2017 Worlds Women’s 1500 Preview: Dibaba vs. Hassan vs. Kipyegon Will Be Epic; Can Jenny Simpson, Caster Semenya or Home Favorite Laura Muir Medal?
August 04, 2017 to August 13, 2017
August 1, 2017
Few events at the 2017 IAAF World Championships bring more excitement than the women’s 1500. All the ingredients are there for a masterpiece in the final on Monday, August 7: the Olympic champ (Faith Kipyegon), the world champ/world record holder (Genzebe Dibaba), the world indoor champ/world leader (Sifan Hassan), the controversial Olympic 800 champion (Caster Semenya) and the home favorite, one of the faces of the championships, looking to earn her first-ever global medal (Laura Muir). And don’t worry Americans; the U.S. has a contender as well in the form of Jenny Simpson, who has claimed three medals at the past five global championships.
Of all the distance races in the meet, this one is the most intriguing. Let’s dive into it.
Prelims: Friday, August 4, 2:35 p.m. ET
Semis: Saturday, August 5, 2:35 p.m. ET
Final: Monday, August 7, 4:50 p.m. ET
2016 Olympic results
2017’s fastest performers (among women entered)
So, Who’s the Favorite?
As you may have noticed in the intro, there are a lot of fast and super accomplished women in this race, which makes picking a favorite quite difficult. Let’s lay out a case for the top contenders.
Sifan Hassan, 24 years old, The Netherlands
Why she’s the favorite: Hassan was already one of the world’s best runners at 1500 meters (WC bronze in ’15, world indoor champ in ’16, 3:56.05 PR) when she joined Alberto Salazar this year. But since she joined forces with Salazar, she’s been even better. She’s remained a total stud over 1500 (three wins in three races, running the #1, #2, and #3 times in the world this year) while dropping big chunks off her PRs at other distances (1:58.50 to 1:56.81 at 800, 14:59.23 to 14:41.24 at 5000). Quite simply, Hassan has been the best in the world this year, and she beat Olympic champ Faith Kipyegon head-to-head when they raced in Paris.
Faith Kipyegon, 23 years old, Kenya
Why she’s the favorite: Kipyegon did lose to Hassan in Paris, but she still ran 3:57.51 in that race to rank #2 in the world this year. She has won her three other races (Shanghai, Pre, Kenyan Trials) convincingly. And, oh yeah, she’s the Olympic champion. Kipyegon smoked Dibaba, Hassan, and everyone else in the world last year in Rio thanks to a 1:57.3 final 800. If she’s in that kind of form again, watch out.
Genzebe Dibaba, 26 years old, Ethiopia
Why she’s the favorite: 3:50.07. That’s Dibaba’s personal best. It’s also the world record, and over five seconds faster than anyone in this field has ever run. Genzebe Dibaba circa 2017 may not be quite the same runner as Genzebe Dibaba circa 2015, but the potential is there, and if Dibaba is in 3:50 shape in London, it’s game over. The problem with Dibaba is that she hasn’t raced a 1500 this year outdoors. She opened up with an 800 followed by two 5000s; it took her until July 6 to run a mile in Lausanne, and when she did, it was very impressive. Dibaba clocked 4:16.05 in that race — only Dibaba herself has run faster in the past 20 years (4:14.30 last year). Dibaba split 3:57.82 en route in that race — which she ran all alone — suggesting she could have run 3:55-56 in a 1500 with the right competition. Remember, when Dibaba finished second at the Olympics last year, she was dealing with a nagging toe injury (plus her coach had been arrested after police found EPO in the room of one of his athletes). If Dibaba is better than she was in 2016, she could be the woman to beat.
Laura Muir, 24 years old, Great Britain
Why she’s the favorite: Aside from the fact that the entire stadium will be rooting for her, there are legitimate reasons to bolster Muir’s case. Last year, she ran 3:55.22 in Paris, the fastest non-Dibaba time in 19 years (and, given the suspicion about the women ahead of her, possibly the fastest clean time ever). She was unbeatable indoors in 2017, running European records of 2:31.93 for 1k and 8:26.41 for 3k, a British record of 14:49.12 for 5k and earning Euro Indoor gold in the 1500 and 3k. She hasn’t been quite as good outdoors after missing time due to a stress fracture in her foot, but she has still run 4:18.03 for the mile and a PR of 1:58.69 for 800. If she can return to her best, she’s a real threat to win.
