By Ian Chadband
LONDON (Reuters) - Reigning champion Asbel Kiprop led a powerful trio of Kenyans into Sunday's 1,500 meters final at the World Athletics Championships, giving himself the chance of shooting for a fourth successive gold medal in the metric mile event.
The 28-year-old Kiprop, seeking to equal the record of four successive titles set by Morocco's world record holder Hicham El Guerrouj, kept out of trouble on the wide outside before sprinting home a comfortable second in a robust heat on Friday.
He followed home his compatriot Elijah Manangoi, the fastest man in the world this year, who ran a controlled race to win the opening semi-final in 3 minutes 40.10 seconds, four-hundredths of a second clear of the onrushing Kiprop.
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"I have a lot of experience from world championship races, I've been doing this for many years and I'm ready for anything," said Kiprop, after doing well to steer clear of the familiar rough-and-tumble of a competitive battle following a slow first lap.
"It was very tactical today but there was a lot of pushing, so I stayed at the back to stay out of trouble. I knew I had the speed in my legs over the last lap but I just waited for my moment to ease through and qualify."
Manangoi said he had better than in the heats.
"Today was a lot more tactical," he said. "I want any medal but gold would be the one I would love. I know my countryman Kiprop will be strong, but it's a championship and anything can happen."
Timothy Cheruiyot, the second quickest metric miler of 2017, set the pace in the second semi-final to ensure that not just the first five would qualify automatically, but also the two fast losers from the heat.
He controlled the race, only easing up at the finish in 3:38.24 with qualification secure as Czech Jakub Holusa, the 2015 European indoor champion, came through to pip him for first in 3:38.05 and become the fastest qualifier for Sunday's final.
The big casualty was the fourth Kenyan, national champion Ronald Kwemoi, third fastest on 2017 form, who trailed home ninth behind Holusa.
"This will be my premiere in the final, my dream came true," said Holusa, whose fast finish could make him a danger in a slow final.
"After a long time, the Czech Republic finally has a runner in the (1,500m) final of the world championships. It is a big thing for us."
(Editing by Ed Osmond)