NAIROBI, August 22- Ezekiel Kemboi kept his dream of a fourth straight steeplechase title intact with record holder, David Rudisha, leading the Kenyan trio to the men 800m semi finals during Saturday morning’s qualifying rounds at the Beijing IAAF World Championships in Athletics at the Bird’s Nest.
Commonwealth champion, Faith Chepng’etich also punched her ticket in the women 1500m rounds alongside former World junior 3000m bronze winner, Nancy Chepkwemoi but there was heartache for Viola Lagat, the younger sister of 2007 double winner, Bernard Lagat, the Kenyan born American distance running legend.
The men 3000m steeplechase final is shaping up to be a Kenya versus US record holder, Evan Jager duel as the decorated quartet made light work of qualifying for the semis.
“We are taking it one race at a time. Now our aim is to do well in semis then go to the finals,” two-time Olympics champion, Kemboi who has held the water and barriers title since the 2009 edition in Berlin said at the mixed zone of the Bird’s Nest.
The three-time titleholder played a waiting game until about 200 metres to go when he started to kick hard and he sprinted off the last barrier before winning in 8:24.75, followed home by Morocco’s Brahim Taleb.
The only one of the Kenyan runners to look anything less than completely comfortable was the 2007 world and 2008 Olympic champion Brimin Kipruto who was third on his return to the Bird’s Nest since he won there seven years ago.
“Happy to back here,” Brimin, who clocked 8:24.95, told adding, “We want a 1, 2, 3, 4 because all of us have qualified to the semis. It is very hot but the finals will be run in the evening and it will not be that hot.”
Conseslus Kipruto who won the world junior title in 2012 before adding silver in Moscow 2013 went out first, Jager in the pedestrian paced race where the Kenyan won in 8:41.41 ahead of the US Champion, Jager, 0.1 second behinds with Canadian Hughes (8:41:52) taking the third automatic qualifying slot.
Commonweath silver medallist, Diamond League winner and leader, Jairus Kipchoge, who is not interested in any other medal apart from gold won the significantly faster second heat.
Down the home straight Birech showed why he has been the number one steeplechaser in the world since the start of last year by going through the gears before winning in 8:25.77. He was followed home by Algeria’s Bilal Tabti and USA’s Don Cabral.
It was then the turn of Kemboi, who had not shown significant form to step to the track and he waited until about 200 metres to go when he started to kick hard and he sprinted off the last barrier before winning in 8:24.75, followed home by Morocco’s Brahim Taleb.
Seeking to redeem himself after two seasons of injury plagued nightmares, Olympics champion and record holder Rudisha looked comfortable in his first race at the Bird’s Nest stadium.
He took control of the race, and the rivals seemed too intimidated to try and pass, even though the Kenyan clocked a fairly pedestrian 55.63 over the first lap.
Rudisha’s winning time of 1:48.31 marked the slowest heat of the morning, but saved the Olympic champion some much needed power for Sunday’s semi-final.
“Semis is very important and tactical because only two athletes qualify from each heat and two best losers. To qualify to the finals is very important and it will boost our morale.
“I love this weather. I like running in hot weather so I’m home here and looking forward to Monday’s finals,” the world junior champion from Beijing in 2008 said.
Bahamas World Relays silver medallist and Kenyan Trial winner, Ferguson Rotich, clocked 1:45.83, the fastest time in the first round ahead of Morocco’s Amine El Manaoui was a close second in 1:45.86 in Heat 4.
“I learnt a bitter lesson from Moscow and I want to make up for it,” Rotich who was disqualified at the semis two years ago for lane infringement added.
The third Kenyan and 2014 world junior chamion, Alfred Kipketer ran 1:46.67 for second in Heat 5 behind Adam Kszczot who won in 1:46.62.
Botswana’s London 2012 Olympic Games medallist Nijel Amos and defending champion Mohammed Aman, from Ethiopia, played it safe, running controlled races and won from behind their respective heats in 1:47.23 and 1:47.89.
Aman, who hasn’t been quite as dominant this season as in 2013, made a point of beating France’s Pierre-Ambroise Bosse on the line when he could have marginally eased up.
Amel Tuka, the biggest discovery in the European middle distance running this year, used his usual race pattern with a conservative first half of the race and an impressive finishing spurt. The Bosnian had no problem winning his heat, clocking 1:46.12.
A seventh finish for Viola Cheptoo Lagat in 4:12.15 on her Worlds debut marked her as the first Kenyan to bow out of competition in the women 1500m heats.
“It was a painful learning process but I miscalculated. I will rectify my mistakes next time,” the bitterly disappointed US-based athlete rued.
“I wish we would have been three in the semis but that’s how sports is. We are looking forward to run in the semis and hopefully qualify to the finals,” Chepng’etich who followed record holder and Ethiopian favourite Genzebe Dibaba said.
Dibaba got her Beijing campaign underway by clocking the fastest 1500m heat time ever at the IAAF World Championships.
The Ethiopian went in the third and final heat, drawn against Commonwealth champion Faith Kipyegon. The winner who is also doubling in the 5000m then made her move with one lap remaining.
Tracked closely by Chepng’etich, she covered the final 300m in 44.31 and eventually crossed the line in 4:02.59, the fastest ever 1500m time outside of a final at the IAAF World Championships.
Kipyegon was close behind in 4:02.77 while Morocco’s Rababe Arafi was further back in third, clocking 4:04.17.
Chepkwemoi was third in Heat 1 (4:05.65) won by Besu Sado of Ethiopia 4:05.39.
-Material from IAAF used to compile this report