Long distance powerhouses such as Kenya and Ethiopia have always had a dilemma when choosing the top two or three athletes for individual races at major championships, World Relays. With the World Relays, both countries have the perfect platform to parade other exciting talents in their ranks.
When it comes to teamwork, the Kenyans are great tacticians. The Kenyans have taken the first edition of the World Relays as an event of National importance as evidenced by their strict selection policies. For example, World Indoor 3000m champion Caleb Mwangangi Ndiku who finished sixth at the Kenya trials, found himself out in the cold as only the first four positions gained automatic spots. However, the Kenyan panel of selectors who reserved the right to choose the two remaining positions on the six-man squad as wild cards still did not consider Caleb Ndiku at that stage.
A number of track enthusiasts of middle distance running believe the 4x1500m will be among the most exciting events at the World Relays. This upbeat feeling might have come about because it is likely that both records in the male and female categories could be under threat. In the men’s 4x1500m all eyes will be on the Kenya squad led by the two time World champion at 1500m Asbel Kiprop who is supremely confident of establishing a new record in the event.
Kiprop believes if the team can average 3:37 per leg then it is possible. Kiprop will have alongside him Commonwealth champion Silas Kiplagat, Collins Cheboi, Joseph Magut and the wildcards Hillary Maiyo and Nixon Chepseba. Four members of this squad ran faster than 3:35.00 in the first 1500m Diamond League event in Doha on May 9, 2014. The world record in the event is 14:36.23 established in 2009.
Team U.S.A. is one of the teams expected to challenge the Kenyans. The squad of Pat Casey, Garreth Heath, Will Leer, Leonel Manzano and David Torrence has the combined speed to break the American record of 14:46.30. Team U.S.A will really miss the services of World Championship silver medallist Matthew Centrowitz whose busy schedule this year includes a number of back-to-back Diamond League meets. We hope the Americans bring their ‘A’ Team as beating the Kenyans seem like mission impossible.
Bahrain is the recruiting capital of athletics in the Middle East. The Bahrain 4x1500m squad is comprised of four Kenyan expatriates including Yusuf Saad Kamel, the 2009 World Champion at 1500m. However, the surprise selection of Moroccan born Rashid Ramzi has attracted the most attention. Ramzi the double World Champion in the 800m and 1500m in 2005, is returning to the international stage after he was stripped of his 2008 Olympic gold medal and serving a two-year ban for failing a drug test after his sample was re-tested. Abraham Kipchirchir Rotich, Benson Kiplagat Seurei and Linus Kiplagat complete the Bahrain squad. This team has a real chance of a top-four finish.
It is a rare but positive sight in athletics to see an Ethiopian squad competing in a relay event. The Ethiopians who are more adept at the longer distances possess a few excellent runners who can be competitive over 1500m such as Mekonnen Gebremedhin, Hagos Gebrhiwet, Dejen Gebremeskel and 2014 World Indoor 1500m silver medallist Aman Wote.
However, fans will not see such an imperial quartet, as only Aman Wote and Mekonnen Gebremedhin are included in the Ethiopian squad. Chalachew Shimels, Soresa Fida and Zebene Alemayehu complete the five-man squad. It would have been wonderful if the Bekele brothers (Kenenisa & Tariku) were a part of the 4x1500m Ethiopia squad.
Kenenisa is one of the greatest and most versatile distance runners with a personal best of 3:32.35 at 1500m, while his younger brother Tariku has a personal best of 3:37.26 at the same distance. It is my view that they would have provided a sterner test for the Kenyans. Maybe the distance is too short for them and the race would have been like a warm-up exercise. Additionally, the youngsters chosen will get a chance to establish a reputation for themselves.
Nevertheless, this event could turn into a classic contest as the teams chase the gold medal and world record, which will be great for the fans, some of whom might be experiencing for the first time the ‘shock and awe effect’.
Stay tuned for the must-read Women’s 4x1500m preview.