2015 Worlds Men’s 1500 Preview – Can favored Asbel Kiprop win his 4th global gold against this historically loaded field?

by LetsRun.com
August 18, 2015

We’re living in the golden age of the men’s 1500. With two world titles and an Olympic gold, Asbel Kiprop is one of the all-time greats and his 3:26.69 in Monaco, where he became just the third member of the 3:26 club, was nothing short of outstanding. But it’s the depth behind Kiprop that makes the event what it is right now. Six men broke 3:30 in that race in Monaco, the most since…last year, when seven men turned the trick at the same meet. Prior to last year, there had never been a race where more than three men had broken 3:30. Heck, there had never been a year in which more than four men had broken 3:30! Now we’ve got guys running 3:29 and finishing sixth or seventh in a single race.

The competition for the medals at the IAAF World Championships in Beijing will be fierce, but one man is clearly the favorite, and that’s Kiprop. Seven years ago, Kiprop was robbed of his moment of glory in the Bird’s Nest by drug cheat Rashid Ramzi. Though he stood on the podium after the race, it was the national anthem of Bahrain, not Kenya, that played during the medal ceremony. The disk around his neck was silver, not gold. Ramzi was stripped of his medal in November 2009; it took two more years for Kiprop to finally receive his gold.

Kiprop will be hoping for a simpler and more enjoyable golden outcome this time around – to actually cross the finish line first and get to celebrate and emjoy the adulation of millions. The 26-year-old is in the shape of his life, and as his last two races on the Diamond League circuit proved, he can win in any kind of race. In Monaco on July 17, he took the lead from the gun and simply decimated a world-class field, producing a mesmerizing 3:26.69 to win by over two seconds. In the Emsley Carr Mile the next week in London, Kiprop dropped to the back of the pack just before 800m after momentarily stumbling but worked his way up to the leaders by the bell lap and destroyed everyone in the home stretch to win in 3:54.87.

More than his utter domination in Monaco, it’s his final 75 meters in London that should really worry the rest of the field. Watch Kiprop’s form and facial expression and compare it to the rest of the field. Kiprop is textbook smooth, his arms pumping while the skinny trees he calls legs eat up the track. Look at his face and you’d swear he was out for a Sunday-afternoon jog. Everyone else is digging and grinding as if their lives depended on it.

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2013 World Champs top five
1. Asbel Kiprop, Kenya 3:36.28
2. Matthew Centrowitz, USA 3:36.78
3. Johan Cronje, South Africa 3:36.83
4. Nixon Chepseba, Kenya 3:36.87
5. Homiyu Tesfaye, Germany 3:37.03 

2015 five fastest performers (among men entered)
1. Asbel Kiprop, Kenya 3:26.69
2. Taoufik Makhloufi, Algeria 3:28.75
3. Abdelaati Iguider, Morocco 3:28.79
4. Nick Willis, New Zealand 3:29.66
5. Elijah Manangoi, Kenya 3:29.67

There’s a word for what Kiprop delivered in London: greatness. Kiprop doesn’t have a singular moment on the level of David Rudisha‘s Olympic 800 victory in 2012 but he has amassed several awe-inspiring performances in his career. Watch his race in Monaco (2013 edition or 2015 edition; it doesn’t matter) and it’s impossible not to be transfixed. Even in an era of unprecedented depth, Kiprop stands alone. Kiprop may well be the most talented 1500 runner ever and at his best, there’s no one on Earth who can touch him.

London showed Kiprop is ready to roll in Beijing. Watch his victory at Worlds in 2013 and you’ll see a carbon copy of his performance in London on July 25. Kiprop runs off the shoulder of the leader through the final turn before seizing the lead with 75 meters to go. A few seconds later, it’s over; no one can hope to hang with the Kenyan in full stride. He looked similar comfortable during his win at the Kenyan Trials on August 1, finding enough time to salute the president on the home stretch.

Assuming Kiprop makes it to Beijing healthy (an injury derailed his quest for gold at the 2012 Olympics but he hasn’t had any issues in 2015), it’s hard to see him losing unless he makes a tactical mistake. And even that might not be enough (as he demonstrated in London).

