Faith Kipyegon, ‘the sniper,’ becomes greatest female mile champ in history at track worlds

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In 2015, Jenny Simpson, arguably the greatest U.S. female miler in history, slapped a label on a budding runner from Kenya named Faith Kipyegon.

“I call her the sniper,” Simpson said then, three months after the then-21-year-old Kipyegon won her first global 1500m medal, silver at the 2015 World Championships. “She won’t go out and run hard from the gun, but she can run people down. The last 200 meters or so she’s really good, and she’ll be four seconds back with a lap to go, and all of a sudden she’s running people down.

“I think she weighs as much as my right leg. She’s teeny.”

Kipyegon bagged her second world title on Monday, prevailing in 3 minutes, 52.96 seconds in Eugene, Oregon. That combined with her two Olympic golds, separated by a 22-month maternity leave from competition (that included 12 months without running), makes her the first woman to win four global 1500m titles.

“I knew I was the best,” said Kipyegon who overtook Ethiopian Gudaf Tsegay on the final lap after Tsegay set a blistering early place. “I had pressure because everybody was expecting really special things for me. Everybody was like, ‘We have faith,’ ‘We believe in Faith.'”

She was one of four athletes from four different continents among Monday night’s five finals to win a fourth global title, along with Belgian Nafi Thiam (heptathlon), Venezuelan Yulimar Rojas (triple jump) and Qatar’s Mutaz Barshim (high jump).

TRACK WORLDS: Broadcast Schedule | Results | U.S. Roster | Key Events

Kipyegon was the eighth of nine children growing on a farm in the Kenyan Rift Valley. Older sister Beatrice Mutai and her dad, Samuel Koech, also ran. Kipyegon was a soccer player at age 14 when she lined up for a one-kilometer run in PE class, according to World Athletics.

“I won that race by 20 meters,” Kipyegon said, according to World Athletics in 2016. “It is only then I knew I could run fast and be a good athlete.”

In 2010, a barefooted Kipyegon placed fourth in the world cross country championships junior race as, at age 16, the youngest finisher in the top 21. The next year, she won it. The year after that, she made her Olympic debut at age 18.

In 2016, she passed world record holder Genzebe Dibaba on the final lap to win Olympic gold. In 2017, she passed Sifan Hassan, the most versatile distance runner of this era, on the final lap to win world championships gold. She did the same to Hassan at the Tokyo Games.

“I’m biased, but in my eyes she’s the greatest 1500m runner there has ever been,” Brit Laura Muir reportedly said after following Kipyegon to silver and a personal-best time in Tokyo. “I don’t think she gets enough credit for the athlete she is. She’s won everything.”

Kipyegon is the fourth-fastest female miler in history, trailing two dubious Chinese and Dibaba, whose world record is a second faster than Kipyegon’s personal best. Kipyegon said that record isn’t a priority and that she may shift to the 5000m after the 2024 Paris Games, according to Olympics.com. No woman has won three Olympic gold medals in an individual track event.

Worlds continue Tuesday, highlighted by finals in the men’s 400m hurdles and men’s 1500m.

Also Monday, Thiam joined Kipyegon as a two-time Olympic gold medalist and two-time world champion, prevailing with 6,947 points. American Anna Hall earned bronze with a 297-point personal best total. She vaulted from the 11th-best American in history to No. 3 behind world record holder Jackie Joyner-Kersee and Jane Frederick.

Like Kipyegon and Thiam, Rojas earned a fourth global title. She three-peated as world triple jump champion with the fifth-best jump in history. Rojas, 26, has six of the top seven jumps on the all-time list, including the world record. Tori Franklin earned bronze to become the first American woman to win an Olympic or world medal in the event.

Like Kipyegon, Thiam and Rojas, Barshim became a four-time global champion. He cleared 2.37 meters to three-peat as world champion, a year after sharing Olympic gold with Italian Gianmarco Tamberi (who was fourth Monday).

Moroccan Soufiane El Bakkali followed his Olympic gold with his first world title in the 3000m steeplechase, making his move off the last water jump. On the first lap, runners had to avoid a camera man on the track.

All of the favorites advanced to 200m semifinals for the men (Americans Noah Lyles and Erriyon Knighton, after Olympic champion Andre De Grasse withdrew) and the women (Jamaicans Shelly-Ann Fraser-PryceElaine Thompson-Herah and Shericka Jackson).

In the morning, Ethiopian Gotytom Gebreslase won the women’s marathon in a championship record 2:18:11, edging Kenyan Judith Jeptum Korir by nine seconds. Americans finished fifth (Sara Hall), seventh (Emma Bates) and eighth (Keira D’Amato). Gebreslase, the 2021 Berlin Marathon winner, extended Ethiopia’s early success at worlds after wins in the women’s 10,000m (Letesenbet Gidey) and men’s marathon (Tamirat Tola).

NBC Olympic Research contributed to this report.

