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Report19 Jul 2022

Rojas, Kipyegon and Thiam add to their legendary status in Oregon


Yulimar Rojas celebrates her triple jump victory at the World Athletics Championships Oregon22 (© Getty Images)

On a day when the focus was on putting women in the spotlight, three of the all-time greats of female athletics turned in truly stirring performances to light up Hayward Field at the World Athletics Championships Oregon22 on Monday (18).

Venezuela’s Yulimar Rojas, Kenya’s Faith Kipyegon and Belgium’s Nafi Thiam all maintained their global dominance with golden performances, while in the men’s high jump final Mutaz Essa Barshim won his third straight world title by soaring over a world lead of 2.37m.

There was no bigger favourite at these championships than Rojas, but if the Olympic champion and world record-holder felt the pressure of defending her world title in Eugene, she sure didn’t show it. Rousing the crowd in her typical effervescent style, Rojas set off down the runway for her second attempt and hopped, skipped and jumped her way to gold with a 15.47m effort, the second longest in World Championships history. Rojas knew at that point gold was assured, but the 26-year-old still had bigger ambitions.

On the final attempt she jumped 15.39m – officially – though her expression on exiting the pit told the story about how much distance she’d given away on the board. Not that it mattered, with Rojas jumping to her feet and saluting the crowd, dancing as she went to retrieve her nation’s flag – something she’ll likely be doing many more times in the years ahead.

“I wanted a longer jump, but I am happy to return to this beautiful stadium, to see the crowd,” said Rojas. “I came with the goal to get closer to my world record. The wind affected my run-up, I tried to adjust, but the most important thing was to win the medal and stay consistent over 15 metres.”

Jamaica’s Shanieka Ricketts took silver with 14.89m while USA’s Tori Franklin claimed bronze with 14.72m.

There was an equally peerless performance in the women’s 1500m, where Kipyegon cemented her place as the greatest 1500m runner of all time – winning her fourth global 1500m title and setting a high bar for future generations to follow.

But she was made to work for it, with a breathless, lung-bursting pace churned out from the gun by chief rival Gudaf Tsegay, the Ethiopian blasting the opening lap in 58.82, and hitting 800m in 2:03.18.

If her rivals wanted to stay with Tsegay, then they’d have to go to a dark place. In addition to Kipyegon, only Britain’s Laura Muir and Ethiopia’s Hirut Meshesha were willing to gamble and stick with it. For Muir it paid off. For Meshesha it didn’t, and the Ethiopian fell to pieces on the final lap, finishing 13th.

With a lap to run up front it was down to three, and down the back straight Kipyegon could wait no longer. She powered to the lead and kicked away, hitting the line in 3:52.96 ahead of Tsegay (3:54.52) and Muir (3:55.28). It was the 10th fastest time in history and the second fastest ever in the US, behind the 3:52.59 she ran on the same track in May.

“The Ethiopians controlled the race and I knew they were planning something special but for me, I was well prepared,” said Kipyegon, who said she is targeting a PB at the Wanda Diamond League meeting in Monaco next month. “Everybody was expecting something special from me. Everybody was like, ‘Faith, we believe in Faith,’ so it was a real pressure. But I managed it.”

Thiam’s victory in the heptathlon went down to the wire, and that was due to an inspired effort by Dutch rival Anouk Vetter. Thiam had come into the day with a 61-point advantage over Vetter, which she extended with a 6.59m long jump (to Vetter’s 6.52m), but the Dutchwoman claimed the lead in the javelin with a 58.29m throw to Thiam’s 53.01m. Given there were two seconds’ differences between their 800m PBs – the gap between them equating to 1.3 seconds over 800m – the stage was set for a thrilling finale.

Vetter tried to keep Thiam in her sights through the opening lap but the Belgian put broad daylight between them down the back straight, with Thiam producing an inspired kick through the final 200m to hit the line in 2:13.00, a two-second PB. That left her on 6947 points, with Vetter taking second with 6867 and USA’s Anna Hall – who raised the roof by leading the 800m home in 2:06.67 – taking bronze with 6755. Poland’s Adrianna Sulek was fourth with a national record of 6672.

