LONDON, England, August 3- Asbel Kiprop’s quest to follow in the footsteps of Sebastian Coe got off to a successful enough start as competition in the 1500m got underway before another capacity crowd of 80,000 at the Olympic Stadium.
Kiprop, the Beijing winner four years ago, is hoping to emulate Coe, the LOCOG Chairman, who won back-to-back metric mile titles in 1980 and 1984.
With the first six from each of the opening round’s three races moving on automatically into Sunday’s semi-finals, the Kenyan advanced easily after his third place finish in the first heat.
“Everything is good, it was a very nice race,” said Kiprop, who glided across the line in third, clocking 3:36.59.
Kiprop, 23, arrives as a heavy favourite after his solid 3:28.88 run in Monaco on 20 July, the fastest in the world in eight years. “There’s a lot of pressure on me. But that’s what I’m here for.”
The heat was won by 24-year-old Algerian Taoufik Makhloufi who, presumably to avoid any potential trouble in the homestretch mad dash, fled from the tight pack with about 250 metres to go, gapped the field and never relented to win in 3:35.15.
Makhloufi, a semi-finalist at the 2009 and 2011 World Championships, has improved markedly in 2012, knocking more than two seconds from his career best to 3:30.80.
Ethiopian Mekonnen Gebremehdin, who moved into second at the bell, held that position across the finish clocking 3:36.56 just ahead of Kiprop.
Ross Murray of Great Britain (3:36.74), Mohamad Al-Garni (3:36.99) of Qatar and American Leo Manzano (3:37.00) took the next three positions to move on.
With a sluggish pace of just under 2:01 at 800 metres, the second heat wasn’t nearly as fast, but much grittier and closer.
Ethiopian Dawit Wolde and Kiprop’s teammate Silas Kiplagat led a tight pack through the bell, but only the latter was still a factor when the homestretch dust settled.
Ten men were still in contention for the six automatic spots, with Mohammed Shaween of Saudi Arabia prevailing in the end in 3:39.42, just ahead of quick-finishing Qatari Hamza Driouch who clocked 3:39.67, in turn just 0.03 ahead of Turk Ilham Tanui Ozbilen.
Kiplagat, Canada’s Nate Brannen and Andy Baddeley of Great Britain were next across the line to punch their automatic tickets into the semis.
“To win I must run quicker that 3:33,” said Shaween, who’s run just 3:39.46 this season but has a career best of 3:31.82 from last year. “It’s the Olympic Games. Everybody is under stress.”
That characterization certainly held true for Kenyan No. 3 Nixon Chepseba. The leader in the early going in a sluggish third heat, he dropped back to fourth after the bell.
Trying to make up ground down the back straight, he was clipped on the heel by German Carsten Schlangen, nearly fell and never managed to regain his rhythm. Struggling down the homestretch, he finished a distant ninth.
[NOTE: The Kenya Team made an oral protest with the Referee after Heat 3 of the Men’s 1500m. The Referee, considering that athlete Nixon Kiplomo CHEPSEBA (bib number 2295) had been seriously disadvantaged decided to advance him to the semi-final as an additional athlete.]
Conversely, Beijing silver medallist Nic Willis put his experience on display with a smart run leading over the final lap en route to a 3:40.92 victory, ahead of yet another mad scramble for the next five advancing slots.
Moroccan Abdalaati Iguider and Frenchman Yoann Kowal were next in 3:41.08 and 3:41.12, respectively with Norway’s Henrik Ingebrigtsen (3:41:33) and American Matt Cetrowitz (3:41.29) the Daegu bronze medallist following.
In a dramatic battle for the final spot, Schlangen out-dove Spaniard Diego Ruiz to move on by just 0.01 clocking 3:41.51.