Athletics Athletics

Kiprop, Kiplagat face moment of truth

DAEGU, South Korea, September 2- If all goes according to the plot, Saturday’s men 1500m final will be a straight battle between the Olympics champion Asbel Kiprop and his Commonwealth Games equivalent, Silas Kiplagat.

The beauty for every Kenyan is both red hot favourites will don the red, green and black strip that has thus far, embodied distance running dominance at the 13th Worlds, with the country one medal short of matching its best medal haul going to the penultimate day of the global track and field showpiece.

Apart from a deep field sitting in the wings to claim their scalp, Kiprop and Kiplagat will race against history, with Kenya never having won the top medal since the Worlds were introduced to the sporting calendar in 1983.

After booking their places to the decider, both chorused a joint ambition to erase that footnote from athletics folklore, preaching a unity of purpose.

“I’m excited to be in another final but this time we will work together with Silas to make sure we win our first gold medal. Sadly, our friend Daniel (Kipchirchir Komen) failed to make it since originally; we had targeted all the three medals,” the Beijing 2008 winner said.

The Commonwealth title holder added, “As long as it is a Kenyan winning, it does not matter whether it is Asbel or I who will get the gold. We have produced many good 1500m runners who have not won this but now, it is our time.”

Coming to the final, the pair have clashed on seven occasions, with the lanky Olympics champion having an edge at 4-3 but recent form favours Kiplagat, who handed Kiprop his first defeat on Kenyan soil for three years during the Trials for

Daegu (3:31.39 against 3:32.26) on July 16 and later in Stockholm, where the Delhi titleholder scorched his domestic rival and teammate in 3:33.94 against 3:34.42.

The only meeting where they have raced each other in a championship format came at last year’s Africa Championships medal race where Kiprop reigned supreme (3:36.19) as Kiplagat came home fourth (3:36.74).

Kiprop, who has been on the men metric mile top stage since storming to gold at the 2007 All Africa Games as a teenager, has been touted as a successor to the best 1500m of all time, the retired Moroccan double Olympics champion Hicham El Guerrouj.

But that is as far as the comparisons go since his best performance at the Worlds remains two fourth place finishes in Osaka and Berlin where he went in as favourite.

Beijing Olympics gold came courtesy of the stripping of the top medal of Bahraini runner, Rashid Ramzi, for doping violations and it has been his stated desire to, “Win gold on the track and hear the national anthem play in the stadium.”

On Saturday’s final, Kiprop reiterated, “I’m among the top runners here and in a position to win a medal but I will appreciate what I get here as long as gold comes to Kenya.

He added, “I’m surprised that (Amine) Laalou and (Gregory) Konchellah did not make it to the final but this does not mean that it will be easy but I’m in good shape and my body is fine and this time, we are going to win it comfortably.”

Kiplagat on the other hand literally stormed to the scene at last year’s Monaco Diamond League meeting where he ran to the fastest time in three years, clocking 3:29.27 on his European debut that was a year best to boot.

His achievement of a sub-3:30 time, a mark that has eluded Kiprop in his career (3:31.20 PB, Rome 2009) was a statement of sound intent to the Olympics champion and the rest of the metric milers that a new sheriff was in town.

Coached by retired three-time world steeplechase champion, Moses Kiptanui, Kiplagat has sucked from the nectar of the great with panache, even adopting his cocky nature, never afraid to speak his mind.

“Having seen what my training partner, Ezekiel Kemboi, did here and other teammates who have won medals is the biggest motivation I have to go out there and run like I have never did before.

“I train with champions and my coach, Moses Kiptanui, is one of the biggest champion and they have given me the hunger to win,” the Commonwealth titleholder underscored.

On the race of his career in the big stage thus far, Kiplagat sobered up to offer, “The final will be a very tactical race, everybody will be fearing to go in front or come from behind. At the semis, people were kicking in the last 200m but I was relaxed since I wanted to see their reaction in the last 50m.

“I was saving my energy for the final. It is more difficult to run in the heats and semis but once in the final, focus is the key to success as my coach says.”

Kenyan born Qatari defending champion, Yusuf Saad Kamel (born Gregory Konchellah), Ethiopia’s Deresse Mekonnen and Morocco’s Amine Laalou were some of the high profile 1500m runners who bowed out at the semi-final stage but as these championships have proved, it is not a blank cheque for Kenyans to rest on their talent.

Veteran Frenchman, Mehdi Baala, the Olympics bronze winner, New Zealander Nick Willis who won the same medal in Delhi, 2010 World Indoor silver winner, Abdalaati Iguider and countryman, Mohamed Moustaoui and Ethiopia’s Mekonnen Gebremedhin, sixth finisher at the 2008 indoor Worlds are some of the potential dynamites on the Kenyan’s path.

But having produced such accomplished metric  milers such as the legendary Kipchoge Keino, Paul Tanui and Noah Ngeny who have struck Olympics gold over time, it beggars belief that Kenya is yet to produce a winner at the Worlds.

-Mutwiri Mutuota is reporting for Capital Sport from Daegu, South Korea

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