Kiprop prevailed at Worlds two years ago and looks primed for a three-peat Kiprop prevailed at Worlds two years ago and looks primed for a three-peat

Tactics have cost Kiprop in the past, and that’s the one area where his rivals, particularly Matthew Centrowitz, have an advantage. In 2009, Kiprop was the favorite at Worlds but ran a disastrous tactical race. He was last at the bell despite a modest pace and though he closed in a blazing 51.4 seconds for the final lap, moving all the way up to fourth place, he ran extra distance for the final 300 meters and had to wider than anyone else — all the way out to lane 3 — on the final turn (race video here). It was a similar story in his only 1500/mile defeat of 2015 at the Pre Classic. Kiprop was 11th in the 13-man field at the bell, over a second and a half behind the leader, and though he didn’t have to go as wide to pass people on the final lap, that deficit was too much to overcome and he had to settle for third.

As Kiprop has aged, he’s become a better tactical runner — as his victories at Worlds in 2011 and 2013 attest — but positioning at Worlds is always important. Without a rabbit, the field is tighter than at a Diamond League meet, and anyone who makes it to the final is either incredibly fast or incredibly good at positioning themselves — and often both. Kiprop doesn’t have to run an incredible tactical race to win in Beijing — he’s that good — but he can’t afford a disaster along the lines of Berlin 2009.

In a weird way, Kiprop’s win in London should make his fans a tiny bit nervous. Kiprop was good enough in London to go from last to first, but that was a mile where there is more time to do it. As good as Kiprop is, we don’t think he’s good enough to go from last to first in the final 500 of Worlds. If his London win make him over-confident and unworried about positioning, it could be fatal mistake.

Who Can Beat Him?

In assessing candidates to take down Kiprop, it makes sense to start with the two men who have handed him losses in the 1500/mile this year: Ayanleh Souleiman of Djibouti and Matthew Centrowitz of the USA, who went 1-2 ahead of Kiprop at Pre.

Souleiman, the 2014 World Indoor champ, has built on his successful 2014 and shown the best speed of his career this year. He ran 1:43.78 on May 15 to win the DL 800 opener in Doha and then set a PR of 1:43.08 in Barcelona on July 8. Then, at the same meet in Monaco where Kiprop ran 3:26.69, Souleiman clocked a 1:42.97. With that performance, Souleiman joined Seb Coe (1:41.77/3:29.77) and Steve Cram (1:42.88/3:29.67) as the only men in history to have broken 1:43 in the 800 and 3:30 in the 1500. When you’re on a list with those two guys, it means you’ve done something right.

Souleiman has run well in the 1500/mile as well. He won the Bowerman Mile at Pre, and after coming up short trying to run 3:44 for the mile in Oslo on June 11 (he faded to fourth in 3:52.69), he’s placed second (to Silas Kiplagat in Paris), third (to Kiprop and Centrowitz in London) and first (in Stockholm) in his last three DL 1500/miles. Souleiman likes to take the lead at the bell and grind the field down from the front, and he’s got the right combination of speed and strength (13:17) to be able to do that, even against the world’s best.

The concern is that Souleiman will be doubling back from the 800 in Beijing, and that’s a very difficult double to pull off. He tried it two years ago in Moscow, and though he was rewarded with a bronze medal in the 800, he didn’t even make the final in the 1500. He was clearly in 1500 shape — he finished 1st and 2nd at the two DL 1500s immediately after Worlds — but three rounds of the 800 wore him down.

The schedule in Beijing is slightly different (we’ve compared it to Moscow below), but it’s still daunting, even though Souleiman, two years stronger, should be better-prepared for the double this time around.

Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4 Day 5 Day 6 Day 7 Day 8 Day 9
2013 800 prelims 800 semis 800 final 1500 prelims 1500 semis 1500 final
2015 800 prelims 800 semis 800 final 1500 prelims 1500 semis 1500 final

Unlike in 2013, Souleiman will have a day of rest between the 800 final (assuming he makes it), but he’ll then be faced with the task of three 1500s in four days. That’s not an easy stretch for a runner to do fresh; it’s harder still with three rounds of the 800 in your legs.

