What is Olympic Steeplechase?

Russia's Yuliya Zaripova leads the field on the way to victory in the 2012 Olympic steeplechase final.
Michael Regan/Getty Images

The steeplechase is the duck-billed platypus of the track and field world, combining several different skills into one event - including distance running, hurdling and long jumping - with some water thrown into the mix.

The Competition

The 3000-meter Olympic steeplechase includes 28 hurdle jumps and seven water jumps. The jumps begin after the runners pass the finish line for the first time. There are five jumps in each of the final seven laps, with the water jump as the fourth. The jumps are evenly distributed throughout the track. Each runner must go over or through the water pit and must jump each hurdle.

Brian Diemer Interview - Preparing for the Olympic Steeplechase

A men’s Olympic event since 1920, the 2008 Beijing Games featured the first Olympic women’s steeplechase race.

Equipment and Venue

Steeplechase events take place on a track.

Olympic steeplechase hurdles are 0.914 meters (3 feet) high for the men’s event and 0.762 meters (2 feet, 6 inches) high for the women’s race - the same height as in the 400-meter hurdles event. Unlike the standard hurdles, however, steeplechase hurdles are solid and cannot be knocked over. But steeplechase hurdles are also 5 inches long, from front to back, so the runners can step on them and then thrust themselves forward. The hurdle at the water jump is 3.66 meters (12 feet) wide while the remaining hurdles are at least 3.94 meters (12 feet, 11 inches) wide, so more than one runner can clear a hurdle at the same time.

The water pits are 3.66 meters long with a maximum water depth of 70 centimeters (2 feet, 3.5 inches). The pit slopes upward so the water depth recedes at the farther end of the pit. This is where the steeplechase's long-jumping aspect comes into play. The farther the athlete can leap into the pit, the less water he/she must deal with.

Gold, Silver and Bronze

Athletes in the steeplechase must achieve an Olympic qualifying time and must qualify for their nation’s Olympic team. A maximum of three competitors per country may compete in the steeplechase.

Fifteen runners compete in the Olympic steeplechase final. Depending on the number of entries, a qualifying round is typically held prior to the final.

The steeplechase begins with a standing start. All steeplechase races end when a runner’s torso (not the head, arm or leg) crosses the finish line.