India’s Avinash Sable showed the lion-heart he is, nearly snatching the gold medal from Kenya’s Abraham Kibiwot’s reach, as he crossed the line for a well-deserved silver in a tightly contested men’s 3000m steeplechase at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, UK.
Kibiwot’s victory was hard earned and by the narrowest of margins; he clocked eight minutes, 11.15 seconds. Sable (8:11.20) finished right next to him, bettering his own national record in the process. Amos Serem of Kenya (8:16.83) secured the bronze.
The race started with much expected from the Kenyans. In their ranks was defending champion Conseslus Kipruto. He had won in the discipline at the 2018 CWG in Gold Coast, Australia with timing of 8:10.08. He was also world champion at the World Athletics Championships held in Doha in 2019 and bronze medallist at the recently concluded World Championships in Eugene, Oregon, USA.
Shortly after the commencement of the race in Birmingham, Sable moved into the lead. The trio of Kenyans kept him company. But soon, the Kenyans took over; they set a fast pace (at one point hinting at a potential finish in less than eight minutes as per race commentary) and opened up a sizable gap with the rest of the field, barring Sable, who hung around in fourth position. Sable never let the Kenyans get far from him. Just doing so, was a new high in Indian athletics for the attitude it personified.
As the final lap approached, Sable began working his way up and by the time he took the bell had carved himself a slot in second position. He maintained it right through the water jump and the last hurdle, chasing Kibiwot down to the line forcing a verdict decided by a wafer-thin margin. It was as good a scare as the Kenyans, traditional kings of the steeplechase, could get.
Kipruto finished in sixth place; he timed 8:34.96. Abraham Kibiwot was silver medallist at the 2018 CWG; he has a PB of 8:09.25 set in 2016 (source: Wikipedia). Amos Serem was gold medallist at the 2021 World U20 Championships held in Nairobi, Kenya.
At the world championships in Oregon, Sable had finished eleventh in the steeplechase final with timing of 8:31.75. An icon in Indian athletics and someone with no close competitor in the country in his chosen discipline, Sable has improved his national record several times in the past few years. In June 2022, at an international meet in Rabat, Morocco, he had clocked 8:12.48. It stands improved in Birmingham to 8:11.20. Besides steeplechase, Sable also holds the national record in the half marathon – one hour, 30 seconds (1:00:30).
(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.)