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Kenenisa Bekele still eyes Eliud Kipchoge’s marathon world record, but a duel must wait

Kenenisa Bekele
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LONDON — Kenenisa Bekele made headlines last week by declaring “of course I am the best” long distance runner ever. But the Ethiopian was fifth-best at Sunday’s London Marathon, finishing 74 seconds behind Kenya’s Amos Kipruto.

Bekele, 40, clocked 2:05:53, the fastest-ever marathon by a runner 40 years or older. He was with the lead pack until being dropped in the 21st mile.

But Bekele estimated he could have run 90 to 120 seconds faster had he not missed parts of six weeks of training with hip and joint injuries.

“I expect better even if the preparation is short,” he said. “I know my talent and I know my capacity, but really I couldn’t achieve what I expect.”

Bekele is the second-fastest marathoner in history behind Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge, who broke his own world record by clocking 2:01:09 at the Berlin Marathon last week.

“I am happy when I see Eliud Kipchoge run that time,” Bekele said. “It motivates all athletes who really expect to do the same thing.”

LONDON MARATHON: Results

Bekele’s best time was within two seconds of Kipchoge’s previous world record (2:01:39). He described breaking Kipchoge’s new mark as the “main goal” for the rest of his career.

“Yes, I hope, one day it will happen, of course,” Bekele said. “With good preparation, I don’t know when, but we will see one more time.”

Nobody has won more London Marathons than Kipchoge, a four-time champion who set the course record (2:02:37) in 2019. But the two-time Olympic marathon champion did not run this year in London, as elite marathoners typically choose to enter one race each spring and fall.

Bekele does not know which race he will enter in the spring. But it will not be against Kipchoge.

“I need to show something first,” Bekele said. “I need to run a fast time. I have to check myself. This is not enough.”

Kipchoge will try to become the first runner to win three Olympic marathon titles at the Paris Games. Bekele, who will be 42 in 2024, has not committed to trying to qualify for the Ethiopian team.

“There’s a long time to go before Paris,” Bekele said. “At this moment I am not decided. I have to show something.”

So who is the greatest long distance runner ever?

Bekele can make a strong case on the track:

Bekele
Four Olympic medals (three gold)
Six World Championship medals (five gold)
Former 5000m and 10,000m world-record holder

Kipchoge
Two Olympic medals
Two World Championship medals (one gold)

But Kipchoge can make a strong case on the pavement:

Bekele
Second-fastest marathoner in history
Two World Marathon Major victories

Kipchoge
Four of the five best marathon times in history
Two-time Olympic marathon champion
12 World Marathon Major victories

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Yalemzerf Yehualaw, Amos Kipruto win London Marathon

Yalemzerf Yehualaw
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Ethiopian Yalemzerf Yehualaw became the youngest female runner to win the London Marathon, while Kenyan Amos Kipruto earned the biggest victory of his career in the men’s race.

Yehualaw, 23, clocked 2:17:26, prevailing by 41 seconds over 2021 London champ Joyciline Jepkosgei of Kenya.

Yehualaw tripped and fell over a speed bump around the 20-mile mark. She quickly rejoined the lead pack, then pulled away from Jepkosgei by running the 24th mile in a reported 4:43, which converts to 2:03:30 marathon pace; the women’s world record is 2:14:04.

Yehualaw and Jepkosgei were pre-race favorites after world record holder Brigid Kosgei of Kenya withdrew Monday with a right hamstring injury.

On April 24, Yehualaw ran the fastest women’s debut marathon in history, a 2:17:23 to win in Hamburg, Germany.

She has joined the elite tier of female marathoners, a group led by Kenyan Peres Jepchirchir, the reigning Olympic, New York City and Boston champion. Another Ethiopian staked a claim last week when Tigist Assefa won Berlin in 2:15:37, shattering Yehualaw’s national record.

Joan Benoit Samuelson, the first Olympic women’s marathon champion in 1984, finished Sunday’s race in 3:20:20 at age 65.

LONDON MARATHON: Results

Kipruto, 30, won the men’s race in 2:04:39. He broke free from the leading group in the 25th mile and crossed the finish line 33 seconds ahead of Ethiopian Leul Gebresilase, who said he had hamstring problems.

Kipruto, one of the pre-race favorites, had never won a major marathon but did finish second behind world record holder Eliud Kipchoge in Tokyo (2022) and Berlin (2018) and third at the world championships (2019) and Tokyo (2018).

Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele, the second-fastest marathoner in history, was fifth after being dropped in the 21st mile. His 2:05:53 was the fastest-ever marathon by a runner 40 years or older. Bekele ran his personal best at the 2019 Berlin Marathon — 2:01:41 — and has not run within four minutes of that time since.

The major marathon season continues next Sunday with the Chicago Marathon, headlined by a women’s field that includes Kenyan Ruth Chepngetich and American Emily Sisson.

London returns next year to its traditional April place after being pushed to October the last three years due to the pandemic.

MORE: Bekele looks ahead to Kipchoge chase after London Marathon

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