An event which has served up a number of shock gold medallists in the past produced another, as Kenya’s unheralded Alfred Kirwa Yego snatched victory in the final strides of a tactical, slow-run final in 1min 47.09sec.
It was a remarkable victory for Yego, who outside of the heats and semi-finals here in Osaka had failed to win a race all season, as he edged out Canada’s Gary Reed by 0.01sec.
Yuriy Borzakovskiy, the Olympic champion, once again left his run for World Championship gold too late and had to be satisfied with the bronze in 1:47.39 – to add to the silver medals he won at the 2003 and 2005 championships.
Yego became the first Kenyan to win the title for 14 years, since Paul Ruto struck gold in Stuttgart, and join the likes of Willi Wulbeck and Djabir Said-Guerni as largely surprise winners of this title.
Yego, 20, who had exited the heats at the last World Championships in Helsinki and finished third at the Kenyan trials earlier this summer, said: “Until now, I can’t believe I’m the one who won it! I was expecting the race to be very tough because everybody was going for victory.
"As we went through the first lap, it was very easy for me and I knew I would definitely be in contention. At 600m I was so relaxed I felt I could win, so I unleashed my last kick with 100m to go, but I was not sure I won the gold until I crossed the line.”
An elated Reed described winning silver as the “greatest day of my life” and he added, “When I was leading I slowed the race down because I knew if the race was slow I would have better chances.”
A philosophical Borzakovskiy admitted he was surprised by the slow pace of the race and added: “When I started my kick they did not allow me to go so I was forced to move on the outside and that cost me a lot of power. After such a race to have the bronze is great, I’m satisfied."
Reed, the Canadian-record holder ,was quickly to the fore leading the field through 200m in 25.60 followed by 18-year-old world bronze medallist Abraham Chepkirwok of Uganda.
The pace, however, significantly slowed during the second 200m and Reed passed the halfway mark in a modest 55.08, with Borzakovskiy hitting halfway tucked on the inside in sixth.
Down the back straight Chepkirwok quickened and made a victory bid and led by a metre at 600m in 1:22.18, but coming off the final bend it was Reed who kicked into the lead.
Just for a moment it looked like the Canadian had stolen a decisive march on the field. But then Yego emerged in pursuit. In a desperate finish, the diminutive Kenyan lunged for the line to edge victory in the tightest final in the history of the championships.
Borzakovskiy arrived too late with his familiar late surge and had to be satisfied with bronze by 0.02 from the fading Chepkirwok. Kenyan team skipper Wilfred Bungei was a further 0.01 back in fifth.
Only 0.49 separated the entire eight men in the final and it was also the slowest gold medal-winning time in the history of the event.
Osaka 2007 News Team/sl