Men’s 1,500: Can Asbel Kiprop Get The World Record? Will He Even Win Against A Loaded Field?

July 16, 2014

It’s the middle of July and that means it’s time to run fast in the 1,500.

Nineteen years ago this week (July 12, 1995), Algeria’s Noureddine Morceli ran 3:27.37 in Nice to break his own world record at 1,500 meters.

Sixteen years ago this week (July 14, 1998), Morocco’s Hicham El Guerrouj ran 3:26.00 in Rome to topple Morceli’s mark.

One year ago this week (July 19, 2013), Kenya’s Asbel Kiprop ran 3:27.72 in Monaco to become the fourth-fastest man in history, behind only Morceli, El Guerrouj and Bernard Lagat (3:26.34). Kiprop’s performance last year launched talk of a world record attempt in Monaco in 2014.

A year has passed and after running 1:43.34 for 800 in Paris two weeks ago, Kiprop’s record attempt is still on at Friday’s Herculis Monaco Diamond League meet.

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Can Kiprop take down the record?

We’ll start with the factors going against him. A strong belief of ours is that hyping world record attempts in track and field is a dangerous thing as more often than not they fail to materialize and fans will fail to be happy about still witnessing an amazing performance.

The odds are most certainly that Kiprop doesn’t get the record. We say that not because he isn’t an amazing athlete who seems to be in amazing shape, for he is both of those things. We say that simply because El Guerrouj’s record is way out there. 3:26.00. Do you know what that comes out per lap? 54.93. That’s fast. Really fast.

It’s so good of a mark that it’s been a long time since anyone has even attempted to go after the record. El Guerrouj’s mark has lasted 16 years and counting, by far the longest span since the IAAF first ratified a world record in the event in 1912. The second-longest gap is less than half that – seven years between Said Aouita in 1985 and Morceli’s first world record in 1992.

In all of men’s distance running, there hasn’t been a serious world record attempt in anything but the steeple since Kenenisa Bekele‘s 26:25 run in the 10,000 in Eugene in 2008. We’ll leave the debate for reasons as to why that’s the case for another day (is it because in the fully-professional era, world records should be few and far between or is it because drug testing is much better than it was 10 or 15 years ago?), but please understand the last 16 years have shown this record isn’t going to go down easily.

Kiprop does have quite a few things going for him, however, besides the fact that it’s July and that’s when 1,500 records seem to be broken.

Kiprop Has A History Of Running Well In Monaco

Asbel Kiprop has raced in Monaco three times in his life. Here’s what he’s done:

Date Event Time
7/22/2011 800m 1:43.15
7/20/2012 1,500m 3:28.88
7/19/2013 1,500m 3:27.72

1:43.15 and 3:27.72 are Kiprop’s current PRs. 3:28.88 was a PR at the time and remains the second-fastest time of his career. Outside of his Olympic and World Championship finals, those are the three greatest performances of Kiprop’s life. If he’s going to run 3:25, it will happen in Monaco.

Also, having turned 25 on June 30th, Kiprop is the perfect age and is in the prime of his 1,500-meter-running life.

Noureddine Morceli was 25 when he set his 1,500 world record.

Hicham El Guerrouj was 23 when he set his world record.

Alan Webb was 24 when he set his American record in the men’s mile.

History Shows Asking Someone To Cut 1.72 Seconds Off Their PR To Break A World Record Isn’t Ridiculous

It may seem as if asking Kiprop to cut 1.72 seconds off his 1,500 time in one race is asking a lot, but that’s actually in line with what Morceli and El Guerrouj did when setting their world records. Take a look at the PRs of Morceli and El Guerrouj heading into the race the last three times the record was broken:

Date Athlete Old PR New PR Difference
9/6/1992 Noureddine Morceli 3:30.75 3:28.86 1.89
7/12/1995 Noureddine Morceli 3:28.86 3:27.37 1.49
7/14/1998 Hicham El Guerrouj 3:28.91 3:26.00 2.91

Those numbers suggest that PRing by over 1.72 seconds (as Kiprop would need to do to break the record) is certainly feasible. Also working to Kiprop’s benefit is that he’s run very fast already in 2014 – he ran 3:29.18 to win in Doha on May 9 and 1:43.34 for 800 to win in Paris two weeks ago. Both performances show that he is clearly fit.

