01 MAR 2010 General News 1 March 2010 – Melbourne, Australia

Beijing gold medallist Kiprop joins hot Melbourne 1500m field – IAAF World Challenge

Hengelo 1500m winner Asbel Kiprop (organisers)Hengelo 1500m winner Asbel Kiprop (organisers) © Copyright
Melbourne, AustraliaUntil his plane landed in Melbourne early on Monday morning, Olympic 1500m champion Asbel Kiprop had not, as he put it, “taken one footstep on Australian soil.”

The 20-year-old Kenyan, who won the Olympic title in Beijing’s Bird’s Nest stadium as a 19-year-old, plans to make his next lot of footsteps in Australia pretty quick.

“My intent is to run 3:32,” Kiprop said of his plans for the coming Thursday night when he will clash with New Zealand’s Nick Willis and a slew of Australians in hot form in the opening leg of the IAAF World Challenge, the Melbourne Track Classic.

Kiprop may need to be that quick. After missing pretty much all of 2009 with a hip injury, Willis has resumed this year in rare form. Most recently, he supplanted 1976 Olympic 1500m champion John Walker as New Zealand indoor record holder for the 1500m. He broke Walker’s outdoor record in 2005, though he does not yet have the mile outdoor mark.

And Kiprop also arrives in Melbourne with Australia’s middle-distance men in form. In Sydney last Saturday, 19-year-old Ryan Gregson ran 3:35.42 to beat Collis Birmingham (3:35.89), Mitch Kealey (3:36.00), another Kenyan in Collins Cheboi (3:36.43) and Jeremy Roff (3:36.79). Gregson is in the 800m on Thursday and Birmingham the 5000m, but Kealey, Cheboi and Roff and Jeff Riseley give the Melbourne race as much depth on paper as Sydney had.

A 3:32 would put Kiprop, or whoever else wins on Thursday, in pretty distinguished company. The Olympic Park track record is held by Hicham El Guerrouj with the 3:31.25 he ran in the 2001 IAAF Grand Prix Final; the Melbourne meeting record is Williiam Chirchir’s 3:32.55 from 2000; and Noah Ngeny ran 3:32.07 “up the road” in Sydney in winning the 2000 Olympic gold medal.

Interestingly, Kiprop said on arrival in Melbourne than Ngeny is one of his “role models. He won his gold medal in Australia, so this country has a lot of meaning for me.”

In another Ngeny link, Kiprop is also coached by Ngeny’s former mentor, Jimmy Beuttah.

Kiprop will be competing with friend, and neighbour, David Rudisha for the middle-distance honours on Thursday night. Rudisha, who chased home Ben Offereins and Sean Wroe in the Sydney 400m, running a personal best 45.50, is going in the 800m with a minimum aim of breaking David Lelei’s Australian all-comers’ record of 1:43.97.

Kiprop went to the Berlin world championships last year as 1500m favourite but got into a poor tactical position and could finish no higher than fourth, the same place he attained as a precocious 18-year-old in Osaka in 2007. He made his international breakthrough earlier that year when he won the junior race at the world cross-country championships in Mombasa.

Len Johnson for the IAAF