BEIJING (Reuters) - Hyvin Jepkemoi maintained Kenya's monopoly of the 3,000 metres steeplechase when she proved to be tougher than all her rivals in a hard-fought final lap to win the world title on Wednesday.
Jepkemoi, 23, produced a sub-66 seconds last 400 and had to battle off the final barrier against the favourite, Tunisia’s Habiba Ghribi, and Germany’s Gesa Krause, to take Kenya’s sixth gold of the Beijing championships in 9 minutes 19.11 seconds.
Ghribi, the runner-up at the 2012 London Olympics and 2011 world championships, had to settle for silver once more as the Kenyan passed on her outside. Ghribi clocked 9:19.24, to Krause’s bronze-winning 9:19.25, a personal best.
"I think this victory will change my life for sure," Jepkemboi told reporters.
"It is my first big achievement and is very unexpected. I am very surprised and delighted."
The first half of the race was slow, with only a front-running effort by Lalita Babar of India picking up the pace towards the final km.
Into the final 600, American Emma Coburn made a bid for glory but, as the bell for the final lap rang, Ghribi took up the running towards a title which many had thought was a foregone conclusion.
However, as the Tunisian took the final water barrier in conventional style, with one foot on the barrier, Jepkemoi hurdled the obstacle and forced herself past her rival.
As Coburn faded over the final half-lap, eventually placing fifth, the three medallists came off the final fence in line but it was Jepkemoi, sixth in the world final in Moscow two years ago, who was the strongest finisher this time.
Ghribi said she was disappointed that the race had been "a bit slow at the beginning".
"I didn't think it would go that way. Nobody wanted to run. I tried to win the final sprint but the Kenyan was faster. I'm still proud," Ghribi added.
For 23-year-old Krause, the bronze medal was "super good".
"This is the biggest success of my career. This is the most beautiful present for me."
Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Ken Ferris and Pritha Sarkar