2022 Worlds M1500 Preview: Can Jakob Ingebrigtsen Run Away from Everyone?

By Jonathan Gault
July 12, 2022

The men’s 1500 final is one of the biggest events of any major championship. The big storyline in 2022 centers around Jakob Ingebrigtsen, the 21-year-old Norwegian wunderkind who could be poised to dominate the event for the next decade. One of the sport’s greatest-ever talents (he was the youngest person in history to break 4:00 in the mile, doing it as a 16-year-old), Ingebrigtsen won the Olympics last year at 20 and has been in fine form in 2022, setting a world indoor 1500 record in February and winning Diamond Leagues in Eugene and Oslo — the latter with the fastest mile time in 21 years (3:46.46).

But Ingebrigtsen is not unbeatable. After the Olympics, he lost the Diamond League final last year in Zurich. And in his biggest race of the year so far in 2022, the World Indoor final in Belgrade, Ingebrigtsen tried to run away from the field and couldn’t do it as Ethiopian Samuel Tefera upset him for the gold. Ingebrigtsen tested positive for COVID the next day, so perhaps was not himself. But unlike last year, where Ingebrigtsen was able to sit on world champ Timothy Cheruiyot for most of the Olympic final, the target will be squarely on Ingebrigtsen’s back. With Tefera, Cheruiyot, Abel Kipsang, Ollie Hoare, and a strong group of Brits all coming for him, Ingebrigtsen will have to be at his best (or close to it) if he is to add World Championship gold to the Olympic gold he won last summer. Let’s dig in.

Prelims: Saturday, July 16, 9:30 p.m. ET; Semis: Sunday, July 17, 10:00 p.m. ET; Final: Tuesday, July 19, 10:30 p.m. ET

2021 Olympic results
1. Jakob Ingebrigtsen, Norway 3:28.32
2. Timothy Cheruiyot, Kenya 3:29.01
3. Josh Kerr, Great Britain 3:29.05
4. Abel Kipsang, Kenya 3:29.56
5. Adel Mechaal, Spain 3:30.77

2022’s fastest performers (among men entered)
1. Abel Kipsang, Kenya 3:31.01
2. Jake Wightman, Great Britain 3:32.62
3. Abdellatif Sadiki, Morocco 3:33.93
4. William Paulson, Canada 3:33.97
5. Jakob Ingebrigtsen, Norway 3:34.19

The young Norwegian king aims to keep his crown

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Recently, the 1500 meters has been run one way at the global championships: fast. While Matthew Centrowitz‘s victory in the 2016 Olympic final (winning time: 3:50) may have played a role, you also have to consider the skillset of the event’s best athletes. Timothy Cheruiyot ruled the 1500 from 2018 until Ingebrigtsen beat him at the 2021 Olympics, and Ingebrigtsen has reigned as top dog since then. What do both have in common? They like to be at the front and they like fast races. That (plus perhaps some help from super spike technology) is why the winning time at the last three global outdoor finals has gradually gotten faster, from 3:33 in 2017 to 3:29 in 2019 to 3:28 in 2021.

The upside to a fast pace is clear: it weeds out the pretenders and removes positioning from the equation (always one of the trickiest parts of championship 1500 running). There’s no need to worry about positioning; just get to the front early and ratchet it down until you’re the only one left.

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The risk to that approach is equally obvious. Unless you’re clearly the best guy, you run the risk of serving as a pacemaker for 1400 meters only for someone else to blow by at the end and take the win. That’s what Ingebrigtsen did to Cheruiyot last year. Thanks for the pace job Tim, enjoy your silver medal.

In the last five years, we’ve seen four global men’s 1500 finals where someone has tried to lead the majority of the race and run a fast time. Only once has that athlete won the race. Here’s a refresher on those races.

2017 World Outdoors (winning time: 3:33.61)
What happened: After 61.59 opening lap, Timothy Cheruiyot took the lead at 400m and held it until 50m to go when he was passed by winner Elijah Manangoi.