Kiprop was all alone on the final lap in Monaco last year Kiprop was all alone on the final lap in Monaco last year.

The biggest difference between Kiprop in 2014 and El Guerrouj in 1998 and Morceli in 1995 is that Kiprop has already been beaten twice this year – he was just 7th in the Bowerman Mile at Pre and 3rd in Rome five days later.

El Guerrouj and Morceli both entered their world record races undefeated on the year (both would finish the year undefeated, too). El Guerrouj opened with a 3:31.19 on June 1, then 3:32.34 on June 4 and 3:29.12 on July 9 before setting the record on July 14. Morceli debuted on June 3 but raced more times in 1995 – five before the record race – with an SB of 3:32.45 before the record. His final race, nine days before the record, was a 2,000. Morceli set a world record in that race too, running 4:47.88.

Now we know some of you are thinking, “But isn’t pro track and field way deeper now than in 1998?” You’d think that, but the facts don’t quite back that assertion up, at least not in regards to the 1,500. In 1998, seven guys broke 3:31 in the 1,500; this year six men have gone sub-3:31 (five did it last year).

Kiprop hasn’t been as dominant as El Guerrouj or Morceli were during their record seasons, but to be honest, we don’t really care about that. Kiprop’s two losses came on May 31st and June 5th. That’s incredibly early in the year. In fact, Kiprop hasn’t run a 1,500 for time since June 5, finishing just one race since then, the Paris 800 (he was a DNF in the 1,500 at the Kenyan Commonwealth Games trials on June 7). In addition, Kiprop looked great in beating Nijel Amos, one of the world’s top 800 guys, in Paris. It’s a good bet that he’s in better shape now than he was in May or June, but he may not be as strong as El Guerrouj or Morceli were when they broke the record.

Pacing Will Be Key

If Kiprop gets the record, everything will need to go just about perfectly including the pace. In general, the way to get a world record in a distance event over 800 meters is to run very even splits, with a slight negative split (resulting from a kick on the last lap) being ideal.

In the 1,500, coaching and stat expert John Kellogg thinks a slightly faster start and perhaps even a tiny positive split (second 750 a little slower than the first 750) is okay, although having a tiny bit in reserve for a finishing kick is always a safer way to keep from getting in trouble mid-race. Physiologically, it’s certainly not bad for the first lap to be just a little bit faster than the next two. Thus if a runner was going to run a 1,500 at an average of 60.00 per lap for 3:45.00, a first lap of 59-flat wouldn’t be a killer. He could go 59-flat, 61, 61 for 3:01 and then pick it up a little with a 44.00.

In order to examine whether Kiprop (or anyone else in the stacked field) has a shot at El Guerrouj’s world record of 3:26.00, we think it is instructive to review how Morceli and El Guerrouj set their world records.

First, there was Morceli’s 3:27.37 from 1995, which averages out to 55.29 per 400. The rabbits took him through 900 before he went to the front and hammered home the last 600 meters solo.

Morceli’s splits were as follows (55.29 average): 54.9, 55.6 (1:50.5), 56.6 (2:47.1), 40.2 (3:27.37).

His first lap was a little faster than he needed to average, his next two were a little bit slower and his last 300 was much faster (40.2 is 53.73 pace).

In El Guerrouj’s 3:26.00 from 1998, he had the benefit of excellent pacemakers that took him farther, through 1,150m, including Noah Ngeny, the future Olympic champ who would later run 3:28.12 for 1,500 as well as finish right behind El Guerrouj when El G broke the mile world record the next year (El G ran 3:43.13 and Ngeny 3:43.40).

