabat DL: El Bakkali wins epic steeple battle with Girma, both go sub 8 minutes!

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    Larry Eder

    Guest
    Consider this! Twenty-five thousand screaming, cheering Moroccan fans, who have been loving the two hours plus of elite track & field action all afternoon and early evening in Rabat, waiting for the very last race!

    The Rabat DL meet management knew that everyone would want to see Olympic champion Soufianne El Bakkali battling Lamecha Girma. And this race lived up to the expectations!

    Soufianne El Bakkali lo 1.jpeg

    Soufianne El Bakkali, at the one-kilometer mark, bidding his time, photo by Larry Eder via Peacock TV

    The steeplechase is one of the toughest races on the track Seven and one-half laps with 28 fixed barriers and seven water jumps. The steeplechase began in 19th century England and was formalized at the Antwerp 1920 Olympics.

    It is a grueling race. As not only does the athlete have to master the hurdles and the water jump, but running on the red line over seven and one-half laps on a regulation 400-meter track. As the race goes on, some athletes have told me that the barriers seem to get higher and the water jump longer, but that is not the fact. The oxygen debt that one can get into during this race if one goes out too fast is debilitating.

    So take the Olympic gold medalist, Soufianne El Bakalli of Morocco, and the Olympic silver medalist Lamencha Girma of Ethiopia and put them in a race with some of finest other steeplechasers in the world.

    The 25,000 fans in Rabat wanted one thing-El Bakkali to defeat Girma. Girma, who had the world leader of 7:58.68, was a tough competitor and the closeness of the final in Tokyo showed that.

    The race began fast, with a 2:38.69, lead by pacemaker Abderrafia Bouassel, of Morocco, who was to lead them to a 2:41 1k. Perhaps, he was a bit over enthusiastic.

    Then, Girma followed closely, with El Bakkali moving up through the pack. Girma lead at the 2k, in 5:25.69, and the race became a battle between Girma and El Bakkali. The crowd was screaming, and one could barely hear the TV announcers over the cacophony created in the stadium. The Moroccan crowd was willing, pleading with their Olympic champion to win.

    Remember, El Bakkali had not won in this stadium since 2017.

    It was with 300 meters to go, that Soufianne El Bakkali took control. The Moroccan, who has run the 1,500m in 3:31, took a small lead over Lamencha Girma, who was, perhaps, tired from his recent 7:58.68, but who looked full of fight. Bakkali built a small lead, and defended it, over the last water jump, and finally, over the last barrier, to push to the win, in 7:58.28, a Meet record and a World Leader. Lamencha Girma did not let up, running 7:59.24 for second. In third, Hailimariyam Tegegn, ran a PB of 8:06.29. In fifth, Indian steeple star Avinash Mukund Sable ran out of his mind, to set a NR of 8:12.48, a brilliant race by Avinash! In sixth, Hillary Bor of the US ran a seasonal best of 8:12.48.

    Soufianne El Bakkali fell to the track, and once recovered, enjoyed the accolades of the fans and met with the royal family and government supporters from his country, who wanted to be seen with the heroic Olympic champion.

    Soufianne El Bakkali had this to say to the media after his race: " I can´t describe my happiness for winning this race. Achieving World Lead and Meeting Record in front of my audience is just incredible. I promised yesterday in the press conference that I will do a great performance and here I am keeping my promise. I want to dedicate this victory to our king Mohammed VI and to all the Moroccan people. I would like to thank this huge crowd that came to support me and without their support, it would not have been possible. I will take some rest now before starting my preparation for the World Championship which is my main goal."

    And on to Eugene we shall go, knowing that an amazing steeplechase is in our future!
     
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