Neil Gourley, Josh Kerr and Jake Wightman make it a first for Britain as they progress through tough semi-final stage in Doha
Three British athletes will feature in the men’s 1500m final at the IAAF World Championships for the first time in memory after Neil Gourley, Josh Kerr and Jake Wightman all made it through an incredibly difficult semi-final stage to reach Sunday’s showpiece contest.
After both semi-finals had been staged, a mere 0.35 of a second separated the times clocked by the 12 finalists, with Filip Ingebrigtsen and Ben Blankenship among those who did not progress.
It was Gourley’s turn first in a race which opened proceedings in front of the large Khalifa Stadium crowd and also featured Kenyan Timothy Cheruiyot.
The London 2017 silver medallist led from start to finish but he had to work for his win in 3:36.53 and there was a sizeable crowd of runners right on his tail as they came careering down the finishing straight together.
Gourley, who had run confidently and positioned himself well, waited for his gap and charged through to take third place in the blanket finish in 3:36.69, the same time credited to Algerian runner-up Taoufik Makhloufi.
American Craig Engels (3:36.69) and Sweden’s Kalle Berglund (3:36.72) took the other two automatic qualifying slots as Blankenship (3:36.98) and Filip Ingebrigtsen (3:37.00) were left to sweat it out to see if they would be fast enough to qualify.
The second semi-final was similarly thrilling affair, however, and also came right down to the wire.
Kenya’s Ronald Kwemoi attempted to emulate the front-running exploits of fellow countryman Cheruiyot but he was overhauled in the closing stages by Marcin Lewandowski, the Pole crossing the line in 3:36.50.
Kwemoi clocked 3:36.53, the same time recorded by European champion Jakob Ingebrigtsen in third.
Kerr timed his run to the line perfectly and finished fourth in 3:36.58, with Youssouf Hiss Bachir of Djibouti taking the last automatic spot.
Who would get the two remaining ‘fastest loser’ places? Olympic champion Matt Centrowitz grabbed one with his season’s best 3:36.77, while Commonwealth and European bronze medallist Wightman got the other after coming seventh in 3:36.85.
“I was trying to stay inside as much as possible, conserve energy and stay patient because inevitably there are gaps in the last 200m you just need to make sure you can take advantage of them – you don’t get a second look and I was able to steal one in the last straight,” said Gourley.
“Recovery is a battle and I feel like I beat some people just by recovering better for today so I need to do that again come Sunday.”
He added: “A medal is the goal, its going to be tough but I’d be selling myself short if I wasn’t trying to do that.”
— AW (@AthleticsWeekly) October 4, 2019
Kerr’s confidence was evident when he said: “I felt really strong. I had to trust my kick really well and I was able to do that. I got pushed in the back at points but my coach and I spoke about keeping a cool head and wherever I am at I know I can kick hard.
“I feel like I had another gear there if I needed to be so when I looked around and no one was gaining I had a little smile to myself. It was about making smart decisions, trusting myself and trusting my strength.”
Wightman admitted to a sense of relief.
“I made a mistake that I should have been punished for but I just got away with it,” he said. “I need to just chill out in rounds, I was just a bit too fixated in making that final and thought I could get into it a bit more easily than it turned out being.
“It doesn’t matter what size ‘q’, big or little, it’s just the point of getting that there and everyone’s on a level playing field now for the final.”
British relay teams were in great form too. The men’s 4x100m quartet led the qualifiers with a fast 37.56 with South Africa clocking an African record of 37.65 and Japan 37.78 and China 37.79 but the United States was only ninth quickest with 38.03 and the US survived an appeal by Italy and Canada that they had failed to exchange the baton at the last changeover.
The GB team of Adam Gemili, Zharnel Hughes, Richard Kilty and Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake ran a world lead for 2019 as they passed the baton in slick style.
Even without the world 200m champion Dina Asher-Smith, Britain posted a fast 42.25 in the 4x100m heats, a metre down on Jamaica’s 42.11. The team of Asha Philip, Imani Lansiquot, Ashleigh Nelson and Daryll Neita pushed a Jamaican team that might well be their team for the final with Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce running the second leg.
The earlier semi was won in a slower 42.46 though the USA team may be stronger in the final.
Neita said: “The only way is up. We have come in here with such good preparation that we are not going to limit ourselves, we are going to go out there and do the best we can. We are not going to give away all of our secrets, just know that we practice a lot and we are very confident.”
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