El Guerrouj ran a classic negative split. The first lap was right on record pace, the next two were less than a second off of pace and then he hammered it home over the final 300:

El Guerrouj’s splits (54.93 average): 54.99, 55.74 1:50.73), 55.61 (2:46.34), 39.66 (3:26.00).

El G’s final 300 of 39.66 was run at an incredible 52.33 400 pace!

(We apologize for the video but we couldn’t find one with a clock on it).

Finally, there’s Kiprop’s 3:27.72 from last summer. The rabbits took him through 1,050, but they weren’t nearly as consistent as they were for the two world records above.

Kiprop’s splits for his 3:27.72 (55.39 average): 53.5, 57.1 (1:50.6), 55.3 (2:45.9), 41.8 (3:27.72 (41.8 is 55.73 pace)).

Uneven Pacing Likely Cost Kiprop Some Time Last Year

Morceli and El Guerrouj both went out in 54.9 seconds for their first 400s during their world record races, but Kiprop went out in 53.5 last year, 1.4 seconds faster. He hit 800 in around the same time as them, 1:50.6, and then actually way better from 800 to 1,200, giving him the best 1,200 split of any of them – 2:45.9 for Kiprop, 2:46.3 for El G and 2:47.1 for Morceli. However, Kiprop’s last 300 of 41.8 seconds was much slower than either Morceli or El Guerrouj. Part of the reason for that last 300 is that Kiprop probably wasn’t in shape to run 3:26-low, but it’s also likely that the quick 53.5 first lap got him in the hole a bit too much and sapped some of his speed. If Kiprop went 54.5-56 for the first two laps instead of 53.5-57, he probably could have run as fast as Morceli did (3:27.37), maybe even 3:27-flat, but it’s wrong to say that pacing alone cost him a 3:26.00.

Kiprop has told in the past that he likes to get out fast and then rest up a bit for the kick. John Kellogg says physiologically that’s fine to a certain extent in the 1,500, particularly for someone like Kiprop, who according to Kellogg “has a little bit more 800 speed to burn” than El Guerrouj did.

El Guerrouj’s recorded 800 PR was just 1:47.18, but the guy for whatever reason simply didn’t get tired. He finished off his WR with a 1:49.5-ish final 800 (53.3 last lap). He also closed his 2004 Olympic 1,500 gold medal race with a 1:46.5 final 800. It’s not reasonable to expect Kiprop to do something like 1:49-point for the final 800 in a record attempt. Last year, his final 300 was actually slower than his average overall pace.

The rabbit on Friday, Andrew Rotich, is the same last year. What would be an ideal pace for Kiprop?

Given Kiprop wants to average 54.93 per lap, an ideal pace would be one that doesn’t go any faster than what they did last year on the first lap. Anything faster than 53.5 and it’s pretty much over. 54-flat to 54.5 would be ideal for the first lap. After that, he can’t really afford to have any really slow laps like he did last year. He had a 57 last year and we guarantee one thing, if any of his full 400s are 57, it’s 100% over as well. In fact, a 56 full lap is going to make us nervous.

54.0, 55.5, 55.9, 40.5 (40.5 is 54-flat pace) would be 3:25.9. It’s going be very hard for Kiprop to close much faster than 40.5 so he probably needs to be 2:45.5 or under at 1,200. If the 1,200 split is similar to what he was last year (2:45.9) but with a more even run-up, it will be interesting.

The verdict

With an Olympic gold, two World Championship golds and a 3:27.72 PR, Kiprop represents the biggest threat to the record since El Guerrouj retired. His 2014 season is progressing similarly to last year (wins in Doha, middling performances at Pre and Rome) and he ended up running 3:27.72 in Monaco. All the signs point to a fast time on Friday.

But …

Even non-skeptics can admit there is a reason this record hasn’t been broken in 16 years: 3:26.00 is flying. To run that, you have to average 54.93 seconds per 400 with near-perfect pacing.

Prediction: A PR – maybe even a 3:26-point for Kiprop – but no world record.

