Two-time world 1500m champion, Asbel Kiprop, is outwardly back to his swashbuckling best, close to the terrifying form that made him unstoppable at the 2011 Daegu and 2013 Moscow Worlds as he hurtles down on completing the hat-trick in Beijing.
On Saturday, Kiprop has the task of convincing Athletics Kenya (AK) selectors he is worth of a place in the country’s team for the biennial IAAF track and field global showpiece when he returns home to compete for a place in the Beijing squad in Nairobi.
Such is the embarrassment of distance running riches in Kenya that even reigning titleholders who have wildcard entry for the Worlds have to fight for their tickets, or at least show interest in taking to the field and give their best for consideration.
Whilst most athletes, among them record holders, past and reigning Olympics champions, world, Commonwealth, African, World Junior and even World Youth winners shudder at the killer Kenyan Trials, there is little to suggest Kiprop, 26, will miss the Worlds party.
Even the great metric miler, record holder Hicham El Guerrouj, is on record saying only the lanky Kenyan has the ability to mow his 3:26.00 standard from history books.
On July 17, Kiprop, who idolises the retired Moroccan come only 69th hundredth of a second to matching the almost two decades- old all time best when he blasted to victory with an astounding 3:26.69 in Monaco.
Last weekend, he literary toyed with a deep field to win the Emsley Carr One Mile showdown in London in 3:54.87, another reverberating statement of intent from a man who has unique ability to thrill and frustrate at the flick of his foot.
Put simply, at his best, Kiprop has the unquestionable talent of winning when he wants.
“He demonstrated what makes him both great and vulnerable over the course of four laps in London. Kiprop led the chase pack until just before 800 meters, when he suddenly dropped back and allowed the entire 15-man field to pass him.
“Instead of dropping out, however, Kiprop hung back there for the next lap before rejoining the leaders with 300 meters to go and pulling away to win the race handily in the homestretch thanks to a 54.6-second last lap.
“It was a truly bizarre sight to behold; it was almost as if Kiprop was so confident in his fitness that he decided he needed to give himself an extra challenge,” respected American athletics website, LetsRun.com wrote on his performance at the Sainsbury Memorial IAAF Diamond League meeting in London.
– Beijing hat-trick-
Since the season begun with Kiprop motoring to the then 1:44.4 world lead in 800m at the high altitude of Nairobi during the third Safaricom Relay Series meeting on March 21, one thing has been constant in all his interviews, “My aim this year is to win a third world title.”
Kiprop watchers since he burst to the global scene as a teenage winner of the 2007 World Cross junior 8km and All Africa Games 1500m gold know one thing.
His performance at his favourite track at Monaco’s Herculis Diamond League meeting is the best indicator of his chances in the subsequent summer major championships.
“I still have the chance to break the world record this year. For now, my focus is only on Beijing to try and get a third world title and get closer to Hicham,” he told this writer after his latest Monaco burst that earned global acclaim where some felt he had blown his best chance to break the world record.
“It will be my priority to defend my title and to win gold for Kenya at the same time. I don’t want to talk about the record; it needs planning and proper preparations because we are having World Championships, I set priority to Beijing.
“I have been training in build-up a lot to help me in doing the qualifying rounds and semis, beating my personal best is on my mind (Monaco) but I’m not going to mention the world record.
“If my body is like in 2013 because I felt comfortable running in Moscow, I will tell (after Monaco),” Kiprop told reporters after winning the men 800m national title in Nairobi on July 11 in 1:45.4.
“I was doing it for my speed work; the pace in the 800m is faster than 1500m so I’m relaxed when I run 1500m. If I get three weeks here, I will be able to get to the 80 percent mark. The season has been fluctuating; I can say I have been doing it at 60 percent level,” the 2008 Beijing Olympics gold winner explained his form before Monaco and London.
– Curious season-
The self confessed born winner is keen to re-assert his authority over the competition this summer after a curious 2014 where personal problems, some documented luridly in gossip publications, clouded his focus.
A self-declared world record bid in Monaco was ground to dust by his chief domestic rival and Worlds silver medallist, Silas Kiplagat, where the clocks returned 3:27.64 against 3:28.45 and that shook his confidence to the core.
His campaign unravelled further when Djibouti’s Ayaneleh Souleiman, led him to the altar at both the African Championships (3:42.49 against 3:42.58) and IAAF Continental Cup (3:48.91 against 3:49.10) inside a month in the Moroccan resort city of Marrakech.
Kiprop also surrendered his IAAF Diamond League crown when he propped up the field in the final in Brussels in 12th (3:34.41) a week before the Continental showdown on September 13.
It was the anti-climatic end to a year that started in all glory and honour when he anchored the Kenyan 4x1500m relay quartet to set the 14:22.22 world record at the first IAAF World Relays in Bahamas on May 25 in what many thought was the perfect platform to a roaring season.
To his credit, great champions always find the strength to fight diversity and thus far, he has chosen the ideal time to peak and his two crushing victories over Souleiman in Monaco and London after the Djiboutian looked like he had cracked his code are a terse warning it will take something special to stop him from a third world title in Beijing.
Mutwiri is a winner of the Sport Award at the 2008 CNN Africa Journalist Awards. He is a student of Communications at the University of Nairobi and holds a diploma in Mass Communication from KIMC.