Genzebe Dibaba Earns Gold With Ridiculous 1:56.9 Final 800 – Americans Stars Jenny Simpson and Shannon Rowbury Left Way Behind

August 25, 2015

BEIJING — To this point, Genzebe Dibaba’s career has been defined by times, not medals. 8:16.60. 14:15.41. 3:50.07. And though she finally earned her first outdoor World Championship gold medal tonight, winning the women’s 1500 at the 2015 IAAF World Championships in 4:08.08, it is another time — 1:56.9, her final 800 split — that will define this performance, even more than her finishing position.

Genzebe Dibaba celebratest her first outdoor title

Genzebe Dibaba celebratest her first outdoor title

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How fast is 1:56.9? The 2014 world leader was 1:57.67. Yes, Dibaba had a running start. But she also had to run 700 extra meters beforehand. Perhaps translating it to a male equivalent will make things clearer. The 2014 men’s world leader at 800 was 1:42.45. So one might say what Dibaba did tonight was (roughly) the equivalent of Asbel Kiprop closing a 1500 in 1:41.xx (though 1:42.45 is a lot higher than 1:57.67 on the respective all-time lists).

Truly remarkable and practically an unfathomable thought at the beginning of the year. Dibaba started the year training for the 5,000, entered the 1500 at Worlds practically on a whim (yes she ran 3:55 for 1500 indoors last year but always said she planned on running the 5000 outdoors) and right now she might be the best 800 runner in the world. Her 2015 accomplishments read like the biography of some video game character with every attribute maxed out to 99. If you told us she could fly, we wouldn’t rule it out at this point.

Considering Dibaba is now resembling a video game character, silver and bronze medalist Faith Kipyegon (4:08.96) and Sifan Hassan (4:09.34) did remarkably well to stay even somewhat close to her (though the margin would have been greater had Dibaba not slowed to celebrate before the line). Both closed in 1:57.6 — world-class 800 times on their own — but there was no catching Dibaba on this night, even though they were able to leave the rest of the field in the dust.

The Americans struggled in this one, though neither Shannon Rowbury nor Jenny Simpson has anything to be ashamed for. Both have carried the torch proudly for U.S. middle distance running this year, and the fact that Rowbury (7th, 4:12.39) and Simpson (11th, 4:16.28 after losing her shoe with 650 to go) couldn’t medal when it would have taken a sub-1:58 final 800 to do so is more a reflection of the top three’s brilliance than any major flaws on the Americans’ part. That being said, the first 700 was way too slow to be beneficial to Rowbury or Simpson.

The Race (video of race here, if you’d like to watch worlds races without knowing the results click here

Despite the incredible PBs of the women in this field (in addition to world record holder Dibaba, six other women had broken 3:58 in their careers), the race went out remarkably slowly as Rowbury led through 400 in 77.06 with Simpson right on her shoulder. The pace continued to dawdle for most of the next lap until Dibaba moved to the front with two laps to go.

How she got there wound up having a major effect on Jenny Simpson. Just before they reached the finish line, Simpson was leading on the outside of lane one with Rowbury slightly behind on her inside. Dibaba passed Simpson about five meters from the line and cut in front of her very quickly, causing Simpson to slow down and stick her hand out in case she needed to steady herself. As she did that, Sweden’s Abeba Aregawi, running behind Simpson, clipped her shoe, dislodging it.

In an instant, the 12-woman field went from jogging to sprinting as Dibaba strung out the field single-file. Simpson followed along with Aregawi behind her as Rowbury began to drop back. Hassan, 11th with 800 to go, passed four runners to move up to seventh with 600 to go just as Simpson began to fade. For almost half a lap, Simpson had dug her toes in in an effort to keep her shoe on, but ultimately realized it was futile, kicking it away with 630 to go. As soon as she did so, a flood of runners moved past her. By 400 to go, she was in eighth and out of it.

Dibaba, on the other hand, was very much in it, and though her dramatic move — she covered 800 to 1200 to 57.24 — had strung out the field, the race was far from won.