Bonus Stat: Here’s one bonus fact we came across during our research: Hicham El Guerrouj is the same age as Bernard Lagat (39). It seems a long time since El Guerrouj retired yet Lagat is still out there winning national titles.

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The Best of the Rest

The rest of the field is absolutely loaded. In fact, we’re far from certain Kiprop wins this race. Here is the full field and our analysis.

Men’s 1,500 (2:35 p.m. ET)

CARVALHO Florian 09.03.1989 FRA 3:33.47 3:35.51 WC finalist + Euro silver medalist; 2:19 1k in last race on June 27
CENTROWITZ Matthew 18.10.1989 USA 3:31.96 3:32.70 WC silver medalist ran 1:46.12 last week in Glasgow; 3:32 for 7th in Lausanne on 7/3
CRONJE Johan 13.04.1982 RSA 3:31.93 3:33.31 WC bronze medalist was 4th in Glasgow in 3:34.97
IGUIDER Abdelaati 25.03.1987 MAR 3:31.47 3:32.09 Consistently solid in DL races; 2nd in Glasgow, 5th in Lausanne, 5th in Rome
INGEBRIGTSEN Henrik 24.02.1991 NOR 3:33.68 3:33.68 European champ was just 9th in Lausanne but still ran PR
KIPLAGAT Silas 20.08.1989 KEN 3:29.27 3:29.70 11 career DL wins; won in Glasgow and Rome; 2nd in Lausanne
KIPROP Asbel 30.06.1989 KEN 3:27.72 3:29.18 World champ ran 3:27 here last year; 1:43.43 world leader in 800 in Paris July 5
KWEMOI Ronald 18.09.1995 KEN 3:31.48 3:31.48 The next great 1,500 runner? 18-year-old won in Lausanne on July 3
MAGUT James Kiplagat 20.07.1990 KEN 3:30.61 3:30.61 5th in Bowerman Mile at Pre on May 31; 3rd in Lausanne
MANZANO Leonel 12.09.1984 USA 3:32.37 3:34.40 U.S. champ coming off SB for 3rd in Glasgow
NDIKU Caleb Mwangangi 09.10.1992 KEN 3:29.50 World indoor 3k champ has focused on longer stuff in ’14; 13:08 5k in Paris; 7:31 WL 3k on June 17
ÖZBILEN Ilham Tanui 05.03.1990 TUR 3:31.30 3:32.09 2:15 1k on June 17 but just 6th (1,500) & 12th (800) at Euro Team Champs June 21-22
ROTICH Andrew Kiptoo 24.12.1987 KEN 3:43.43 Rabbit
SOULEIMAN Ayanleh 03.12.1992 DJI 3:30.16 3:30.16 World indoor champ ran 3:47 mile to win at Pre; won in Oslo on June 11; 1:44 for 800 in Sweden on June 26
WILLIS Nick 25.04.1983 NZL 3:30.35 2nd in Oslo in 3:49; 7:36 3k in last race in Ostrava June 17
WOTE Aman 18.04.1984 ETH 3:30.86 3:30.86 World indoor silver medalist was 4th in Lausanne; 3rd at Pre

When he’s on his game – and he always has been in Monaco – Kiprop is the best 1,500 runner in the world. He’s not going to run 3:26 and lose. But if he’s not at his best on Friday, he’s vulnerable. We think it’s far more likely that he loses the race than he gets the world record.

The best two guys on the circuit this year have been Silas Kiplagat and Ayanleh Souleiman. Kiplagat won in Glasgow last week and beat Kiprop in Rome on June 5; he’s finished 1st or 2nd in his last 7 DL races. Souleiman won World Indoors in the 1,500, ran 3:47.32 to win Pre – the fastest time in the world since 2007 – and also won in Oslo. What’s more, both of them have winning records for their career against Kiprop at 1,500; Souleiman is 3-2, while Kiplagat is 12-10. We feel a bit guilty dedicating so much of this preview to Kiprop when Kiplagat and Souleiman are so close to his level, but neither of them have shown that they have the ability to challenge the world record; Kiprop has.

