Steeplechase - Introduction

The length of a steeple chase race for both male and female athletes (adult / senior) is 3000 meters (some 7.5 laps of the track). The oldest Junior athletes (Juniors A) run 3000m for males and 2000m for women. Younger Juniors all run 2000 meters. Sometimes, the 2000 meter steeple chase is also ran by adult men and women, just as a side event or a preparation for bigger races. In the 3000m steeple chase, there are 28 barriers (male height: 91 cm, female height: 76 cm) and 7 barriers followed by a water pit of some 3.6m long.

Barriers and water pit
The distance between barriers and water pit depends on the position of the water pit on the track. In most bigger stadiums, the water pit is located on the inside of the curve at the far end of the track, in which case the distance between barriers is 78 meters. If the water pit is on the outside of the curve, this distance increases to 82m. These outside water pits are rather common on smaller tracks, but in stadiums there is usually no room outside the tarck since there are the spectator stands. Exceptions were the Olympics in 2000 in Sydney, and also the World Championships in Edmonton in 2001, where the waterpit was indeed outside. The bottom of the water pit starts at a depth of some 0.9m but decreases gradually to track level further on. The barrier in front of the pit is similar to the other 4 barriers per lap.

Distances and number of obstacles
Depending on whether the water pit is inside or outside, the length of each lap is somewhat different from 400 meters. This difference is corrected for with the position of the start line, which is either some 50m before the finish line (outside pit) or some 20m before the 200m start line (inside pit). The exact location of th start line depends in case of an outside pit on whether it is a 6 or 8 lane track (international races are always run on 8 lane tracks). On a 6 laner, each lap is 410m, but on an 8 laner this would be some 120m. With an inside pit, it is dependent on how far they have built the pit inside the track. Sometimes, the lap is some 398m, but in other cases it could be as short as 392m. The barriers are always located in the last 7 laps of the race (4 per lap plus one barrier+water pit). That means that one will meet a barrier some 60m after the start if the pit is outside: in this case, the first barriers needs to be twice as wide as a normal barrier by rule. If the pit is inside, however, one will first run some 220m without any barriers and start taking barriers in the last 7 laps.

Difference between hurdle and barrier
The heigth of a barrier is 91.4cm (males; female 76cm). This is identical to the 400m hurdles for men! The main difference between a normal hurdle and a steeple chase barrier however is the size and weight. A steeple chase barrier is wider, thicker, heavier and has stands that prevent it from falling over when hit. This means that when an athlete hits the barrier, not the barrier, but most likely the athlete will fall over. The risk of this happening and the spectacular ways of athletes to tackle the barriers make the steeple being voted the one of the most attractive events to watch.

Steeple - History

The steeple chase originates from England. In 1850, some students from Exeter College in Oxford discussed the possibility to run a trajectory with natural barriers and water elements, just as it was done with the steeple chase for horses. Traditionally, the steeple chase used to be a man and horse event in England, where the goal is to finish a trajectory with creeks and hedges in the shortest time possible. One of these students, Halifax Wyat, claimed that he would actually be quicker on the course than a horse.

This statement resulted in a running race near the town of Binsey (near Oxford), in which 24 natural barriers were included. Halifax Wyat proved to be right by winning the 2 mile race. In England, Wyat's initiative was followed by steeple chase races between Oxfors and Cambridge Universities. The steeple chase became a real event when it was placed on the program for the 1900 Olympics in Parijs. The fact, however, that the distance of subsequent races was never exactly the same, proved that the event was not yet fully official.

In the 1900 and 1904 Olympics, the distance was 2500m. The English tried to set the standard to 2 miles during their London Olympics in 1908. From the 1920 Antwerp Olympics onwards, however, the standard distance became the "metric 2 mile distance": 3000m. The International Amateur Athletics Federation (IAAF) only accepts the 3000m steeple chase as an official track and field event from 1954. The first officialy accepted world record was set by the Hungarian runner Sander Rozsnyoi in Bern (Switzerland), clocking a time of 8.49.6 min. Although the American Horace Ashenfelter had previously set a faster time of 8.45.4, the IAAF did not recognize this time as official world record.In the early years of the official steeple chase, English and Finnish runners dominated the event. However, their home Olympics of 1948 (London) and 1952 (Helsinki) became a complete failure for the English and the Finnish steeple chasers: they won no medals. From that moment, athletes from Sweden, Poland and Belgium are successful in the steeple chase. The 1968 Olympics mark the start of the Kenyan dominance, that has remained untouched until today.


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July 21st 2013
Nederlands kampioenschap, Amsterdam (NED)
3000m steeple: 9.13.17 (1)
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