2022 Worlds W1500 Preview: All Hail the GOAT Faith Kipyegon; Plus Can Sinclaire Johnson Medal?

By Jonathan Gault
July 7, 2022

Every event at the World Championships has a different appeal. Some are showdowns between two titans. Some are wide-open affairs where a dozen athletes could win. And in some events are a chance to witness greatness.

The women’s 1500 at the 2022 Worlds falls into the latter category. Kenya’s Faith Kipyegon, winner of the last two Olympic titles, is heavily favored to win. And while that sucks some of the drama out of the event, it also offers the chance to see one of distance running’s all-time legends at the peak of her powers. Athletes like Kipyegon don’t come around very often, and unlike many of the other names at the top of the all-time list in her event, Kipyegon has never had any sort of link to performance-enhancing drugs. A win would give Kipyegon her fourth global title (the most ever by a women’s 1500 runner) and some nice symmetry — she won two before giving birth to daughter Alyn in 2018 and this would give her two after giving birth. Women’s distance running fans are lucky to be able to watch her.

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This being a championship 1500 final, you can never totally discount the possibility of an upset, and the woman best positioned to spring it is Ethiopia’s Gudaf Tsegay, who won the World Indoor title by 5+ seconds back in March. Behind her, rising 21-year-old stars Hirut Meshesha and Freweyni Hailu should also be in the medal mix along with US champion Sinclaire Johnson.

Prelims: Friday, July 15, 9:10 p.m. ET; Semis: Saturday, July 16, 10:05 p.m. ET; Final: Monday, July 18, 10:50 p.m. ET

2021 Olympic results
1. Faith Kipyegon, Kenya 3:53.11
2. Laura Muir, Great Britain 3:54.50
3. Sifan Hassan, Netherlands 3:55.86
4. Freweyni Hailu, Ethiopia 3:57.60
5. Gabriela DeBues-Stafford, Canada 3:58.93

2022’s fastest performers (among women entered)
1. Faith Kipyegon, Kenya 3:52.59
2. Gudaf Tsegay, Ethiopia 3:54.21
3. Hirut Meshesha, Ethiopia 3:57.30
4. Freweyni Hailu, Ethiopia 3:58.18
5. Sinclaire Johnson, USA 3:58.85

All hail the GOAT

Faith Kipyegon is the greatest female miler in the history of the world. She announced herself early, winning the World U18 title in 2011, followed it up with the World U20 title the next year and has since gone on to win two Olympic and one world title as well as two world silvers (two of those medals came after giving birth to daughter Alyn in 2018). No one can match her hardware in the women’s 1500 meters. Check out the list of the most decorated women ever in the event:

Athlete Gold Silver Bronze
Faith Kipyegon 3 2 0
Hassiba Boulmerka 3 0 1
Maryam Yusuf Jamal 3 0 0
Tatyana Tomashova* 2 2 0
Svetlana Masterkova 2 0 0
Tatyana Kazankina* 2 0 0
Jenny Simpson 1 2 1

*Served doping suspension

Are you more impressed by fast times? Kipyegon has you covered there as well. Below are the 15 fastest women’s 1500-meter races ever run. Kipyegon owns a third of them, with the rest of the list populated largely by athletes suspected of doping. Remove the suspicious 1990s Chinese times and the Soviet Kazankina’s 3:52 from 1980 and Kipyegon would own the #2, #4, #5, #6, and #9 times in history.

All-time women’s 1500 list (courtesy Alltime-Athletics)

        1      3:50.07    Genzebe Dibaba                 ETH     08.02.91    1      Monaco                   17.07.2015
        2      3:50.46    Qu Yunxia                      CHN     25.12.72    1      Beijing                  11.09.1993
        3      3:50.98    Jiang Bo                       CHN     13.03.77    1      Shanghai                 18.10.1997
        4      3:51.07    Faith Kipyegon                 KEN     10.01.94    1      Monaco                   09.07.2021
        5      3:51.34    Lang Yinglai                   CHN     22.08.79    2      Shanghai                 18.10.1997
        6      3:51.92    Wang Junxia                    CHN     09.01.73    2      Beijing                  11.09.1993
        7      3:51.95    Sifan Hassan                   NED     01.01.93    1      Ad-Dawhah                05.10.2019
        8      3:52.47    Tatyana Kazankina              RUS     17.12.51    1      Zürich                   13.08.1980
        9      3:52.59    Faith Kipyegon                 KEN     10.01.94    1      Eugene                   28.05.2022
        10     3:53.11    Faith Kipyegon                 KEN     10.01.94    1      Tokyo                    06.08.2021
        11     3:53.23    Faith Kipyegon                 KEN     10.01.94    1      Eugene                   21.08.2021
        12     3:53.60    Sifan Hassan                   NED     01.01.93    2      Monaco                   09.07.2021
        13     3:53.63    Sifan Hassan                   NED     01.01.93    1      Firenze                  10.06.2021
        14     3:53.91    Yin Lili                       CHN     11.11.79    3      Shanghai                 18.10.1997
        14     3:53.91    Faith Kipyegon                 KEN     10.01.94    2      Firenze                  10.06.2021

