Sunday, 09 August 2009

Men's 1500m - PREVIEW

Hengelo 1500m winner Asbel Kiprop  (organisers)

Hengelo 1500m winner Asbel Kiprop (organisers)

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    • Augustine Choge (l) edges Haron Keitany by just 0.02sec in Doha
    • Bernard Lagat storms home in Tangier to win the 1500m in 3:32.56
    No country has ever swept the podium in the men’s 1500m at the World championships, but don’t expect that bit of trivia to keep a formidable Kenyan trio from trying.

    Leading the charge will be Asbel Kiprop, last year’s Olympic silver medallist, who has in just three seasons displayed race skill and sharpness that belie his 20 years. 2007 marked his first international season, which he capped with an impressive fourth place finish in Osaka while still a teenager. This time around, he’ll arrive in Berlin unbeaten in four races over 1500m and the mile, and as arguably the finest middle distance runner in the world at the moment. Thus far, Kiprop handled top notch milers in Hengelo, Eugene and Rome with relative ease before taking the win at the notoriously difficult Kenyan trials in late July. In Eugene he clocked 3:48.50 for the mile and 3:31.20 in the Rome 1500m, both personal bests. Boding well for the year, he opened his season with a 1:43.17 runner-up finish in the Doha 800, also a career best and the second fastest time of the year. In a trials warm up, he won the 800m in Athens, producing another sub-1:44. In Berlin, Kiprop will be a hard man to beat.

    The last man to turn the trick over the metric mile was Haron Keitany, who edged his compatriot by just 0.01 seconds at the World Athletics Final in Stuttgart last September. That victory, which came two weeks after his shock victory in Zurich, was a turning point in confidence for the personable 25-year-old, who has impressed in each of his outings in this, just his second international season. He produced a pair of sub-3:31 clockings - both PBs, 3:30.20 his fastest - with runner-up finishes in Doha and Berlin, and won the mile in Ostrava before finishing behind Kiprop at the Kenyan Trials.

    Getting the better of Keitany in those fast races was another sizzling Kenyan, Augustine Choge, who has also shown considerable improvement this season. The 22-year-old opened with a 3:30.88 career best in Doha, and improved further with his 3:29.47 win on the Olympic stadium track in Berlin, the world’s sole sub-3:30 performance this season. An off-day saw him finish third in the Dream mile in Oslo (3:50.22 PB) before he earned his World championships ticket at the Kenyan trials where he finished third.

    At the moment, leading the charge against this year’s Kenyan juggernaut is two-time defending European champion Mehdi Baala. The French record holder illustrated that he’s back to full fitness after some late winter and early spring injury woes with an impressive 3:30.96 win in Monaco. The 2003 silver medallist in Paris, he’s struggled in two subsequent World championships appearances since, and was just 0.05 shy of a medal in Beijing last summer.

    The Monaco race rewrote the season’s list, with the first five all dipping under 3:32. Osaka finalist Anter Zerguelaine of Algeria was second with a 3:31.21 PB, just ahead of Moroccan Abdelaati Iguider, who was sixth in Beijing, whose 3:31.47 was also a PB. Both will be contenders in Berlin.

    But in the 1500m, experience counts, and the most experienced runner in the field is Bernard Lagat, the reigning World champion at both the 1500m and 5000m. He’s on the roster to defend both titles, and the 34-year-old Kenyan-born American has displayed the fitness that he’s up to the task. Over the past month he’s won the 1500m in Tangiers in 3:32.56, took a comfortable mile victory in London, and produced a 7:33.15 career best over 3000m in windy conditions in Paris.

    Bob Ramsak for the IAAF