And it’s for that reason that we think Centrowitz has a better chance to defeat Kiprop than Souleiman. Centrowitz’ biggest strength is his tactical prowess, as he’s finished 3rd, 4th and 2nd at the last three Worlds/Olympics; no one else can match that record (Kiprop was only 12th at the 2012 Olympics). Though he’s gradually brought his PRs down through the years, he’s consistently shown that he’s at his best in championship settings; he entered Worlds in 2011 with a 3:34.46 PR and left with a bronze medal.

As in his medal-winning years of 2011 and 2013, Centrowitz won the U.S. Championships this June in the biggest blowout since Alan Webb‘s win at the 2004 Olympic Trials. It was the best example of Centrowitz’ domestic dominance in 2015, which dates all the way back to February, when he won the Wanamaker Mile.

Centrowitz routed one of the stronger U.S. 1500 fields in recent memory At USAs, Centrowitz routed one of the stronger U.S. 1500 fields in recent memory

But what sets apart the Centrowitz of 2015 from previous editions is that he’s finally found some success on the Diamond League circuit. When he won silver in 2013, he never finished higher than eighth in five DL races. Last year, his best finish was sixth. This year, Centrowitz has finished second at both the Pre Classic and the Sainsbury’s Anniversary Games, ending long skids to Kiprop (seven races) and Souleiman (six races) in the process. Though he’s still finished way back in a couple of races (10th in Monaco, 11th in Stockholm), he’s clearly making progress, reflected by PRs over 800 (1:44.62) and 1500 (3:30.40, making him the fastest American-born runner ever). That progress will only help him when he gets to Worlds; it’s not as if Centrowitz is going to lose the acceleration or tactical nous that he’s honed over the course of his career simply because he’s running faster in rabbitted races.

Centrowitz has flaws. He’s not as consistent as Souleiman or Silas Kiplagat (witness his 1:49.20 800 stinker in Lausanne on July 9 or his 3:39.29 against a weak 1500 field in Stockholm on July 30). He can’t hope to hang with the big boys in a sub-3:30 race. But his championship record is impossible to ignore, and given his overall success in 2015, he’d have a real shot at gold if Kiprop hadn’t gone mad midway through June. Of course, gold is still on the table for Centrowitz, but given that Kiprop is the one man he hasn’t been able to overhaul in championships (he beat him in 2012, but Kiprop was hampered by injury and not close to 100%), it’s going to take either the race of his life or a tactical blunder by Kiprop for him to do so.

The depth of the 1500 is such that there are several other gold medal threats. Kenya’s Silas Kiplagat has a phenomenal Diamond League record — 11 wins since the start of 2012 (only Kiprop, with 12, has more) — and that has continued into 2015, with wins in Shanghai and Paris and a second in Oslo. The knock on Kiplagat is that he’s underperformed at major championships. Here’s what he’s done at global championships in his career:

Year Meet Result
2014 World Indoors Out in semis
2013 World Outdoors 6th
2012 Olympics 7th
2012 World Indoors 6th
2011 World Outdoors 2nd

One medal for a man with Kiplagat’s credentials (his 3:27.64 PR is #5 all-time) isn’t a good return. As we note in our women’s 1500 preview, Kiplagat’s coach, Renato Canova, speaking to author Jeff Hollobaugh in How to Race the Mile, believes his issues stem from Kiplagat’s lack of acceleration:

“In many cases, athletes get confused between ‘speed for the kick’ and ‘high speed endurance,'” Canova said. “[Silas Kiplagat] is able to finish the last 300m in 39.5 during a 3:27 race, but he cannot finish faster while running a 3:39. Why? Because he is an ‘aerobic runner,’ with great relaxation and elasticity, but not the technical action (and the nervous system) valid for a quick and sudden change of speed.”

So for Kiplagat to win in Beijing, he needs to go from further out rather than waiting until the final 150 to make his move. He employed that exact strategy in Daegu four years ago, stringing out the field with a hard move with 350 to go, and he was rewarded with a silver medal, beaten only by the greatness of Kiprop.

