Steeplechase at the Tokyo Olympics: What to Know for 2021


One of the most exciting track and field events of the Olympic Games is the steeplechase. The one-of-a-kind race features the world’s best middle-distance runners as they take on one of the most difficult obstacle courses of the Olympics.

Here is everything you need to know about the steeplechase event in the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. 

What is steeplechase?

Steeplechase is a 3000m obstacle course-style race that features 28 three-foot wooden barriers and seven jumps over 12-foot long water pits. 

The event requires runners to complete seven-and-a-half laps on the Olympic track, clearing four jumps over the barriers and one water jump per lap. The barriers are 36 inches for men and 30 inches for women. Steeplechase barriers are also five inches thick, making them more stable for the runners to launch themselves off of as they race.

Who will represent the United States in the steeplechase?

The U.S. has had its fair share of success at the steeplechase in Olympic competition. 

On the women’s side, 2016 Olympic bronze medalist Emma Coburn qualified for her third Olympics by winning a seventh consecutive U.S. title at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials in Eugene, Ore. Americans Courtney Freichs and Val Constien will compete with Coburn in Tokyo. 

On the U.S. men’s side, Hillary Bor is heading to his second straight Olympic Games after competing in the 2016 Rio Games. American Bernard Keter and Mason Ferlic will join him in Tokyo.

Why is it called steeplechase?

Steeplechase originates from a 18th century equestrian event in Ireland. Riders would race from town to town and use church steeples as starting and ending points. During the event, riders would have to overcome obstacles across the Irish countryside like streams, ditches, stone walls and fences. 

When was steeplechase added to the Olympics?

Athletes in Britain began competing in steeplechase without using horses in the 19th century. Steeplechase was then added to the Olympics in 1900, with the modern-day men’s steeplechase being first introduced in 1920. The women’s event was added in 2008. 

Steeplechase may not be something you have seen before, but the unique obstacle race is worth watching. Team USA's Emma Coburn explains track's wettest sport using Legos.

Which country is the best at steeplechase?

With many obstacles to conquer, the steeplechase can sometimes offer some of the most unpredictable drama of the Olympics. But one thing that is always certain is Kenyan success in the event. 

A Kenyan has won gold in the men’s steeplechase at each of the last nine Olympics, and the country has earned multiple medals at each of the last seven Olympics. Conseslus Kipruto won the men’s steeplechase in 2016 with an Olympic record-setting time of 8:03.28. Kipruto was left off the Kenyan Olympic roster after being charged with having sexual intercourse with a minor in November 2019.

Bahrain’s Ruth Jebet, who is also Kenyan-born, is the reigning Olympic gold medalist for the women’s steeplechase after running a 8:59.75 time in 2016. Jebet was suspended for four years due to an anti-doping violation dating back to 2018. She is prohibited from competing in Tokyo.

Beatrice Chepkoech, the No. 1 ranked steeplechase runner in the world, is also from Kenya. She is the overwhelming favorite to take home gold in Tokyo ahead of USA’s Emma Coburn.

When will the men’s and women’s steeplechase races take place?

The first round of the men’s steeplechase will begin on Friday, July 30, at 8 p.m. ET at the Olympic Stadium. The first round of the women’s steeplechase will start on Sunday, Aug. 1, at 8 p.m. ET. The first round of steeplechase competition consists of three heats. The top three runners in each heat, plus the next six fastest all together, progress to the final. 

The top 15 runners will compete in the steeplechase final for gold.

The men’s steeplechase final will be held on Monday, Aug. 2, at 8:15 a.m. ET, and the women’s steeplechase final will follow two days later on Wednesday, Aug. 4, at 7 a.m. ET.

Meet the stars of Team USA’s track and field team for Tokyo 2020.
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