NAIROBI, August- In a championship that has already redefined Kenyan athletics history thus far, Asbel Kiprop came to Beijing keen to write his own chapter and on Thursday, he duly took the first convincing step to becoming the first three-peat men 1500m champion from his nation after breezing to Friday’s semi-finals.
Kenya’s resounding meeting continued when all four in the men 1500m advanced with Daegu silver medallist, Silas Kiplagat and Elijah Manangoi earning direct qualification with Timothy Cheruiyot bagging one of the small ‘q’s after three rounds of the competition.
Having won the Daegu and Moscow editions of the biennial showpiece at a canter, Kiprop came to China as the man to beat having sent out a strong message of intent with his 3:26.69 huge personal best in Monaco last month that elevated him to number 3 in the all time list.
Running in Heat 2, Ethiopia’s Aman Wote took the front running duties, crossing the 400m in 1:00.72 and 1200m in 2:58.53 before the 2008 Olympics champion opened his lanky legs to stroll to easy victory in 3:38.97 with the pace setter finishing second in 3:39.05 as American Leo Manzano came in third in 3:39.22.
Djibouti star, Ayanleh Souleiman who led Kiprop across the line for gold at last year’s African and IAAF Continental Cup finals in Marrakech, Morocco, was the biggest shock after being knocked out of competition by injury.
Kiplagat who ran to a disappointing sixth finish in Moscow won the third heat in 3:38.13 ahead of Moroccan Addalaati Iguider (3:38.14) and Nicholas Willis from New Zealand (3:38.27) edging out former Kenyan and Turk runner, Ilham Tanui Özbilen (3:38.28) in a flying finish to the race.
Despite being stern rivals on the track, Kiprop and Kiplagat appeared in the mixed zone together with arms across each other’s shoulders as they fulfilled their media obligations.
“It was nice; it was a good race, nice and comfortable. We are happy we have sailed to the next round and we are looking forward to make the finals,” the champion stated.
A reporter then asked them about their show of comradeship while the world knows them as bitter foes.
“No, no, when it comes to the track, he is a tough competitor, we don’t have that kind of rivalry” Kiprop replied laughing with Kiplagat adding, “Outside there we are good friends.”
The champion evaded discussing about any possible tactics for the final with Kiplagat explaining his scant racing before Beijing was down to a slight tendon injury.
“There are many Americans, Europeans and many other guys selected out there are strong,” the 2010 Commonwealth champion Kiplagat added on the possibility of Kenya completing a top-four shut-out like their men 3000m compatriots in an interview posted on YouTube by LetsRun.com.
On Souleiman, Kiplagat was not surprised by his exit saying the Djibouti runner had confided in him earlier in the week he was carrying a knock.
For Manangoi, making his name in Beijing is the biggest motivating factor as he took the first heat in 3:42.57 ahead of Algeria’s Olympics champion, Taoufik Makhloufi (3:42.72) and America’s big hope, Matthew Centrowitz (3:43.17).
“I have a chance. We gonna make the Kenyan team improve. We have a plan, it doesn’t matter the time, what matters is the position and in the end, the gold, silver and bronze. We want to wait until the finals to think about that (running as a team),” the Worlds debutant said in a separate interview.
Cheruiyot who is also making his maiden bow at the biennial global track and field showpiece finished sixth (3:38.50) in the heat won by Kiplagat that was the fastest of the day to be carried along to the semis as a fastest loser.
The men 1500m quartet was the last Kenyan track team to leave for China on Monday to counter the adverse effects of the scorching conditions in Beijing.