DAEGU, South Korea, September 3- The Daegu World Championships have been all about jinxes and in the midst of the cover curse, the fact that Kenya had not won the men 1500m title in 27 years despite an embarrassment of metric mile riches got lost in the mail.
But on the penultimate day of what has been an enthralling track and field action, Olympics champion, Asbel Kiprop finally and more importantly, formally, ascended to the throne of the men metric mile running as compatriot, Silas Kiplagat completed the 1-2, also a first for the proud distance running nation.
“It has been my wish for a long time to win gold on the track and hear our national anthem played for what I have done and I’m so happy I did it at last,” Kiprop said after motoring to the title in a conservative 3:35.69.
At 22, he would comfortably be classified in the class of emerging talent but the lanky athlete, 6’ 4” in frame, has been at the top of metric mile running for four years since bursting to the scene with the All Africa Games title before his 18th birthday in Algiers.
But in Daegu, Kiprop became a man at last, rewarding his enormous promise that earned him comparisons with the greatest 1500m male runner of all time, the retired world record holder Hicham El Guerrouj, when his talent was initially spotted.
However, his reign will not be a procession since in Kiplagat, who shot to fame by racing 3:29.27 last year in Monaco, the fastest in four years to date and arrived in Daegu as the world leader (3:30.47) played a forced bridesmaid role at the Daegu Sports Stadium in 3:35.92.
“I do not know how I lost to him and I will have to watch the race again to see where I did my mistake. Next year’s Olympics, I will not let him beat me again but I congratulate him for winning but I wanted to be the first Kenyan to get the 1500m gold. I’m not as happy as I should be,” Kiplagat, who won silver in 3:35.92, said.
With that statement, the encore to the El Guerrouj /Noah Ngeny (Sydney Olympics champion) forceful rivalry that dominated men 1500m running in the early 2000s was officially announced.
“I do not wish to dwell on that, it’s a matter between the two of us but for now, we achieved what we wanted, a first Kenyan 1-2 and it would have been a clean sweep had our teammate Daniel (Kipchirchir Komen) qualified,” Kiprop shot back when his teammate’s bold ambitions were later spelled out to him.
He further diminished the potential Kiprop-Kiplagat rivalry for the Olympics title by adding: “The Kenyan Trials for next year’s Olympics will be even tougher than this year. We have guys like Nixon Chepseba who peaked early in the season but faded Haron Keitany, Augustine Choge and Collins Cheboi among others with a chance but like today, I want to win the Olympics title on the track.”
“I came here as the world leader and having won the Kenyan trials and it was my time to be at the top but this is athletics, sometimes you lose, other times you win but I’m more motivated now,” Kiplagat outlined.
But on the day, Kiprop, who did not put a foot wrong at these championships, winning in the heats and semis, gave his 22-year-old compatriot and the rest of the assembled field a tactical running manual.
Sticking close to the leaders at the opening exchanges, never allowing his space to get his flow interrupted or employing himself as the rabbit, Kiprop was led by New Zealand’s Commonwealth bronze winner, Nick Willis through the 400m and 800m marks at 1:00.02 and 2:01.71, the slow pace just serving him well.
Kiplagat then took over and went through 1200m at 2:57.01 as he attempted to surge away from the field, throwing a quick glance over the shoulder to see where his countryman was.
Kiprop just expended his lanky legs to keep up before pulling level with the leader at the last curve and when the pair entered the homestretch with him in the lead, he sustained his kick as Kiplagat fought to no avail to catch up.
“I learnt my mistakes from Osaka where I ran the first 800m so fast and Bernard Lagat beat me and last time in Berlin when I stayed behind and again, I lost. You can say I brought the experience here,” the freshly coined titleholder said with a subtle dig at the silver winner who was running in his first Worlds.
“I knew what to expect even from my teammate Kiplagat and that is why I changed my running tactics. I will not think on how to celebrate this now since I have to run in Zurich in 1500m to fight for my lead in the Diamond League and then face Rudisha and Kaki in the 800m in Brussels,” he hammered home.
Conspicuously missing from Kiprop throughout these championships was the usual gait or sometimes showmanship that at times infuriated his opponents such as wagging his finger provocatively when he won (All Africa Games 2007, 2008 800m semis at Africa Championships and Kenyan Trials 2008 and 2009) or big pre-race talk.
“I was focused on these championships and I will continue doing so till I achieve all my objectives,” he responded when the missing show pony in him was queried.
The two medals won by the men metric milers brought Kenya’s tally at the end of Day 8 to 6 gold, 5 silver and 3 bronze, a record haul for the nation that supplanted Osaka 2007 harvest of 5 gold, 3 silver and 5 bronze as an all time best showing at the biennial signature IAAF track and field event.
“We did that? I’m so proud. This team has been so committed to winning and I’m grateful I was part of it,” Kiprop said of the class of Daegu 2011 that has soared above all Kenyan line-ups to date.
While the world focuses on the twist and turns of the IAAF produced programme cover jinx that has seen only two of the featured athletes go on to win the world title in Daegu by Day 8, Kenya can at last celebrate the end of a hex that incidentally, was terminated at the 13th edition, a number deemed cursed by most around the world.
– Mutwiri Mutuota is reporting for Capital Sport from Daegu, South Korea