World Relays Start With A Bang As Kenya Holds On For Gold And USA Settles For Bronze In 4 X 800
May 24, 2014
The mid-distance races started with a bang at the inaugural IAAF World Relays in the Bahamas on Saturday night as Kenya barely held on to win the men’s 4×800 in 7:08.40 after 17-year-old anchor Alfred Kipketer almost surrendered a gigantic lead. Duane Solomon and the U.S. settled for bronze as Poland rode studs Marcin Lewandowski (1:46.0 split) and Adam Kszczot (1:45.3) to a surprise silver medal in 7:08.69. The U.S. finished third in 7:09.06 after Solomon was passed by Kszczot on the final stretch.
Kenya tried to run away from the field early as every one of their legs ran big positive splits after blasting the first leg in the 50-second range. Kipketer went even faster with a 49.0 first 400 on the final leg and it almost cost him as he was almost caught on the homestretch as Poland and the U.S. made up a ton of ground. But, just as he did to win World Youths last summer, Kipketer held on over the final 50 meters to clinch the gold.
The Race (Video highlights below for USA Visitors)
As expected, Kenyan leadoff man Ferguson Rotich Cheruiyot sped to the front, running 24.5 for his first 200, immediately opening a 5-meter gap on the field. By the time Rotich had come through his first lap in 50.70, his lead had only grown with U.S. leadoff leg Michael Rutt in second and Mexico in third. Rotich extended his lead on the second lap as Spain’s 1:43 man Kevin Lopez passed Rutt entering the home stretch. Rotich handed off in first (1:46.00) Spain handed off a distant second (1:48.10), with a good handoff nudging Bermuda (1:48.40) ahead of the U.S. (1:48.60) in third.
Not content to sit on his lead, Kenya’s second leg, Jon Kinyor, went through his first 400 in 50.4, giving the Kenyans a 40-meter gap (5.1 seconds). The U.S.’s Robby Andrews entered his second lap in a tightly-bunched pack with Bermuda, Poland, Spain and Mexico.
Kinyor split a 1:45.70 to give Kenya an approximate 30 meter lead through two legs. However, with 200 to go, Andrews began to accelerate, launching into the late kick that delivered him two NCAA titles while at the University of Virginia. As the other runners struggled to hold on, Andrews moved forward second and closed the gap to 4.1 seconds, handing off to Brandon Johnson in second after splitting a 1:47.20. The U.S. was closely followed by Bermuda, Spain, Mexico, Poland and Australia.
Johnson took off quickly and began to make up ground on Kenyan third leg Sammy Kirongo as the pack strung out behind him. This would prove to be a bad strategy, as Kirongo went out even faster than the first two Kenyans: 50.0 for Kirongo with Johnson splitting a 49.6.
Kirongo slowd signficantly on the second lap but and only managed a 1:47.90 but handed off to 17-year-old anchor Alfred Kipketer with a 3.3 second lead, as Johnson faded badly over the last 100. Poland’s Marcin Lewandowski (1:45.90), who was fourth at last year’s world championships, made up a lot of ground on Johnson on the homestretch, and handed off to teammate (and world indoor silver medalist) Adam Kszczot in second side by side with Johnson. Johnson staggered home in 1:48.10 and handed off to U.S. anchor and 2014 world leader Duane Solomon side by syde with Kszczot.
If you watched the video of last year’s World Youth final that we posted in our event preview, what Kenya’s Kipketer did next came as no surprise. The 17-year-old went out in 49.00, slightly slower than his 48.32 opening lap in the World Youth final but still stupidly fast for someone who’s broken 1:48 twice in his life and someone who had a 25 meter lead. Kipketer took the bell having extended his lead to just over 5 seconds. The US and Solomon were in second after Solomon split 49.9, as Solomon led Poland’s Kszczot and Australia’s Jared West in the battle for silver and bronze.
With 200 to go, Kenya’s Kipketer still had a big lead. Solomon held a gap of a meter or two on Poland’s Kszczot, who had opened up a 5 meter gap on Australia’s West in fourth. By this time, Kipketer had really begun to fade, and entering the final turn, his lead was down to about 7 or 8 meters over Solomon and Kszczot. With 50 to go, Kszczot moved past Solomon and it looked as if he might get Kipketer too, whose arms were windmilling wildly. But Kszczot could never get closer than a meter or two, as Kipketer’s windmilling arms turned into a celebration as the Kenyan crossed the line.
Kipketer had run a painful 1:48.80 leg, with splits of 49.00 and 59.80, but he held on to give Kenya the win in 7:08.40, well off the world record of 7:02.43. Kszczot came through for second after splitting 1:45.79, giving Poland the silver in a national record of 7:08.69. Solomon’s leg of 1:45.16 was only good enough for bronze as the U.S. finished third in 7:09.06.
Quick Take #1: What an incredible race. The first mid-distance relay of the championships couldn’t have gone much better: a close battle for the medals featuring a massive comeback and a surprise silver by Poland.
