Feature31 Jul 2015

Souleiman boxing clever ahead of Beijing


Ayanleh Souleiman winning the 1500m at the 2015 IAAF Diamond League meeting in Stockholm (© Deca Text&Bild)

Ayanleh Souleiman presented a jubilant figures on the long, rain swept night of athletics in Stockholm’s 1912 Olympic stadium on Thursday as he celebrated his overwhelming 1500m victory with an exuberant display of shadow boxing for the benefit of his tracking TV cameraman, all the while with a trademark wide smile.

On the eve of the last IAAF Diamond League meeting before the IAAF World Championships, Beijing 2015 get underway in three weeks’ time, this affable multi-talented 22-year-old runner from Djibouti – who has a 1500m best of 3:29.58 from last year’s IAAF Diamond League meeting in Monaco – announced brightly that he was looking for a fast time in the Swedish capital after the relative disappointment of finishing third in the historic Emsley Carr Mile in London less than a week earlier.

“In London it was a tactical race, and there was a lot of pushing. I had been training hard but I didn’t feel ready. Tomorrow I will run faster. I want to do 3:28, 3:27,” he said before his Stockholm outing.

By the time Souleiman entered the final straight with a classy field behind him, it was clear that his ambitions in terms of time would not be realised.

However, he crossed the line in 3:33.33 to earn four points which shifted him into the lead in the Diamond Race above the Kenyan pair of Silas Kiplagat and Asbel Kiprop, with just the double-points final in Zurich to come on 3 September.

Neither of his main rivals was in Stockholm, concentrating instead on their preparations at home for Beijing.

But the manner and measure of Souleiman’s victory – he finished 10 metres clear and had already begun celebrating before the line – were formidable and provided a warning not only about the Diamond Race but also the World Championships.

“Ayanleh was not at his best in London,” explained his coach Jama Aden. “That race came too soon for him after a block of training, but here he felt good before the race, and during it.”

What Souleiman, and Aden, now know is that he is in great shape to further his ambitions in both the metric mile – in which he won gold at last year’s IAAF World Indoor Championships – and the 800m, in which he earned a bronze medal at the 2013 IAAF World Championships in Moscow, when he toes the line in Beijing.

“The World Championships are very different from the Diamond League,” Souleiman said. “Often the racing is tactical, and rough. For instance, Silas Kiplagat is sometimes not good at championships; but I am strong for them, I am ready for them.

Double destiny in Beijing

“I have a good chance in the 1500m, but I will double up in the 800 metres because this year in Beijing there is a gap, one day resting after the 800 has finished.”

Asked how easy he found it to switch between the two distances, Souleiman produced another of his broad smiles.

“Running a 1500 is just as easy as running an 800! It’s not a big difference. In the 800, the last 300 is very fast, and you have to be prepared for that. In the 1500, you have to be stronger and more ready to run the tactical races against all the guys.

“But I prepare for them by running a spread of distances. Sometimes I run a 3000 in training. Sometimes I do longer distances than that. Earlier this year, I ran the 5000m in 13:17 at the Pan Arab Championships. Next year I will be running with Mo (Farah)!” he commented; half-jokingly, half-deadly serious.

In Aden, who also coached Genzebe Dibaba to her epic world 1500m record this month, Souleiman has a coach of formidable resource and experience.

Aden, who divides his time between Qatar, where he is head athletics coach, and Europe will have seven of his athletes in Beijing next month, including the 18-year-old compatriot of Souleiman’s, Mohamed Ismail Ibrahim, who made a breakthrough in the 3000m steeplechase in Stockholm as he finished seventh in a national record of 8:24.58.

“Everybody runs differently,” said Souleiman. “But training with Jama’s group gives me experience of trying different tactics. Sometimes it is arranged for there to be pushing and chopping of legs in the last 300, 400 of our runs. It’s crazy! But it means you are ready.”

Souleiman’s bobbing and weaving after his latest victory suggested a man who knows a few moves from inside the ring as much as from inside the track, although he was presumably not serious when he answered the question of whether there was a punch bag set up at his training camp with another affirmative answer and, naturally, another grin.

Nevertheless, whatever the case, Souleiman is probably not an athlete to be messed with if the going gets tough.

Mike Rowbottom for the IAAF