Defending 1500m World Indoor champion Deresse Mekonnen decided he wouldn’t leave anything to fate when he took command of heat two never to relinquish his leading position. The Ethiopian who also took silver at last year’s Berlin World Championships and is the current World indoor leader was the dominant force at the head of a race which he concluded in 3:39.66.
A gradual increase of the pace left him with only Haron Keitany, Diego Ruiz and Thamer Kamal Ali on his heels with four laps to go with only the tall Kenyan, the 2008 African Champion, and the Spaniard, last year’s European indoor silver medallist staying close at the end of the next lap.
At the bell, Mekonnen’s win was no longer in question as a 2-metre gap opened on Ruiz and Keitany one step behind. It looked as though Keitany was strong enough to secure the second and last qualifying spot but the Spanish champion wasn’t going to give up that easy. In fact he held on and took the remaining automatic qualifier in 3:40.00.
“I came here to repeat my victory from Valencia,” Mekonnen said. “I ran on the first place from the start because I wanted to have everything under control. Qualification is always much tougher for me than final. I feel self confident, I am focusing only on my performance and not thinking about the other runners. This year, I have the best conditions for training and I feel I can win.”
Keitany was left with a long wait to see if his 3:40.04 would remain as one of the three fastest loser’s times and in the end it proved to be just enough for the ninth and final position.
As it is often the case, the third and final heat proved to be the fastest of the afternoon as second-tier runners chased a qualifying position. In the opening laps, the lead often changed hands including a 59.38 400m split by Goran Nava of Serbia and a 1:28.81 600m split by Christian Obrist of Italy. Eventually none of the two advanced as the African pair of Abdelaati Iguider and Mekonnen Gebremedhin took command from then on. The Ethiopian increased the pace sensibly taking in his wake the Moroccan former World Junior champion and a couple of steps behind the Olympic 3000m steeplechase silver medallist Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad of France.
Iguider sprinted with two laps to go and finished in 3:37.14, the fastest winning time in a World indoor championships heat; Gebremedhin grabbed the second automatic qualifier in 3:38.90 while behind him Garrett Heath launched a do-or-die sprint with 150 metres to go. The American, who works as an assistant coach at Stanford University caught up with Mekhissi-Benabbad and outsprinted him to finish in a PB 3:39.25 to the tall Frenchman’s 3:39.63. Both advanced to the final.
“I feel tired now, so I have to see my coach,” Iguider said. “We are going to talk and to watch the race again. Then we will plan some tactics for the final. This season is very good for me. Maybe I can surprise the others.”
The first heat proved to be the slowest and only the top two in that race made it to tomorrow’s final, the surprise coming from Juan van Deventer who after becoming the first South African to reach a 1500m Olympic final in Beijing he is now the first man from his country ever to reach a World Indoor final in this event.
Moroccan 800m outdoor record holder Amine Laalou, a clear winner in 3:39.96, most probably didn’t notice how hard a fight Alvaro Rodriguez of Spain and Gideon Gathimba of Kenya were putting in to hold on to the last qualifying position. As Rodriguez responded to Gathimba’s move going into the final lap, the Kenyan was left with a lot of ground to make on the outside. He made another move going into the final bend when, by then Rodriguez had nothing left in his tank.
It looked as though the Kenyan had done just enough to secure the runner-up spot but that is when the 26-year-old van Deventer made a move of his own. Both dipped to the line with a photo finish read being necessary to award the South African with second by a mere one hundredth of a second.
With two Moroccan and two Ethiopians in tomorrow’s final one can expect a very tactical race will unfold and in this type of race, we all know, the win is anyone’s take.
Laura Arcoleo for the IAAF