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Asbel proves he is Olympics champ-in-waiting

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NAIROBI, Kenya, July 21- “I will switch to 5000m if I do not run under 3:30,” Asbel Kiprop said last season after failing to go under the generally accepted success barrier in men 1500m since 2007 when he established himself at the distance.

Thankfully, a world title success in Daegu saw those plans shelved and on Friday night, the Olympics gold winner heeded the call of London 2012 champion-in-waiting when he scorched through the Mediterranean evening in a staggering 3:28.88 on Friday night at the Monaco Diamond League meeting.

That was his second sub 3:30 performance of the Olympics year after he opened his Diamond League campaign with another scorching 3:29.78, meaning now he holds the world lead and number 3-time of 2012!

The lanky 6’ 2” African and World champion still only 23 achieved the first sub 3:29 since the Zurich edition in 2004.

“I came to Monaco to run 3:28 and I’m very happy I was able to tonight,” said Kiprop told IAAF after becoming the fifth fastest man ever over the distance. “I am ready and in shape for London.”

To anyone who witnessed his long, powerful confident strides down the homestretch, that characterization could hardly be seen as a boast but rather a mere statement of fact. Spare a thought then for his fiercest domestic rival and Commonwealth titleholder, Silas Kiplagat, who watched it all unfold at the Kenyan team camp in Nairobi!

Running close behind the pacesetters through the first two laps, Kiprop led at the bell by a step over compatriot Nixon Chepseba, one he extended over the back stretch, through the turn and down the straight seemingly shrouded by a shield of invincibility.

Chepseba, who is also London-bound, clocked a personal best 3:29.77 for second while New Zealander Nick Willis, the reigning Olympic silver medallist, closed strongly to take third, his 3:30.35, an Area record for Oceania. The next four all crossed the line in under 3:32, three with career bests.

There was further Kenyan joy in the men 800m that was not part of Diamond Race when Abraham Rotich began his challenge for the win as he entered the final bend and prevailed in 1:43.13, a Kenyan national junior record for the 19-year-old.

He convincingly fought off compatriot Leonard Kosencha (1:43.40) and American Duane Solomon (1:43.44) who turned in career bests as did Kevin Lopez in fourth, his 1:43.74 a Spanish record.

Sudan’s Worlds silver winner, Abubaker Kaki, who was in second position at the top of the second lap faded badly and was never in the hunt, clocking 1:44.89 for ninth.

Another Kenyan internal battle was staged in the women 3000m where the did not really start until the bell, when Worlds silver medallist Sylvia Kibet who missed the London ticket in the 5000m upped the tempo and took the lead.

But it was not enough to fend off compatriot Mercy Cherono who will also not compete in London who took over with just over half a lap to go and never relented. The 21-year-old reached the line in 8:38.51, more than half a second clear of Kibet (8:39.14).

None of the London bound Team Kenya squad members were in the men 3000m steeple that was not quite as fast as organisers might have wanted, but it too did not lack for drama.

After leading from for most of the final 1000 metres, world leader Paul Kipsiele Koech was reeled in and passed by compatriot Conselus Kipruto, the 17-year-old who ran to the World junior title last week.

His 8:03.49 knocked more than two seconds off his previous PB and comfortably brought him to the line ahead of Koech who clocked 8:03.90.

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