Discount Kiplagat at your own peril. Here is a stat that may shock you. Head to head, he has a winning record against Asbel Kiprop. No one else in the world can say that. Tilastapaja.org says they’ve raced 25 times in their life at 1500 and Kiplagat and won 14 of those races. Overall at all distances, he leads 18 to 16. Because of that, if Kiplagat wins gold, it will be less of a surprise to us than if Centrowtiz is the winner. If he does win gold, pundits will look back on say look at the fact that Kiplagat has only one once on the circuit this year as a sign that he was purposely holding back to peak when it mattered most – in late August.

Olympic champ Taoufik Makhloufi is another danger man. The 2012 Olympic champ’s 3:28.75 won him the human portion of the Monaco race (i.e. the non-Kiprop division) and though he missed Worlds in 2013, he’s run well the past two years, even if he hasn’t been able to quite recapture the form he showed during the 2012 Olympics. Still, he’s in better form that he was heading into those Olympic (he was 4th in Monaco in 3:30.80 in his final pre-Olympic race).

Kiprop, Centrowitz, Souleiman, Kiplagat and Makhloufi are the only five men we see as the likely gold medallist barring a fall. However, there are another of others that should be in the medal hunt. Makhloufi’s fellow North African, Abdelaati Iguider of Morocco (’12 Olympic bronze medalist), and 2008 Olympic silver medalist Nick Willis of New Zealand are two other veterans running well; both have set PRs this year, with Iguider running 3:28.79 (#8 all-time) and Willis clocking 3:29.66 (lowering his own Oceania record). Kenya’s 22-year-old Elijah Manangoi, who went from 3:35.0 to 3:29.67 in Monaco and was third at the Kenyan Trials, is also someone to watch.

The fourth placer at the Kenyan Trials can’t be discounted either. Robert Biwott this year, at just age 19, has put up some great times at both 1500 (3:30.10) and 800 (1:43.56). Let’s put that in perspective for you. At age 19, he’s already eclipsed the lifetime PRs of Alan Webb at both 800 and 1500 (1:43.84/3:30.54). By finishing 4th, he locked out an even more heralded Kenyan 19-year old Ronald Kwemoi from the team. Kwemoi will have to wait until 2016 for a chance at glory as his 3:28 run from Monaco at age 18 last year didn’t sway the Kenyan selectors after he finished 6th at the Kenyan Trials.

Actually on the Kenyan squad rather than Biwott is Kenyan Trials 5th placer Timothy Cheruiyot. In that race Cheruiyot ran a lifetime PB of 3:34.86 (at altitude). He also anchored the Kenyan 4 x 1500 squad at the World Relay Championships to second place behind Team USA after taking off in a crazy 51.96 first lap.

Dark Horses?

If you look at the last three global championships, you begin to notice a pattern when it comes to the medals. Check it out:

2013: Asbel Kiprop, Matthew Centrowitz, Johan Cronje
2012: Taoufik Makhloufi, Leo Manzano, Abdelaati Iguider
2011: Asbel Kiprop, Silas Kiplagat, Matthew Centrowitz

What do the three men in bold have in common? All three were total surprises — going into the championships, no one predicted they would have a shot at a medal. Technically, you could say the same about Makhloufi, but after his domination in the rounds, many assumed (correctly) that he would win the final.

So if we’re looking to follow that formula in 2015, that means that two of the guys we’ve already mentioned (Kiprop, Centrowitz, Souleiman, etc.) will medal, but the third will go to a lesser-known runner. Obviously the very definition of surprise makes identifying this mystery medalist exceedingly difficult. Especially if the final ends up going chalk and there’s no upset.

But if the hunt for the medals comes down to the last 100 — as it usually does — the form list tends to go out the window. Medals and PRs don’t help you get out of a box with 70 meters to go. So here are a couple of names to watch should they make the final on August 30:

  • Jakub Holuša, Czech Republic. The World Indoor silver medalist in 2012 at 800 meters and this year’s European Indoor champ, Holuša has steadily brought his PR down from 3:38.10 in 2011 down to 3:34.26 this year, which he ran in his final race before Worlds in Stockholm.
  • Charlie Grice, Great Britain. The British national champ, Grice has talent (he ran 3:54 in the mile at age 19 and is still just 21) and has acquitted himself well recently at Heusden (second in a PR of 3:35.29) the Sainsbury’s Anniversary Games (fourth).

