Series03 Aug 2019

Fab five: teenage winners at the World Championships


Fab five: teenage winners at the World Championships (© Getty Images)

As we continue our countdown to the start of the IAAF World Athletics Championships Doha 2019, we look at a quintet of special athletes who defied age logic to be crowned world champions in their teenage years.


Eliud Kipchoge

Men’s 5000m, 2003 – age 18

Eliud Kipchoge winning the 2003 world 5000m title


The Kenyan marathon icon may be virtually invincible today over the 42.2km distance but very few would have predicted a 5000m gold medal at the 2003 World Championships in Paris against the powerful twin threat of Moroccan middle-distance maestro Hicham El Guerrouj and Ethiopia’s distance running king Kenenisa Bekele.

The pre-race talk was centred on which of the pair would secure a second gold in the Stade de France after the former had landed a fourth successive world 1500m title and the latter had pocketed the 10,000m crown. However, in one of the all-time great championship races, it was Kipchoge, who earlier that year had posted a world U20 5000m record, who shaded a frantic dash for the line in 12:52.79 to launch the beginning of his legendary career.


Kirani James

Men's 400m, 2011 – age 18

Kirani James taking the world 400m title in 2011


A winner of 400m titles at the 2009 World U18 Championships and the 2010 World U20 Championships, the teenage Grenadian’s talent had been evident for some time. In his final pre-event outing before the 2011 World Championships in Daegu, he blitzed to an area U20 record of 44.61 in London to offer genuine evidence of his gold medal credentials in South Korea.

In a fearless display, the tall, raw but talented James edged the defending world champion LaShawn Merritt by just 0.03 to wrestle the title from the US sprinter’s grip. The following year James, who was still a teenager at the time, added the Olympic 400m crown to his collection of global titles.


Ghirmay Ghebreslassie

Men's marathon, 2015 – age 19

Ghirmay Ghebreslassie, 2015 world marathon champion


His parents may have actively discouraged the Eritrean from starting a runner career, but he answered any family criticism in the best possible way by becoming the youngest athlete to take this title with a mature performance on the streets of Beijing. 

In only his third completed marathon, Ghebreslassie refused to panic when Tshepo Ramonene built up a sizeable lead in the second half of the race. The diminutive Ghebreslassie caught and passed the man from Lesotho at 36km and eventually ran out a gold medallist by a victory margin of 40 seconds. The following year he added further gloss to his career by securing the New York City Marathon crown.


Allyson Felix

Women's 200m, 2005 – age 19

Allyson Felix taking the 2005 world 200m title in Helsinki


The most successful female athlete in World Championships history began her mind-boggling record of 11 golds, three silver and two bronze at Helsinki’s Olympic Stadium with a trademark performance.

Remaining cool and calm despite Jamaica’s Veronica Campbell-Brown and Christine Arron of France holding a clear advantage at different stages of the race, the long-legged American, running with typical relaxed assurance, timed her run to perfection to strike gold in 22.16 – by 0.15 from her compatriot Rachelle Smith.


Tirunesh Dibaba

Women's 5000m, 2003 – age 18

Tirunesh Dibaba en route to the 2003 world 5000m title


The greatest female distance runner in World Championships history secured her first global gold in Paris by destroying her more experienced rivals with a devastating late burst of speed. 

Down the back stretch it appeared the fight for gold would be between Spain’s Marta Dominguez, Kenya’s Edith Masai and Yelena Zadorozhnaya of Russia only for the classy Ethiopian to glide past them on the outside and secure a victory by a little over half a second in 14:51.72. Dibaba went on to bank a further four World Championship gold medals and three Olympic titles during a stellar career.

Steve Landells for the IAAF