Past performance is terrific, but what’s most important is the here and now, and there can be no argument that Hassan has had the best 2017 season. That makes her the favorite for Worlds in our opinion. Dibaba has the highest ceiling of anyone, however, and has yet to race Hassan this year, whom she owns at 1500/mile (5-0 lifetime). If anyone beats Hassan, it’s probably going to be Dibaba.
Obviously, only three of these women can medal at Worlds, so the strategy they choose to employ will be key. In the last two global finals (2015 Worlds, 2016 Olympics), Dibaba made a hard move with two laps to go that forced a decision upon the rest of the field: go with the move and run for the win, or hang back and try to run someone down for a medal in the home straight. Last year, Muir chose the former option and paid for it, fading from third to seventh over the final 150 meters. Jenny Simpson chose the latter and was rewarded with the bronze medal. We imagine that if Dibaba makes a similar move in London, Hassan and Kipyegon will both follow her. But will Muir, after being bitten last year in Rio, choose to be more cautious? And if so, will that cost her a shot at the win?
Allowing the race to come down to the final 800 carries risk, however…
The Wild Card
On July 25, Athletics South Africa announced that Caster Semenya will enter the 800 and the 1500 at Worlds. It’s a tough double, but doable: the 1500 is on days 1, 2 and 4, while the 800 is on days 7, 8 and 10. Should Semenya run both events (and we don’t see why she wouldn’t if she’s entered in both), it throws yet more intrigue into an already fascinating event. No woman has ever won both at a World Championships, though Great Britain’s Kelly Holmes turned the trick at the 2004 Olympics.
Semenya is the world’s dominant force at 800 meters. She is undefeated at that distance since the start of 2016 and is coming off a 1:55.27 win in Monaco, the fastest time in the world in nine years. At 1500, however, she is relatively unproven. In 2017, she’s run the distance just once, back in April as part of a 400-800-1500 triple at the University Sport South Africa Champs. Semenya won by 1.54 seconds in 4:16.87, but that tells us very little about her potential.
So if Semenya has only run 4:16 this year, how can she run at Worlds when the standard is 4:07.50? Well, Semenya is the reigning African champion, and all area champions are considered to have the standard. And her race at last year’s African Champs, held in June in Durban, give a better window into Semenya the 1500 runner. Semenya won that race in 4:01.99, well ahead of runner-up Rababe Arafi of Morocco (4:03.95). Two months later, Arafi made the Olympic final at 1500 meters, though she finished dead last.
Given that result and Semenya’s 800 fitness, she should be in sub-4:00 shape in London. How much lower she can go is still to be determined. But we know this: in a tactical race, we wouldn’t want Semenya and her 50-second 400 speed in our rearview mirror.
The Other Medal Contenders
It could very well be that we get a replay of the 2015 final, where Dibaba, Kipyegon and Hassan all closed in 1:57.6 for their final 800 and crushed the rest of the field. But as we saw in Rio, there’s no guarantee that all of the big names will be able to hang with that pace, and that opens the door for several other women. Jenny Simpson is chief among that group. Simpson’s SB of 4:04.16 from the Pre Classic only puts her 23rd on the 2017 world list, but she hasn’t run a 1500 for time since that race on May 27. Few women in any event consistently time their peak as well as Simpson. Just look at her championship record since switching to the 1500:
2011 Worlds: 1st
2012 Olympics: Out in semis
2013 Worlds: 2nd
2015 Worlds: 11th (lost shoe in final)
2016 Olympics: 3rd
History has shown that if Simpson has been able to keep her shoe on in a final, she’s come away with a medal. And though Simpson doesn’t have the mind-blowing times of a Hassan or a Kipyegon, that hasn’t mattered much in the past. When Simpson won Worlds in 2011, her season’s best was 4:03.54. Last year, even though she’s never broken 2:00 in an open 800, she ran her final 800 in 1:59.0 to win her first Olympic medal. Simpson’s two most recent races — a convincing 4:06 win at USAs in which she closed in 60 and a 4:19 mile in London on July 9 that puts her #2 on the all-time U.S. list — suggest that her fitness is coming around. She should be in shape to run well under 4:00 at Worlds, and that kind of shape would put her in the medal hunt in most years — but we don’t think this year.