2019 World Outdoors (winning time: 3:29.26)
What happened: Timothy Cheruiyot got out hard in 55.01, kept pushing the entire way, and won by 2+ seconds in one of the greatest performances in 1500 history.

2021 Olympics (winning time: 3:28.32)
What happened: After Jakob Ingebrigtsen led the field through a 56.14 first lap, Timothy Cheruiyot took the lead and kept the hammer down until Ingebrigtsen passed him with 120m to go to take the win.

2022 World Indoors (winning time: 3:32.77)
What happened: 
Jakob Ingebrigtsen took the lead just before 400m (55.81) and held it until the home straight, when he was passed by Ethiopia’s Samuel Tefera.

Embed from Getty Images

That’s a 25% success rate for our front-runners. The lesson, if it wasn’t already clear: it is incredibly hard to drop the world’s best 1500-meter runners in a championship final with no pacemaking support.

But if Ingebrigtsen still plans on leading this thing — and let’s face it, everything he’s shown so far this year suggests that he will — it’s worth taking a closer look at the guy who did manage to go wire-to-wire in a global final, Timothy Cheruiyot in 2019. Why was he able to succeed?

It wasn’t because 2019 was the fittest Cheruiyot has ever been. He ran his personal best of 3:28.28 a month before the 2021 Olympic final and ran faster in the 2021 Olympics (3:29.01) than he did at the 2019 Worlds (3:29.26).

No, the reason why Cheruiyot went wire-to-wire in 2019 is because he was substantially better than everyone else in the world that year. His season’s best was 3:28.77 and no one else ran faster than 3:30.16. In the final at Worlds, he ran 3:29.26 and no one else ran faster than 3:31.38. So he was basically 1.5 to 2 seconds better than everyone else. That’s the sort of cushion you need to be able to run away from everyone in a global final.

Is Jakob Ingebrigtsen 1.5 to 2 seconds faster than everyone else right now? Here are his 1500/mile races this year and the results:

Date Race Distance Ingebrigtsen result 2nd place/margin
February 17 Lievin 1500 1st, 3:30.60 Samuel Tefera, +3.10s
March 20 World Indoors 1500 2nd, 3:33.02 N/A
May 28 Pre Classic Mile 1st, 3:49.76 Ollie Hoare, +.89s
June 16 Bislett Games Mile 1st, 3:46.46 Ollie Hoare, +1.02s

Hmmm…Ingebrigtsen may not have a big enough gap. He’s been roughly a second ahead of Hoare the last two races, but Hoare is not the #2 guy in the world right now. That would be Abel Kipsang of Kenya, who has been winning everything in sight this spring and ran a world-leading 3:31.01 at 5,000+ feet in May (Kipsang lost to Hoare at Pre but that was Kipsang’s fourth race in three weeks on four continents…clearly Kipsang was tired). If Kipsang is still in that sort of shape at Worlds, Ingebrigtsen may have to be in 3:27 or 3:28 shape to hold him off.

But Ingebrigtsen doesn’t want a winning time in the 3:40s. It brings more athletes into the race and doesn’t play to his strengths. Ingebrigtsen is very good at closing in 53 or 54 seconds off any pace, but hasn’t shown he can rip off a 52 or 51 on the big stage. When Ingebrigtsen was beaten at the 2018 World U20 champs, he closed in 53.28 but was beaten by George Manangoi‘s 52.87. And at 2019 Euro Indoors, Ingebrigtsen closed in 53.13 but lost to Marcin Lewandowski‘s 52.53.

The good news for Ingebrigtsen: he’s a much better runner than he was in 2018 and 2019 (he was 17 and 18 years old for those races). So maybe he’s capable of a big close now. Plus the winning time at Worlds has only been in the 3:40’s once — the inaugural edition in 1983. Someone usually takes it. Rather than push the pace from the gun and try to run 3:28, Ingebrigtsen’s best bet may be to run a hard last 800 and trust that he’s the only one who can string a couple of 54’s back-to-back.

The challengers

If Ingebrigtsen can’t break the field, who is going to be the guy streaking past him in the home stretch for gold? There are five guys who could conceivably do it.

