2017 Worlds Men’s 1500: With Olympic Champs Asbel Kiprop & Matthew Centrowitz Struggling, Who Will Step Up?

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by LetsRun.com
August 1, 2017

The men’s 1500 is always one of the marquee events at the World Championships, and this year’s event figures to be particularly intriguing as there is no clear favorite entering the meet. Asbel Kiprop is the three-time defending champion, but he’s only the fourth fastest entrant on Team Kenya as his countrymen Elijah ManangoiTimothy Cheruiyot and Ronald Kwemoi sit 1-2-3 on the 2017 world list. American Matthew Centrowitz broke a 108-year Olympic drought by winning gold in Rio last year, but he almost shut his season down back in June after a bout with pericarditis and hasn’t looked like the same runner we saw in 2015 or 2016.

All this makes for some wide-open competition in an event that produces plenty of unpredictable results already. The final on August 13, the last individual final of the championships, will be appointment viewing.

Race times
Prelims: 
Thursday, August 10, 3:25 p.m. ET
Semis: Friday, August 11, 3:10 p.m. ET
Final: Sunday, August 13, 3:30 p.m. ET

2016 Olympic results
1. Matthew Centrowitz, USA 3:50.00
2. Taoufik Makhloufi, Algeria 3:50.11
3. Nick Willis, New Zealand 3:50.24
4. Ayanleh Souleiman, Djibouti 3:50.29
5. Abdelaati Iguider, Morocco 3:50.58

2017’s fastest performers (among men entered)
1. Elijah Manangoi, Kenya 3:28.80
2. Timothy Cheruiyot, Kenya 3:29.10
3. Ronald Kwemoi, Kenya 3:30.89
4. Alsadik Mikhou, Bahrain 3:31.34
5. Aman Wote, Ethiopia 3:31.63

*TV & Streaming Info

*Full 2017 Worlds Schedule

The Olympic Curse?

It hasn’t been a great year for men’s Olympic 1500 medalists. Check out how the medalists from the last three Olympics have fared in 2017:

Beijing 2008
1. Asbel Kiprop, Kenya — SB of 3:33.17 is just #13 in the world and his slowest in 10 years. Finished a well-beaten 11th in Monaco on July 21. On the bright side, he is #8 in the world this year at 800 (1:44.43).
2. Nick Willis, New Zealand — Took two months off of racing from mid-May to mid-July due to injury before getting under IAAF standard with 3:34 in Monaco two days before the deadline. Currently documenting his endurance crash training on Twitter.
3. Mehdi Baala, France — N/A (retired in 2012)

London 2012
1. Taoufik Makhloufi, Algeria — Hasn’t raced all year due to reported calf injury. Not running Worlds.
2. Leo Manzano, USA — Has suffered through worst season of his career. SB of 3:41 and missed the final at USAs for the first time ever.
3. Abdelaati Iguider, Morocco — 3:34.99 SB is his slowest since 2005. 14th and 9th in his two DL 1500s.

Rio 2016
1. Matthew Centrowitz, USA — Looked sluggish indoors and almost had to shut his season down in June due to illness. Beaten by Robby Andrews at USAs and only 9th in Monaco.
2. Taoufik Makhloufi, Algeria — See above.
3. Nick Willis, New Zealand — See above.

Kiprop has said all along that his plan this year was to gradually work up to peak fitness rather than running fast as soon as the DL season began, and until Monaco, his progress was quite good: he clocked 3:33 in Stockholm on June 18, followed by 1:44 for 800 in London on July 9. But he looked awful over the final 200 meters in Monaco. With Manangoi and Cheruiyot pulling away up front, Kiprop moved into third just before the bell but he could do nothing to close the gap and wound up fading all the way to 11th by the finish.

Watching Kiprop fade over that final lap was a hard thing for Kiprop supporters to watch. The good news for Kiprop fans is he has a tendency to pack it in and give up if he’s not going to win.

That being said, while Kiprop has run faster than Centrowitz at both 800 and 1500 this year, the argument can be made that one should be more worried about Kiprop than Centrowitz. Why? Because Kiprop relies on incredible speed and fitness, more than any tactical brilliance, to carry him to victory so it’s imperative that he arrives at championship meets in better shape than everyone else. Just look how far back he was at the bell at Worlds in 2015 (if the video below doesn’t work, click here):

No other 1500 runner on the planet could pull off a Houdini act like that.

