Men’s 1500 Semis: 4 Kenyans, 3 Americans and 1 Final For the Ages – Sunday’s Men’s 1500 Final Will Be Must-Watch Drama

August 28, 2015

BEIJING — The four remaining mid-d/distance finals (women’s 800 and 5,000, men’s 1500 and 5,000) remaining at the 2015 IAAF World Championships are now set after the men’s 1500 semifinals wrapped on Friday night at the Bird’s Nest. And of those four finals, the crown jewel is most definitely Sunday night’s (Sunday morning in the U.S.) 1500 final.

Why? Let us count the reasons:

  1. All the big names from the semis made it through/the final is LOADED.
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Though World Indoor champ Ayanleh Souleiman of Djibouti was a big casualty, going out in the first round due to injury, all the stars in tonight’s semis made it through safely to the final. Now we’re set for a final that includes four of the eight fastest men in history (Asbel Kiprop, Silas Kiplagat, Taoufik Makhloufi and Abdelaati Iguider), the top four men from the 2012 Olympics (Makhloufi, Leo Manzano, Iguider and Matthew Centrowitz) and the gold and silver medalists from the 2008 Olympics (Kiprop and Nick Willis). All 7 of those men have medalled before. In fact, 6 of the 7 have won at least a silver (Iguider was the bronze medallist at the 2012 Olympics).

Belgium’s Pieter-Jan Hannes, who was 8th in heat #1 but only .10 away from qualifying, had a great take on the depth of the fields he was facing tonight.

  1. There will be three Americans in the final — and four Kenyans

For the first time since 2009, all three Americans made it through to the final in the men’s 1500. Centrowitz and Robby Andrews (a time qualifier out of the final heat, as he was yesterday) both made it through with room to spare while Manzano cut it extremely close, earning the fifth and final time qualifier out of heat 1 by a miniscule .03 of a second.

Better still, all three have a shot at medals in the final. Centrowitz, who already has two, is obviously the best American bet in that category, but Manzano and Andrews are both big kickers who can never be counted out in a slow race — which championship finals often are.

Kenya’s excellent championships continued as they put all four of their entrants into the final, led by Kiprop (who won heat 1 with ease in 3:43.48) and 22-year-old Elijah Manangoi, who led all qualifiers with his 3:35.00 in heat 2. A 1-2-3 sweep isn’t out of the question (1-2-3-4 seems impossible given how strong the event is this year), which would be the perfect ending to a near perfect meet for Team Kenya.

  1. No one knows where the medals will go

Two-time defending champ Asbel Kiprop entered these championships as the favorite and he’s done nothing so far to dispel that status as he controlled heat 1 to advance comfortably. Kiprop’s final lap of 51.96 looked smooth — but so too did the final 400s by the three men directly behind him, Nick Willis, Silas Kiplagat and Matthew Centrowitz (incidentally, the three men who took silver in Kiprop’s three gold medal runs at Worlds/Olympics). Willis, who was last with 500 to go and 9th with 200 to go, closed harder than anyone in what had to be close to 51-flat (possibly sub 51, he was approximately a second behind Kiprop at the bell) and looked great doing it, as his form remained remarkably controlled in the homestretch despite how quickly his feet were moving. Of course, he and Centrowitz always look cool at high speed. Centro came down the homestretch looking great himself, looking around in the final 20 meters, letting up before the line once he saw his spot in the final was secure.

And then there was the precocious Manangoi winning heat 2 in front of the two 3:28 men Makhloufi and Iguider, both of whom looked good as well. So who’s going to medal? It’s anyone’s guess. As loaded as this final is, it’s worth noting that the last three global championships have all featured a surprise medalist (as we noted in our preview). So history says you can’t totally count out a guy like Andrews or Great Britain’s 21-year-old Charlie Grice although given how well the superstars have been running this year and here at Worlds, it’s hard to logically expect another long shot to medal.

We can’t wait ’til Sunday.

Results and analysis below.


1 Asbel KIPROP KEN 3:43.48 Q
2 Nicholas WILLIS NZL 3:43.57 Q
3 Silas KIPLAGAT KEN 3:43.64 Q
4 Matthew CENTROWITZ USA 3:43.97 Q
5 Leonel MANZANO USA 3:44.28 Q
6 Mekonnen GEBREMEDHIN ETH 3:44.31
7 Chris O’HARE GBR 3:44.36
8 Pieter-Jan HANNES BEL 3:44.38
9 Yassine BENSGHIR MAR 3:44.95
10 Ilham Tanui ÖZBILEN TUR 3:45.70
11 Abdi Waiss MOUHYADIN DJI 3:46.82
12 Carlos DÍAZ CHI 3:47.48