Kipsang after winning in Doha in May. Courtesy Diamond League AG.

Abel Kipsang, Kenya

Kipsang was 4th at the Olympics last year and 3rd at World Indoors in March (.59 behind Ingebrigtsen) but has been on fire outdoors. He ran that ridiculous 3:31.01 at 5,000+ feet in Nairobi on May 7, then picked up Diamond League wins in Doha and Birmingham. More recently, he won the African champs and Kenyan trials.

Ollie Hoare, Australia

The 2018 NCAA champion for Wisconsin at the final meet at the old Hayward Field, Hoare, now training under Dathan Ritzenhein at the On Athletics Club, has enjoyed a stellar season and was second behind Ingebrigtsen at Pre and the Dream Mile in Oslo, running an Oceania record of 3:47.48 in the latter race.

Timothy Cheruiyot, Kenya

Cheruiyot is the reigning world champ and Olympic silver medalist and while he’s still strong, he’s slipped a bit from his 2018-21 prime. He hasn’t won a race all year, finishing 2nd in Doha, 3rd at Pre, and 2nd at the Kenyan trials.

Samuel Tefera, Ethiopia

The world indoor champ in 2018 and 2022, Tefera is the only man to beat Ingebrigtsen in a 1500/mile this year. But he has yet to translate his indoor form to outdoors — he failed to make the final at the 2017 and 2019 Worlds and the 2021 Olympics. He also hasn’t run a 1500/mile outdoors this year (he did run 13:06 and 13:04 in a pair of 5k’s), so he will enter Worlds as a hugely talented question mark.

Jake Wightman, Great Britain

Wightman has the pbs (1:44.18/3:29.47) to be competitive with anyone and won a massively competitive British trials on June 25. He said he only came into that race “90%” ready, not wanting to peak too early for Worlds. Wightman needs that to be true for a shot at gold, because when he raced Ingebrigtsen in Oslo on June 16, he got spanked, finishing almost four seconds back.

Regarding the other two Brits, Neil Gourley is more dangerous in a tactical race than the fast finals we’ve grown accustomed to at Worlds/Olympics. Josh Kerr ran 3:29.05 last year to medal in Tokyo and did run a 3:48 mile indoors in February but hasn’t shown much outdoors and barely beat out Jake Heyward to make the British team.

The Americans

Teare impressed in a tactical US final. Phil Bond photo.

Most view this as the weakest men’s 1500 squads the US has sent to a global championships for some time. Johnny Gregorek and Josh Thompson are both known as kickers, but Gregorek was only 6th at USAs and Thompson (3rd) was outkicked by a guy (Jon Davis) who finished 6th at NCAAs two weeks earlier. If either can sniff the final, consider it a massive success. That begin said, Gregorek made the final in 2017 the only year he made a team.

The US champion, Cooper Teare, is capable of making the final and Worlds will offer a huge test/opportunity. The rounds at major championships can be stressful even for experienced 1500 runners — which the 22-year-old Teare is not. But he passed his first big test by winning a tactical final at USAs. Teare can’t afford to relax in the prelims or semis but he’s talented enough to make the final.

If Teare gets there, he’s a fringe medal contender at best but a run similar to what we saw from his training partner Cole Hocker last year in Tokyo — 6th place, big pb — is certainly possible. Teare’s pb of 3:34.81 came in horrible conditions with no competition. He could go a few seconds faster if the final goes fast. (And don’t worry about the fact that he visited the hospital last week).

JG prediction: 1. Ingebrigtsen 2. Kipsang 3. Hoare

Ingebrigtsen has been the best 1500 runner this season and while I have concerns about his ability to win this thing wire-to-wire, I like being able to pick the fittest guy in the field — which Ingebrigtsen is. Kipsang has the best shot at pulling the upset and with a bit more rest, I’ll pick him to avenge his defeat to Hoare at Pre and earn the silver. Australia hasn’t medalled in this event since the legendary Herb Elliott won Olympic gold in Rome 62 years ago, but I’ll take Hoare to end that drought with a bronze.

Who wins the men's 1500 at Worlds?

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