Kiprop is a guy whose times and championship ability generally go hand in hand. Kiprop didn’t win that race because he outmaneuvered everyone else. He won that race because he was a 3:26 guy racing a bunch of 3:28-3:34 guys. If he doesn’t have that advantage to compensate for his positioning — and based on Monaco, he doesn’t — he’s in trouble at Worlds. Kiprop can only hope to a) have made a jump in fitness in the three weeks between Monaco and Worlds or b) run a tactically much better race than he generally has.

That said, Kiprop is already a legend, and if he wins in London, he’ll tie Hicham El Guerrouj with four straight World Championship titles and five global 1500 golds overall. Considering El Guerrouj has the world record and considerably more sub-3:30s (29 vs. 7), El G still holds up as the GOAT, but with the same number of gold medals, Kiprop wouldn’t be far behind.

Centrowitz, unlike Kiprop, isn’t always the fittest guy in the field but he makes up for it with his brilliant tactical running. (Though Centrowitz never gets enough credit for being in ridiculous shape in Rio last year. You don’t win the Olympics without being crazy fit. Centro told us recently he thought he was in sub-3:48 mile shape when he won Olympic gold. That sounds about right). Watch any of Centrowitz’s races and chances are he’s in a good spot. And last year’s Olympic final showed that he has the ability to adjust his race plan on the fly. Centro didn’t expect to be leading with two laps to go. But once he realized the race was going to go super slow, he knew he had to be in position once the kicking began with a lap to go and fought to protect his lead.

That’s one of the reasons why we believe Centrowitz still has a good shot to medal in London. We also like that Centrowitz is gaining fitness with every workout after his bout with pericarditis. And if you look back at his recent history, he’s not a guy who needs to race well heading into a major championship in order to produce a result. Check out this chart, which we initially ran after Monaco:

Matthew Centrowitz’s last race before Worlds/Olympics, 2011-17

YearFinal pre-champs raceResultsChamps result
2011Monaco DL 15003:34.46 (10th)3rd
2012Morton Games 8001:47.72 (1st)4th
2013London DL Mile3:58.75 (16th)2nd
2015Stockholm DL 15003:39.29 (11th)8th
2016TT Summer Series 8001:47.17 (4th)1st
2017Monaco DL 15003:34.43 (9th)???

“As long as I’m healthy, I’ve always found a way to progress through the rounds,” Centrowitz told LRC last month. “I’m usually a pretty good competitor and I’ve always been able to compete better than how my workouts indicate. I’m the opposite of a workout king. I don’t need anything special between now and London, just need to continue to string along really good workouts week-in and week-out and stay healthy.”

Can Kenya Go 1-2-3?

The five fastest times in the world have been run by a trio of Kenyans: Elijah Manangoi, Timothy Cheruiyot and Ronald Kwemoi. Naturally when that’s the case, it’s logical to ask: can they go 1-2-3? No country has ever managed it at Worlds. In fact, only one country has ever done it at the Olympics. Can you guess which one?

We’ll give you a moment to think about it.

USA! USA! USA!

That’s right: the American trio of James LightbodyFrank Verner, and Lacey Hearn went 1-2-3 in St. Louis way back in 1904 with Lightbody setting an Olympic record of 4:05.4. Of course, going 1-2-3 was a little easier to do back then: seven of the nine men in the field were Americans.

Kenya, who was .14 of a second away from going 1-2-3 in Beijing in 2015 (they had to settle for 1-2-5 instead), ha  already gone 1-2-3 in three Diamond League meets this year: Doha, Eugene and, most recently, Monaco (in fact, Kenya went 1-2-3-4-5-6 in Doha and 1-2-3-4 in Eugene). If this were a one-off rabbitted race, Kenya would have a real shot at the sweep.

But three rounds and the tactical nature of championship racing can lead to surprising outcomes, which is why a Kenyan sweep remains unlikely. Theoretically, the Kenyans could work together to force a fast pace, but in practice, that rarely happens — no one wants to risk sabotaging their own race for an uncertain payoff. It does help that Kenya has four entrants, and on paper, Manangoi, Cheruiyot and Kwemoi have been the three best guys in the world right now. But in an event that comes down to tenths of a second, it doesn’t take much to throw off the established order of things.

With that said, all of the Kenyans have a legitimate case for gold. As we mentioned above, we’re not bullish on Kiprop, but peak Kiprop is better than peak everyone else. Only a fool would count him out.

