For the first time since 1999, Kenya will have three men in the World Championships 1500m final.
Of course, it could have been four Kenyans, as defending champion Asbel Kiprop had a wildcard entry, allowing him to join the likes of Nixon Chepseba, Bethwell Birgen and Silas Kiplagat on the team.
But after all four safely advanced from the heats, Birgen was the only one from the quartet not to make it into the final.
Kiprop and Kiplagat, the top two finishers from the 2011 World Championships, were up in the first heat. It set out at a pedestrian pace as Russia’s Valentin Smirnov led through 400m in 1:02.74 and 2:06.79 with Britain’s Chris O’Hare and USA’s Lopez Lomong close behind.
Kiprop and Kiplagat were near the back, while USA’s Olympic silver medallist Leonel Manzano was in the middle of the pack. The field bunched with 500m to go as Kiprop made his move, easing into the lead at the bell.
Along the back straight, Ethiopia’s Mekonnen Gebremedhin took closer order, followed by Kiplagat, who moved on to Kiprop’s shoulder with just 200m remaining. At one point it looked as though Kiplagat may challenge Kiprop for the lead, but the Kenyan pair were prepared to coast down the home-straight, holding off their challengers to secure the top two spots.
After a 52.4-second last lap, Kiprop and Kiplagat clocked 3:43.30 and 3:43.52 respectively, with Gebremedhin taking third just 0.02 behind. O’Hare held on for fourth place, while South Africa’s Johan Cronje took the fifth automatic qualifying spot.
The slow pace of the race gave little hope of the other finishers advancing to the final on time, and sure enough the likes of Lomong, Manzano, Nick Willis and Bouabdellah Tahri all missed out on the final.
In the second heat, Birgen ensured the pace was quicker from the outset, leading the field through 400m in 55.88. Half a lap later he was joined at the front by team-mate Chepseba and they went through 800m in 1:57.06.
Turkey’s Ilham Tanui-Ozbilen then moved on to Chepseba’s shoulder with Morocco’s Abdalaati Iguider also near the front. Djibouti’s 800m bronze medallist Ayanleh Souleiman edged closer to the lead as the field approached the bell, but the Kenyan pair were still at the front.
USA’s Matthew Centrowitz, bronze medallist in Daegu two years ago, made his way through the field. Souleiman tried to do the same, but wasn’t quite as successful as he almost lost his balance on the final bend, eventually fading to 11th.
Birgen similarly ran out of steam along the home stretch, finishing just one place ahead of Souleiman, well outside the automatic qualifying spots.
At the front, though, Chepseba and Centrowitz booked their places in the final with respective times of 3:35.88 and 3:35.95. Morocco’a Mohamed Moustaoui finished third ahead of Florian Carvalho of France and European champion Henrik Ingebrigtsen of Norway.
The non-automatic qualifying spots went to Germany’s Homiyu Tesfaye and Canada’s Nate Brannen.
The list of athletes who missed out on a place in the final reads like a Diamond League start list: Birgen, Souleiman, Ozbilen, Ethiopia’s Aman Wote, Lomong, Willis, Manzano, Iguider and Bouabdellah Tahri.
That’s not to say it will be a weak final, though. The three medallists from Daegu will all be there to defend – or attempt to improve upon – their medals. And all three of the Kenyan finalists have sub-3:30 personal bests.
Whether all three Kenyan athletes will fill the podium – a first for the event at the World Championships – will all be revealed on Sunday.
Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF