Berihu Aregawi and Beatrice Chebet (© Getty Images)
Three of the four fastest men in history clash in the 5km at the World Athletics Road Running Championships Riga 23.
Not only does Berihu Aregawi have the superior road PB, having broken the world record with his 12:49 run at the Cursa dels Nassos in Barcelona in 2021, but he also has the quickest track PB among the entries – his 12:40.45 from Lausanne in June placing him fifth on the world 5000m all-time list.
Fast times are only half of the story, however, and making this contest even more compelling is the rematches it offers.
Yomif Kejelcha is the world leader and he was just one second off his Ethiopian compatriot’s world 5km record when he clocked 12:50 in Lille in March. He’s also just one place below Aregawi on the world 5000m all-time list thanks to his 12:41.73 performance from Oslo. When it comes to their career head-to-head, the tally stands 6-5 in Kejelcha’s favour, considering performances achieved from 3000m up to 10,000m.
Aregawi is the world cross country silver medallist, who finished fourth in the world and Olympic 10,000m finals, while Kejelcha is a two-time world indoor 3000m gold medallist and world indoor mile record-holder, who secured 10,000m silver at the 2019 World Championships in Doha.
Then there’s Kenya’s Nicholas Kipkorir, the fourth fastest 5km runner of all time. He ran 12:55 in Herzogenaurach last year, finishing second in a race won by Kejelcha in 12:53, and now they prepare to battle again.
Of the 11 5km performances in history that have been 13 minutes or faster, that trio – Aregawi, Kejelcha and Kipkorir – have recorded seven of them: three by Aregawi and two each by Kejelcha and Kipkorir.
When it comes to track PBs, however, one athlete splits those three at the top of the entry list: Ethiopia’s Olympic and world medallist Hagos Gebrhiwet. The 29-year-old won the world U20 cross country title in 2013 and claimed his first senior medal that same year, securing 5000m silver in Moscow. He then gained world bronze in 2015 and an Olympic medal of the same colour in 2016. While he finished sixth in the world final this year, he proved he’s top form by running a 12:42.18 lifetime best to win in Monaco. He also recorded a half marathon PB of 58:55 to win what was his third career half marathon in Granollers in February.
On the Kenyan squad, 2022 world 10,000m silver medallist Stanley Waithaka Mburu and Cornelius Kemboi are entered along with Kipkorir.
Burundi’s Egide Ntakarutimana ran 13:03.61 in a 5000m in Vienna in June and makes his 5km debut after improving his 10km best to 27:45 in Brasov last year.
Spanish record-holder Ouassim Oumaiz, who ran 13:19 in 2020, will also want to make an impact, as will USA’s 2022 NCAA champion Olin Hacker, Norway's Magnus Tuv Myhre and Canadian 5km and 10km record-holder Ben Flanagan.
Oceanian 3000m record-holder Stewart McSweyn forms part of the Australian team in Riga and as well as a high placing, he’ll also be looking for an improvement on his 13:53 PB as he returns to race the distance on the roads for the first time since 2017. Since then, he has taken his 5000m best to 12:56.50.
There will be no easing in gently to the elite race programme in Riga, with the women’s 5km featuring a stellar field of Olympic and world medallists on the hunt for the first of the six titles on offer in the Latvian capital.
Kenya’s Beatrice Chebet has already claimed one global gold in 2023 and after becoming the world cross country champion in Bathurst in February, the 23-year-old now targets her second out-of-stadium title of the year.
That’s not to say her track form is any less impressive. Chebet was second in her most recent race, but it took a world record to beat her – Gudaf Tsegay clocking 14:00.21 in the Wanda Diamond League final in Eugene to take almost five seconds off the 5000m mark that Faith Kipyegon set in Paris in June, and Chebet almost dipping underneath it too with 14:05.92 for the third-fastest performance of all time.
Prior to that, Chebet claimed her second world 5000m medal, adding bronze in Budapest to the silver she secured in Oregon.
Her 5km PB of 14:32, set when winning last year’s Diamond League title on the streets of Zurich, also makes Chebet one of the quickest of all time. But in Riga, she’ll be up against the fastest.
Cue Ethiopia’s Ejgayehu Taye, the mixed race world record-holder who ran 14:19 in Barcelona on the final day of 2021, at the same event at which Berihu Aregawi set his world record. Unlike in Riga, where the women’s and men’s races will be held separately, the event in Barcelona saw both fields start at the same time. Taye went on to take 24 seconds off the world record for the 5km in a mixed race and a year later she returned to run 14:21. The women-only world 5km record is 14:29, set by Ethiopia’s Senbere Teferi in Herzogenaurach in 2021.
Since her world record performance, Taye has also become a world indoor and outdoor medallist – world indoor 3000m bronze in Belgrade followed by a world 10,000m medal of the same colour in Budapest – and she has also taken her 5000m PB to 14:12.98, making her the second fastest in the field when it comes to track times for the distance.
Taye is listed on the Ethiopian squad alongside Medina Eisa and Lemlem Hailu. World U20 cross country silver medallist Eisa ran 14:16.54 in London in July and has a 5km PB of 14:46 from April, while world indoor 3000m champion Hailu clocked 14:34.53 for 5000m in Paris in June and would be making her 5km debut.
For Kenya, Chebet will be joined by Lilian Kasait Rengeruk, the 2017 world cross country bronze medallist who won the 5000m at the Brussels Diamond League earlier this month and clocked a 14:23.05 PB when finishing fourth behind world record-breaker Kipyegon in Paris.
One of the intriguing things about road racing is that it can bring together athletes who might not usually go head to head. Uganda’s Peruth Chemutai is better known for her exploits in the 3000m steeplechase, having won the Olympic title in the discipline in Tokyo, but she has raced Chebet once before – and beaten her.
The pair clashed in a cross country race in Hannut last year, when Chemutai pipped Chebet by 13 seconds. Now Chemutai gets ready to return to the roads, looking to build on the PB of 15:05 she set in the first of the two 5km races she has undertaken in her career so far.
Chemutai is joined in the Ugandan squad by Joy Cheptoyek and Prisca Chesang, who claimed 5000m bronze medals at the 2021 and 2022 editions of the World U20 Championships.
Italy’s Nadia Battocletti – seventh in both the Olympic and European 5000m finals – will also be in action, along with USA’s Emily Infeld and Burundi's Francine Niyomukunzi.
Jess Whittington for World Athletics