Feature06 Feb 2024

"Making history" in Budapest - Kipyegon presents World Championships spikes to MOWA


Faith Kipyegon celebrates her world 5000m title win in Budapest (© Getty Images)

With 250m remaining of the women’s 5000m final at the World Athletics Championships Budapest 23, Faith Kipyegon had a trio of distinguished rivals hot on her heels: Olympic champion Sifan Hassan, defending world champion Gudaf Tsegay, and world cross country champion Beatrice Chebet.

The heels belonged to the bright pink running spikes Kipyegon has now graciously chosen to donate to the Museum of World Athletics (MOWA) in recognition of the historic double accomplished by the Kenyan phenomenon with her formidable finish in the gripping 12-and-a-half lap final.

Faith Kipyegon's shoes

Faith Kipyegon's shoes

A cagey affair had wound up into a thrilling denouement, drawing all of the main players into contention in what was arguably the most loaded women’s 5000m race of all time.

For Kipyegon, at the pinnacle of a season spent chasing the clock, of leaving the trackside wavelight trailing helplessly in her wake, it was a raw test of her racing ability at a still-unfamiliar distance.

First ever World Championships 1500m & 5000m double

True, four days previously, the then 29-year-old had claimed her third successive world 1500m title. But that was at her specialist distance, at which she also happened to boast a pair of Olympic gold medals, plus the freshly-minted world record.

And yes, the farm girl from Nakuru County in the Great Rift Valley had run the fastest ever 5000m by a woman in history. But that 14:05.20 was achieved in an orchestrated world record attempt, at the Paris Diamond League on 9 June – the second leg of her stunning hat-trick of global marks in June and July, reminiscent of Sebastian Coe and Henry Rono back in the day.

This time victory was all that mattered. And the pressure was being applied in the heat of a fiercely contested World Athletics Championships battle.

With half a lap to go, Tsegay faded, the effort of her victory in the 10,000m final taking its toll. But Hassan and Chebet dug in.

Kipyegon upped her pace at the front with 180m remaining and could not afford to take her foot off the gas as she rounded the final turn.

She was chased hard all of the way down the home straight by Hassan but crossed the line 0.33 ahead of the dogged Dutch athlete in 14:53.88. She had run the final lap in 56.69, the last 200m in 27.12.

It had been a compelling tussle between two of the barrier-pushing greats of women’s distance running - a fitting way for Kipyegon to claim a place in the record books as the first athlete to achieve a World Championships double at 1500m and 5000m.

Hicham El Guerrouj won golds at both distances at the 2004 Olympics in Athens but the masterful Moroccan, the fastest man of all time at 1500m and the mile, never quite managed to do so at the World Athletics Championships.

He won the 1500m in Paris in 2003 but was outkicked in the 5000m final by the 18-year-old Eliud Kipchoge, who, coincidentally, two decades on plays a key role in the burgeoning success story of Faith Chepngetich Kipyegon.

“Making history today, winning two gold medals in a championship, is what I was dreaming for this season,” said Kipyegon, who trains alongside Kipchoge, the two-time Olympic marathon champion, under the direction of former international steeplechaser Patrick Sang with the NN Running group in Kaptagat.

“I have been patient, waiting to be able to break world records and to win double golds, but my dream just came true.”

Faith Kipyegon wins the 5000m at the World Athletics Championships Budapest 23

Faith Kipyegon wins the 5000m at the World Athletics Championships Budapest 23 (© AFP / Getty Images)

Historic 1500m triple

The first part of that ultimately hard-won double had been attained with a little more ease on the part of the peerless Kipyegon.

In the 1500m final in Budapest she controlled proceedings from the front all the way, gradually winding up the pace before kicking hard at the bell and opening up an unassailable gap with 200m remaining.

Unchallenged in the home straight, she crossed the line in 3:54.87, comfortably clear of the young Ethiopian Diribe Weltej, who took second in 3:55.69. The fast-finishing Hassan claimed bronze in 3:56.00, easing the disappointment of having fallen within sight of possible victory in the 10,000m on the opening night – a remarkable feat by a woman who had overcome mid-race cramp to make a winning marathon debut in London just four months previously, clocking 2:18:33.

