Ethiopia's Lamecha Girma cruised to the final of the men's 3,000 metres steeplechase at the Olympic Games on Friday with the fastest time of the round of 8 min 09.83 sec, sending a signal that he will be one of the contenders to watch going into the medal race on Monday.
The 20-year-old silver medalist at the 2019 world championships in Doha boasts the world's leading time this year -- 8:07.75 posted at the Diamond League meet in Monaco -- and the Olympic title is wide open after the defending champion, Conseslus Kipruto of Kenya, failed to qualify for the Games.
Kenya has won nine straight Olympic steeplechase gold medals since 1984, and will look to Abraham Kibiwot, who boasts the second-fastest time this year and advanced to the final in 8:12.25.
"The race was good, it was actually fantastic," Kibiwot said.
"Tokyo is hot, the temperature is high, but we are making Kenya proud so we don't mind."
Kenya will also have Benjamin Kigen in the final after he qualified with his season's-best time of 8:10.80.
"I know we have to fight in the finals," Kigen said.
"My target was to first qualify, and now I will fight for a medal."
Lamecha's Ethiopian compatriot Getnet Wale also qualified for the final.
Japan's Ryuji Miura, 19, produced a national-record time of 8:09.92 to make the final, and he will have the support of the entire host nation to boost his challenge for a medal.
"I'm very surprised by my record today but I could achieve my goal to go to [the] final race," Miura said. after the race.
Also looking to break-up the Kenyan and Ethiopian party will be Moroccan Soufiane El Bakkali, 25, the silver medalist at the 2017 world championships in London and bronze medalist in Doha who has recorded the third fastest time this year.
El Bakkali won his qualifier in a time of 8:19.00.