One thing about both of them. When El Guerrouj was at his best, he was pushed to the line by Noah Ngeny, who in turn became an Olympic champion down the road. They clearly have that type of talent themselves.

A few more thoughts on what should be a great race:

Centrowitz is at his best in championship races Centrowitz will likely have a huge PR if he can stay anywhere close to Kiprop in this one.

Can Centro And Leo PR?

American Matt Centrowitz doesn’t have the best track record in Diamond League races (check out our Lausanne preview for the full breakdown) but if the pace really gets going in this one he has a great chance to lower his 3:31.96 PR from 2012. In his last 1,500, in Lausanne on July 3, Centrowitz ran 3:32.70 in a race where the winner ran 3:31.48. He had to run a lot of extra ground to move up over the final 500 but with the pack likely going single-file for much of the race in Monaco, his extra distance will be at a minimum. Centrowitz was close to his 800 PR last week in Glasgow (he ran 1:46.12, missing it by .26) and PRed in the mile earlier this year at Pre (3:50.53). Centro could certainly run 3:31 or even 3:30 here, but, given the quality of the field, that still might only be good enough for a middle-of-the-pack finish.

U.S. champ Leo Manzano enters Monaco in a very similar situation to Centrowitz. Though he comes in with slower performances on the year (1:46.32 for 800 in Belgium on July 5, 3:34.40 last week in Glasgow, 3:52.41 mile at Pre on May 31), Manzano, like Centrowitz, has been running well recently and will look to improve his record in fast races. In last year’s Monaco 1,500, Manzano was dead last in 3:44 and though you never know with Manzano, it’s unlikely that will happen two years in a row. Manzano has only broken 3:33 once in his life; can he do it again here?

Ronald Kwemoi celebrates in Lausanne Ronald Kwemoi celebrates in Lausanne.

The Undefeated 18-Year-Old

There is one guy in the field who is undefeated at 1,500 for his life – well undefeated at least as a pro. Kenyan Robert Kwemoi, the 18-year-old who won the 1,500 in Lausanne in his first-ever Diamond League race, will run here against a top field. We’ll have a good idea how good he is after this one.

Kwemoi beat a solid group in Lausanne that included Kiplagat, Aman Wote and Abdelaati Iguider, but the additions of Kiprop and Souleiman will provide a much bigger test here. Only one junior in history – Cornelius Chirchir of Kenya – has broken 3:31 (his world junior record is 3:30.24, set at this meet in 2002). Kwemoi ran 3:31.48 in Lausanne; could we see junior and senior world records in the same race?

Ndiku Drops Down

Caleb Ndiku, who won World Indoors in the 3k in March, was third here last year in 3:29.50 but has run mostly longer events in 2014. He won the 5k at Pre on May 31 and was second in the Oslo 5k on June 11 before running a world-leading 7:31 3k on June 17 in Ostrava. He was just seventh in the Paris 5k two weeks ago and will drop down to the 1,500 here in Monaco. It will be interesting to see if he’s maintained his 1,500 speed – that 7:31 indicates there’s a good chance that he has.

LRC Prediction: Kwemoi breaks 3:30, Centro PRs and Leo struggles.

The men’s 1500m is at 2:35 eastern Friday. The meet is on Universal Sports in the United States from 2-4pm. Viewing information here. Good news for people who do not get Universal Sports on TV, there is now a way to watch it live or on demand on your computer or phone.

Discuss this race in our forum: Will the 1500 World Record be broken in Monaco?

More: Re-Live Last Year’s Monaco Meet: Mo Farah Breaks Steve Cram’s British 1,500 Record – Asbel Kirop Runs 3:27.72 in Monaco.
*MB: 2013 Monaco: Holy mother of God: Asbel Kiprop 3:27.72, Mo Farah sets British record at 3:28.81

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