Shaheen takes Revenge
Defending champion from Qatar Saif Saaeed Shaheen successfully held on to the title he had taken two years ago as a new passport holder of the Gulf state. It could be said to be some measure of revenge for being excluded from the Olympics by the Kenyan federation who insisted he serve the full three years’ Games suspension before being allowed to run for his adoptive country.
As if to cement his authority Shaheen went at the last water jump and immediately put clear daylight between himself and the Olympic champion from Kenya, Ezekiel Kemboi, who was visibly grimacing as he dug in in a vain attempt to prevent the inevitable. A glance behind as he sped over the last obstacle and Shaheen could start the celebrations before crossing the line. As far as he was concerned he had vindicated himself. But missing last year still rankles and instead of changing discipline he has decided to carry on to Beijing to claim the title that he sees as rightfully his. “This is just a little consolation for me after missing Athens last year,” he said. No doubt the fact that two years ago he had also beaten Kemboi made victory that little bit sweeter.
With three Kenyans in the field, two ex-Kenyans from Qatar and a talented 16-year old Kenyan, world youth champion Tareq Mubarak Taher, now representing Bahrain, a fascinating tussle was guaranteed. All season the only outsider to challenge the East Africans was Morroccan Brahim Boulami and he it was who took up the challenge when the racing got serious.
The first kilometre passed in an uneventful 2:52.13 with one of the three Spaniards in the field, Jose Luis Blanco, pulling the field around. Shaheen was at the back of the pack together with fellow-Qatari Obaid Musa Amer, fourth at last year’s Olympics. The Kenyans were idling in mid-pack but it was just a question when the break would come and who would make it.
There was a time when Kenyans just went out and ground the rest of the field into the track. But it is not that easy anymore. With so much quality around, this is the time for tactics.
Boulami was the first to inject some bite with three and three quarter laps left, Kemboiand Shaheen gliding through in his slipstream. Three to go and it was down to the Kenyan and Qatari squads with Boulami winding it up in front. After a slightly faster second kilometre (2:48.26) it was clear the final 1000m was building up into a devil-take-the-hindmost scrap. Suddenly out of the chasers European co-record holder from Holland Simon Vroeman sprinted into contention. After a moderate season and at 36 years of age he had peaked well and looked strong in the heats to qualify for this final.
With 600m to go Shaheen threw down the gauntlet in no uncertain fashion. If anyone wanted to beat him they were going to have to take it from him. The bell served to galvanise him even more as he relentlessly wound up for the killer sprint. In his wake Kemboi was stretched but still in touch, Boulami trailing but in a medal position with Vroeman keeping the remaining Kenyans, Olympic silver Brimin Kipruto and bronze Paul Kipsiele Koech, at bay.
At the sharp end gold and silver were spoken for, but there was still a bronze to be claimed. From a seemingly impossible position, Kipruto made a sustained bid to do the impossible. Summoning up one last effort he sped past Vroeman and set his sights on Boulami’s vest. Still five metres down at the last obstacle he made one last effort, passed a spent Boulami and bronze was his. Up front Shaheen had covered the final kilometre in a breathtaking 2:32.92.