Asbel Kiprop reaffirmed his status as the greatest middle-distance runner of the current generation by clinching an exhilarating come-from-behind victory to secure a hat-trick of world 1500m titles on Sunday night.
The Kenyan, competing in a record-equalling fifth final, entered the home straight in third but outsprinted his rivals to earn the gold medal in 3:34.40.
His fast-finishing team-mate Elijah Manangoi unleashed a dramatic late burst in the final 20 metres to sweep him from fifth to a surprise silver in 3:34.63 while Abdaalti Iguider, of Morocco, courtesy of a desperate lunge for the line earned the bronze 0.04 behind.
Yet, this was once again Kiprop’s hour.
The tall, slender Kenyan joined 1500m icons Noureddine Morceli and Hicham El Guerrouj as a hat-trick-time winner of this title (note, El Guerrouj won four straight titles) to add to the Olympic crown he won in this same Bird’s Nest Stadium seven years ago.
The men’s 1500m final is typically one of the blue riband events of any championship programme but due to the outstanding efforts of the Chinese athletes in the field, somewhat unusually, this almost felt like a sideshow.
Manangoi and Aman Wote, the Ethiopian record holder, took on the early place while Kiprop dropped in at the back of the field, happy to preserve his energy.
Wote hit 400m in 59.20 before two of the quartet of Kenyans in the final, Manangoi and Timothy Cheruiyot, took on the pace, the latter reaching 800m in 1:58.69; by which point Kiprop had crept steadily up to eighth.
On the penultimate lap, Manangoi remained out front while the USA’s two-time world championships medallist Matt Centrowitz moved with purpose into second place with Algeria’s London 2012 Olympic Games champion Taoufik Makhloufi and Iguider stalking the pair as the bell was reached in 2:42.17.
Behind them, Kiprop had lost his position and slipped back to tenth, 0.70 down on the leaders and with much work to do.
Early down the back straight, it was Makhloufi who made his bid for home, accelerating to the front as gaps quickly opened within the field. Kiprop, meanwhile, was starting to slowly wind up the pace and cruised past at least half a dozen athletes in lane two of the back straight as he moved ominously into contention with trademark ease.
Entering the home straight, it was Makhloufi from Iguider with Kiprop still five metres off the lead in third, with his countryman Silas Kiplagat on his inside in close attendance.
Slowly Kiprop’s long-stride started to eat up the ground on those ahead of him.
With 40 metres to go, he finally hit the front and would not be denied. Such was his elation he allowed himself a little smile around 10 metres from the finish. He was to be crowned the champion once more.
Behind, in an almighty scrap for the minor medals, as Makhloufi started to fade, Iguider swept into second with Kiplagat coming up strongly. Then almost from nowhere the young, inexperienced and unheralded Manangoi produced a blistering late burst to snatch silver.
Iguider dived for the line and took a hard fall on landing but had done enough to secured bronze to add to his 2012 Olympic medal of the same colour. Makhloufi despite his brave run for gold, misjudged his effort and had to settle for fourth. Kiplagat was fifth in 3:34.81 as just 0.18 separated second to fifth.
There was disappointment behind as New Zealander Nick Willis – a silver medallist at the Bird’s Nest stadium at the 2008 Olympic Games - was simply outpaced on the last lap and had to settle for sixth place in 3:35.46 while Centrowitz wilted from early on the final lap and faded to eighth in 3:36.13 having been well placed with 300 metres remaining.
At the age of just 26, Kiprop surely has time on his hands to add to his increasingly impressive legacy, and he has already had a couple of decent tilts at Hicham El Guerrouj’s world record of 3:26.00
“I am so proud of myself to be a member of the exclusive club of the three-time world champions, but I would love to defend the title a fourth time in London 2017,” said the Kenyan.
Steve Landells for the IAAF