Yuliya Zaripova Dominates Women’s Steeplechase

Yuliya Zaripova hoists the Russian flag after her gold-medal performance on Monday. Photo: London 2012.com

The 2011 world champion appeared invincible from start to finish.

Running from the front for the entire race, reigning world champion Yuliya Zaripova of Russia won gold in the women’s Olympic steeplechase in commanding fashion on Monday night in London. Fighting chilly, damp temperatures — not to mention a stellar field — the 26-year-old clocked a personal best 9 minutes, 6.72 seconds for the 3,000-meter distance that includes 28 hurdles and seven water jumps. According to the race announcers, Zaripova final two kilometers were covered in a blazing six minutes, which is world-record pace.

The silver medal went to Tunisia’s Habiba Ghribi (9:08.37), while Sofia Assefa of Ethiopia earned bronze in 9:09.84.

From the sound of the starter’s gun it was Zaripova’s race to lose. With less than 3 laps to go, a five-member pack had formed that included Ghribi, Assefa, Milcah Chemos Cheywa of Kenya, and Hiwot Alaylew of Ethiopia trailing close behind. When the bell sounded for the final lap, Zaripova took off with Ghribi close on her shoulder and the others trailing by a few strides. Going into the final turn, the Tunisian tried to pass Zaripova, but the Russian was having none of it. With a quick glance to her right, Zaripova took off after clearing the final hurdle and thrust her hands skyward upon crossing the finish line. Ghribi came in next, while a battle for the medal podium unfolded behind her between Kenya’s Cheywa and Ethiopia’s Assefa, with Assefa coming out on top.

The highest-placing American was Emma Coburn, a University of Colorado standout and, at 21 years old, the youngest runner on the U.S. team. Coburn took ninth in 9:23.54—a personal best for her. Bridget Franek of the U.S. came in 14th, running 9:45.51. The 2008 gold medalist, Gulnara Galkina of Russia, did not finish the race, dropping out near the halfway point.

Men’s 800m Preliminaries

Meanwhile, in the men’s 800m preliminary rounds held earlier in the day, a bit of drama unfolded on the track when Taoufik Makhloufi of Algeria stepped off the track less than one lap into the race and was consequently  kicked out of the Olympics for not putting forth an honest effort. According to a statement from the IAAF, “The referee considered that he had not provided a bona fide effort and decided to exclude him from participation in all further events in the competition.” The decision was overturned later in the day, as Makhloufi was reinstated and will be allowed to compete in the 1,500m final on Tuesday night. Americans Nick Symmonds and Duane Solomon both won their preliminary heats, running 1:45.91 and 1:46.05, respectively, to advance to Tuesday’s semifinals. Khadevis Robinson, also of the U.S., failed to advance out of his heat.

In the women’s 1,500m preliminary rounds, Jenny Simpson, the reigning world champion, narrowly made it into the semifinals on time with a 4:13.81 clocking. Simpson squeaked by with less than a second to spare. Her U.S. teammates, Shannon Rowbury and Morgan Uceny, also advanced to Wednesday evening’s semifinal round.

“I knew with 100 meters to go, ‘I gotta pull something out here or I’m going to be sitting in my apartment in two days,’” recalled Simpson after her difficult race.

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