If you think watching a 1500m track race sounds incredibly boring, then, well, I can't entirely disagree with you. They aren't usually all that exciting.
It's not because of the runners, mind you. Some of our earliest great athletes were milers (1500m is 0.93 of a mile), and the best of today’s runners possess an unbelievable combination of flat-out foot speed and aerobic stamina. For example, Nick Willis of Australia has run a 1:45 in the 800m and a 13:27 in the 5K, which means he could enter any world-class race from 400m up to 10,000m without embarrassing himself. That's an impressive range.
In fact, it is this massive combination of required speed and aerobic strength that makes the event a regular bore. At only 3.75 laps of the track, it is an event that is largely run at the “red line”; because the runners need to be at 99-point-something percent of their maximum effort from the gun, there are relatively few pacing alternatives. This leads to the following predictable race formula:
- All of the runners go out hard, and they see (or feel) very quickly who is going to be up front.
- Among the runners up front, no one wants to be the sacrificial rabbit (i.e., the guy who does all the work leading the pack through the first 1300m, only to be passed by the hangers-on), so the group settles into a sub-maximal pace.
- With 200m to go, the lead pack runs like hell.
Sure, the part at the end can be relatively exciting, and oftentimes will lead to a winner or medalist who, frankly, wasn't one of the fastest guys in the field. But you didn't tune in to watch these guys sprint, and these three precious seconds of excitement come only after you’ve spent the first three laps yelling “SOMEONE START RUNNING!” at the television (okay, computer screen; they don’t show much track on TV).
Enter Asbel Kiprop. The first thing you will notice about Asbel Kiprop is that he is 6’2” and weighs 130 lbs. That is probably also the last thing you will notice about Asbel Kiprop, because you have probably never seen someone who is 6’2” and weighs 130 lbs. But there is so much more to love about Asbel Kiprop.
For one, Asbel Kiprop is referred to only as Asbel Kiprop. He's like the anti-Madonna, Beyonce or Prince. There's no A-Kip, no AK-47, no Azzie. It's always Asbel Kiprop.
There's also the matter of his rather amazing speed. He was the junior world cross-country champion in 2007, and two years later ran the mile in 3:48, which is as fast as it sounds. He has also run a world-class 800m (1:43), and he is the fourth fastest 1500m runner of all time (3:28). Oh, and he won the 1500m Olympic gold medal in 2008. At age 19. If Roger Bannister knew that someone like Asbel Kiprop would come along, I doubt he’d have wasted his time.
There are a lot of fast guys, though. The reason track fans – especially American track fans – love Asbel Kiprop is that his style is so… American. Depending on the race, his fitness and his mood, you may see Asbel Kiprop destroy a world-class field, Asbel Kiprop lay an egg as the prohibitive favorite, or – and this is his personal favorite – Asbel Kiprop completely dog it for a couple of laps, and then run by everyone while wagging his finger.
Which leads us to this past weekend’s race in Shanghai. In the clip below, you will see Asbel Kiprop lead the race for a lap or so, at which point he is passed by almost everyone on the track. As you may know from personal experience, going from the front to the back of a race is usually a symptom of a phenomenon known as “dying a slow fucking death”.
This seems like the correct diagnosis, because with a lap to go, he’s in a really bad spot. He’s racing against the fastest guys in the world in a Diamond League event (think: money), and he just spotted them a 30 meter head start. This is where Asbel Kiprop does one of two things: he starts Kiprogging, or he does something like:
For those of you not timing at home, his last lap was 53 seconds, which is a tough thing to do at the end of what was essentially a 3:50 mile. Not bad for a guy with a BMI of
[clicks on CDC website]
[inputs height and weight]
[entire CDC computer system crashes and disappears into itself like the house at the end of Poltergeist]