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BEIJING — As Kenya’s Asbel Kiprop kicked furiously in the final meters of the men’s 1500m tonight on the last day of the IAAF World Championships in Athletics here, he was running for more than just the gold medal. If he were to reach the finish line first at National Stadium, he would join two of the sports all-time greats, Hicham El Guerrouj of Morocco and Noureddine Morceli of Algeria, as the third man ever to win three or more world 1500m titles (El Guerrouj won four).
It would not be easy. With 200 meters to go in the race, Algeria’s Taoufik Makhloufi, the powerfully-build 2012 Olympic champion, had built up a significant lead with a big move on the back stretch. Kiprop, and his teammates Elijah Manangoi and Silas Kiplagat, were in hot pursuit. There was work to do, but Kiprop tried to remain confident.
“I knew that when it comes to the last 200, 250 meters remember, that’s how Makhloufi won the Olympics in London,” said Kiprop, who finished a disappointing 12th in that race. He continued: when you compare his last 50 meters, he’s not moving. I was a little bit confident that maybe that’s where I could win.”
Indeed, it would come down to just the final 50 meters. Makhloufi was tying up, Kiprop’s teammate Manangoi, and Morocco’s Abdalaati Iguider were also kicking hard, and the tall, lanky Kenyan hit top speed. Makhloufi had been beaten, and his other rivals simply couldn’t match his tempo. He won in 3:34.40 ahead of Manangoi (3:34.63) and Iguider (3:34.67) who practically threw himself over the line. Makhloufi finished fourth.
“I’m really excited; it’s very special to win three times in a row,” said Kiprop with a serious tone. “At the moment, when it comes to World Championships I am together with Noureddine Morceli having won three times. Only El Guerrouj has done more than that, four times.”
Moreover, Kiprop is also among the world’s fastest, ever. His sizzling 3:26.69 personal best at the Herculis meeting in Monaco last month also put him in exclusive company.
“Just one month ago I joined the club of 3:26, with El Guerrouj and Bernard Lagat,” he reminded reporters. “There are only three who have achieved that. Now, I am happy that I am three; only three have won three times or more than three times. I feel like I am making a legacy in middle distance running.”
While both Manangoi and Iguider expressed satisfaction with their performances, the three Americans in the final –Matthew Centrowitz, Leo Manzano and Robby Andrews—were plainly disappointed. Centrowitz, who won the bronze medal at these championships in Daegu in 2011 and the silver in Moscow in 2013, was in excellent position at the bell, right at the front of the pack. But when the hard running began in the final 250 meters, he couldn’t keep up the pace. He faded to finish eighth in 3:36.13. Manzano finished tenth, and Andrews 11th.
“That one hurt,” Centrowitz told a clutch of reporters under National Stadium. “Yeah, that was just hard. Put myself in a good position most of the race. With about 300 to go, was when Makhloufi made a good move again. At that point, I was already all-out and I couldn’t respond. When one guy goes buy you, then another and another, it’s a little demoralizing.”
Also disappointed was New Zealand’s Nick Willis, who won silver on this track at the 2008 Olympics. He would finish sixth tonight.
“My hopes were pretty high when I was second at the bell,” said the former University of Michigan star. “He’s obviously the man to beat at the moment.”
The woman to beat at the moment, Ethiopia’s Genzebe Dibaba, was in fact beaten tonight. In a spectacular championships record performance, Almaz Ayana ran away from the 1500m gold medalist in the 5000m, clocking a sizzling 14:26.83. Dibaba, who ran in second place most of the race, could not defend her position in the final drive to the line, outsprinted by her teammate Senbere Teferi, 14:44.07 to 14:44.14.
“This is the prize for me,” said Ayana. “I won the gold medal and I got the championships record.”
Amazingly, Ayana might have gotten close to the world record (14:11.15) had the first five full laps not been run in the 72 to 73 second range as they were. So fast were her final kilometers, that she ran the last 3000 meters in 8:19.91, faster than every non-Chinese mark on the 3000m all-time list.
But Ayana said she wasn’t thinking about the clock, only winning.
“I was heading to get the gold, purely,” she said.
The four Kenyans in the final –Viola Kibiwot, Mercy Cherono, Janet Kisa and Irene Cheptai– finished fourth through seventh, respectively.
The Ethiopia sweep of the medals was the first in this discipline since the Ethiopian team did it in Helsinki in 2005 when Tirunesh Dibaba, Meseret Defar and Ejagayou Dibaba finished 1-2-3.