“It was my plan to control the race and defend my title,” said Kipyegon. “I was chasing the title again and chasing history.”

As would be the case in the 5000m, the 5ft 2in Kenyan with the smooth, perfectly balanced high temp running style secured a historic achievement with her 1500m success.

No woman had ever completed a hat-trick of World Championships titles at the distance. Algeria’s Hassiba Boulmerka, Tatyana Tomashova of Russia and Bahraini Maryam Jamal all won twice at the distance.

Kipyegon's first 1500m title came in London back in 2017 and her second in Oregon in 2022. In between, in Doha in 2019 – on the comeback trail after the birth of her daughter, Alyn – she took the silver medal behind Hassan.

Paris 2024 - “Big fish… big legacy”

El Guerrouj won the world 1500m title four times (1997, 1999, 2001 and 2003) but Kipyegon, with her 5000m success, has now matched the Moroccan’s tally of World Championship golds. She also has one more Olympic gold than he managed, having prevailed over 1500m in Rio in 2016 and in Tokyo in 2021.

Kipyegon is already one of only three athletes who have retained an Olympic 1500m title, having followed in the footsteps of Coe, who won the men’s crown in 1980 and 1984, and Tatyana Kazankina, won was the women’s champion in 1976 and 1980.

Next year in Paris, Kipyegon will have the chance to become the first to win three Olympic 1500m gold medals, which would elevate her standing in the middle-distance pantheon to hallowed higher ground.

Faith Kipyegon celebrates her 1500m win at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games

Faith Kipyegon celebrates her 1500m win at the Tokyo Olympic Games (© Getty Images)

“That’s the big fish,” she said, looking ahead to 2024. “If I win three times, back-to-back Olympic titles at 1500m, it will be a motivation to the next generation. And it will be a big motivation for me to try to achieve it.

“It would be a big legacy to leave behind. It would be something else.”

It would indeed. Kipyegon has now bagged five global 1500m titles.

Only one other woman has claimed three: Jamal, with her World Championship wins in 2007 and 2009 and her Olympic victory in 2012.

On the men’s side, El Guerrouj won five titles at 1500m: four world and one Olympic. Noureddine Morceli managed four: three world and one Olympic.

Phenomenal Faith

But then, whatever happens in 2024, and indeed beyond, there is already a considerable amount to the legacy that Kipyegon has accumulated since she first stepped on to the international scene as a barefoot 16-year-old at the 2010 World Athletics Cross Country Championships in Bydgoszcz.

Running against rivals three years her senior, she placed fourth in a Kenyan 1-2-3-4 in the U20 women’s race, collecting her first global gold medal from the team competition.

The following year Kipyegon captured the individual title in Punta Umbria, and also won the world U18 1500m title at Villeneuve-d’Ascq. In 2012 she graduated to world U20 champion at 1500m, then returned to Bydgoszcz in 2013 to win her second world U20 cross country title in icy, sub-zero conditions - becoming only the third athlete to retain the title, after compatriot Viola Kibiwot and Ethiopia’s Genzebe Dibaba.

It was Dibaba’s eight-year-old 1500m mark of 3:50.07 that Kipyegon eclipsed when she launched her world record-breaking spree in Florence on 2 June last year.

If becoming the first woman to break the 3:50 barrier for 1500m, with a time of 3:49.11, were not enough of a Bannisteresque feat, she proceeded to slash more than four seconds off Hassan’s mile record with a stunning 4:07.64 in Monaco on 21 July – matching New Zealander Jack Lovelock’s men’s world record time at Princeton in 1933. In between came the 14:05.20 world record at 5000m in Paris.

Kipyegon is only the fifth athlete to have become an individual world champion at U18, U20 and senior level and set a senior world record, following in the footsteps of Usain Bolt, Mondo Duplantis, Yelena Isinbayeva and Kevin Mayer.

And yet she has remained a woman of the people – so popular among her heavily-beaten rivals that they gathered her in their arms horizontally for a celebratory ‘team’ photo in the aftermath of her 1500m world record in Florence.

It was a snapshot that spoke a thousand words about the phenomenal Faith Kipyegon.

Simon Turnbull for World Athletics Heritage

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