The biggest roar of the opening session of these 14th IAAF World Indoor Championships came just a few minutes after 1 pm when Ilham Tanui Ozbilen crossed the line with an emphatic victory in the first of two opening round heats of the men’s 1500m.
Ozbilen, the former Kenyan William Tanui, led for about half the race, and protected his position defiantly en rote to a 3:41.93 victory, just ahead of quick closing Aman Wote of Ethiopia who had set the race's early tone. The crowd erupted.
"I feel the emotion and the support from the crowd and I like it, said Ozbilen, who's been living in Turkey for the past year-and-a-half. "This is my home crowd because I am living in Istanbul. I am going for the win in tomorrow's final."
Ozbilen is perhaps the strongest hope for host team gold this weekend, bringing solid credentials to Saturday evening's final. Ozbilen came to the fore in 2009 when he broke the World junior record in the mile in Oslo with a 3:49.29 run in Oslo. He later ran the opening leg for a Kenyan quartet which set a 4x1500m Relay World record in Brussels and won the World Athletics Final. He's run well this season with a third place showing in Dusseldorf, a pair of runner-up finishes in Karlsruhe and Lievin, and a victory in Stockholm.
Trailing Wote (3:42.24) Third across the line was Moroccan Amine Laalou, the 2010 Continental Cup winner, who clocked 3:42.36 to take the third qualifying spot by right.
Laalou's teammate Abdalaati Iguider was equally impressive in the second heat, kicking to a 3:38.41 victory over the finial 150 metres to live up to his pre-meet favourite's role.
The 2010 silver medallist held off Ethiopian Mekonnen Gebremehdin (3:39.16) through the homestretch with teenager Ayanleh Souleiman third in 3:39.51, a nation record for Djibouti.
With a blanket finish and fast scramble, the next fastest three to advance also came from the second race. Matt Centrowitz of the U.S., the 2011 World 1500m bronze medallist, was next in 3:39.54, followed by Kenyan Silas Kiplagat who clocked 3:39.59. Spaniard Francisco Javier Abad (3:40.55) nabbed the final spot.
Bob Ramsak for the IAAF