Jakob Ingebrigtsen and Faith Kipyegon (© Getty Images)
As it stands, few could argue with Faith Kipyegon’s claims to being the greatest female 1500m runner of all time. But if the 27-year-old can reclaim her world title in Oregon – and make it a fourth global outdoor championships gold – then the debate will be fully over.
Based on recent form, it will take something very special to stop her. The Kenyan was beaten to gold by Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands at the last edition of these championships in Doha in 2019, but since then she has been close to unbeatable at her favoured distance, her sole loss coming at the Wanda Diamond League meeting in Florence last year after a thrilling home-straight duel with Hassan.
But as good as she is on the circuit, Kipyegon always saves her best for championships, and in Tokyo last year she retained her Olympic title in style in 3:53.11. She also clocked a blazing 3:51.07 in Monaco, the fourth fastest time in history. Kipyegon has tasted defeat over 800m and 3000m already this season, but when it comes to the women’s 1500m final on Monday, 18 July, it’s hard to envisage anyone getting the better of the Kenyan, who possesses a change of gears that so often proves unstoppable.
At the Diamond League meeting in Eugene in late May, Kipyegon took on many of her chief rivals and prevailed with a racing style that has become her trademark – coasting to the shoulder of the leader on the final lap and exploding off the final turn – clocking 3:52.59 on a damp, cool day ahead of Ethiopia’s Gudaf Tsegay (3:54.21).
Those times put them well clear of the others on the 2022 world list, but one athlete who has been laying low so far this season due to health issues – and who, at her best, can trouble Kipyegon – is Hassan. The Dutch star ran her first race of the season on Friday 8 July, clocking a modest 15:13.41 for 5000m in Portland, USA. Hassan, the Olympic champion at 5000m and 10,000m, is also entered for both of those events in Oregon but she plans to contest just two, unlike in Tokyo, with the decision on which event to drop to be made in the coming days.
Her coach, Tim Rowberry, recently told Letsrun.com that she “is trying to take things slowly so she doesn’t burn herself out next year while building up for Paris”, adding that Hassan fasting during Ramadan “interrupted training more than usual” this year so Rowberry “felt it was necessary to postpone her races leading into Prefontaine rather than interrupt the slow training build up.”
Gudaf Tsegay at the World Athletics Championships Doha 2019 (© Getty Images)
Tsegay, the world indoor 1500m record-holder, will be hoping to bring the gold medal in this event back to Ethiopia for just the second time in the event’s history following Genzebe Dibaba’s victory in 2015. She was a dominant winner of the 1500m at the World Athletics Indoor Championships in Belgrade earlier this year and proved her endurance is in good order with a runner-up finish in Oslo last month over 5000m in 14:26.69. She will be joined by a pair of strong compatriots in 21-year-olds Hirut Meshesa and Freweyni Hailu.
They followed her home in Belgrade as Ethiopia swept the medal rostrum, with Hailu second and Meshesha third. Hailu, who was fourth in the Olympic final in Tokyo, clocked a season’s best of 3:58.18 to finish second in Rabat last month, where Meshesha took victory in 3:57.30, with Meshesha backing that up with victory in Rome in a cagey race in 4:03.79.
Hopes will be high among the home fans that a US athlete can reach the podium and they have a strong contingent in Sinclaire Johnson, Elle St Pierre and Cory McGee. Johnson took victory at the US Championships with a blazing kick, while the PB of 3:58.85 she ran to finish fourth to Kipyegon in Eugene in May shows she can also be competitive in a fast race. St Pierre, the world indoor 3000m silver medallist, could also be a threat, particularly in a fast race.
Britain’s Laura Muir has yet to clock a 1500m time this year that’s truly indicative of her ability – her best is the 4:02.81 she ran in Birmingham in May – but the Olympic silver medallist proved her vast range of gears is in full working order last month when clocking 1:57.23 in a mixed 800m race in Stretford then following it up with a 1:58.09 runner-up finish in Oslo.
