Daegu, KoreaAs he crossed the finish line to win Kenya’s first ever World Championship gold medal in the men’s 1500m, Asbel Kiprop finally smiled and raised his hands. It had been a long time coming.
Kenyans have dominated every distance race on the programme and the casual observer can be excused if the absence of victories in the metric mile comes as a surprise. So important was it to Kiprop and his rival, the Kenyan trials winner and world leader, Silas Kiplagat, that they had both, independently, raised the possibility of working together to ensure one of them won the gold. That was after the heats in Daegu. But circumstances interfered.
“We never discussed tactics, we never at all talked about this,” Kiprop admitted after the race. “Our plan was shot down when Daniel Komen never made it to the finals.”
The front-running Komen had struggled down the finishing straight during his semi-final complaining of a tight hamstring. In all likelihood, with Kiplagat’s penchant for winning races and Kiprop’s knack for hanging back and unleashing a sprint finish over the last two hundred metres, Komen would would have helped with the pace. Instead Kiprop was left to his own devices though he sought counsel from an unlikely source.
“Yes I wanted to run in front to avoid traffic in the last 300 metres,” the 1.88m/6’2” tall Kiprop explained.
“Yes, I planned this after doing a 1200m run at altitude in 2:44 by myself. I told my younger brother Victor, ‘I want to go and try and run under 3 minutes on my own without a pacesetter.’ I got a message on my phone, he said, “If the race is slow you are 100% going to win. If you run in front and pace the race I want to assure you, you won’t win gold.’ That’s what my younger brother told me. I texted him in Nairobi when I did something impressive in training. He told me it was best for a slow race.”
Leading at the bell in 2:44.24 he simply dared his rivals to catch him. They tried. None more so than Kiplagat who had famously wagged his finger at him when he relegated him to second place in the Kenyan trials. They all failed to match his last lap which he covered in a scorching 51.45 seconds.
The importance of ending the 1500m drought was a matter of national pride. There was another reason he wanted to win the gold medal, he reveals, with a smile.
“It is really good, we are happy for that,” he says of the gold-silver finish. “We have a competition with the girls; we are trying to win the same number of medal as the girls. We only have the Marathon tomorrow to win some more medals. Kenyans are always the best.”
“Tomorrow I will actually be on the road giving out water to the marathoners and supporting them.”
Kiprop will head to Europe for the Thursday’s Samsung Diamond League meeting in Zurich. With an Olympic gold medal, and now the World championship gold, Kiprop has two major titles to his credit. Defending those titles will be the major priority when he sits down with his Kenyan coach David Letting in the autumn to plot the future.
“I am excited to win the World Championships,” he declares. “Actually the competition with Silas Kiplagat, he is the current world leader and he beat me in the Kenyan trials before we came here, gives me motivation. Next year in London and also the 2013 World Championships I will be the defending champion.
“Currently I have an Olympic gold and being the World champion I am really disappointed with (my personal best 1500 time) 3:31.20. I want to do something faster than that.”
Once the season has ended he will return to his home in Eldoret. There he shares a house with his wife, Sammary Cherotich, who was the 2007 IAAF World Youth Champion at 1500m, and their young son, Emanuel. They will invite some friends over and have a meal, nothing elaborate he says, to celebrate the gold medal. The celebration will be quiet compared to the Masai community’s tradition of hosting a feast and inviting hundreds to the party.
“No, that’s not about me,” he emphasises. “That’s the Masai community. They slaughter cattle they do very big community things. For me it’s different. I do that with my family and a few selected friends.”
“When I am in Kenya during the off season as you know we start our training as early as November. We are closing the season in September. I have two months to go and relax in Eldoret and in my home town, so I cannot say I am following any plan.”
Kiprop’s parents still live on the family farm twenty kilometres from Eldoret in a village called Kaptinga. A quiet man, he enjoys visiting his parents and helping take care of their cattle and being with them.
Kiprop has achieved much in his 22 years. And, he admits he has much to do to be compared with the all-time greats such as his hero Hicham El Guerrouj who won Olympic 1500m and 5000m gold as well as four World titles.
“When I first saw Hicham El Guerrouj running at the 2004 Olympic games when he raced Bernard Lagat, I really admired Hicham and I wanted to run like that,” he reveals. “I am still working on that, actually, being a hero in the 1500 distance.”
Paul Gains for the IAAF