MOSCOW (18-Aug) -- Asbel Kiprop, the lanky Kenyan miler with impossibly long legs who could only manage a 12th place finish at the London Olympics 1500m last summer, successfully defended his world title at the same distance here tonight on the final day of the 14th IAAF World Championships in Athletics. In an unevenly paced race where a Kenyan plan to share the pace fell apart, Kiprop strode easily to victory on the blue Luzhniki Stadium track in 3:36.28, half a second ahead the USA's Matthew Centrowitz, the bronze medalist from Daegu in 2011.
"Yeah, it was a great race," a beaming Kiprop told reporters. "I'm happy that I successfully defended the title that I won two years ago, and I am grateful that I am two-time world champion."
Kiprop led the first lap in a moderate 59.68 with the remaining 11 men trailing close on his heels. A few meters later, his teammate Nixon Chepseba came around Kiprop and launched into the lead. He was actually not going much faster, but the rest of the field slowed giving the 22 year-old Kenyan a big lead.
"He's not a guy who can kick from behind," explained his Dutch manager Michel Boeting. "He wanted to get out of traffic."
Chepseba hit 800m in 1:59.24 with a substantial gap on the field, despite the modest pace. Kiprop said that he thought things would be moving much faster according to the plan his team had set, but the pace ultimately really didn't matter.
"We expected a faster race," he said. "I was ready for any kind of a race that comes my way."
Chepseba still had the lead at the bell (2:42.73), but the field was now right behind him, despite a slightly quicker pace (57.17 for the third lap). Chepseba held the lead coming out of the final bend, but Kiprop passed him easily and with 80 meters to go to get the win. The title was especially sweet because of his poor finish at the Olympics after an injury had hampered his training.
"What happened last year, I feel like a redemption for what happened in London," Kiprop said. "I'm looking forward to running faster next season. That's my main goal."
Centrowitz, who earned the bronze medal in Daegu two years ago, positioned himself right behind Kiprop, and when the Kenyan began his final sprint it created a gap for the American to also get up to full speed.
"Just happy to give it a shot with 100 to go with the position I wanted to be in," Centrowitz explained. He continued: "I figured that a gap would open up."
Centrowitz, who like double gold medalist Mo Farah is coached by Alberto Salazar, completed a 53.7 second final lap and was clocked in 3:36.78. His silver medal today extended the United States' streak of earning a medal in this event to four straight IAAF World Championships. The medal was especially sweet because his father, Matt Centrowitz, had made the 1980 USA Olympic Team at 5000m, but never got to race here because of the boycott.
"Getting silver to Kiprop is gold any other day," Centrowitz said. "That guy is on another level right now."
On Centrowitz's left, South Africa's Johan Cronje slipped by Chepseba to narrowly earn the bronze in 3:36.83, just 4/100ths ahead of the Kenyan. Germany's Homiyu Tesfaye rounded out the top-5.
Kenya also enjoyed a victory in the women's 800m, but unlike Kiprop's this one was a surprise. Eunice Sum, who was eliminated in the semi-finals in Daegu two years ago, did not go with America's Alysia Montana's breakneck pace for 400m (56.06), but instead keyed off of defending champion and home country favorite, Mariya Savinova. When Montano, who still led going into the final 100 meters, began to tie-up, Sum blew by her and a shocked Savinova was unable to catch her. The Kenyan won in 1:57.38 --improving her personal best by two seconds-- to Savinova's 1:57.80.
"When I took to the start I didn't know I could run like this or that I could be the winner," Sum told IAAF interviewers. "I was just hoping for a top-5, maybe bronze. When I saw Asbel win, I told myself, 'let's also try.'"
Savinova, who got a rousing welcome from the crowd at the start, admitted that she had made an error of judgement and hadn't taken Sum seriously enough.
"I felt better than in the preliminary rounds, but I made a tactical mistake," she said in the mixed zone. "I didn't believe that Eunice Sum will be able to improve her PB by two seconds. It's huge in our event. I just didn't believe that she would endure that final sprint. I'll have to re-watch the race with my coach and figure what we've done wrong."
In the final charge to the line, the United States' Brenda Martinez just passed Montano in the final meter to get bronze in 1:57.91, a personal best and her country's first-ever medal at a world championships in this discipline for women. Montano lunged so hard at the line she fell hard on her chest after she crossed.
"That last turn I really had to dig deep," Martinez told Race Results Weekly. "I saw everyone around me, so I knew that last 100 I had to give it all I had."
Montano was devastated by her second consecutive fourth place finish at a world championships and sobbed openly while reporters waited question her. Through the tears she finally said: "I just wanted to do what I've been practicing to do. I just didn't do a great job in the last 50."
With Martinez's medal, the United States became the first country in history to win at least one medal in all four middle distance finals in the same World Championships, the New York Road Runners' professional athletes manager Sam Grotewold reported via Twitter. Russia led the medal table with 7 golds (17 total medals), but the USA had the most total medals: 25 (6 gold, tied with Jamaica).
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The next IAAF World Championships in Athletics will be held in Beijing in 2015.