Kenya’s Asbel Kiprop is among the top bills for Friday’s opening IAAF Diamond League meeting in Doha for good reason.
Since bursting to the scene as a lanky teenager with victory at the men’s 1,500m during the 2007 All Africa Games in Algiers, Algeria, the 26-year-old has gone on to dominate the classic distance with an Olympics gold and three world titles, the last won in Beijing last year.
As the frantic race to the Summer Games in Rio officially kicks off in in Doha, Kiprop returns to the stadium he holds the record, keen to lay down the marker to the rest of his rivals.
Should all go according to plan in Brazil in August, the Kenyan will come some way to emulate his Moroccan idol and retired 1,500m record holder, Hicham El Guerrouj, who bowed out with the 1500m/5000m titles at the 2004 Games in Athens.
An injured hamstring cost him what would have been a defence of his 2008 Olympics crown at the London 2012 Games and this season, Kiprop has been keen to stress he will not take any chances as he heads towards the final laps of his distinguished career.
He is undoubtedly the man to beat for anyone harboring ambition to win the men’s 1,500m title in Rio and Doha gives him the international stage to lay down a marker.
“Today was about winning for the Presidential Escort Team as I prepare for Doha Diamond League and I feel that my body is picking the training well,” Kiprop said after taking the Kenya Police title in 3:40.2 in Nairobi on April 23.
A week before in the even more punishing elevation of Eldoret, he ran the impressive 1:44.6 over two laps, the fastest mark over the distance in the world thus far this year.
“I’m happy to make the 800m semifinals. My target for the season is to win back the Olympics title. It’s too early to think about Rio but I’m trying my best to be in shape,” the Daegu, Moscow and Beijing world champion said a week earlier.
Organizers have signed up another stellar line-up which features the Kenyan trio of 2008 Olympic champion Kiprop, 2015 world championships runner-up Elijah Motonei Manangoi and perennial speedster Silas Kiplagat.
Kiprop is the fastest of the trio courtesy of his 3:26.69 performance in Monaco last year, the third fastest performance ever.
A two-time winner here, Kiprop is the meet record holder at 3:29.18, the fastest ever performance in the month of May.
Manangoi, 23, with a personal best of 3:29.67, was a surprise second behind Kiprop in Beijing last year, while Kiplagat, winner in Doha in 2012 and the fifth fastest ever with a time of 3:27.64, has not missed a world championships or Olympic final since 2011.
His best accolade is a silver medal from 2011 in Daegu. With national pride on the line, they will be backed up by Robert Biwott, who brings a 3:30.10 career best to the line, Bethwell Birgen (3:30.77) and Vincent Kibet (3:31.96).
Ethiopian Aman Wote (3:29.91), the 2014 World Indoor Championships silver medallist, will lead the opposition.