Diribe Welteji on her way to winning the mile in Riga (© Adam Nurkiewicz)
Ethiopia’s Diribe Welteji turned the tables on Kenya’s Faith Kipyegon to win the inaugural women's world mile title in a world record of 4:20.98* at the World Athletics Road Running Championships Riga 23 on Sunday (1).
Kicking away from Kipyegon – the multiple world champion and world record-holder on the track – as they passed the Freedom Monument in the closing stages of the race, world 1500m silver medallist Welteji didn’t look back. The 21-year-old strode to her first senior title, eventually leading an Ethiopian top two as Freweyni Hailu passed Kipyegon in the closing stages and got the silver – 4:23.06 to 4:24.13.
Kipyegon claimed the world 1500m title ahead of Welteji in Budapest in August, the Kenyan star gaining another honour in a sensational season that has included world 1500m, mile and 5000m records on the track and a world 5000m title to go with that 1500m win in Hungary.
As she took to streets of the Latvian capital for her first ever road race, Kipyegon looked focused as she went straight to the front and the field quickly strung out behind her.
But she was joined by Welteji, Hailu and her Kenyan compatriot Nelly Chepchirchir, and it soon became clear that those four athletes would be battling for the three places on the podium, and victory was not a foregone conclusion.
Kipyegon and Welteji had opened up a gap on Hailu and Chepchirchir after a kilometre of running and were two seconds ahead at that point, passing the 1km mark in 2:41.00.
As they raced towards the finish line in Riga’s old town, Kipyegon was looking a little less comfortable. Glancing over her shoulder, she couldn’t hold off the well-judged attack from Welteji, who passed her as they ran by the central landmark.
Breaking the tape, Welteji won her first senior world title in 4:20.98, improving on the inaugural road mile record of 4:27.97 set by Nikki Hiltz in Des Moines in April.
Welteji adds this win to the world U20 800m title she won as a 16-year-old at her first ever international competition in Tampere in 2018, while she also claimed world U20 1500m silver in Nairobi in 2021 before getting her first senior world medal in Budapest behind Kipyegon.
World indoor 800m silver medallist Hailu followed her teammate over the finish line in Riga to secure the silver, while Kipyegon got the bronze. Chepchirchir finished fourth in 4:31.18 and Australia’s Jess Hull was fifth in 4:32.45. Hull has competed in all three World Athletics Series events in 2023, claiming mixed relay bronze at the World Cross Country Championships in Bathurst and finishing seventh in the 1500m final at the World Championships in Budapest.
“It was hard, the weather is not good for me,” said Welteji. “When I saw Faith in front, near the line, at that moment I decided to sprint. I could sense that she was tired, and I had it in my mind: 'I can beat her.'
“I came here to win, to write history and to motivate the new generations of our athletes.”
Hailu was also delighted with her performance. “It is a big honour for me to be a part of this competition,” she said. “I am proud to have won a silver medal for Ethiopia.”
At the end of a busy season, Kipyegon reflected: “It was a very successful season, but unfortunately, I am a little bit tired today. It feels good to be part of these first World Road Running Championships, so I am glad I did it. This was my first road race, so I did well.”
Jess Whittington for World Athletics
*Subject to the usual ratification procedure
|WOMEN'S MILE MEDALLISTS
|Diribe Welteji 🇪🇹 ETH
|Freweyni Hailu 🇪🇹 ETH
|Faith Kipyegon 🇰🇪 KEN