Asbel Kiprop Proves He's Still The Best In The World By Winning African Champs
Upstart and World Leader Silas Kiplagat Fails To Medal and Finishes 4th
By Dick Patrick
August 1, 2010
NAIROBI -- At age 21 Asbel Kiprop of Kenya already has an Olympic gold medal in the 1,500 meters, but he is still learning the race. He reversed his typical tactics Sunday to win a gold medal at the African Athletics Championships.
Taking the lead early at a scorching pace at the mile-high altitude of Nyayo Stadium, slowing the pace down at mid-race and regaining the lead with an impressive last lap, Kiprop won a blanket finish in 3:36:19. Morocco's Amine Laalou took second (3:36.38) and Ethiopia's Woldegirgis Gebremedhin third (3:36.74) as Kenyans Silas Kiplagat (3:36.74), the latest sub-3:30 sensation on the European circuit, and Nicholas Kemboi (3:37.07) were just out of the medals.
The lanky 6-3 Kiprop prefers to run from the back and make a big move late in the race. But Sunday he bolted to the lead, taking the field through a 53.65 opening lap and to the 800 in 1:53.65, fast splits at sea level much less at altitude.
"I was a little worred; I did the first 600 faster than I wanted," Kiprop said. "I decided to reduce the speed to enable me to run strong at the end."
When Kiprop applied the breaks on the third lap, Gebremedhin took over the lead and led the field to the bell lap in 2:41.81. "I started kicking early because they are better than me at kicking," Gebremedhin said. "That helped me get a medal."
"It was a high-speed last lap," Kiprop said. "I expected anything to happen. I knew guys were back of me. I knew it was going to be difficult."
He felt secure enough to do some celebratory arm pumping in the final meters. The capacity crowd of 30,000 -- no admission was charged during the five-day meet -- roared its approval on a day that Kenya celebrated a sweep in the men's 5,000 and triumph in the medals race.
"Asbel to me did a very incredible race," said Claudio Beradelli, an Italian who coaches Kiprop at their training base in Eldoret, Kenya. "He pushed 1:52 pace in the 800, then slowed it down. I was a little bit worried he might get blocked."
The plan was for Kiprop to get to the front early to avoid traffic and getting boxed in. His back-of-the-pack tactics backfired last summer at the world championhips in Berlin, where he finished fourth. "I learned a lesson," Kiprop said. "I ran too far behind (early) and lost everything."
Now he has another medal to add to the family collection. His father, David Kebenei, finished third in the 1,500 at the 1987 All Africa Games in Nairobi.
Kiprop, who originally placed second in the 1,500 at the 2008 Olympics but was upgraded to gold after the positive drug test of Bahrain's Rashid Ramzi, enjoys racing at Nyayo Stadium. He has won national titles there and set the stadium mark of 3:32.20 earlier this season.
"Today it was impossible to break the stadium record," he said. "In championships, there is no rabbit and it's impossible to run fast. I just wanted to win."
He'll return to the European circuit soon for "a few races" before competing in the Continental Cup, formerly Word Cup, in September in Split, Croatia.
"I think after this race Asbel has more motivation and confidence in himself," Beradelli said. "I am looking forward to seeing what he will run in Europe."
Kiprop's best time in the 1,500 is 3:31.20, which he ran last year and converts to a 3:48 mile. "What I want to do is run sub-3:30," he said. "That's my target to implement me higher on the list of 1,500 times."
He already has a reputation as an excellent racer, and now has demonstrated that he can win from the front as well as the back. With years to go before his theoretical peak as a middle-distance runner, the question is how many Olympic medals he'll add to his '08 gold and how many world championship medals he can earn.
Laalou probably said it best: "Kiprop is a big champion."