LRC Tuesday Recap: Exciting Men's 1,500m Final, Men's 400m Semis Go to Form
Men's 1,500m Final: Ramzi Outduels Kiprop, Willis Parlays a Career Race into Bronze
With wins of the "statement" variety in their semifinal races, Asbel Kiprop (Kenya) and Rashid Ramzi (Bahrain) came into the final in the spotlight. Fans anticipated a classic battle between two runners with different builds, running styles, championship experience and strategies. They would not be disappointed.
Bang! The field tore off the line in a sprint. Near the end of the initial mad dash for position down the first straight, co-favorite Kiprop loped smoothly into the lead, towing the field through an opening 200m of 26.7 and continuing to lead through 400m, which was reached in an honest 56.48. New Zealand's Nick Willis was in the perfect spot in the center of lane one in 7th to 8th position and would stay there until the final backstretch. Ramzi was positioned a man or two ahead and to the outside of Willis in the early stages.
The lanky Kiprop slowed the pace a bit over the next lap and the field bunched enough that some contact occasionally occurred. Precisely at the 800m mark (1:56.06), Kiprop's Kenyan teammate Augustine Choge took over to get the pace going again and was challenged by Moroccan Abdalaati Iguider just after 900m as the pack began to string out and then regroup in response to Choge's injection of speed. Ramzi seemed antsy to get near the lead, as did Andy Baddeley, who moved up from 11th to 4th in the penultimate homestretch. Immediately prior to the bell (2:39.79), Ramzi first tapped fellow Bahraini Belal Mansoor Ali on the lower back, then shoved him hard between the shoulder blades in order to get an opening on the outside. Meanwhile, Willis continued to run the least distance of anyone, controlling lane one in 8th position.
With 300m remaining (2:53.67), Choge was still leading and really beginning to roll, followed by Ali, Iguider and Ramzi, who was making a move down the backstretch to pass the trio on the outside and go for home. Kiprop, who had settled back into 5th for the third lap, was tracking Ramzi and immediately zoomed up to the Bahraini's heels. Willis wisely moved barely to the outside to avoid a box and began a patient move past a couple of runners down the straight. Up front, Ali responded to Ramzi's move and refused to yield until 200m remaining, when Ramzi and Kiprop blew by.
The pair began to separate themsleves from the chasers on the turn and entered the straight with a clear advantage. Ramzi seemed to labor but maintained his one-stride lead over Kiprop. Both runners were straining at top speed but Kiprop was only able to make up a foot of the 5-foot separation, and Ramzi claimed his country's first Olympic gold medal in 3:32.94 to the young Kenyan's 3:33.11. Willis, who had been in 6th throughout the final turn, moved to the middle of lane two for the first time in the race since the starting straight and roared up the homestretch on the outside of the men just ahead, picking off first Choge, then Iguider and finally Ali to put himself in bronze medal position. But the bronze was not decided yet. Mehdi Baala had found an opening on the inside and charged hardest of anyone in the final 40m. Baala appeared to be on his way to snatching the medal from the New Zealander's grasp, but Willis somehow found enough left to hold off the Frenchman as both leaned.
The two favorites waged a great race and were undoubtedly the two best in the world at this time. The real surprise came from Willis, who ran the perfect race - absolutely perfect. Whether by design or by luck (or both, as is usually the case with such a race), the Kiwi made the most of his opportunity, as he barely made the final out of his stacked semifinal heat. It was the kind of race everyone plans on paper but can only bring to fruition once or twice in a career, if at all. Willis has been criticized for poor tactics in the past, but this was a masterpiece that truly deserved a medal. Things could not have played out any better for him.
|2||Asbel Kipruto Kiprop||KEN||3:33.11||.|
|5||Juan Carlos Higuero||ESP||3:34.44||.|
|7||Juan van Deventer||RSA||3:34.77||.|
|8||Belal Mansoor Ali||BRN||3:35.23||.|
|10||Augustine Kiprono Choge||KEN||3:35.50||.|
|11||Daham Najim Bashir||QAT||3:37.68||.|
||Asbel Kipruto Kiprop||KEN||56.48|
||Augustine Kiprono Choge||KEN||1:56.06|
||Augustine Kiprono Choge||KEN||2:53.67|
Men's 400m Semifinals: Favorites All Looking Good
The dominant athletes normally like to control their semifinal heats for preferred lanes and to deliver a message regardless of the number of sections, but with a 3-heat format (top two in each heat plus two time qualifiers advance), competition for a Q promised to be fierce.
The first section featured two of the pre-meet medal favorites, defending Olympic Champion Jeremy Wariner and the man who has been clearly the third best 400m runner in the world so far this summer, Chris Brown of the Bahamas. The other athletes were, quite frankly, out of luck in this one. Kévin Borlée of Belgium and Nery Brenes of Costa Rica gave it the best shot they've ever given, being rewarded with national records and sub-45 clockings for their efforts, but they were no match for Wariner and Brown and their new PRs would not be fast enough to advance on time. Wariner crushed the field with a 44.15 that indicated he was ready to run at least mid-43. Will that be enough this year?
|1||6||Jeremy Wariner||USA||44.15 Q||.||0.224|
|2||5||Chris Brown||BAH||44.59 Q||.||0.244|
The second heat was not as stacked at the top, but with 7 of the 8 runners having sub-45 PRs, the chances looked good for getting a time qualifier. Former long jumper Leslie Djhone (France), a finalist in 2004 and 2007, took the race out hard and never looked back, getting a convincing win. American David Neville had some work to do on the final straight, but he pulled through to safely grab the other auto spot. The times in this section actually wound up being the slowest of any of the heats and only the top two advanced.
|1||6||Leslie Djhone||FRA||44.79 Q||(SB)||0.159|
|2||4||David Neville||USA||44.91 Q||.||0.190|
Co-favorite LaShawn Merritt had no real challengers in this race and the Worlds silver medallist blew away the field with the fastest time of the round (44.12), which indicated the final might be a two-man show. Great Britain's surprising Martyn Rooney, who was in 6th entering the homestretch, passed everyone except Merritt to record his third PR in his last four races and grab the other auto spot. Former 200m man Johan Wissman (Sweden), the silver medallist at this year's World Indoors and a finalist in the 2007 Worlds, and Renny Quow (Trinidad & Tobago) followed and got both q times, Quow with a career best. The USA took all the medals in 2004 and the Yanks have three in the final once again.
|1||7||LaShawn Merritt||USA||44.12 Q||.||0.187|
|2||6||Martyn Rooney||GBR||44.60 Q||(PB)||0.126|
|3||8||Johan Wissman||SWE||44.64 q||(SB)||0.211|
|4||5||Renny Quow||TRI||44.82 q||(PB)||0.204|
|8||3||Cedric van Branteghem||BEL||45.81||.||0.199|