With 300 metres left to run on a sultry summer’s night at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Monaco last Friday (18), Asbel Kiprop realised the pace was too slow to give him any chance of beating Hicham El Guerrouj’s 1500m world record of 3:26.00.
As he sprinted down the home straight a glance at the giant television screen in front of him in the Stade Louis II stadium then showed the Kenyan world champion that he also faced a serious challenge for first place, looming up behind him.
Kiprop was eventually overtaken after a frenzied, teeth-baring, sprint from his compatriot Silas Kiplagat who crossed the finish line in 3:27.64 in a race of stunning depth.
Kiplagat, who displaced Kiprop for fourth place in the all-time list, had run the fastest 1,500 for 10 years. Behind the Kenyan pair, their compatriot Ronald Kwemoi set a world junior record (subject to ratification) of 3:28.81 in third place while no less than seven runners finished under 3:30.
One of these was New Zealand’s Nick Willis, second to Kiprop at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, who celebrated his seventh place in a national record time with such delight that an unwary observer might have thought he had won.
Kiplagat, himself, overcome with emotion, laid his running strip on the track and bent to his knees to kiss it.
All of which was little consolation to Kiprop on his return to the fast Monaco track where he clocked his personal best of 3:27.72 last year and his fastest 800m of 1:43.15 in 2011.
“At 1200 metres I knew the pace was too slow,” he said. “We went through at 2:47 and I had asked for 2:45. In the home straight, I could see the others behind me on the big screen and I knew they would get back on me. I could see Silas coming closer and closer. It was a tough race.”
Nobody, including Kiprop, had any illusions about the task facing the two-time world champion, although he sounded optimistic at the pre-event press conference prior being somewhat surprisingly usurped on the track: “I now have one target, I believe I’m getting close to it and even making it better.”
El Guerrouj’s record, set in Rome in 1998, has lasted longer than any men’s 1500m mark since the IAAF first ratified the record in 1912.
Kiprop, 25, hails from Kaptinga village near Eldoret. His father David Kebenei finished fourth over the 1500m at the 1987 All-Africa Games and it was quickly apparently that Kiprop inherited his ability.
He won races as a schoolboy before taking a break from the sport on his father’s suggestion, resuming at the age of 14 and joining the Kip Keino High Performance Training Centre in Eldoret.
In the great Kenyan tradition, Kiprop first made an impression internationally at cross country, leading his team for a sweep of the first four places in the junior race at the 2007 IAAF World Cross Country Championships.
Later the same year, he won the 1500m at the All-Africa Championships and qualified for that year’s IAAF World Championships in Osaka, where he finished fourth.
At the 2008 Olympic Games, Kiprop was outsprinted by Rashid Ramzi and initially awarded the silver medal before getting the gold 15 months later when tests revealed that the Bahraini winner had been guilty of doping violations.
Now, after the wakeup call of being beaten by Kiplagat, his world record ambitions are now on hold, he has set his sights in the remainder of the season on the African Championships and then the IAAF Continental Cup.
John Mehaffey for the IAAF