Of course, it’s hard to pick a wildcard because you often can’t just look at who’s been running well recently. When Leo Manzano earned silver in 2012, his last race before the Olympics was a 4:00.78 mile, which got him dead last at the London DL meet. You just never know.

Speaking of Manzano, it’s about time we got to the other two Americans — both of whom you could argue as realistic dark horse picks.

Robby Andrews and Leo Manzano: The Hard Part is Getting into the Final

While Centrowitz is clearly the class of the American 1500 corps this year, Robby Andrews and Leo Manzano, who finished second and third at USAs, aren’t exactly chopped liver. Neither has run a blistering time this year (Andrews’ SB is 3:35.52; Manzano’s is 3:36.16) but both are big-time kickers that excel in championship races. Just watch that USA final again. Andrews’ final 150 could win a medal at Worlds. But it won’t win a medal if he’s kicking from that far back in Beijing; he wasn’t close to Centrowitz, and he’s exactly the kind of guy Andrews needs to beat if he wants a medal.

With a 1:44.71 800 PB, Andrews has just as much speed as Centrowitz (whose PB is .09 faster). The problem is that Andrews doesn’t have the strength of Centrowitz (who has also run 13:20 for 5,000) and generally likes to sit at the back and leave it late — an approach which can work at the NCAA (and even USATF) level — but which is difficult to pull off against the very best in the world.

Andrews recognized as much after USAs, as he said he and coach Jason Vigilante were going to try to tweak some things before Beijing if he is to make the final. Obviously they didn’t need to do anything drastic; Andrews is enjoying the best year of his career. The question is, can Andrews put himself into position to use his kick with 150 to go? And, by putting himself in that position, will his kick be dulled at all?

In his lone Diamond League race of the summer after USAs in Stockholm, Andrews did put himself up closer to the front and in great position at the bell as he was 6th. The bad news is he only moved up one spot – to 5th by the finish. But there is no doubt that adrenaline will be much higher if he’s in the final at Worlds and in sixth entering the final lap. We imagine Andrews has plenty of confidence. HE’s only broken 3:40 four times in his life and three of those have been in his last three 1500s.

The Olympic Stadium track is familiar to Centro and Manzano Surprises can happen in global 1500s; just ask Manzano

As for Manzano, he’s not in the same form as he was last year (when he won USAs and ran a PR of 3:30.98 in the 1500). But, believe it or not, he’s actually going into Worlds in better position than two years ago (when he missed the final), as in 2013 he finished dead last in the Bowerman Mile (4:00.04) and the Monaco 1500 (3:44.59).

In his three races since USAs, Manzano has run 3:36.16 in Monaco (13th of 14), 3:55.67 in London (8th of 15) and 1:48.55 in Stockholm (10th of 10). But he ran well at USAs, and in New York on June 13, with his 1:45.24 800 there registering as his fastest in five years. As he showed in London three years ago, Manzano has the speed to close with the world’s best in big races, but like Andrews, it’s getting to that point that will be difficult — he’s made the final in just two of his six appearances at global outdoor championships. If he does manage to make the final in Beijing, however, all bets are off.

LRC Prediction: 1. Kiprop 2. Centrowitz 3. Souleiman (Give us your take on the race by voting below).

Kiprop has simply been to good. He joins Hicham El Guerrouj and Noureddine Morceli as the only men to win three world titles at 1500 (both of them also won an Olympic title like Kiprop, El Guerrouj won 4 World titles).

Making these picks caused some controversy with the staff. One LetsRun.com staffer doesn’t like these picks and has: 1. Kiprop 2. Kiplagat 3. Makhloufi and says, “Centrowitz finds it’s harder to run for gold than for bronze.” Another has these picks: 1. Kiprop 2. Makhloufi 3.Willis.

Discuss this race on our world famous forum: Official 2015 Men’s 1500 Discussion Thread – Can Asbel Kiprop Become Just The 3rd Man to Win a 3rd Global 1500 Title?

Race Schedule All Times US ET
Heats – Wednesday August 27 – 10:35 pm ET
Semis – Friday August 28 – 7:55 am ET
Final – Sunday August 30 – 7:45 am ET

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