Round two of IAAF World Championships previews, this time the focus is on the middle-distance events. These races are always the most exciting of the meet because they are long enough to employ tactics yet short enough to keep the attention of even the most casual track and field fan. One of the hardest things about dissecting these events is the fact that there are still multiple rounds for each athlete to survive through, just to get a shot at the ultimate prize of an IAAF medal. Although you quite often see a favorite miss out on the final here is my best guess as to how the 800m and 1500m will play out next week and a look at who I think we will ultimately see on the medal podium in Berlin.
The favorite has to be 20-year-old Abubaker Kaki of Sudan, who leads the world with a 1:43.09 clocking from the Doha meeting in May. Kaki burst onto the scene in 2008, winning the indoor world championship and clocking an impressive 1:42.69 to end the year ranked number one in the world. Countryman Ismail Ahmed is looking to repeat his success from Bejing, where he took a silver medal. Ismail has had moderate success in 2009 and has posted a season’s best of 1:43:82. 2004 Olympic champion Yuriy Borzakovskiy of Russia has been impressive throughout the season, rebounding from a poor Olympic defense in 2008, which saw him miss qualifying for the final. Asbel Kiprop of Kenya could easily contend for a medal in the event, although he will be doubling back in the 1500m, which throws a question mark over his head. Fellow Kenyans David Rudisha and defending world champion Alfred Kirwa Yego will certainly be there in the final turn. Considering the volatility of the event, it is hard to discount any athlete who has the ability to close fast. Not to be taken lightly are Americans Khadevis Robinson and Nick Symmonds, Gary Reed of Canada and Mohammed Al-Salhi of Suadi Arabia.
Competitor.com says: 1. Abubaker Kaki (SUD), 2. Yuriy Borzakovskiy (RUS), 3. Gary Reed (CAN)
This is quite possibly the most wide-open event in the program. It is almost impossible to predict what will happen in the women’s 800m. Not only are the world leaders virtually untested in major competition, but the runaway favorite from the 2008 Olympics has had a poor 2009. Leading the world list is 18-year-old South African Caster Semenya. Semenya ran out of her skull at her national championships, setting close to an eight-second personal best with a time of 1:56.72. Semenya is not yet fully proven, though, and the same can be said about American Maggie Vessey, who recently ran1:57.84, a four-second personal best of her own. Vessey has been impressive with three major Grand Prix wins this year, but finished only fourth at the US championships. Russian Mariya Savinova is the world indoor champion at the distance, and is probably the clear pick when overall 2009 performance and international experience are considered. Then, of course there is 2008 Olympic champion Pamela Jelimo, who clocked 1:54.01 in 2008, but has dipped under 2:00 only once thus far in 2009. Another seasoned Kenyan, Janeth Jepkosgei, the Olympic silver medalist, has the strength to endure through all three rounds. Throw in Moroccan Olympic bronze medalist Hasna Benhassi and it really is anyone’s race in Berlin.
Competitor.com says: 1. Mariya Savinova (RUS), 2. Janeth Jepkosgei (KEN), 3. Hasna Benhassi (MOR)
Although known as a long-distance running factory, Kenya may sweep a middle-distance event this year. World leader Augustine Choge (3:29.47), Haron Keitany (3:30.20) and Asbel Kiprop (3:31.20) all hail from the Rift Valley powerhouse and are poised to make the sweep a reality. Looking to break the Kenyan sweep will be French Olympic bronze medalist Mehdi Baala and defending world champion Bernard Lagat of the United States. Baala ran an impressive 3:30.96 to win in Monaco in late July. Lagat has run 3:32.56 and set a PR at 3000m (7:33.15) in Paris. 2008 world indoor champion Deresse Mekonnen of Ethiopia would love to be the one to take down the Kenyan trio. Mekonnen has run 3:32.18 this year in Monaco, setting a new personal best. Not to be left out of the mix is a group of great closers including Tarek Boukensa of Algeria and Belal Mansor Ali of Bahrain, who have run 3:31.90 and 3:32.10 respectively in 2009.
Competitor.com says: 1. Asbel Kiprop (KEN), 2. Bernard Lagat (USA), 3. Belal Mansor Ali (BRN)
A great battle is on tap in the women’s 1500m, as Maryam Jamal of Bahrain and Gelte Burka of Ethiopia will square off to prove who is the best woman in the world. Jamal leads the world list with a 3:56.55 clocking in Rome and Burka won in dominating fashion in Hengelo with a season-best 3:58.79. Jamal most recently defeated Burka in Monaco on July 27th, although that was after a loss to her rival on July 7th in Lausanne. Looking to play spoiler is Russian Anna Alminova, the European indoor champion and number-two performer on the year with a 3:58.38 performance at the Russian championships. Two dark horses from the US are sitting in the wings ready to take their first international glory, first in the form of Christin Wurth-Thomas, who took the win in Stockholm on July 31st and who became just the fifth American woman in history to run under 4:00 with her personal best run of 3:59.98 in Rome. American Anna Willard has also looked stellar all season, the Olympic steeplechase finalist has moved down in distance and set personal bests of 1:58.80 and 4:01.44 in 2009. Like Jelimo in the 800m, Kenyan Olympic champion Nancy Lagat has run poorly thus far in 2009 with a season-best 4:05.05, but should not be counted out as she has clearly proved herself on the championship stage. Other athletes who could make a serious push for a medal are American Shannon Rowbury, Russian Natalya Evdokimova, Spaniard Nuria Fernandez and Moroccan Mariem Alaoui Selsouli.
Competitor.com says: 1. Maryam Jamal (BRN), 2.Anna Alminova (RUS), 3. Gelete Burka (ETH)