400m Centrowitz 64.63
800m KIPROP 2:08.82
1200m KIPROP 3:04.70

1 Elijah Motonei MANANGOI KEN 3:35.00 Q
2 Taoufik MAKHLOUFI ALG 3:35.05 Q
3 Abdalaati IGUIDER MAR 3:35.20 Q
4 Charlie GRICE GBR 3:35.58 Q
5 Timothy CHERUIYOT KEN 3:35.74 Q
6 Robby ANDREWS USA 3:35.88 q
7 Aman WOTE ETH 3:35.97 q
8 Johan CRONJE RSA 03:36.59
9 Morhad AMDOUNI FRA 03:37.79
11 Julian MATTHEWS NZL 03:40.45
12 David BUSTOS ESP 03:42.48

400m MANANGOI 59.24
800m CHERUIYOT 1:59.04
1200m MANANGOIKEN 2:55.42

Quick Thought #1: Will Kenya use team tactics in the final?

The Kenyans are very good at 1500. Silas Kiplagat and Asbel Kiprop have long been two of the very best guys on the circuit. These championships have sort of been a coming-out party for 22-year-old Elijah Manangoi. To say he was a dark horse coming into Worlds wouldn’t be fair as he did run 3:29 in Monaco, but at the beginning of the year he was just a 3:35 guy. Regardless, he’s been magnificent in his two races here. 

Given the fact that Kenya has four entrants in the final and there are only three medals, if we were Kenya, we’d very much consider sacrificing the fourth member of the team, Timothy Cheruiyot, to set a good honest pace for the first 1100 meters of the final. While the championship record of Kiprop and particularly Kiplagat are far from perfect (Kiplagat won silver in 2011 but was only 6th in 2012 and 7th in 2013), it’s not that they can’t run a tactical race; it’s just that far more can go wrong for the Kenyans in a tactical race than a truly fast race.

If the Kenyans want to make it fast, then Cheruiyot is the obvious pick to be the sacrificial lamb for the following reasons. 

He is a) the youngest (age 19) of Kenya’s four entrants and b) the slowest of the 4four(3:34.86 pb) and c) lucky to be here as he was only 5th at the Kenyan Trials, beaten by fellow 19-year-old Robert Biwott (3:30.10 pb). Why Biwott isn’t on the team is beyond us. If you know, email us.

Add in the fact that Cheruiyot is very unlikely to medal (while an auto qualifier today, he was only 5th in his heat), and it seems as if the Kenyans would have little to lose and something to gain by sacrificing Cheruiyot.

Now that’s assuming he does a good job of rabbiting.

There is one big risk in sacrificing Cheruiyot. He’s inexperienced, particularly with pacing. It needs to be remembered that this is the guy who ran like an idiot against Ben Blankenship at World Relays, going out in 51.96 for the first lap of the 1600 leg of the DMR. If he sets a fast pace, he needs to be fairly even on it (no faster than 55 on the first lap) and go at least 1000 meters.

When we asked Kenyan stars Asbel Kiprop and Silas Kiplagat if they’d use team tactics in the final, Kiprop said that it wasn’t his call and they’d soon be sitting down with the coaching staff and getting marching orders before the final.

Quick Thought #2: Way to go USA (and Robby Andrews)

Centrowitz making the final was expected. Manzano is a fighter who has won a silver medal before so his advancement wasn’t a shocker as he’s consistently inconsistent. And while we’ve always been big fans of Robby Andrews’ talent, just a few months ago many were questioning why he entered the US trials in the 1500 and not the 800, so his advancement was the biggest surprise.

Coming into Words, we definitely thought each of them could advance but to have all three actually do it is quite an accomplishment. We think it helps one appreciate how difficult it is to qualify for Worlds by looking at how good the two guys right behind Andrews in heat #2 are as runners. The 2nd and final time qualifier to the final — a guy Andrews beat — is Aman Wote of Ethiopia. He ran 3:29 for 1500 and 3:48 for the mile last year (3:30 for 1500 this year). The guy behind Wote — the first non-qualifier for the final — was South Africa’s Johan Cronje, who won the bronze in 2013. So to beat those two guys is no small feat.

Andrews certainly had to work to advance. Andrews didn’t immediately come through the mixed zone as he needed to sit down and have an ice pack put behind his neck by USATF staffers. About 10 minutes later, Andrews came back and talked to the media. 

Andrews said he watched heat #1 on the big screen and knew it was slow and thus thought 7 would advance out his heat. Andrews said he his legs were feeling pretty “heavy” in the final 200 but he was able to get the job done. When we asked Andrews, who briefly moved into 4th in the homestretch before falling back to sixth, if he was simply letting up because he knew he was advancing or if he was going all-out during the final 50, Andrews wisecracked, “I was running pretty hard, don’t tell anyone.”

