By Bob Ramsak
BERLIN (14-Jun) -– An impressive 1500m victory by Augustine Choge and Kenenisa Bekele’s successful start in his quest for a piece of the $1 million Jackpot highlighted the middle and long distance program as the six-meet ÅF Golden League series kicked off here with the 68th edition of the DBK-ISTAF meet in historic Olympic stadium.
At just 22, Choge has already built an impressive resume, from the 1500m to the 5000m. With his commanding and confident run today, he may have finally found his home on the track.
As he passed the bell, Choge asserted himself with authority, powering to a 3:29.47 personal best and world leader. It was the second 1500m victory in as many outings for the Kenyan over the past month, both a marked improvement from his pre-season best of 3:31.57. He couldn’t have come closer to the 3:26.46 meet record set 24 years ago by another man with impressive middle and long distance credentials, Said Aouita.
"It was my fourth time here," said Choge, who won the Berlin 1500m in 2006 and 2008. "I want to win a fifth time in August," he added referring to the IAAF World Championships. Indeed, he has consistently run well in Berlin. In 2004, at age 17, he became the youngest man to ever crack 13 minutes in the 5000m with his 12:57.01 victory, a world youth best.
Choge will race again in at the Golden Spike in Ostrava, Czech Republic, on Wednesday. In an even stronger test of his speed, he'll contest the 800m, where’s he recorded a 1:48.7 PB back in 2004.
Behind him, Haron Keitany produced another solid performance, finishing second in 3:30.20 to slice 0.70 seconds from his career best. Last year Keitany finished his inaugural international season by taking a pair of big scalps, first the apparent Olympic champion Rashid Ramzi in Zurich, and then Olympic silver medalist Asbel Kiprop to win the IAAF World Athletics Final.
Nineteen-year-old William Biwott (born 1990) impressed in third, clocking 3:32.34 to become the sixth fastest junior ever. He lopped nearly two seconds from his personal best of 3:34.14. Belal Mansoor Ali (3:33.12) of Bahrain and German Stefan Eberhardt (3:33.92) dipped under 3:34.00 as well. For the latter, a big PB.
Unlike his previous attempt in 2006, Bekele survived the first round of the GL Jackpot chase, but admitted it wasn’t an easy chore.
"I had to work really hard for the victory," the double Olympic champion said, after he managed to kick to a 13:00.76 victory, his 12th straight over the distance.
Biding his time, the Ethiopian was sixth in a relatively tight pack with two laps to go, but made his move for the front as he approached the bell. Kenyan Micah Kogo (third, 13:01.30) briefly gave him a chase, as did Abraham Chebii down the home straight, but he had to be content with second in 13:01.08.
Bekele said that he’s on his way to full strength, having resumed training after an injury setback last fall just three months ago. "But I still have time to get into better shape before the world championships."
Elsewhere, Germany’s Robin Schembera kicked from fourth to first off the final turn to take the 800m in 1:45.96. Briton Michael Rimmer was second (1:46.31, SB) and Kenyan Reuben Bett (1:46.68) third.
Two of the favorites in the jackpot hunt, American 400m record holder Sanya Richards and pole vault superstar Yelena Isinbayeva, handily won their events with world-leading efforts. But the biggest performance of the afternoon, which sent the crowd of 63,896 into a frenzy, was Ariane Friedrich’s first attempt clearance of 2.06m [6-9] to win the high jump. Her jump eclipsed the 2.05m [6-8 ¾ ] national record set by Heike Henkel at the 1991 world championships in Tokyo. She went on to take three stabs at a world record-equaling 2.09 [6-10 ¼ ], the second tantalizingly close.
After a nearly three-week break, the ÅF Golden League series resumes on Friday, July 3, with the ExxonMobil Bislett Games in Oslo.