RIO DE JANEIRO, Kenyan runners’ tactics came into sharp focus after Asbel Kiprop and Ronald Kwemoi were outclassed in the men’s 1500m, a race the former had dominated in the last three editions of the world championships and was highly favoured to win his third Olympic gold.
The Olympic stadium track that had led to the bountiful harvest in the past week for team Kenya, had overnight turned into a rocky piece of land.
Kiprop took it in his strides blaming the absence of his injured teammate Elijah Manang’oi for the tactless racing on saturday, that had him boxed, struggling in the last 200m when he normally unleashes his lanky strides.
Kiprop then announced his plans to switch to 5000m after his hoped title defence in London next year.
Kwemoi, tripped in the home stretch, said the fall cost him a shot at the medal.
“Crazy race! Crazy race!Manang’oi’s absence completely affected the race tactic. This guy(Manang'oi) has been a great team player when it comes to championships. You remember last year how he played the role, running in front and pushing and pushing? “he posed.
Manang'oi the winner of the silver behind Kiprop in Beijing pulled out after the heats with an hamsting.
“In my mind, everybody was eyeing me even if I was to go in front and control the pace they won't be lagging behind me,” Kiprop reasoned, a justification that revealed that there could have been no prior planning with the younger Kenyan aged 20.
“Kenyans must understand. When I was going to pass them I fell and I was hurt. I ask Kenyans please don’t blame us, or blame me or Asbel. They were looking out for us. I had planned well, I wouldn’t have let this medal slip,” pleaded Kwemoi, massaging his bruised elbow.
American Matthew Centrowitz who stuck at the front from the gun to the finish exceptionally won the gold in 3:50.00 as Kiprop gave up the chase in the last 50m and slid to a disappointing sixth in 3:50.87.Kwemoi, picked himself up to finish the race 12th in 3:56.76.
It was a painfully slow race that Centrowitz guided the field in the opening 400m in 1:06.83, relaxed it further in the second lap which the field timed 1:09.
The third lap as the runners headed to the bell was even more sluggish all this time Kiprop struggling to find his way to the front from the inside lane where he was already boxed.
American and Spanish David Bustos were still confidently in control, saving energy for the last lap.
At the bell, the pace picked, Kiprop looking to use his height past the field and seemed to have mastered his sprint at the 200m. But it was just for a moment, as Taoufik Makhloufi, a rather wild runner who runs with his arms spread out, eased past Kiprop then charging at Centrowitz at the final bend.
The defending champion’s cluttered surge disoriented Kiprop, who slowed around the same time Kwemoi also jumbled and fell as he was dashing for the finish line from the outside lane.
Kenya lodged an appeal to have Makhloufi, the Algerian who won silver in 3:50.11 disqualified.The IAAF dismissed the appeal as it would have had no significant effect on Kiprop’s placing as he finished outside the podium positions as Nicholas Willis had won the bronze in 3:50.24.
A crushing last track night for Kenya who were eagerly waiting to cheer Kiprop, the world leader over the distance finally win his gold medal on track, after he was awarded the Olympic title from Beijing following Bahraini Rashid Ramzi's failed drug test.
“It worked for the other guys when the race is so slow like that,"answered Kiprop when questioned on his contentious tactic to stay behind and attack in the home stretch.
“When I stay behind I preserve a lot of energy but today when I stayed behind they didn’t run fast, so everybody was very fresh in every single lap.
"By the time I tried to move out there was a lot of pushing, pushing and it wasn’t a flowing race. But anyway this is Olympics and everybody that is coming to the final is entitled to win the gold medal.”
The fast 400m killed Kiprop
He however agreed that his race plan failed with the increased pace in the 400m.
“Makhloufi runs that way. When it comes to championships, when you want to go and he is using his hands, it was not that flowing race. But this is championships, you can do whatever you want to do as long as you win the gold medal.”
Kwemoi defended the race tactic but agreed that it may need review in the new season.
‘Don’t blame us for staying behind. No. everyone has his own tactic. They were looking out for us,” he argued.
The setback has not killed Kiprop's plan to win another Olympic gold but not in the 1500m, where he has come closest to breaking Hicham El Guerrouj’s world record of 3:26, with his world lead run of 3:29.33 from Birmingham last June.
“By 2020 I will have changed my event maybe to 5000. Probably I will see how it goes next year London then during the Commonwealth in 2018, I will start practicing.”
Yet another unsatisfactory result after the 5000m heats where all the three Kenyan men shockingly failed to make the final.
Mo Farah completed his second consecutive Olympic double by successfully defending his 5000m gold, winning in 13:03.30.
Farah's completes 'double, double'
Farah returned after winning the 10,000m almost exactly a week before, in the first stage of his double defence. Before Farah, the “double double” had only been completed successfully by Finland’s Lasse Viren, who won memorably won both races in 1972 and 1976.
At first, it appeared that the Ethiopian pair of Dejen Gebremeskel and Hagos Gebrhiwet were going to attempt something similar to the Kenyan strategy from the 10,000m, and set a fast enough pace to run the sting out of Farah’s legs.
Farah and Gebrhiwet appeared evenly matched all the way to the homestretch and part-way down it, but with 50 metres to go Farah picked up half a stride and from there it was as good as over. "It's every athlete's dream but I can't believe it,” said Farah.
"I wasn't going to let the inside lane go. I didn't want to get boxed in." Behind him, though, hard-charging Chelimo picked off Gebrhiwet and moved through into the silver medal position in 13:03.90, America’s first medal in the 5000m since 1964. Gebrhiwet took the bronze in 13:04.35.
Additional reporting by IAAF