Manangoi is the world leader and coming off a big win in Monaco. The beating he and Cheruiyot laid on a great field in Monaco was very impressive. We think it’s absurd that some have said the Monaco beat down was simply the result of the rest of the field letting them gap them and not realizing until it was too late. Please. Everyone knows Monaco is going to out in sub 55. If you want to run 3:28, get out with the big boys. If the rest of the field hadn’t let things sag in the middle, then third place wouldn’t have been more than 3 seconds behind Manangoi but let’s not kid ourselves. The fast closers in that race weren’t going to touch Manangoi in Monaco. If they’d h

3:28.80 is a seriously good time (#9 on the all-time list) and it shows that Manangoi is ahead of where he was in 2015 — when he ran 3:29.67 in Monaco and went on to take silver at Worlds. Manangoi has had a few hiccups this year — he lost to Jake Wightman in Oslo and was only third at the Kenyan Trials — but his wins in Doha and Monaco, both over terrific fields, are hard to argue against.

At times in 2017, Kwemoi (whose 3:28.81 pb is just .01 shy of Manangoi’s) has been incredible. He crushed a great 3k field in Doha, running 7:28, and he won a quick Pre Classic mile in 3:49. Kwemoi also beat Manangoi and Cheruiyot to win the Kenyan Trials in 3:30.89, a sensational time considering it came at 5,800 feet of altitude (the NCAA conversion puts it equal to 3:24, though that may be a bit misleading). But things began to go wrong in July. According to a source with knowledge of the situation, Kwemoi was sick before Paris on July 1 (where he was 2nd in 7:32) and missed a week of training upon his return to his base in Iten. But after returning to training, Kwemoi still wanted to run fast in Monaco on July 21. Unfortunately, Kwemoi felt pain in his lower leg (specifically, the tibialis anterior) on the day before his race in Monaco as well as during the warmup and race itself. Kwemoi still won the chase pack (3rd overall) in 3:32.34, but after the race, he had to be supported by Manangoi and Cheruiyot as he exited the track. The source told us that he missed more time the week after Monaco and only began jogging again on July 28.

The other concern about Kwemoi is that he’s not a great tactical racer over 1500 meters, something his coach Renato Canova freely admitted to us at the Pre Classic in May. It’s one of the reasons we were slightly surprised to see Kwemoi entered in the 1500 rather than the 5k in London — tactics in the 5k aren’t as important as they are in the 1500. Kwemoi’s talent can plaster over some of those faults — he did win at Pre, after all — but if you’re not strong tactically, it will be exposed over three rounds in a global championship. Add in the untimely injury and it will be tough for Kwemoi to medal in London — though at just 21 years old, his future remains very bright.

Cheruiyot has been the most consistent of the Kenyans as he has three of the five fastest times in the world this year (3:29.10, 3:30.77, 3:31.05) and he picked up a Diamond League win in Stockholm. But he’s just 1-3 vs. Manangoi this year.

Other Medal Threats/Americans

The 1500 has produced its fair share of surprise medalists in recent years (Centrowitz in ’11, Manzano in ’12, Johan Cronje in ’13), so there are a bunch of guys worth monitoring outside of the Kenyans. Considering Kwemoi’s health is an unknown and Kiprop is a question mark as well, the Kenyan may not sweep the medals so that means someone else will medal.

We’ll run through the other medal hopefuls quickly below:

