News & Updates

23 August 2023 • Track and Field

Beamish blitzes to historic fifth place finish in the steeplechase

George Beamish tries to comprehend what he has just achieved after placing fifth in the men’s steeplechase at the 2023 World Athletics Championships. Credit: (Michael Dawson)

A scintillating final lap earned George Beamish a brilliant fifth place finish in the men’s steeplechase at the 2023 World Athletics Championships in Budapest – a best ever finish by a Kiwi man in a track event in the 40-year history of the championships.

The 26-year-old US-based athlete, who only made his senior steeplechasing debut in April this year and was competing in only his eighth 3000m steeplechase, showed his outstanding pedigree by crossing the line fifth in 8:13.46 – just 0.20 outside of his national record set in Monaco last month.

To further underline the historic nature of his run, it was the best ever steeplechase finish by a Kiwi at a global event (World Championships and Olympics) surpassing the sixth place finish Euan Robertson achieved at the 1976 Montreal Olympics.

Competing in his second World Championships, Beamish, who hails from Havelock North, impressed in his first round heat and given his impressive closing speed he would not have been disappointed by the relatively sedate early pace as the leader Leonard Bett of Kenya went through 1km in 2:50.41.

With the Kiwi happy to sit two thirds of the way down field he became slightly detached from the leaders through 2km as world record-holder Lamecha Girma of Ethiopia stretched the field with a gradual injection of pace.

Showing great maturity, Beamish refused to panic and gradually started picking off athletes in front of him. Eighth at the bell he then launched his trademark kick and in a dazzling late burst of speed, overhauled three athletes on the last lap to claim a highly accomplished fifth place finish.

His performance surpassed the previous best finish by a Kiwi man in a track race at a World Championships by Nick Willis, who finished sixth in the 1500m final at the 2015 edition in Beijing.

Out front, gold went to Morocco’s Olympic champion Soufiane El Bakkali, who secured a successful defence of his world title in 8:03.53. Girma won a third successive world steeplechase silver in 8:05.44 with Kenyan Abraham Kibiwot (8:11.98) rounding out the podium in bronze.

An elated Beamish said of his performance: “Yes, (it’s) pretty incredible. If you had told me six months ago or maybe less that I would have done it (finished fifth at a World Championships) in the steeple I would have found it hard to believe. I’m stoked with it.

“The race played out like any championship race, it was cagey at the beginning with people trying to find their position and a lot of jostling in the pack. It was fairly slow for a good time and then those top two guys got away at the end. I found myself in mid-pack. I was able to have a good last lap and I picked up a few places towards the end.

“It gives me a huge amount of confidence leading into Paris next year. I can’t believe how close the medals were tonight, they were within reach. I don’t think I’m going to lose any sleep over it but knowing that it is realistic, I am looking forward to Paris and think that there is a medal opportunity there for sure.”

Earlier in the session, there was disappointment for New Zealand duo – Brad Mathas and James Preston – who were eliminated from the first round heats of the men’s 800m.

Mathas produced a courageous performance, posting the second fastest time of his career in 1:45.95 but exited the competition crossing the finish line fifth in heat two of the men’s 800m. The experienced eight-time New Zealand 800m champion opted for a conservative first lap and he hit the bell towards the back of the eight-man field as Great Britain’s Max Burgin passed half distance in 50.81.

However, on lap two Mathas gradually crept into contention but despite launching a strong kick down the home stretch he just could not quite manage to haul himself into one of the three automatic slots as Pole Mateusz Borkowski grabbed victory in 1:45.40 – 0.03 clear of Burgin. Joseph Deng of Australia secured the third automatic spot in 1:45.48.

Competing in heat six, Preston finished sixth, clocking a time of 1:46.84. Adopting different tactics to Mathas, Preston raced to the front for the first 200m and hit the bell – which was reached in 53.67 by Francesco Pernici – perfectly placed just half a stride behind the Italian.

However, as he started to lose ground around the final bend, he was outpaced down the home stretch as Moroccan Abdelati El Guesse took the heat win in 1:45.24 – 0.18 clear of Swede Andreas Kramer. Algeria’s Slimone Moula banked the third automatic spot in 1:45.76.

Mathas, who came within two tenths of a second of his lifetime best and who finished 21st overall, said: “Obviously I’m disappointed to fall short of my goal of progressing to the semifinals, and to miss out by less than 0.20 hurts (a time of 1:45.76 was quick enough to advance to the semifinals). It’s been a long European season, so I’m happy to run my second fastest time, and for that to be at a major championship is an achievement to be proud of.”

World Championships debutant Preston, who was 30th overall, said of his run: “I’m pretty disappointed with the race. Whilst I executed the race plan, I possibly could have committed to a stronger pace over the first lap. With the depth of the 800 at the moment, running off a slower first lap was always going to make things tough.”

The next two New Zealand athletes to compete at the World Athletics Championships in Budapest compete in the morning session of the World Athletics Championships in Budapest on Wednesday (23 August) NZ time.

All times NZ

21:41 – Women’s 200m – First Round Heat 4 – Georgia Hulls

21:55 – Women’s javelin – Qualification Group B – Tori Peeters

*Follow timetable/results here

*Profiles of all 19 New Zealand athletes competing in Budapest plus a full schedule of when the Kiwis are competing can be seen here

*An article in George we published last week focused on his steeplechase journey. Read more here