Australia will have a strong trio in Jessica Hull, Georgia Griffith and Linden Hall. Hall was sixth in the Olympic final last year and has a season’s best of 4:00.58, while Griffith is just ahead of her on season’s bests via the 4:00.16 PB she ran in Rabat. Hull has been in outstanding form this year, setting national records over a mile and 3000m, and she finished fifth in 3:59.31 in Eugene in May.
Uganda’s Winnie Nanyondo finished fourth in the world indoor final in Belgrade and with a season’s best of 4:00.25, she will have her eyes on a spot in the final – at the very least.
At the age of 21, Jakob Ingebrigtsen has very nearly done it all. He’s won European titles, an Olympic gold medal and, earlier this year, he became the fastest indoor 1500m runner of all time, clocking 3:30.60 in Lievin.
But there remains one gaping hole on the Norwegian star’s CV: he has yet to win a medal at the World Athletics Championships. But it will come as a huge shock if he doesn’t fill that void when the men’s 1500m final takes place on 19 July.
Ingebrigtsen said he will “for sure” double over 1500m and 5000m in Eugene and his favourite event is up first, where he will seek to avenge his defeat at the World Athletics Indoor Championships in Belgrade earlier this year. Ingebrigtsen was the overwhelming favourite for that 1500m title but in the end he had no response to the final surge from Ethiopia’s Samuel Tefera, who took gold in 3:32.77.
“I didn’t feel that great,” he said after the race, and it was only when he returned home and tested positive for Covid-19 that he came to realise why. Ingebrigtsen has been unbeaten since, though, winning in facile fashion over a mile in Eugene (3:49.76) before clocking 3:46.46 in Oslo.
However, a long line of challengers are taking aim at his throne.
Chief among them is Kenya’s Abel Kipsang, who was fourth in the Olympic final last year but who has turned in a string of displays this year that suggest the 25-year-old Kenyan is ready to claim his first global medal at an outdoor championship. He earned bronze behind Tefera and Ingebrigtsen in Belgrade and finished fourth behind the Norwegian over a mile in Eugene in May. His season’s best of 3:31.01 was run at altitude in Nairobi in May, and at the Kenyan Trials last month he took victory over world champion Timothy Cheruiyot in 3:34.55.
Cheruiyot has yet to recover his best form but the Olympic silver medallist finished third over a mile in Eugene and he has the championship pedigree to navigate the rounds and again contend for a medal.
Timothy Cheruiyot storms to the 1500m title at the World Championships Doha 2019 (© Getty Images)
Britain’s Jake Wightman fell short of his goal in Tokyo last year, fading to 10th place in the Olympic final, but he put a renewed emphasis on endurance work through the winter and spring, running cross country and setting indoor PBs twice over 3000m – the goal being to build an engine strong enough to handle three hard rounds of world-class 1500m racing.
He seems to be bearing the fruits of that work already with an impressive victory in Rabat last month in 3:32.62 before he outkicked rivals Neil Gourley and Josh Kerr to win the British 1500m title. The slower it is in the final, the more of a danger Wightman will become – so long as he can advance through the rounds.
Kerr, the Olympic bronze medallist, clocked a blazing 3:48.87 mile indoors in Boston but he has yet to truly fire so far in the outdoor season, his best of 3:35.92 coming in Birmingham back in May. But he proved in Tokyo he is adept at finding an extra level once he gets to major championships and it will be no surprise to see him back on the podium.
Tefera will lead the Ethiopian challenge and the two-time world indoor champion will be looking to win his first global outdoor medal, though he might need to shake off some rust when it comes to the 1500m given he has only raced over 3000m and 5000m since that victory in Belgrade in March.
Australia’s Ollie Hoare has enjoyed a breakthrough year and he finished second to Ingebrigtsen in Oslo in an Oceanian mile record of 3:47.48. He finished fifth in the world indoor final in Belgrade, 11th in the Olympic final in Tokyo, and he looks capable of contending for his first global medal in Oregon.
The US challenge will be led by Cooper Teare, the 22-year-old University of Oregon star who unleashed a big kick to take the US 1500m title in Eugene last month. He ran a 3:50.17 mile indoors this year and clocked 3:51.70 for the mile to finish sixth behind Ingebrigtsen in Eugene in May.
Cathal Dennehy for World Athletics