Quick Thought #3: To be a 1500 runner is to live on the margins

Every fraction of a second counts in track and field, and that’s especially true in the men’s 1500. In each of the past seven global championships (dating back to 2007), a spot in the final (either the final auto spot in a heat or the final time qualifier) has been determined by a margin of .08 of of a second of smaller.

Year Qualified for final (place in final) Missed final Margin
2015 Leo Manzano (?) Mekonnen Gebremedhin 0.03
2013 Johan Cronje (3rd) Lopez Lomong 0.08
2012 Henrik Ingebrigtsen (5th) Mohamed Moustaoui 0.07
2011 Nick Willis (12th) Yoann Kowal 0.05
2009 Abdelaati Iguider (11th) James Brewer 0.08
2008 Daham Najim Bashir (10th) Bernard Lagat 0.02
2007 Shedrack Korir (3rd) Juan Luis Barrios 0.02

Take a look at how the guys who almost missed out fared in the final — three were in the bottom three, but the other three finished in the top five, including two bronze medalists. That means Robby Andrews has a shot for hardward. It also shows you how close in ability all these guys are. So please appreciate the performances of Kiplagat and Centrowitz – each of whom just made their fourth straight global outdoor final.

It also confirms what was already made clear in Monaco in July — if anyone can separate themselves from the 1500 pack, it’s Asbel Kiprop. He has now made a staggering seven straight global finals at 1500 meters and has finished in the top four in all of them (except for 2012, when he was injured). And at 26 years old, Kiprop is in his prime right now. If he stays healthy, it seems a formality that he’ll make the final in Rio next year and London in 2017; could he possibly do it again in Doha in 2019 to make it 10 in a row?

The lion has a huge heart. Leo Manzano amazingly went from 10th to 5th in the final 100

The lion has a huge heart. Leo Manzano amazingly went from 10th to 5th in the final 100

Quick Thought #4: It’s all about belief for Leo Manzano, who wants another medal

One runner who has been living on the margins this year is Leo Manzano. He only made the US team by .02 over Ben Blankenship. Tonight, he made it into the final by .03. That’s quite incredible. If he ran .03 slower at USAs, Manzano’s season would have gone down as a failure. Two months later, and he’s racing in the World Championship final.

In tonight’s semi, Manzano was 10th coming off the final turn but used his trademark burst of speed to move up on the outside and beat out Gebremedhin and Chris O’Hare for the final. The key for Manzano is that in those situations, his self-belief never wavers.

“Even though those guys may seem like they’re far out, the important thing is to still believe you have a chance. If you can believe that, you’re gonna be able to come back.”

Manzano was very clear that he wants another medal to go with his Olympic silver from 2012 and he feels that he’s in better shape than he was three years ago.

“From 2012, I do feel like my fitness is always getting better and better. I’m running faster times in workouts, I’m feeling stronger…[but] when you’re there in the grind, the only thing that really matters is results.”

Quick Take #5: Chris O’Hare missed making his second straight WC final by .08 of a second

Perhaps the best take on O’Hare’s race came from his agent Ray Flynn.

Facing the harder of the two heats (the five auto qualifiers in O’Hare’s heat have World/Olympic medals), O’Hare had no margin for error tonight, and though he ran extremely well, arguably the race of his life for 1497 meters, then he went from fifth to seventh in the final three, costing him a spot in the final by just .08. After he crossed the finish line, he crossed himself and then punched the track in anger.

Chris O'Hare pounds his fist in disgust

Chris O’Hare pounds his fist in disgust

Recognizing the slow early pace (2:08 for 800) would mean that the last lap was going to be incredibly quick, O’Hare got himself in good position at the bell at the front of the race and stayed there off the final turn, as he was on the inside behind only Asbel Kiprop with 100 to go. But he was passed by Willis, Kiplagat and Centrowitz down the home stretch and as he strained toward the finish line, Manzano and Mekonnen Gebremedhin moved by him on the outside to bump him from last man in to second man out.

O’Hare’s PB is 3:34.83 (everyone who made the final out of his section has broken 3:31) and even though he couldn’t have done any more tactically, he’ll still be watching the final instead of running in it.

“I can’t really pinpoint if anything went wrong at the moment, there were six guys faster than me and that’s how it goes,” O’Hare said. “It sucks to be in the first heat when it’s as loaded as it was.”

Quick Take #6: 21-year-old Brit Charlie Grice is in the final

Grice nearly PR’d (3:35.58, his pb is 3:35.29) today and was obviously pleased to be in the final at the young age of 21. He’s also not displeased by the fact he’s not getting a lot of the British media glare despite being such a prodigy.

Post-Race Interview with Johan Cronje

Post-Race Interview with Timothy Cheruiyot

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