By Steven Mills, @trackside2018
(c) 2018 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND (02-Mar) — With four athletes qualifying by right plus four non-automatic spots across the two heats, the qualifying conditions for the 3000m final were benign on the second day of the IAAF World Indoor Championships here.  In that discipline, nearly all of the principal medal contenders crossed the finish-line without expending too much energy ahead of Sunday’s final.

But one athlete who will not be taking their place is the American Paul Chelimo, considered by many the most likely candidate to halt the Ethiopian hegemony in this event. Chelimo, the Rio Olympic 5000m silver medalist, finished third in the second heat in 7:49.34 but the US indoor 1500m and 3000m champion was on the wrong end of some very punctilious officiating.

As he went through the mixed zone, a DQ flashed up against his name. The replay showed he had momentarily veered off the track on the penultimate lap, a detour which seemed to hinder, rather than help, his progress.

“I wasn’t doing anything intentional. I stepped inside the rail by mistake – it’s just sad, to say the least. But the rules are the rules and I cannot bend the rules,” he said. USATF did not appeal the decision.

On a session which had the unprecedented spectacle of an entire heat of 400m runners disqualified for various infringements, Chelimo was one of four runners disqualified from the second heat. Shadrack Kipchirchir –who suffered a heavy knock midway through the final kilometer– received an unlikely reprieve, qualifying on time after finishing eighth in the first heat in 7:57.08.

With Chelimo disqualified, and Kenya’s Edward Cheserek not competing here, it would be a mild surprise if the Ethiopians did not take a clean sweep. With a 27.43 last lap, reigning world indoor champion Yomif Kejelcha won the first heat in 7:42.83 from teammate Hagos Gebrhiwet in 7:43.55 before world U20 5000m champion Selemon Barega won the second heat in 7:48.14 with a near identical last lap of 27.68.

But one athlete to downplay the prospect of an Ethiopian sweep is the reigning European indoor 3000m champion Adel Mechaal from Spain. He finished third in the first heat in 7:43.83.  He was defiant.

“I felt confident in the race and I’ll rest well until the final on Sunday and have a good chance of a medal for Spain,” he said. “There will be three Ethiopians in the final so they may be tactical in their approach but I will do my best.”

Another big name missing from the championships is world-leader in the 800m Emmanuel Korir from Kenya who was unable to board his flight due to visa processing issues at the British consulate in New York.

The field was further streamlined to just 10 athletes and even though only four were eliminated across the two heats –which were redrawn after Korir’s withdrawal– both races were highly competitive with even-paced tactics the order of the day.

Last at the bell as Egypt’s Hamada Mohamed powered through 200m in 24.71, 400m in 50.32 and 600m in 1:17.84, Spain’s Alvaro de Arriba –who holds the European-leading mark with 1:45.43– was just 0.01 off this mark to win the first heat.

But with Korir absent, surely this is Adam Kszczot’s chance to win his first global title? Unbeaten in six races heading into the championships, the Pole added another race to this sequence with a faultless and confident piece of preliminary running, winning the second heat in 1:47.02.

“I want this gold medal so badly. I hope I will stay smart in the final and we will see,” said Kszczot, the reigning European indoor and outdoor champion.

American Drew Windle just missed out on an automatic qualifying spot in the first heat but a lifetime best of 1:45.52 was bound to be sufficient to reach the final. By contrast, medal favorite Donavan Brazier stepped on the lane line before the break, a violation which he knew he would be reprimanded for.

None of the three medalists from the 3000m last night showed any visible signs of fatigue as they returned to the track for the 1500m heats.

Genzebe Dibaba and Laura Muir qualified in that order from the first heat in 4:06.25 and 4:06.54 respectively while Sifan Hassan, who separated Dibaba and Muir in the 3000m, won the third heat in 4:05.46.

In the second heat, Colleen Quigley had to take preventative action to remain upright as Sweden’s Meraf Bahta fell in her path with just over 400 meters remaining. She launched a late surge to nab the second qualifying spot in an indoor lifetime best of 4:09.31 behind Kenya’s Beatrice Chepkoech in 4:09.12.

“It was crazy in the last 400m,” said Quigley on the hurly-burly of indoor racing. “One of my competitors [Bahta] took a tumble in front of me, there was lots of jumbling and I stepped on her bottom which must have made it hurt even further. I had to get back into my spot and ran a really good last 200m, but it was really scary.”

Fresh from her fifth-place finish in last night’s 3000m final, Shelby Houlihan was dragged to a lifetime best of 4:06.21 in the third heat to qualify on time in fourth.


Main cover Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images for IAAF