NAIROBI, Kenya, August 7- With Lord Sebastian Coe most likely watching from the executive sitting at London Olympics Stadium, Asbel Kiprop has the chance to join him in the VIP table of 1500m running if he holds on to his Olympics title on Tuesday night.
Lord Coe, the chairman of the local organising committee for the Games is the only man in history to have held on to the metric mile title having done so at the 1980 and 1984 event and the lanky Kenyan, 22, is knocking on the door of greatness if he powers through the three and a half laps ahead of 11 other finalists.
Among them, compatriots Silas Kiplagat, the Commonwealth champion and Worlds silver winner and Nixon Kiplimo Chepseba, the Diamond League titleholder are besides harbouring individual aspirations to bag the top medal; they are also enthusiastic on being part of an unprecedented result – a clean podium sweep from one nation at the event.
“Since we are all in the final, we shall try to bring all the medals home. We shall work as a team until the last moment when it will be everyone for himself,” Kiprop who had a niggling hamstring problems during the semis two days ago underlined.
“I felt really good,” Kiprop added. “I was excited, although it was a slow race and I prayed that I would finish well. I was controlling the race but I was surprised that the rest of the field could kick hard in the end.”
Besides holding on for the title, Kiprop has one other objective to fulfil in London- bagging the top medal on the track- an aim he has repeated ever since he was handed the top medal from Beijing after Bahrain’s Rashid Ramzi who crossed the line ahead of him was stripped of victory after testing positive for blood boosting CERA.
“Receiving the Olympics gold medal at home in Nairobi was exciting and makes me special to some extent since I got the first Olympics gold medal in Africa. I have never heard it happen elsewhere.
“But just like in Korea, I want to win it on the track and hear the national anthem played at the stadium and although competition will be tough, I believe I can do it,” he told Capital Sport before his departure for London.
Kiprop qualified for the finals after coming second in 3:42.92 behind Algeria’s Taoufik Makhloufi who charged past him in the final bend and sprinted for victory in 3:42.24.
Makhloufi will line-up in the final as one of the most potent threat to the Kenyan Armada having been reinstated to the Games by IOC after IAAF initially booted him out of the competition on Monday for his apparent lack of effort in the men 800m heats.
Kiplagat, a training partner of freshly minted 3000m steeplechase winner, Ezekiel Kemboi has evolved to be Kiprop’s rival-in-chief since he upset the Olympics titleholder at last year’s Trials for the Daegu Worlds.
The champion turned the tables on the challenger in Daegu but this season, Kiplagat has stopped Kiprop twice, at the Doha Diamond League meet where he ran a career best 3:29.63 before leading him across the line at the Kenyan Trials.
“Last year, I lost out due to a problem in timing and if I get to the final in London, I will ensure I do not repeat that,” the Delhi gold winner said before the Olympics. He just has to borrow the script from his training companion on finishing to celebrate the coveted crown.
“Winning here is good but last year, I won and went to silver and this time, I want to make sure I get my calculations right since just like last year, I was in good shape. I foresee a situation where we can win all the medals for our country and I will work with my teammates for that,” Kiplagat stressed.
Olympics debutant, Chepseba is the youngest of the three and least experienced but he’s quite fast and similar to Kiprop, he joined the sub 3:30 ranks this season, first with a 3:29.90 win in Hengelo and lowered it to 3:29.77 behind Kiprop in Monaco.
He also managed to cross the line 30 seconds ahead of the Olympic title holder during the trials in 3:38.00, to finish second behind Kiplagat who won in 3:37.60.
“This time, no one can deny me, I have lost to wildcards for so long and my dream has come true,” he jubilantly told Capital Sport after the race.
He almost lost the place in the final after Daegu surprise bronze medallist Matt Centrowitz of the USA almost spiked him off the race during Heat 2 finishing ninth, but got the qualifying slot after Team Kenya officials launched an immediate appeal leading to a review of the footage by the judges who reinstated him for the semis.
Centrowitz is one of the challengers they will have to contend with, out to spoil the party of a possible clean podium sweep. Others are former compatriots, Kenyan born Turk Ilham Tanui Özbilen and Belal Mansoor Ali of Bahrain (born John Yego).
The Kenyans will be favourite for the top honours with Kiprop (3:28.88), Chepseba (3:29.63) and Kiplagat (3:29.77) occupying the first three slot in the 2012 world list.
While Kiprop has already ruled out an attack on Moroccan Hicham El Guerrouj’s world record of 3:26.00 since he reckons it would be difficult without the assistance of pace-setters, he isn’t shying away at the prospect of taking a stab at the Olympic record set by compatriot Noah Ngeny in 2000.
“It’s hard to pick who between the three of us will win the gold medal. But I am sure that the Olympic record of 3:29.77 set by Ngeny will be broken,” said Kiprop before the start of the Games last month.
Ngeny set the mark when he out-sprinted the now retired El Guerrouj in one of the biggest upsets at the Sydney Games, breaking the previous record held by Coe.