Kenya’s formidable endurance pedigree has earned a welter of medals across a range of events but they have surprisingly yet to land this prestigious title. This morning inside a boiling Daegu Stadium their high-class trio of athletes at least managed to easily negotiate the first hurdle in pursuit of that goal.
In heat one their first hopeful, Daniel Kipchirchir Komen, was intent on making absolutely no mistakes as he ran the race from the front – for much of the race in splendid isolation - to bag a comfortable victory. The two-time World indoor silver medallist was not prepared to risk getting caught up in the congestion and potential pitfalls of running in the pack and burst to the front from the outset.
He passed 800m in 1:54.70 tracked by South Korea’s Sin Sang-Min with a 10m gap on the rest of the field. The home favourite quickly dropped away but Komen had doubled his advantage to more than 20m at the bell and was content to ease around the final lap to take victory.
Coming into the home straight a cluster of eight athletes were in the battle for the five other automatic qualification places. Olympic silver medallist Nick Willis of New Zealand looked fully in control as he gently accelerated into second (3:39.24) with Yoann Kowal of France, a former European Indoor bronze medallist, crossing the line third.
Two-times European champion Mehdi Baala of France was the major casualty of the opening round after he appeared to be clipped from behind by Tarek Boukensa of Algeria and crashed to the track as he entered the final straight. [NOTE: A protest was later filed by the French Federation, and accepted by the Jury of Appeal, admitting Baala to the next round as an additional athlete. See full Decision below.]
Baala was placed in third at the time in heat two and looked set to challenge for an automatic qualification sport.
Ahead there was no such worries for Kenya’s Olympic champion Asbel Kiprop who looked in ominously good nick grabbing the heat in 3:41.22. Ethiopia’s Mekonnen Gebremedhin finished second just 0.06 further back with Abdalaati Iguider of Morocco, the World Indoor silver medallist, third in 3:41.41. Boukensa also advanced in joint fifth.
A loaded third and final heat containing the world leader and the one-two from the 2009 World Championships saw all the favoured athletes advance. Ethiopia’s Deresse Mekonnen, the silver medallist from Berlin, adopted the pace for much of the race and at the bell the majority of the field were all in with chances to progress.
A messy final lap saw several physical clashes with defending champion Yusuf Saad Kamel looking in perilous danger of elimination with a little over 200m as he faced a bank of bodies in front of him.
Somehow the tall Bahrain athlete found a gap on the inside around the final bend and had enough pace down the home stretch to finish fifth in 3:40.97 – in what was only his first competitive 1500m race of the season. Reaching the semi-finals with rather less bother was heat winner Amine Laalou of Morocco, the two-time World 800m finalist, in 3:39.87. Mekonnen placed second with Silas Kiplagat, the fastest man in the world, taking a comfortable in third to ensure a full Kenyan complement in Thursday’s semi-finals.
Steve Landells for the IAAF
JURY OF APPEAL DECISION
Event: 1500m Men, Round 1, Heat 1
A Protest was filed by the French Team after the 1500m race, 1st Round, Heat 1.
French runner Mehdi BAALA (bib number 398), who was in a qualifying position in the final stages of the race, was jostled by another athlete in a way that impeded his progress, and stepped on the curb, finally crossing the line in 12th place.
The Jury of Appeal met and the protest was accepted. Baala was admitted to the next round as an additional athlete. No athlete was disqualified.