The only certainty in Tuesday’s wide open final of the men’s 1500m will be that Bernard Lagat will not be chasing a third Olympic medal.
In the second of two semi-finals, the reigning World champion, and reigning Olympic silver medallist in the event, yet again allowed himself to get into trouble in a crowded pack, but unlike in Friday’s opening round race, he ran out of time and space to advance. Lagat finished sixth, one spot shy of automatic qualifying and a scant 0.02 seconds short of advancing on time.
“There was a lot of boxing and pushing,” said the Kenyan-born American, who, erring on the side of caution, chose to run to the back of the pack for much of the contest. But over the final lap, he left himself with too much ground to cover and simply lacked the steam to make the cut over the long kick to the line. In retrospect, the energy he expended on his quick closing lap on Friday in order to advance could have come back to haunt him here.
Conversely, the semi’s winner Rashid Ramzi looks to be in the driver’s seat for the final, or at worst, at least a co-driver. Running on the inside for most of the race, he timed his finish quickly en route to his 3:37.04 victory, just a step ahead of Frenchman Mehdi Baala, who glided into his second Olympic final (he was fourth in 2000).
“I’m ready to raise the bar from Athens,” said the enigmatic Ramzi, who following his ouster in the Olympic semis four years ago, has gone on to win World championship 800/1500m gold in 2005, and 1500m silver in 2007.
Briton Andy Baddeley’s growing confidence showed as he closed well to take third, equalling Baala’s time. The fourth and fifth spots went to Kenyan Augustine Chogee and New Zealander Nick Willis who interestingly each clocked an identical 3:37.54.
The first heat was marginally faster but remarkably similar. Belal Mansoor Ali of Bahrain took the early lead, tailed by Moroccan Abdalaati Iguider and Spaniard Juan Carlos Higuero.
Little changed as the large pack reached the bell, when Iguider assumed the lead and from well in the back, Kenyan teenager Asbel Kiprop began to gradually make his way to the front. Running safely to the outside, Kiprop strode to the front some 50 metres from the line to finish comfortably in 3:37.04 with Iguider (3:37.21), and Higuero (3:37.31) moving on to the final with little difficulty. Italian Christian Obrist overtook Mansoor Ali to finish fourth in 3:37.47 to move on as well.
Also advancing as the next two fastest were South African Juan van Deventer, perhaps the biggest surprise of the first two rounds, and Kenyan-born Qatari Daham Naim Bashir.
Other notable casualties included World Indoor champion Deresse Mekonnen of Ethiopia.
Despite the strong form illustrated by Ramzi and Kiprop, the race to succeed mile legend Hicham El Guerrouj as Olympic champion is still very much perceived as wide open.
Said Baddeley, the winner of Oslo’s Dream Mile in June: “Well, I’m in the final, but so are 11 other guys. It’s wide open this year. Anyone can take it.”
Bob Ramsak for the IAAF