LONDON (Reuters) - Four Kenyans with eyes on 1,500 meters medals – the three fastest men in the world this year and the one seeking a fourth successive title – all qualified from Thursday’s first-round heats, though not without a scare for one of them.
Triple defending champion Abel Kiprop, aiming to match the four successive titles world record-holder Hicham El Guerrouj took from 1997-2003, showed that he is not about to hand over his title without a fight.
Kiprop went all the way to the line just behind Elijah Manangoi, silver medalist two years ago and the world leader this year with three minutes 28.80, in a mass finish to the first heat.
The two 21-year-old pretenders of the Kenyan team had contrasting nights as Timothy Cheruiyot went through strongly in second place in the third heat while Ronald Kwemoi snatched the sixth and last fast-loser slot.
Sadik Mikhou, who switched allegiance from Morocco to Bahrain last year, was an impressive winner of the second heat, where Dutchman Richard Douma fell 30 meters from the line when well-placed to qualify.
After an appeal by the Dutch federation Douma was advanced to the semi-finals.
Luke Mathews of Australia led the last heat home and it was considerably the fastest of the three with the six automatic and five of the six fast losers all going through from it.
The home fans, getting ever-more desperate for someone to join 10,000m champion Mo Farah on the medal table, had something to cheer as Chris O’Hare and Jake Wightman - whose father Geoff commentated on the race as the stadium announcer - progressed.
American Matt Centrowitz, the Olympic champion and former world silver and bronze medalist who has struggled for form after an injury and illness-hit season, finished a distant last in his heat.
The semi-finals take place on Friday with the final on Sunday, the last day of the championships.
Editing by Ed Osmond