At that point, Dibaba, Kipyegon, 2014 world junior champ Dawit Seyaum and Hassan were all still close, though the speed at which they were running meant there was a stride’s gap between each of them. Hassan, fourth with 300 to go, had eight meters on Aregawi in fifth, who in turn had five more on Rowbury and Brit Laura Muir.

With 175 to go, Dibaba had increased her lead by a couple of strides as Hassan gave chase, moving past Kipyegon into second.

Midway down the homestretch, Dibaba had a six- or seven-meter lead. She was not going to be caught. The only battle remaining was for the silver (Seyaum had fallen off by this point), as Kipyegon and Hassan ran neck-and-neck for much of the home straight. With 25 to go, Kipyegon pulled ahead and Hassan resigned herself to bronze. Seyaum took fourth while Muir outkicked Aregawi and Rowbury for fifth.

Results and analysis appear below.


1 342 Genzebe Dibaba ETH ETH 4:08.09
2 567 Faith Chepngetich Kipyegon KEN KEN 4:08.96
3 616 Sifan Hassan NED NED 4:09.34
4 351 Dawit Seyaum ETH ETH 4:10.26
5 404 Laura Muir GBR GBR 4:11.48
6 786 Abeba Aregawi SWE SWE 4:12.16
7 915 Shannon Rowbury USA USA 4:12.39
8 664 Angelika Cichocka POL POL 4:13.22
9 600 Rababe Arafi MAR MAR 4:13.66
10 753 Tatyana Tomashova RUS RUS 4:14.18
11 917 Jennifer Simpson USA USA 4:16.28
12 599 Malika Akkaoui MAR MAR 4:16.98

Quick Take #1: Unless she ran like a fool, Genzebe Dibaba wasn’t losing tonight

The biggest question entering this race was whether Dibaba’s massive PR advantage (almost six seconds over the next-fastest woman) was too much to overcome. Clearly it was as someone would have had to close in 1:56.8 or faster to beat her tonight. Dibaba had the strength (14:15 5,000 PR) to lead this thing from the gun, but taking the lead any point from 1500 to 800 to go would make sense as she’d still be able to capitalize on her massive strength advantage. She could have waited even later to take the lead, but with every step her advantage would shrink, as often times 1500 runners misjudge their reserves and kick too hard in a super tactical 1500 that turns into a 400 and they tie up.

In the end, she went from 800 out, which is the very last possible moment we would have done it, and she did misjudge her kick a bit as we had her last two laps at 57.47 and 59.45 (28.65/30.80), but it didn’t matter- she still closed in sub 1:57 and wasn’t about to be caught.

Both Kipyegon (2:02.8 800 PB) and Hassan (1:59.46 800 PB) closed in 1:57.6 You can’t ask for much more than that and yet they didn’t get a sniff of gold. They were simply beaten by a superior athlete at the peak of her powers.

In hindsight, there was no hope for the rest of the field once Dibaba went. When we saw 57 on or watch for the split for 700 to 1100, we didn’t know what to think as it sure didn’t look like Dibaba was about to crater and she didn’t.

Quick Take #2: How many events could Genzebe Dibaba win at Worlds this year?

She already has 1500 gold and will likely add 5,000 gold on Sunday. With her 14:15 5,000 PB, she should have the strength to run a good 10,000 and given the way the final played out on Monday, she’d obviously have been favored in a kick. And it would be very close between her and defending champ Eunice Sum (who has run 1:56.99) in the 800; with Ajee Wilson out, it’s unlikely that anyone else could challenge Dibaba over two laps.

Obviously winning all four events at a single championships would be extremely difficult, even for Dibaba, given the fatigue that would accumulate from five prelims and four finals in a nine-day span. But if she entered each event fresh, she’d be the favorite in the 1500, 5,000 and 10,000 and would have a decent shot in the 800. That kind of range is unprecedented for an athlete in the modern era.

