With the obvious exception of one Usain Bolt — the living legend from Jamaica who landed in Beijing, China, for this year’s biggest track and field meet under a cloud of doubt and left undefeated with three gold medals — the story of the 2015 IAAF World Championships was the Kenyan national team.
A country with a population of approximately 44.2 million people closed the nine-day event (Aug. 22-30) tied with Jamaica for the most gold medals (seven) and finished second to the United States in total medals, claiming 16 medals versus 18 for the U.S. By the way, the U.S. has a population of about 319 million people. And while Kenya is historically expected to dominate distance running events, Kenya showed its versatility in Beijing by winning gold in the sprints (men’s 400-meter hurdles) and throws (men’s javelin).
It was an overall performance that may have shocked the sports world, but three-time men’s 1,500-meter world champion Asbel Kiprop kind of predicted this about a month before the championships:
Islam is the second-largest religion in Kenya, with an estimated 11 percent of the total population identifying as Muslim. That’s about 4.8 million Muslims in Africa’s seventh-largest country.
While none of Kenya’s medalists at these World Championships are known Muslims, there was still a notable Muslim presence on the medal stand — a group of athletes who can take this winning momentum into preparations for the 2016 Olympics in Rio, Brazil:
5,000 meters (gold)
10,000 meters (gold)
Farah captured gold in his two signature events for the third straight time in track’s last three major outdoor championships, dating back to the 2012 Olympics in London.
On the opening night of the 2015 worlds, Farah won the 10,000-meter race in 27:01.13, navigating a trio of Kenyan runners who had openly planned to cooperate to beat him, some slow-moving lapped runners in his path, and a potentially disastrous stumble on the last lap.
On the second-to-last night of competition, the 32-year-old Farah had a much less treacherous experience in the 5,000 meters. He calmly ran in the back of the pack for a while — even taking a quick detour for a drink of water during the race — easily advanced toward the front, then dashed past Kenya’s Caleb Ndiku in the final 200 meters to win comfortably in 13:50.38.
IHAB ABDELRAHMAN EL-SAYED
His throw of 88.99 meters (291 feet, 11 inches) was a season’s best for El-Sayed, the second-best mark of his career, and landed just a few centimeters short of his own national record. It was also a history-making throw, as El-Sayed earned Egypt’s first-ever medal in a world championship meet.
The 26-year-old big man (6-foot-4, 215 pounds) was fortunate to unleash his big throw early in the finals, because each of his last four throws were ruled foul. He was bested only by Kenya’s Julius Yego, who had a toss measuring 92.72 meters.
3,000m Steeplechase (silver)
Coming into the meet having run the fastest time in the world this year (9:11.28) and then running the fastest time of any competitor in the semifinal heats (9:24.38), the 31-year-old Ghribi was a popular pick to win her first major championship gold medal after taking silver at the 2011 worlds and 2012 Olympics.
With one lap to go in the final, Ghiribi was right behind the race leader, and soon moved to the front of the pack. About 100 meters away from victory, however, Ghiribi lost her rhythm getting over the course’s final hurdle and was edged out by Kenya’s Hyvin Jepkemoi for the gold medal.
Hammer Throw (silver)
A three-time Olympian, three-time Asian Games gold medalist and 2005 Islamic Solidarity Games gold medalist, Nazarov had yet to take the medal stand at a major championship going into this year.
After posting the seventh-best distance among the field in the qualifying round, Nazarov (6-2, 265 pounds) was actually in the lead after two attempts in the finals before eventual gold-medal winner Pawel Fajdek of Poland surpassed him. Nazarov, 33, finished in second place with a throw of 78.55 meters (257 feet, 8.5 inches).
Although she represents the Netherlands, the 22-year-old Hassan comes from the lineage of Ethiopian athletes who have dominated distance running for decades. Born in the city of Nazreth, she left Ethiopia as a refugee at 15 years old.
The reigning European indoor and outdoor champion in the 1,500 meters, Hassan gave Ethiopian superstar Genzebe Dibaba — who just set a new world record in July — a run for her money as well as decorated champion Faith Kipyegon of Kenya, finishing in third place in 4:09.34.
While Dibaba was the overwhelming favorite in the women’s 1,500 meters, the great white whale of the men’s 1,500 field was Kenya’s Asbel Kiprop, who came into Beijing having won the last two world championships (2011, 2013) as well as a gold medal at the 2008 Olympics (also in Beijing). Kiprop got his three-peat, as expected, but crossed the finish line (3:34.40) less than one second ahead of silver medalist Elijah Motonei Manangoi (3:34.63) and bronze medalist Iguider (3:34.67).
Iguider was actually one of two 1,500-meter finalists who were beating Kiprop was about 100 meters to go before the 6-3 Kenyan galloped past to take the lead. Iguider had to dive at the finish line to preserve his spot in the top three, adding to a medal collection that includes a 2012 Olympic bronze and gold, silver and bronze from separate world indoor championships.
The men’s 800-meter field lost significant star power on its way to the final, with 2013 world champion Mohammed Aman (Ethiopia) getting disqualified and reigning world indoor champ Ayanleh Souleiman (Djibouti) getting injured in the semifinals. That increased the gold-medal odds for Tuka, who came into the meet with the world’s fastest time this year. But he still had to contend with world-record holder David Rudisha of Kenya, who flashed his peak form on his way to a gold medal, while Tuka claimed the bronze less than one second behind silver medalist Adam Kszczot of Poland.
4 x 400m Relay (bronze)
In order to effectively put his relay teammates in position for a medal, Yousif had to put the frustration of his individual 400-meter performance behind him. Considering the road he’d taken just to get to these world championships, that wasn’t an unreasonable task.
Born in Sudan as the son of national spring champion Mohamed Yousif Bakhit, Rabah was raised in the war-torn African nation before fleeing as a 14-year-old rising track star seeking political asylum. While he still competed under the Sudanese flag internationally, Yousif appeared to be settled in Great Britain by the time he was 22, having already had a child with the woman he’d eventually marry. But then he learned his application for asylum had been rejected, meaning he faced deportation back to Sudan. Yousif sat in limbo until 2013 when he was finally granted British citizenship, and then switched his competitive allegiances to Great Britain.
On Day 5 of this year’s World Championships, Yousif made it to the 400-meter final but finished a disappointing sixth place. Four days later, he was back on the track for the 4 x 400 relay, where he would run the opening leg for Great Britain against the likes of U.S. 400-meter champion David Verburg, former European relay gold medalist Jonathan Borlee (Belgium) and former world indoor bronze medalist Renny Quow (Trinidad & Tobago).
Yousif got the baton around the track in what was basically a four-way tie before handing off to teammate Delano Williams. Great Britain finished in a season’s-best 2:58.51, behind the U.S. and Trinidad & Tobago.