But Simpson is a very smart racer. She knows that dropping a 56.7 in the middle of the race — as Dibaba did last year — is suicide. If someone makes a hard move like that in London and doesn’t blow up, Simpson won’t beat them. But if one of the favorites misjudges their pace, Simpson will be there to make them pay.
Of course, Simpson isn’t the only other woman capable of swooping in for a medal. Ethiopians Gudaf Tsegay (3:59.55 in Paris) and Besu Sado (9th in Rio last year) and Kenyan Winny Chebet (3:59.16 in Rome) have been in good form in 2017, as has Poland’s Angelika Cichocka, the European champ who has run 4:01 three times this year — the final one carrying her to a Diamond League win in Rabat.
But the woman we’re most excited by is German wunderkind Konstanze Klosterhalfen. She’s run 1:59.65, 3:59.30 and 14:51.38 this year at age 20 and is absolutely fearless. In Rome on June 8, she took it to Hassan and actually led until the bell (even though they were running 4:00 pace and her PR was 4:04 at the time). At the German Champs a month later, Klosterhalfen ran 3:59 in a race where the runner-up ran 4:10. Medalling against this field would be her greatest achievement yet, but she’s a big talent who won’t be afraid of the bright lights at Worlds.
The Other Americans
We discussed Simpson’s chances above and she’ll be joined on Team USA by Kate Grace and Sara Vaughn. Grace was an Olympic 800 finalist in Rio last year, no small task considering the strength of the field at the top and the smaller size (the IAAF takes 8 to the final in the 800 but 12 in the 1500). Grace was running well this spring (4:03 1500 PR at Pre, 1:59.30 800 at Portland Track Festival) but her two European races (4:24 mile in London, 2:03 800 in Heusden) have not gone as well. Making the final is definitely possible, but not a given (Grace’s SB ranks #19 in the world this year). A medal is likely out of the picture; despite her 1:58 800 speed, the top women are all capable of closing much faster than Grace.
Vaughn, has had a good year and this will be her debut at a global outdoor championship (she ran World Indoors in 2012 and went out in the heats). By virtue of making the U.S. team, Vaughn showed she’s good enough to advance to the semis, but advancing to the final, especially in a loaded year like this one, is going to be a huge ask. Vaughn’s PR of 4:06.64 ranks just 58th on the 2017 world list. The fact that Vaughn, a 31-year-old mother of three who works a full-time job as a realtor, is even in London is inspirational. She should enjoy the ride; anything beyond making it out of the first round is a bonus.
LRC prediction: 1) Hassan 2) Dibaba 3) Kipyegon
In 2015, Dibaba entered Worlds with the two fastest times on the year and won the gold medal. In 2016, Kipyegon entered the Olympics with the two fastest times on the year and won the gold medal. See where we’re going with this? 2017 has been Hassan’s year, and considering she has the three fastest times on the year, we’re backing her for the win.
Given her testosterone advantage, we would not be shocked if Caster Semenya medalled — or if she won the whole thing — and her 1:55.27 800 pb is certainly intimidating. But Hassan hasn’t run that much slower over 800 (1:56.81), and both Kipyegon and Dibaba have beaten Hassan at the past two global champs. Even if they don’t have quite the same top-end speed as Semenya, all of these women can close. Meanwhile, Semenya will be moving up and competing in a distance which she is unfamiliar with. It’s incredibly hard to be the best in the world at both the 800 and 1500 so we aren’t picking Semenya for a medal but it will be fascinating to watch her race.
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