Faith Kipyegon wins the Wanda Diamond League final 1500m ahead of Sifan Hassan (© Getty Images)
From the moment that Olympic 5000m and 10,000m champion Sifan Hassan declared that she would race fellow Tokyo gold medallist Faith Kipyegon in the 1500m at the Wanda Diamond League final in Zurich, the race had the makings of an all-time classic.
And so it was.
Their first meeting this year was in Florence in June, where world champion Hassan had Kipyegon’s measure. But Kipyegon took back the initiative in Monaco in July and claimed a dominant victory at the Tokyo Olympics in August, as Hassan fought through the fatigue of her extraordinarily ambitious race schedule to secure the bronze medal.
But with two such exceptional talents – Hassan led their head-to-head record 9-8 before tonight’s race – each battle must be fought anew.
From the first lap, each only had eyes on the other. The pacemaker was forgotten as they both waited and watched for the inevitable showdown.
Kipyegon moved into the lead just after the bell, with Hassan shadowing her every step. The Kenyan surged down the back straight and then stepped up the pace around the final bend, but Hassan would not concede.
The Dutchwoman moved out of the Kenyan’s slipstream as they entered the straight and drew level. For a moment with 50m to go it appeared that Kipyegon might buckle under the pressure but her strength held and it was Hassan who faded slightly in the final metres.
Kipyegon stopped the clock in 3:58.33, just a metre ahead of Hassan in 3:58.55. The USA's Josette Norris came through for third in 4:00.41.
“I knew it would be a tactical race today," Kipyegon said. “I was confident that in the last lap I could do better and it worked.”
Hassan declared Kipyegon was “really one of the greatest athletes” but vowed to keep challenging her.
“Today was my last race (of the season) and I wanted to give everything, and I did that and I am happy about it," Hassan said before warning: “Next year, I will train my speed and I will be amazing.”
Close finishes were the order of the evening as the men’s 1500m followed an eerily similar script.
This time the protagonists were the world champion Timothy Cheruiyot and the Olympic champion Jakob Ingebrigtsen.
Until the Tokyo Olympic Games, the young Norwegian had lost 12 straight races to Cheruiyot but he finally turned the tables on the biggest stage of them all. However, Cheruiyot gained a measure of revenge in Zurich.
Cheruiyot employed the same tactics as his compatriot Kipyegon, forcing Ingebrigtsen to chase him from the bell. He tightened the screws gradually until he entered the home straight and lit out for home.
Like Hassan, Ingebrigtsen had the strength to challenge in the straight but not to draw ahead. Cheruiyot hung tough and took the glory (and his fourth Diamond League trophy) by 0.08 – 3:31.37 to 3:31.45. Australia’s Stewart McSweyn (3:32.14) completed the podium, one place ahead of his compatriot Ollie Hoare (3:32.66).
Cheruiyot said he felt better than he had at the Olympics, after nursing a hamstring injury through the season, and added that his focus now was on successfully defending his world title in Oregon next year.
“That is my target now, but I need to work out because I know Jakob Ingebrigtsen (still 20) is going to continue to get better," he said.
Jeruto claims the crown
As happens regularly in the event, the women’s 3000m steeplechase was decided at the final water jump.
Kenyan duo Norah Jeruto and 2015 world champion Hyvin Kiyeng took the lead with 250m to go and dashed stride for stride towards the water.
But while Jeruto took the barrier smoothly, Kiyeng landed awkwardly in the water and lost all momentum. That was all Jeruto needed to take the victory.
She raced away to win in 9:07.34, more than a second ahead of Kiyeng (9:08.55), who only just held off the USA's Olympic silver medallist Courtney Frerichs (9:08.74) for second place.
Jeruto, who missed the Tokyo Olympic Games because she is in the process of changing her national allegiance to Kazakhstan, revealed exceptional late season form at the Diamond League meeting in Eugene last month, where she clocked the third fastest time in history (8:53.65).
She carried that to Zurich and was again too strong for her competitors as she claimed her first Diamond League Trophy.
“At the last hurdle I felt my body move, so strong, so I tried, I kicked and it worked," she said.
The Kenyan contingent completed the steeplechase double as Olympic bronze medallist Benjamin Kigen triumphed over Olympic champion Soufiane El Bakkali, a result that will go down exceptionally well in his native land where national pride was dented when the Moroccan snapped Kenya’s Olympic winning streak in this event in Tokyo.
But it was not without drama as Kigen stuttered and almost stumbled at the last hurdle. However his lead was big enough to overcome that momentary lapse and he was able to hold off the charging El Bakkali to win in 8:17.45.
“On the home straight I felt Soufiane coming strong behind me, but I struggled and I fought," Kigen said. “Normally I am not so strong on the last 100m, but I made it.”
El Bakkali, returning after a fall in Paris 12 days ago, finished second in 8:17.70 but was furious that he had left his run too late.
Korir reigns supreme
A good night for the Kenyan team became exceptional as Olympic champion Emmanuel Korir maintained his supremacy in the 800m, triumphing in 1:44.56 from his teammate Ferguson Rotich (1:44.96) and the USA's Clayton Murphy (1:45.21).
Britain’s Keely Hodgkinson was the only non-Kenyan to notch a middle distance victory in the famed Letzigrund Stadium, using her brilliant finishing speed to claim the biggest win of her young career over 800m.
The 19-year-old Olympic silver medallist has been one of the discoveries of the year and crowned her breakthrough season with her first Diamond League Trophy in 1:57.98. The USA's Kate Grace (1:58.34) edged out Jamaican Natoya Goule (1:58.34) for second.
But with the Diamond League Trophies on the line, it was all about the win tonight.
Nicole Jeffery for World Athletics