Samuel Tefera beats Jakob Ingebrigtsen to the world indoor 1500m title in Belgrade (© Getty Images)
When the Olympic champion met the world indoor champion, something was always going to give. In the end, as Jakob Ingebrigtsen and Samuel Tefera fought towards the line in the men’s 1500m final at the World Athletics Indoor Championships Belgrade 22 on Sunday (20), it was the Norwegian star who had no choice but to concede.
Not that Ingebrigtsen ever gave up, the 21-year-old trying to summon something – anything – to repel the late charge of Tefera, but it was no use, with the 22-year-old Ethiopian taking gold in 3:32.77, Ingebrigtsen taking silver in 3:33.02, and Kenya’s Abel Kipsang the bronze in 3:33.36.
Before the race, the head-to-head record between the big two was 11-0 in favour of Ingebrigtsen, but no one beats Samuel Tefera 12 times in a row, not when this is a distance at which he held the world indoor record at 3:31.04 for the past three years, until Ingebrigtsen broke it earlier this year with 3:30.60.
That race in Lievin, France, in mid-February made the Norwegian the hot favourite for the title in Belgrade, and when the gun fired he adopted similar tactics to the Olympic final in Tokyo, or indeed most races on the circuit.
He made sure it was fast.
With Kipsang rocketing through the opening lap in 27.60, Ingebrigtsen waited until the second to hit the front, stringing the field out behind as he passed 400m in 55.81, 800m in 1:53.9 and 1200m in 2:51.16.
But tracking him all the way, keeping his powder dry, was Tefera, the slightly more measured pace compared to the race in Lievin allowing him to sit in his slipstream into the final bend. Tefera then moved wide off the turn and emptied the tank to edge past his rival up the home straight, retaining his world indoor title with a championship record of 3:32.77.
“The race was very tough, but I feel very happy now because I became the champion,” said Tefera, who said he had surgery on his achilles tendon last year, an injury picked up during the Tokyo Olympics.
“I could not do many activities within the training but now I am completely fit,” he said. “I feel normal and I am ready for any kind of races and championships.”
Ingebrigtsen was gracious in defeat, not that he was too pleased about his silver.
“I came here to fight for the gold and it was a good fight,” he said. “I didn’t feel that great. Usually I feel a bit tired from 600 to 800 then it starts to loosen up but that didn’t happen tonight so I’m not 100 percent. Tefera was better than me tonight. I thought I was better than him, having run the record.”
Asked if he would do anything different if the race was run again, he said: “If I knew that I was completely s*** tonight, then of course I’d do a lot of things different, but I didn’t have any factors telling me that before the race.”
In third, Kipsang claimed the first global medal of his career, having been edged into fourth at the Olympics last year. Ethiopia’s Teddese Lemi finished fourth in 3:33.59, with Australia’s Ollie Hoare fifth and Britain’s Neil Gourley sixth.
The following day, on his return home after not feeling fully fit, Ingebrigtsen shared a photo of a positive Covid test on his social media and wrote: "Just arrived home in Sandnes, and decided to take a health check after a strange feeling last night. Leading up to the race, everything felt normal, with negative PCR test and several rapid tests. Bad timing but in some way unavoidable. Now it's all about recovering and getting back to training."
Cathal Dennehy for World Athletics
|MEN'S 1500m MEDALLISTS|
|🥇||Samuel Tefera 🇪🇹 ETH||3:32.77 CR|
|🥈||Jakob Ingebrigtsen 🇳🇴 NOR||3:33.02|
|🥉||Abel Kipsang 🇰🇪 KEN||3:33.36 SB|