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Sifan Hassan doesn’t view Dibaba as unbeatable

Quick Take #3: A frustrated Sifan Hassan admitted she made a tactical mistake – and wanted much more than bronze

Hassan generally likes to run from the back before making an aggressive mid-race move, and though that has worked for her in the past, it was the wrong strategy for tonight’s final. Both Simpson and Rowbury stayed toward the front in order to be in the best position possible when Dibaba made her inevitable move. Hassan, on the other hand, was in 11th when Dibaba took off with two laps to go, about .6 of a second behind Dibaba. Though Hassan likely would not have caught Dibaba, she didn’t do herself any favors and likely cost herself the silver medal due to that poor positioning and ceding the inside of lane 1 to Kipyegon off the final turn. She said that she always has a great last 200 but tonight she was just too far back to use it.

The interesting thing about Hassan it’s clear she wasn’t conceding this race to Dibaba, even after it was over. In our one on one talk with her (embedded below), after initially saying she was happy with the medal, she ended up having to work to hold back tears as she felt like if she hadn’t been so far back when Dibaba made her move she might have had a chance to beat her.

Given how well she closed tonight, we asked Hassan if she’d race the 800 as she’d have a real shot at a medal. Hassan said she was entered in the 800 but wasn’t sure if she’d end up racing it.

At the post-race press conference, Hassan, 22, admitted that “I don’t have much experience” and that hurt her tonight — she’s only been running at an elite level for two years, and though she won Europeans outdoors last year, this was her first outdoor World Championships.

Quick Take #4: Shannon Rowbury: “I did what I could, so I’m proud of that”

Rowbury was in the lead early in the race and though that wasn’t necessarily by design, she thought it was a sound strategy given the possibility that Dibaba could pop off at any second.

“We were going so slow, I figured being in the front was a good place to be,” Rowbury said.

Rowbury said she died a bit the final 100 meters (she was in fifth at the top of the home straight but wound up seventh) but overall was fairly upbeat as she knew it was going to be a difficult race. Though Rowbury admitted tonight showed she needed more speed to medal, she had no regrets about a season in which she ran 3:56.29 to set the American record.

“I felt I did everything I could this year to give myself the best shot [at Worlds],” Rowbury said.

Dibaba's move to the lead resulted in Simpson's shoe coming off

Dibaba’s move to the lead resulted in Simpson’s shoe coming off

Quick Take #5: Jenny Simpson: “Tonight wasn’t a fair fight…I didn’t get a fair shot, in my opinion.”

Simpson, like Rowbury, was not despondent to be leaving Beijing without a medal, as she felt she did the best she could given the situation she was placed in. After her shoe came loose with 800 to go, Simpson did her best to keep it on, but it proved too much to overcome and she ultimately discarded it with 600 to go.

More than the physical problems presented by running with one shoe (Simpson said her foot began to hurt and she could not accelerate as she normally does), she also expended a great deal of mental energy, noting that she during the race she was both trying to convince herself that others have run well with one shoe while also navigating concerns about short- and long-term damage to her foot.

Simpson wasn’t sure how the race would have played out had she kept her shoe on and said that she doesn’t think 800 PBs have much to do with how you can close a 1500. That said, she admitted that 1:57 — what she’d need to have closed in for a medal — is “ridiculous.”

Overall Simpson expressed gratitude with what she has been able to accomplish this year — she’s won DL meets in Eugene and Rome — but that tonight just wasn’t meant to be.

The top four were incredible in this one

The top four were incredible in this one

Quick Thought #6: Is it time to bring out the steeple spikes Mrs. Simpson?

In some ways, the best thing that could have happened to Simpson was that she lost her shoe because in hindsight it’s clear she was going to get trounced over the final 800 given how well the African born runners closed. Given how good the top 4 were in this race, we think Simpson should seriously consider returning to her old event – the steeplechase. When asked at a press conference on Friday if she’d ever return to the steeple, Simpson said she’d do it only if she thought she could get the world record (8:58 and Simpson has run 9:12).

We don’t know if Simpson can get the WR but we do know one thing – Simpson has a better shot at setting the WR in the steeple than she does beating Dibaba in any race she runs at full fitness. Simpson’s odds for gold in 2016 are higher in the steeple than the 1500.


Discuss this race on our fan forum:MB: Dibaba wins 1500 with last 800 of 1:56.92!!!! Bring on the triple.
*Was Simpson losing her shoe the best thing that could have happened to her?

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