In the men’s high jump, Barshim once again showed his capacity for timing his best performances when it matters most, the Qatari recording a perfect series up to 2.37m to heap pressure on his competitors. It was a level no one else could match, with South Korea’s Sanghyeok Woo taking silver with a national record of 2.35m and Ukraine’s Andriy Protsenko – who fled his native country in March with his family, training in Spain and Portugal since – winning bronze with 2.33m.

“Three world golds in a row is something that has never have been done before. I came here to secure that,” said Barshim. “Defending my Doha title and being recovered after injury are the most amazing things that could happened to me. Sometimes it’s difficult to show jumps and technique that people like and expect to see from me. It takes so much work, dedication and passion.”

Morocco’s Soufiane El Bakkali maintained his supremacy in the men’s 3000m steeplechase, which could best be summed up as a 400m steeplechase. The first kilometre was a complete dawdle, covered in 2:58.01, with the second kilometre not much quicker at 2:54.43.

At the bell there were still 11 men in contention in the leading pack, with reigning world champion Conseslus Kipruto of Kenya tracking Eritrea’s Yemane Haileselassie and Ethiopia’s Getnet Wale. Down the back straight, El Bakkali powered along the outside of the pack, the Olympic champion sweeping to the lead around the turn and showing the vast range of gears that has won him so many big races in recent years – and which has now won him a first world title.

He hit the line in 8:25.13 ahead of Ethiopia’s Lamecha Girma (8:26.01) and Kipruto (8:27.92). “I am very strong in the 400m and it worked out for me,” said El Bakkali, who covered his last lap – over five barriers – in 57.35 seconds.

Earlier in the day, Gotytom Gebreslase made it a double victory for Ethiopia in the marathons, following in the footsteps of Tamirat Tola 24 hours earlier by taking a convincing win in the women’s in 2:18:11. Race favourite Ruth Chepngetich, the 2019 champion, led the lead group past the 18km mark but then dropped out due to stomach problems.

That carved close to three minutes off the championship record set by Paula Radcliffe in 2005, but the fate of the gold medal remained in doubt until the closing two kilometres, with the 27-year-old Ethiopian then breaking clear of Kenya’s Judith Korir, who set a PB of 2:18:20 in second.

“The Kenyan runner asked me to pass her, but I stayed patient,” said Gebreslase. “Towards 40km, I felt strong and decided to leave.”

Israel’s Lonah Salpeter claimed bronze in 2:20:18. Eritrea’s Nazret Weldu was next with a national record of 2:20:29 while USA’s Sara Hall was fifth with 2:22:10. In a race of impressive depth, athletes one to nine set the best times for their respective places in the championships’ history.

In the men’s 200m heats, world champion Noah Lyles took a relaxed attitude to his 200m heat, waving his hand at competitors halfway down the home straight, and given those antics his time of 19.98 (-0.3m/s) was all the more impressive. It was the first ever wind-legal sub-20 in the heats of a global championships.

Chief rival Erriyon Knighton looked to be running well within himself when coasting to victory in 20.01 (2.1m/s), while Alexander Ogando of Dominican Republic broke new ground with a national record of 20.01 (0.5m/s) to win his heat.

Aminatou Seyni of Niger was quickest in the women’s 200m heats with a national record of 21.98 (1.1m/s), beating 100m champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce (22.26). World leader Shericka Jackson ran a composed 22.33 (2.5m/s) while US champion Abby Steiner clocked 22.26 (0.9m/s).

In the women’s discus qualification, gold medal favourite Valarie Allman had some nervous moments after fouling her first two attempts but the world leader put the crowd’s worries to rest after launching a 68.36m effort to advance. Jorinde van Klinken of the Netherlands was next best with 65.66m.

Cathal Dennehy for World Athletics