With the Olympics just eight days away, what better time to uncover the most interesting facts about our favorite Olympic sports! We started with beach volleyball and are now moving from the sand to the track. Here are 15 fun facts about the steeplechase, a distance track event that has runners clear a water pit every lap!

Running on Water — The Need-to-Know

  • Photo: Sum of Marc / Flickr.com

    Steeplechase combines different skills into one race: distance running, hurdling, and long jumping. The race is 3000 meters long, which is just shy of two miles (or seven-and-a-half laps around the track).

  • Throughout the 3000 meters, runners must clear 28 hurdles and seven water jumps. After the first lap, that’s four hurdles and one water jump per lap.
  • The steeplechase originated in England, when people once raced from one church’s steeple to the next. (They were used as markers due to their high visibility.) Runners would encounter streams and stonewalls when running between towns, which is why the hurdles and water jumps are now included.
  • Steeplechase is a horserace, too. The big difference? Horses jump over fences instead of hurdles, and there are no water pits (lucky thoroughbreds!).
  • Steeplechase hurdles are wider and more stable than sprint hurdles, which means runners can step on them.
  • Hurdles are about as tall as the Stanley Cup (that's 35 inches for those keeping track at home). The hurdles measure 36 inches on the men's side, and 31 inches for the women.
  • The water jump includes a hurdle with a water pit directly behind it. The pit is 70 centimeters deep nearest to the hurdle, but slopes upwards. The purpose of the slope is so runners try to jump longer in order to encounter less water.
  • Many male runners only graze the water pit (due to being taller), while ladies have a tougher time not getting wet. Still, as athletes get tired, it’s harder to jump far enough to avoid the water.
  • Not every steeplechase athlete crosses the finish line bone dry. There have been some epic water crashes, like this one:

  • Note: Runners don’t have to hurdle the hurdles! (Wait, what?!) As long as both legs clear each hurdle, runners can step or swing their legs over while vaulting with their hands.
  • By the sixth lap, clearing all those hurdles gets tiring. But runners will be disqualified if they use handicaps to help them climb over. In 2010, Sapolai Yao of Papua New Guinea used a potted plant to help him clear the water pit hurdle. He was sadly DQ’d.
  • In the 1932 Olympic steeplechase event, runners ran an extra lap because the official lost count of the number of laps. We’d be pissed, too…
  • The men’s steeplechase has a leg up on the women’s race, being a part of the Olympics since 1920. Nearly a century later, the women's steeplechase finally appeared at the 2008 Games in Beijing.
  • Qatar’s Saif Saaeed Shaheen holds the world record for the men’s 3000-meter steeplechase. He ran it in 7:53.63 during the 2004 Memorial van Damme in Brussels. Tune in to see if U.S. steeplechaser Donn Cabral can break the record in London!

Have you ever run the steeplechase? Have you even heard of it? Share your experiences in the comments below!

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