Mike Rutt 1:48.60 (52.2)
Robby Andrews 1:47.20 (53.3)
Brandon Johnson 1:48.10 (49.6)
Duane Solomon 1:45.16 (49.9)
Ferguson Rotich 1:46.00 (50.70)
Jon Kinyor 1:45.70 (50.40)
Sammy Kirongo 1:47.90 (50.00)
Alfred Kipketer 1:48.80 (49.00)
Adam Kszczot (1:44.79)
Full splits here:
(click on the arrow next to a team name to see splits.)
Quick Take #2: Poland gambled by putting their best runners on legs 3+4 and it paid off handsomely. Though Andrews did manage to get the U.S. a lead on the chase pack for silver after the second leg, a poor third leg from Johnson let Australia and Poland right back in. We thought going in that Solomon was the best runner in the field, but Kszczot proved us wrong as the 1:43 man ran a great anchor leg to claim silver.
Quick Take #3: Brandon Johnson took it out too hard. Johnson made the mistake of trying to make up a huge gap all by himself, going out in 49.6 to try to reel in the Kenyans on his first lap. He couldn’t do it, and his lead of 25+ meters over Poland halfway through the leg had completely evaporated by the time he handed off to Solomon for the anchor. It’s hard to tell how much of Johnson’s performance is to blame on tactics and how much is due to Johnson simply not being as fit as he was in 2013, but the U.S. was certainly expecting better than 1:48.1 from a man who ran 1:43 last year and had just run 1:46.69 this year. 0.66 seconds was the difference between Kenya in 1st and the U.S. in third. Johnson is the least experienced of the team in the 800, being a converted 400m hurdler, and it showed as he had less of a sense of pace than the other US runners with more experience.
That being said, the Kenyans sense of pace wasn’t much better. If Kipketer had run a more reasonable first lap himself, they’d have won this going away.
|3||USA||UNITED STATES||United States||USA||7:09.06||SB||6|
|8||SVK||SLOVAK REPUBLIC||Slovak Republic||SVK||7:32.87||NR||1|
Reaction: Duane Solomon Thought He Could Get First, Adam Kszczot Didn’t
Afterwards, the USA 4×800 team was pumped by the electric atmosphere at the meet. The meet is way more festive and loud than a world championships and all four team members said they want to come back. Duane Solomon wasn’t pleased to get third, but when he looked back at the race, he indicated that by believing he could get first, he might have cost the US silver. Solomon went for the win, didn’t get it, and was left in third.
Adam Kszczot of Poland,who speaks great English, indicated he was not even thinking about first coming around the final bend. He was focused on Solomon who had opened up a slight gap. Only at the end, did he focus on first. Kszczot believed Solomon gets tight on the final straight when people come up on him, so he kept the pressure on and it worked.
Duane Solomon Wants to Run Fast at Pre, Kszczot Doesn’t Sound Like He’s Ready
Solomon said the goal is still to break the American record (1:42.60) this year and gave the impression he may try and do it next week at Pre. The 2014 world leader is definitely trying to run fast there. He ran 1:43.88 last month, the fastest time ever in the world in April.
Solomon also said to USATF: “Because of the work these guys did, I was able to go out there and make it close. I knew it would be a battle until the end. It was really exciting at the end. The crowd is awesome. The people here have been great, the weather is good, it’s been awesome.”
Adam Kszcot, despite his fine anchor, gave the impression that not all is well and he is not ready to run fast. The entire Polish team has been in Flagstaff, Arizona at 7,000 feet and Adam wants to make sure everything is ok with him after his altitude stint. He will be racing at Pre.
Rest of USA Team:Brandon Johnson, Mike Rutt, Robby Andrews
The crowd for this meet was electric and loud. The entire team committed to coming back next year and was pleased with their opportunity to run well and represent the US as seen in the video below. Brandon Johnson talked about racing 3 times in Asia last week and then flying 0ver here, saying that after he ran 1:43, he can get some appearance money for races, so he has to pay the bills. Makes sense to us.
Robby Andrews was in good spirits after the race. He praised coach Gags after the race to the IAAF saying “We just gave it everything we got and it paid off. We got a medal. We have the best coach ever.” When LRC said to the US team after the race that coming in, Brandon Johnson was the leg we were most worried about, Robby laughed and said he thought it would be him.
Duane Solomon was very classy at the post-race press conference thanking the Bahamian government and people for doing such a tremendous job with these championships. The crowd was amazing on Day 1 and Duane was the first American to express his gratitude. It was a common theme throughout the day. The American athletes love this meet.
Kenya’s 1st 2 Legs Who Opened It Up: Ferguson Rotich and Jon Kinyor
They said the plan was to take it out hard which they did.
Video highlights from our partner Universal Sports for USA visitors
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story had the Kenyan second and third legs reversed.