Faith Kipyegon and Reynold Cheruiyot (© Getty Images)
Faith Kipyegon showed with her 5000m world record earlier this year that she doesn’t fear the unknown.
She had raced just twice over the distance before that, some eight years prior. But she took on – and ran away from – a quality field to set her second of three track world records this year.
Now, despite having never raced on the roads, the Kenyan great turns her attention to the mile at the World Athletics Road Running Championships Riga 23, where she is aiming to win her third global title of the year, following the 1500m and 5000m golds she earned in Budapest.
The 29-year-old has already shown versatility across different terrains, as well as distances. Back in 2011 she won her first global title in the U20 race at the World Cross Country Championships, which she successfully defended two years later.
The track has been her main focus in recent years, but she has often spoken of a potential move to the roads – and eventually the marathon – so her appearance in Riga marks the first significant step in that plan.
Her track mile world record of 4:07.64, set earlier this year in Monaco, is seven seconds faster than the PB of the next-fastest entrant. It’s also 20 seconds faster than the newly ratified official road mile world record (4:27.97), which belongs to USA’s Nikki Hiltz.
It’s probably safe to assume that the winning time in Riga will fall somewhere between the existing world records for the track mile and the road mile. And while it would be brave to bet against Kipyegon, there is never a guarantee in sport – especially with a field as good as the one in Riga.
Ethiopia has selected three of its best middle-distance runners, all of whom have bettered 3:56 for 1500m this year.
Diribe Welteji was Kipyegon’s closest challenger at the World Championships in Budapest, finishing within one second of the Kenyan to take silver in 3:55.69. She went on to set a PB of 3:53.93 at the Wanda Diamond League Final in Eugene, once again finishing second to Kipyegon.
World indoor bronze medallist Hirut Meshesha enjoyed a breakthrough run at the Diamond League meeting in Silesia in July, clocking a PB of 3:54.87. She will be fired up to end her year on a high, having missed out on making the World Championships final in Budapest.
Fellow Ethiopian Freweyni Hailu has displayed remarkable range in recent years, clocking PBs of 1:57.57 for 800m, 3:55.68 for 1500m and 14:23.45 for 5000m. She took world indoor silver over 800m last year, and placed seventh in the 5000m in Budapest last month. Her 1500m PB was set just earlier this month at the Diamond League Final, so she’ll carry strong form into Riga.
Kipyegon won’t be alone in her quest to secure a medal for Kenya, as she’ll have support from compatriot Nelly Chepchirchir. The 20-year-old has been a revelation this year, breaking 4:00 for 1500m on five occasions, placing fifth at the World Championships, and clocking a PB of 3:56.72.
Steeplechase world record-holder Beatrice Chepkoech had also been entered, but is a late withdrawal.
The fight for medals won’t be an all Kenya-Ethiopia affair, though.
Australia’s Jess Hull has had one of her best seasons to date, starting with mixed relay bronze at the World Cross Country Championships in Bathurst, and continuing with Oceanian records for 3000m and the mile. Her 1500m PB of 3:57.29 back in June also briefly stood as an area record, and she went on to place seventh in Budapest.
Japan’s Nozomi Tanaka has also been in record-breaking form this year. The 24-year-old, who already held the Japanese 1500m record at 3:59.19, has twice broken the national 5000m record this year, reducing it to 14:29.18. She is entered for both the mile and 5km in Riga, despite them being scheduled just 70 minutes apart.
Teenager Addison Wiley displayed strong form at the end of the track season, clocking PBs of 1:57.64 and 3:59.17 in her final 800m and 1500m races of 2023. She leads a strong US squad alongside Emily Mackay and Helen Schlachtenhaufen.
Other contenders include Spain’s Marta Perez, Britain’s Sarah McDonald and Uganda’s Winnie Nanyondo.
Despite still being an U20 athlete, Reynold Cheruiyot has used the 2023 season to test the waters of the senior international scene. He now aims to end the year by winning his first senior global title.
The 19-year-old Kenyan won the world U20 1500m title last year, which he followed with silver in the U20 race at the World Cross Country Championships in Bathurst back in February. He won the African U20 1500m title two months later, but has focused on senior competition since then.
He clocked a 1500m PB of 3:30.30, putting him fifth on the world U20 all-time list, and came close to matching that time when placing eighth in the World Championships final in 3:30.78. After the World Championships, he went on to set a world U20 best for 2000m (4:48.14) and a world U20 record for the mile (3:48.06).
Not only does he have the fastest 1500m season’s best of all the Riga entrants, he also has the fastest track mile PB. But even so, there is no clear-cut favourite in this extremely open field.
Ethiopian duo Teddese Lemi and Melkeneh Azize are among the quicker entrants, based on 1500m form. Lemi was part of the victorious Ethiopian mixed relay team at the 2019 World Cross, and last year he placed fourth at the World Indoor Championships and eighth at the World Championships.
Eighteen-year-old Azize will be competing at his first senior global championships. After taking world U20 1500m bronze in 2021, he upgraded it to 3000m gold in 2022. As a measure of his talent, he set a 1500m PB of 3:33.74 in 2021 when he was just 16 years of age.
Sam Prakel heads to Riga off the back of having his road mile mark of 4:01.21 ratified as the inaugural world record for the discipline. The US indoor champion reached the 1500m final at last year’s World Indoors and will be aiming to improve on his eighth-place finish from there.
Compatriot Hobbs Kessler will be making his global championships debut. The 20-year-old holds the North American U20 1500m record and the US high school indoor mile record, and earlier this year he set a 1500m PB of 3:32.61.
South Africa’s Ryan Mphahlele has excelled on the roads, cross country and track this year. He ran a storming leg in the mixed relay at the World Cross in Bathurst, then followed it with a 1500m PB of 3:32.90 in mid-April. Less than two weeks later, he set a national record of 13:24 for the road 5km. He has also won two international track mile races this season, setting PBs of 3:55.59 and 3:54.48.
Other potential contenders include Kenya’s world cross mixed relay champion Kyumbe Munguti, in-form Italian Mohad Abdikadar Sheik Ali and Australia’s Matthew Ramsden.
Jon Mulkeen for World Athletics