When he emerged as a middle distance power at the World Championships in Helsinki three years ago, Rashid Ramzi said his childhood idol was Hicham El Guerrouj. Tonight the 28-year-old succeeded the all-time great as the Olympic 1500m champion.
Biding his time in the middle of the pack for more than half the race, the enigmatic Bahraini wormed his way through the pack to join the leaders at the bell before making his break with 200 metres to go. The gap of some two metres he carried through the final bend proved to be decisive as he crossed the line in 3:32.94.
But he wasn’t alone when he unleashed his fearsome trademark kick. Kenyan teenager Asbel Kiprop, who shared the early race pacing chores with his teammate Augustine Choge, matched Ramzi’s move, and although he wasn’t able to catch him, he didn’t allow the gap to grow either. The 19-year-old finished just a step behind in 3:33.11 to take the silver, the eighth medal overall in the event for Kenya in Olympic competition.
“I’m not disappointed,” said Kiprop, who was fourth at the World championships last year. “Not at all.”
In the fast and furious charge over the final 150 metres, New Zealander Nick Willis produced the race of his life. Sixth entering the homestretch, the 25-year-old national record holder forged on to claim the bronze in 3:34.16, holding off Frenchman Mehdi Baala, who was running on the inside, by just 0.05 seconds.
“I wasn’t able to get the gold,” said Willis, “but to get a bronze means just as much.”
Just over half a second separated finishers four through seven, with Spaniard Juan Carlos Higuero taking fifth (3:34.44) to give Europe two top-five finishers for the second straight Games.
Kiprop said that he and Choge made the decision last night to assume the pacing chores. A brisk pace from the outset, they reasoned, would be the only way to work the kick out of Ramzi’s legs. But that game plan did not quite come to pass.
Kiprop assumed the immediate lead, bringing the tightly-knit pack through the first lap in 56.48, but Choge then slowed the tempo significantly, reaching the 800m in 1:56.06. The next lap was quicker, but the 2:53 split at 1200m wasn’t quite according to plan either.
“We were hoping for 2:50,” Kiprop confirmed. Choge later wasn’t a factor in the homestretch battle, fading to 10th in 3:35.50.
Such is the reputation Ramzi has managed to build, even though he races sparingly. And now, besides a master of the finishing kick – the final lap here was a tick under 53 seconds – he is becoming a man of championships as well. The 800/1500m World champion in 2005, he took silver in the longer distance in Osaka last year, despite missing two months of training to injury. And tomorrow, he said, he’ll decide whether to emulate his idol’s Athens Olympic achievement, and contest the 5000m as well.
Bob Ramsak for the IAAF