Samuel Tefera Upsets Olympic Champ Jakob Ingebrigtsen in Thriller

By Jonathan Gault and Robert Johnson
March 20, 2022

BELGRADE, Serbia – Jakob Ingebrigtsen is mortal after all. The precocious Norwegian, the Olympic champion at 20 last year in Tokyo, usually makes running fast look far easier than it is, his smooth, measured form belying the hours upon hours spent honing his craft on tracks and treadmills. But of course it is not easy, and the world got a reminder tonight as Samuel Tefera – the man whose indoor 1500m world record Ingebrigtsen broke a month ago in Lievin – got his revenge by successfully defending his world indoor title, relegating Ingebrigtsen to silver. In the process, Tefera beat Ingebrigtsen for the first time in the 11 races they’ve lined up against each other at 1500.

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Last year in Tokyo, Ingebrigtsen sat on Timothy Cheruiyot for much of the race before passing him on the home straight and pulling away. Tonight, however, Ingebrigtsen played the role of Cheruiyot as it was Tefera sitting on him for the first seven laps before swinging outside and moving past just before the finish line in a championship record of 3:32.77 to Ingebrigtsen’s 3:33.02. Abel Kipsang, the Kenyan 4th placer in last year’s Olympic final, earned his first global medal by taking third in 3:33.36 as Americans Sam Prakel (9th in 3:38.40) and Josh Thompson (12th in 3:44.48) were nonfactors.

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For much of the race, things went according to plan for Ingebrigtsen. Kipsang took things out super hard the first 200 (27.60) with Ingebrigtsen close behind before Ingebrigtsen took the lead before 400 (55.81) and kept things honest, passing 800 in 1:54.01 and 1200 in 2:51.16. By the bell (3:05.31), Ingebrgitsen had whittled the field down until only he and Tefera remained. But unlike in Lievin, where Inebrigtstsen put three seconds on Tefera over the final two laps, Tefera wasn’t going anywhere this time. He pulled up on Ingebrigtsen’s shoulder around the final turn and then, after swinging out into lane 2 on the home straight, made the pass to win thanks to a 27.36 final 200 (55.76 final 400). Ingebrigtsen was powerless to respond and that was that. Down went the Olympic champ.

RESULTS

POSBIBCOUNTRYATHLETEMARK
1202ETHSamuel TEFERA3:32.77 CR
2351NORJakob INGEBRIGTSEN3:33.02
3304KENAbel KIPSANG3:33.36 SB
4201ETHTeddese LEMI3:33.59 SB
5108AUSOliver HOARE3:34.36 SB
6216GBRNeil GOURLEY3:35.87
7369POLMichał ROZMYS3:36.71 SB
8277ITAPietro ARESE3:37.60
9463USASamuel PRAKEL3:38.40 SB
10376PORIsaac NADER3:39.97
11234GERRobert FARKEN3:41.29
12468USAJoshua THOMPSON3:44.48

Quick Take: A healthy Samuel Tefera is very, very dangerous

Tefera won the World Indoor title as an 18-year-old in Birmingham in 2018, and while he has had periods of brilliance in the four years since, they have mostly come indoors, including a world record of 3:31.04 in 2019. Tefera has still run fast outdoors – 3:31 in 2018, 3:31 in 2019, 3:30 in 2021 – but his championship performances have been poor as he was only 5th at the World U20 champs in 2018, DNF’d his semi at Worlds in 2019, and didn’t make it out of the first round in Tokyo last year.

So how did Tefera go from getting blasted by Ingebrigtsen in Lievin to beating him a month later?

“Before [Worlds] I was injured and could not compete with 100%,” Tefera told meet organizers. “But I had some hard training and now I feel normal and I am ready for any kind of races and championships. Since I am completely healed from my injury, I want to add more medals like this. The injury happened during the Olympics and I also had to go for surgery on my Achilles tendon.”

It’s possible something was lost in translation as Tefera competed one month after the Olympics in Brussels and Achilles surgeries are often serious, making it difficult to come back and win a World Indoor title in a matter of months. But he was certainly fitter than the last time he raced Ingebrigtsen, and that allowed him to get the win tonight.

Moving forward, the 1500 should be terrific this season outdoors. Ingebrigtsen vs. Cheruiyot is already one of the sport’s best rivalries, but if you throw in a healthy Tefera into the mix (assuming he can finally translate his indoor form to outdoors), the event will get even better.

Quick Take: Ethiopia absolutely dominated the distance events in Belgrade

Between the men’s and women’s 1500 and 3000 this weekend, Ethiopia won all four golds and eight medals in all – that’s 66% of the total medals on offer in those four events. That seems totally insane when each country only gets two athletes per event, but Ethiopia earned an extra entrant in three of the four events thanks to winning the World Indoor Tour.

