MonteCarloDaegu 2011 World champions Asbel Kiprop and David Rudisha will have their first outings of the season at their preferred Olympic distances at the Melbourne Track Classic on Saturday 3 March, the opening meeting of the 2012 IAAF World Challenge.
Kiprop will defend his Olympic 1500 metres title in London later this year, Rudisha will bid to complete a triple crown of accomplishments by adding the Olympic 800 metres gold medal to his 2010 World records and 2011 IAAF World Championship title.
The Melbourne Track Classic is the first of 15 meetings of the IAAF World Challenge series of one-day competitions which has stops around the globe in all six IAAF Areas. The series of invitational events concludes in Rieti, Italy on 9 September.
Kiprop learns from (sometimes bitter) experience
Since bursting onto the international athletics stage in 2007, a year which began with his victory in the junior race at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Mombasa, Asbel Kiprop’s progress has not been without setback.
At times seemingly sublimely indifferent to tactical considerations, Kiprop was fourth in the 1500 at successive World championships in Osaka 2007 and Berlin 2009. In the former, he did too much, trying to lead through the last 700 metres, and in the latter he left his run too late and was forced too wide.
In between Kiprop won the Olympic gold medal, but he spoke in Melbourne this week of his lack of experience at that time.
“When I came onto the athletics scene in 2007 I was childish in athletics, I had no skills at all, no experience. I was just happy to run on the track with those guys like (D.K.) Komen.”
Experience teaches, sometimes with bitter lessons. Kiprop says he is now a better athlete, not only through learning to belong at the highest level, but also through studying his losing races.
“I have lost twice during World championship in Osaka and Berlin. My tactics let me down.”
“I’ve been looking at movies of the race, where I messed up. And at the guys who won the races, where they sit in the race and how they tackled it. I have tried to improve on that.”
The proof of the pudding was in Daegu last year, where Kiprop went into the 1500 final with a plan, followed it, and won the gold medal.
That makes him the target for this year, first with his fellow-Kenyans to gain selection, and then with his international rivals.
“(Making the Kenyan team) is part of the challenge,” Kiprop says. “It’s the Olympic team and at 1500 we have some very strong guys. If you run the Kenyan trials and you finish top three then you have a chance to get a medal at the Olympics.”
As for the pressure of being world champion, Kiprop says it motivates him.
“When Hicham El Guerrouj was on the track everyone was looking at him as the one to beat. The same applies to David Rudisha now at 800. Every top athlete, people focus on him, but at the end of the day they win the game. You have to be the man of the race, it motivates you.”
Like El Guerrouj, Kiprop’s ambitions run to titles, Olympic and World titles. His Osaka and Berlin losses cannot be made up, so it might be difficult to match El Guerrouj’s tally of four world championships gold medals.
But a second Olympic title in London, that would elevate Kiprop into rare company. The only man to have done it is not running in the London Games, he is running (i.e. organising) them. That would be IAAF Vice President Lord Sebastian Coe.
Rudisha on course
Before he came to Melbourne for a first time in 2010, David Rudisha was a former World junior champion who had faded out in the semi-finals at the Berlin 2009 World championships. When he came a second time last year he was a World record holder without a senior World or Olympic title.
Now he is in Melbourne a third time with a World record, a World championship and a desire to complete a treble of “great things” by winning the Olympic title in London later this year.
“So far I have achieved two of the great things that I wanted in my career, breaking the World record and winning the World championships in Daegu,” Rudisha said after training at Melbourne’s Lakeside Stadium.
“The only thing missing is an Olympic gold medal. That is what I’m looking for and I’m training hard to see that I get it.”
“My father was an Olympic medallist (Daniel Rudisha was a 4x400 metres silver medallist with Kenya in the 1968 Mexico City Olympics) so it is something important to my family. So we’ve been working hard, me with my coach, trying to do our best to see if we can get my best performance there.”
After a 45.81 400 in Sydney last weekend, Rudisha will turn to his number one event in Melbourne. Two years ago, a 45.50 in Sydney led to an Australian all-comers record 1:43.15 in Melbourne. Last year, Rudisha ran 1:43.88 in his first race of the year.
So expectations will be high again and Rudisha did little to lower them as he peeled off a succession of relaxed 600 and 400-metre repetitions in an easy session “just to test my rhythm, my movement for 800.”
“I think it was OK,” Rudisha added, though he did not really need to.
Rudisha said he liked coming to Melbourne because it enabled him to train and race away from home in a summer climate.
“It’s not winter here. It’s great for sport. Two years ago coming here was good, last year I got injured (after Melbourne) but I went on to win the World championships. So things have been good for me since I started coming here, it’s a part of my preparation, and I love it.”
Len Johnson for the IAAF