  • Filip Ingebrigtsen, 24 years old, Norway: Ingebrigtsen, the European champion, has had a strong year, with three top-fives in Diamond League races, including an SB of 3:32.48 in Monaco. We think he can medal, but don’t take our word for it: “I went too late,” Ingebrigtsen said after Monaco. “I had a bunch of idiots in front of me who failed to keep up [with the pace]. I had to jog for three-and-a-half laps and then had to go around them in the outside lane when the pace climbed. If this is the best they [the rest of the world] can do, it will be fun during the world championships.” Ingebrigtsen has the talent to medal but, as with many of these guys, it all comes down to whether he can get his tactics right in London. Remember, last year in Rio, he was fit enough to make the final but got impatient in the semis and got DQd for a foul.
  • Aman Wote, 33 years old, Ethiopia: Wote’s 3:31.63 SB is #5 in the world and he looked great in winning Lausanne on July 6. He earned World Indoor silver in ’14, but at 33 he’s only made one global final outdoors (2015) and he wound up a DNF in that race. Ethiopia has only medaled once ever in the 1500 (2009 silver).
  • Alsadik Mikhou, 27 years old, Bahrain: The former Moroccan has shown good fitness (3:32 or faster three times in ’17) but he was awful in Lausanne (10th) and is woefully short on big-race experience. This will be his first appearnce at a major international championship at any level.
  • Chris O’Hare, 26 years old, Great Britain: After finishing 12th the summer after graduating from Tulsa in 2013, O’Hare barely missed out on making the final in 2015 and 2016 after battling injuries both summers. This year, O’Hare has backed off a bit in workouts and the result is that he’s been healthier and running at his highest level ever. In his last three races, O’Hare has won the British Champs, won the non-DL 1500 in London and run a Scottish record of 3:33.61 in Monaco. He’s peaking at exactly the right time.
  • Ayanleh Souleiman, 24 years old, Djibouti: Souleiman came up just .05 short of a medal in Rio last year but hasn’t been up to his usual level in 2017, with an SB of 3:34.70 in Lausanne. That wouldn’t have anything to do with his coach being arrested in a drug raid, would it? He’ll also be doubling back from the 800.
  • Nick Willis, 34 years old, New Zealand: After missing time this spring due to shin splints, Willis has been playing catchup and only got the WC standard on July 21. Can the two-time Olympic medalist make up enough ground to earn his first World Champs medal in London?
  • Robby Andrews, 26 years old, USA: Andrews looked sensational in winning USAs this year, and he would have been an Olympic finalist last year had he not put himself in such a poor position in his semifinal. Andrews’ results have been hit or miss this year, and he only ran 1:50 in an 800 time trial on July 28. But Andrews’ results aren’t always commensurate with his fitness, and he’s not lacking for confidence. Just after the time trial, he announced to the viewers watching on Instagram: “I’m leaving for London on Monday and I’m not coming back empty handed.”
    The question with Andrews is whether he can position himself well enough to make use of his magnificent kick. In his last major international final at 2016 World Indoors, Andrews closed incredibly well but he was in last place with 250 to go and a result finished just shy of a medal in fourth. Andrews, whose PR is 3:34.78, may run into trouble in a fast race. But if the winning time is close to 3:40 in London and Andrews is in position, he’s definitely got a shot to make good on his promise.
  • Abdelaati Iguider, 30 years old, Morocco: Iguider was 5th in Rio, and has two global outdoor medals (bronze in ’12 and ’15) but hasn’t been great this year — he was 14th in Oslo and 9th in Stockholm and his SB is just 3:34.99.
  • Marcin Lewandowski, 30 years old, Poland: Lewandowski is an accomplished 800 runner (1:43.72 pb, 6th in Rio, 4th at Worlds in ’11 and ’13) who has added the 1500 to his repertoire at age 30. Lewandowski has never run the 1500 at a global outdoor champs, but he won the Euro indoor 1500 title in March, and in a slow race (like the one at the Euro Team Champs in June), he could be a factor. Lewandowski is also entered in the 800, however, so doubling back could be a challenge.
  • Johnny Gregorek, 25 years old, USA: Gregorek isn’t a medal contender, but as the third and final American in the field, we’ll discuss his chances here. The U.S. is deep at 1500 meters, and simply by virtue of making the team, Gregorek has to be considered a serious threat to make the final. Remember, the U.S. put all three of its entrants in the final in 2015 (Kenya was the only other country to manage that) and was one Andrews DQ away from doing the same in 2016. Gregorek’s final pre-Worlds race (3:38.12 for 7th in Heusden) didn’t go great, but he ran 3:35.00 to defeat Andrews (among others) at the TrackTown Summer Series final on July 6. It won’t be a total disappointment if Gregorek goes out in the semis, but making the final is a realistic, achievable goal for him.

LRC prediction: 1. Manangoi 2. Cheruiyot 3. Centrowitz

We’re pretty darn confident that the top 2 will medal. Picking third in this one is very hard.

The fact that Manangoi has run well at major champs in the past gives us more confidence picking him than if he had just been running well on the DL circuit. Go rewatch the 2015 World Champs final and you’ll see Manangoi was moving faster than anyone in the final 100. The dude can close. The consistent Cheruiyot takes the silver. And Centrowitz has run well in too many major championships for us to bet against him. He picks up his fourth career World/Olympic medal in third.

Looking at the odds (we last checked on July 29), Centrowitz might be worth a bet as Paddy Power has him at 14/1 (those are even better odds than last year as he was only 12/1 to win the Olympics). It may be fun to plop £5 down on Andrews at 66/1 as well — hey, you never know. If a fall takes out the top contenders, someone’s got to win.

 

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