Rio 2016: Men’s 1500m final

This was a race worth analysing.

Race Video

Centrowitz’s victory in this race was obviously very unusual in that he led (almost) from start to finish. Clearly there wasn’t much tactics involved in what he did  – he just kept everyone at bay and countered every attempted overtaking by increasing his speed. This obviously attests that he was the fastest runner in the field on this day. But even if that more or less explains why he won, it’s still interesting to take a look at what Centrowitz’s opponents, especially Kiprop, Makhloufi and Souleiman, did during the race. There are a few clear reasons why they could not do better in the sprint.

There is essentially no movement at all in the field of athletes for the first 600m of the jog stage. The pace is very slow and the race is effectively reduced to an 800m competition.

After jogging at the back of the group in the beginning, Kiprop moves to the front on the 600-700 straight. This is an excellent tactical move because the pace still remains slow and he easily overtakes the entire group. Waiting to the 800-900 straight before making his move would have done Kiprop no good at all.

As he moves to the front next to Centrowitz, Kiprop seems to stumble a little, which allows Blankenship to overtake him and leaves Kiprop in a boxed position, but he is still well-positioned for the sprint.

Kiprop’s move drops Makhloufi almost to last place. As the pace remains very slow on the 800-900 straight, both Kiprop and Makhloufi run passively and let other opponents improve their position. At the 900m mark Kiprop is boxed into 9th position while Makhloufi is 11th. The task ahead of them grows every second, because every runner in the field is still in good strengths and the final lap is obviously going to be very fast. At this point Kiprop and Makhloufi have squandered their opportunities for overtaking opponents at slow speeds, and will instead have to do a lot of overtaking at speeds close to 13 seconds / 100m to win this race.

It should be remembered that Makhloufi had already run three rounds in the 800m and two rounds in the 1500m prior to this race, so he was probably not feeling very energetic in this race. Saving as much as possible for the sprint made some sense, but the pace set by Centrowitz turned out to be so extremely slow that the sprint became very crowded in the middle of the group.

On the 1000-1100 straight Makhloufi wisely moves to the outside, but then foolishly fails to move all the way to the front at once. After a 2.45 split at 1000m, it should be pretty clear that the sprint is about to start any second. Kiprop comes surging from the back of the group and tussles with Makhloufi for the front position, costing them both some energy.

Meanwhile, Souleiman has run a smart race up to this point. After following Kiprop’s move on the 600-700 straight, he smartly holds his position and moves up on Centrowitz’s shoulder when he is threatened from behind at the 900m mark. At the 1000m mark he takes the lead for a brief moment. But he, too, runs a bit thoughtlessly on the 1000-1100 straight as he lets Centrowitz pass him on the inside, instead of closing the gap. Maybe he feels that it’s still too early for him to really assert himself and go for the victory. But just a few second later, the sprint begins as Makhloufi and Kiprop come charging on the outside, and Souleiman is immediately boxed, whereas Centrowitz escapes the box. After a slow start, the race combusts in a split second.

All three of these athletes (Kiprop, Makhloufi and Souleiman) still had a chance to outrun Centrowitz in the final lap, but none could. As I said, Centrowitz’s victory was more due to his better running ability than to smart tactics. His three main opponents did make a few tactical mistakes which cost them some energy, but this was still anybody’s race with 100m to go.

 

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