Quick Take: Front-running has been all the rage in global 1500 finals recently, but there is a downside

The last two global outdoor 1500 finals have been won in 3:29 and 3:28 because Timothy Cheruiyot – the world’s best 1500 runner during that span – was so much better than everyone else most of the time that he could eliminate one of the most challenging aspects of championship 1500 running (tactics) by dropping everyone from the front. If you’re a star like Cheruiyot or Ingebrigtsen, that strategy is a great way to assure yourself of at least a medal. But if you’re hoping to win, you better be certain you’re the best guy in the field by a decent margin. Because if there’s someone close to your ability, you leave yourself vulnerable to setting the pace the entire way only to have someone blow past you in the end. That’s a lesson Cheruiyot learned in Tokyo and one Ingebrigtsen learned tonight.

“That’s the nice thing about being faster than everybody else is you don’t really have to be tactical,” Ingebrigtsen said. “But today I wasn’t faster than Tefera, obviously.”

Quick Take: Jakob Ingebrigtsen handled the loss with class 

Ingebrigtsen obviously was expecting to win and ran with confidence as he took the lead before 400. Since he was feeling “pretty good” on his warmup, he was a “little bit surprised” to not feel like his normal self in the race. 

“I didn’t feel that great. Usually I feel a bit tired from 600 to 800 then it really starts to loosen up, but that didn’t happen tonight so I’m not 100 percent. Of course, I’m a little bit disappointed with silver. On the positive side, it’s a lot of fun to be part of a big great field – that we can be competitive and run fast,” said Ingebrigtsen. “It’s a lot of fun to be part of that. At the same time, I came here to fight for the gold. It was a good fight, but I wasn’t quite there….Tefera was better than me tonight.”

When asked if he would change tactics if given the opportunity to run the race over again, Ingebrigtsen quipped. “If I knew that I was completely shit tonight, then of course I’d do a lot of things different, but I didn’t have any factors telling me that before the race.”

Compared to their encounter in Lievin last month, Ingebrigtsen closed slower (56.25 vs. 55.52 in Lievin) even though his time was over two seconds slower (3:33.02 vs. 3:30.60). Of course it’s reductive to say that if someone ran the world record again, they would have won the race, but to beat Tefera tonight, he either needed to push a faster pace in the middle laps or close faster than 56.25, and he could do neither.

Quick Take: It’s not totally clear what is going on with Gjert Ingebrigtsen

From the beginning of his competitive career through last year’s Olympic title, Jakob Ingebrigtsen had been coached by his father, Gjert – just like elder brothers Filip and Henrik. Last month, it was reported in Norwegian media that Gjert would be taking a medical leave and would be stepping down as coach of Team Ingebrigtsen. Anyone who has followed Team Ingebrigtsen knows Gjert can be an intense and demanding coach, but he has also produced results, coaching his three sons to European titles and in Jakob’s case, an Olympic gold.

While we’ve been here in Belgrade, rumors have been flying about the cause of Gjert’s departure and while no one seems to know the real story, no one seems to believe that a medical condition is the true cause for Gjert stepping down (the Ingebrigtsens have declined to elaborate on Gjert’s condition citing family privacy).

This was the first global championships for Jakob since Gjert stopped coaching him. When asked if it had been difficult to get ready for these championships without his father being around, Ingebrigtsen responded curtly: “No.”

Quick Take: Ollie Hoare realized finishing 5th at Worlds is an accomplishment but he wanted more

The OAC team member from Australia was hoping for a medal but ended up fifth in 3:34.36, pretty far behind the top 3 as well as fourth placer Tedesse Lemi (3:33.59) of Ethiopia. If you’re unfamiliar with Lemmi, he’s two years younger than Hoare at 23 and ran 1:44.65/3:31.90 last year and advanced to the Olympic 1500 semis

Hoare won’t get much time to relax as he has to race the Australian champs in nine days Down Under.

Sam Prakel thought he learned a lot at Worlds

More 2022 World Indoors Coverage:

Sunday: Ajee’ Wilson Wins 800m Gold at World Indoor Championships
* Barega Bags 3000 Gold as Rojas Jumps 15.74 TJ WR
Saturday: Marcell Jacobs Edges Christian Coleman By .003 in Dramatic Men’s 60m Final at 2022 World Indoor Championships
*Mariano Garcia Goes From Last To 1st To Win 800 as Bryce Hoppel Wins Bronze, Gudaf Tsegay Goes Wire-To-Wire To Win 1500
Friday: Elle Purrier St. Pierre Takes 3000m Silver as Lemlem Hailu Wins to Cap Day 1 at 2022 World Indoors

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