Saturday, August 8, 2009

Will Asbel be third time golden?

Asbel Kiprop wins the 1,500m title at the trials for the World Championships that start in Berlin next week. Kiprop will be doubling in the 800m and 1,500m.

Asbel Kiprop wins the 1,500m title at the trials for the World Championships that start in Berlin next week. Kiprop will be doubling in the 800m and 1,500m. Photo/ MOHAMMED AMIN 

By JONATHAN KOMEN

Asbel Kiprop could board the plane back home from Berlin with three medals: The 2008 Beijing Olympic 1,500 metres gold and World Championships in Athletics medals in the 800m and 1,500m races.

Kiprop, popularly known by his first name, Asbel, is expected to receive the Beijing gold after the initial winner, Bahrain’s Rashid Ramzi, tested positive for a banned substance. But he will also double in the 800m and 1,500 in the search for an unprecedented triumph for a Kenyan.

He will be keen not to replay his mistakes at the 2007 World Championships in Osaka that cost him the gold medal.

Asbel, who won the explosive national trials a fortnight ago in three minutes, 32.82 seconds, said he will spearhead the battle for Kenya’s first Worlds 1,500 gold.

“Our team is okay. We only need teamwork to be certain of medals. With (Augustine) Choge and (Haron) Keitany, the fastest 1,500m runners in the world this season (3:30.20 and 3:29.47, respectively), we are in a safe position,” said Asbel.

Maiden gold medal

“We are hoping to bring home the gold medal. We should now target to sail through the semi-finals and, hopefully, this will be Kenya’s maiden 1,500m gold medal at the World Championships.

Kenya has recorded impressive performances in 1,500m at the Olympics with little showing at the Worlds. Gold medallists Kipchoge Keino (Mexico 1968), Peter Rono (Seoul 1988) and Noah Ngeny (Sydney 2000) are the legendary runners who stamped Kenya’s authority in the four-lap race at the Games.

Asbel expects stiff opposition from Kenyan-born American Bernard Lagat, Mehdi Baalla (France), Amin Laalou (Morocco) and the World Indoor champion, Deresse Mekonen of Ethiopia.

“If I make the finals, it will be good as I just want to help the team win the race,” Asbel said of his stab at the 800m gold.

African champion David Rudisha, Jackson Kivuva and defending World champion Alfred Kirwa Yego make Kenya’s team in the two-lap race.

Asbel has posted impressive times over both distances this season, finishing second to Sudan’s Abubaker Kaki at the Doha Super Grand Prix to post his best time of 1:43.17, which is second fastest time of the season.

Rudisha boasts a 1:43.53 personal best.

Asked how he would feel bagging the three gold medals should he win 800m and 1,500m in Berlin, the lanky athlete said: “For sure, that would be the greatest achievement in my athletics career. It would also be a source of pride for my family and the nation.”

On why he banks on his trademark behind-the-pack tactic, Asbel said most 1,500m runners have strong 200-metre finish kicks, therefore making it necessary to study their moves from the back.

His brilliant performances buttress the myth that prowess in athletics is hereditary. The second-born in a family of three started running as a pupil at Kaptinga Primary School, having been inspired by his father, David Kebenei, fourth in 1,500m at the 1987 All Africa Games in Nairobi.

At just 18, Asbel stunned the world when he claimed the IAAF World Cross Country Championships title in Mombasa in his maiden international race – barely 20 years after his father did.

He said: “The victory gave me morale. I was proud to represent my county twenty years after my father did. Our first international races were here in Kenya. I believe I’m continuing his legacy.”

And just like his parents, who served in the police force, Asbel is a police officer.

Victor Kipchirchir Kebenei, 18, who is Asbel’s immediate younger brother, was fourth in a 1,500m race in Italy last month in 1:47.48.

His personal best in 800m stands at 1:45.9, and 3:37.47 in 1,500m.

Asbel holds both the 800m and 1,500m titles in the family. He brags, albeit goodnaturedly: “I also hold the family track record in both 800m and 1,500m.”

But Asbel need not look outside home for opposition. His kid brother Victor, with whom he trains, is confident he will soon step out of his big brother’s shadow.

Said he: “I hope one day I will rock the world by recording better times in 800m and running better than my brother.”

I need to keep the 800m record in the family., but I will be content to leave the 1,500m title to him.

“I believe I will also join the police like Asbel, mum and dad,” said Victor.

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