Kipyegon after running a world-leading 3:52.59 at Pre in May

Any way you slice it, Kipyegon is the best to ever do it, with a world record the only major accomplishment lacking from her resume. Getting that in Eugene will be tough, but she will enter Worlds as the overwhelming favorite to win an unprecedented fourth global gold. Kipyegon has raced just one 1500 this year, but that’s all she needed to demonstrate the massive gap between her and everyone else in the event this year — at the Pre Classic on May 28, Kipyegon ran 3:52.59 to beat Ethiopia’s Gudaf Tsegay by 1.62 seconds. Tsegay, in turn, beat the rest of the field by 4.41 seconds.

But even those numbers are a bit deceiving — Kipyegon sat on Tsegay until the final 250 and totally blew her apart over the final 150, with most of the gap coming during that span. If Kipyegon had chosen to make a genuine attempt on Genzebe Dibaba‘s 3:50.07 world record that day, she would have been close. Part of me wonders whether she’d be bold enough to try it in the World Championship final in Eugene. She’s that much better than everyone else.

The Top Challengers

In football, a great gameplan can help an underdog team spring an upset over a favored opponent. Running isn’t like that. If you’re a 3:55 runner and Kipyegon decides she’s going to run 3:53, no strategy in the world can overcome that gap.

But with that in mind, if Kipyegon were to somehow lose, the first prerequisite would be a slow pace. Kipyegon is capable of closing incredibly quickly — her final 800 in her 2016 Olympic win was a ridiculous 1:57.3, and she closed in 59.18 in a 3:53 race to win the Olympics last year — but she is not utterly invincible. In fact, she’s already lost in a kick twice this year — first to Francine Niyonsaba over 3,000 meters in Doha (8:37.70 to 8:38.05), then to Mary Moraa in the 800 at the Kenyan trials (1:57.45 to 1:58.18). Those were off events for Kipyegon, and neither of those women will be running the 1500 in Eugene, but a “slower” race at least gives a few more women a chance to be competitive on the last lap.

Tsegay dominated at World Indoors (Photo by Maja Hitij/Getty Images for World Athletics)

That probably won’t happen, though, and that’s due to Gudaf Tsegay. The Ethiopian Tsegay loves to run from the front, and her usual M.O. is to push the pace until she’s dropped the rest of the field. That’s what she did at World Indoors earlier this year, and she wound up running 3:57.19 and winning by five seconds. And it’s what she did in her last 1500 at Pre, where she succeeded in dropping everyone but Kipyegon. Considering Tsegay isn’t known for a huge kick and has a season’s best 3+ seconds better than the #3 athlete this year, expect her to set a fast pace again in Eugene. It’s certainly her best way to win a medal, even if it may not really affect her chances of defeating Kipyegon.

If Tsegay chooses to make the final into a 3:55 race or faster, the likely outcome is Kipyegon and Tsegay going 1-2 in that order with the rest of the field battling for bronze. It should be a spirited fight as there are a number of women in contention for the third spot on the podium. 21-year-old Hirut Meshesha, one of the breakout athletes of the year, is first in line after Diamond League wins in Rabat (3:57.30, #3 in the world this year) and Rome, while Freweyni Hailu (3:58.18 in Rabat, #4 in the world this year), another 21-year-old Ethiopian, was 4th at the Olympics last year and earned the silver in the 800 at World Indoors in March. American Sinclaire Johnson also has a serious shot at a medal; we’ll get to her in a minute.

You may be wondering about some of the top finishers from last year’s Olympics. What about silver medalist Laura Muir, bronze medalist Sifan Hassan, and 5th-placer Gabriela DeBues-Stafford?

None of them are nearly as big of a threat in 2022. DeBues-Stafford has a stress reaction in her sacrum and will miss Worlds. Hassan, after her grueling 1500/5k/10k triple at the Olympics, hasn’t raced at all in 2022 and though she’s entered the 1500 at Worlds, it seems likely she’ll focus on the 5k/10k in Eugene.

Muir could still be a factor but she missed a chunk of time earlier this year with a hip injury and hasn’t looked quite herself since returning to the circuit, finishing a well-beaten 11th at Pre and 3rd in Rome. Since then, she’s gone on to run 1:57.23 in a mixed-gender 800 and 1:58.09 in Oslo, though. Muir is the one with the best chance to be back to her old self by Worlds, and if she is, Muir is the athlete most capable of running with Kipyegon/Tsegay.

The Americans

The medal odds of America’s top 1500 runner, US champ Sinclaire Johnson, took a major hit in the last week after Ethiopia revised its team for Worlds. Initially, Ethiopia was set to send Hirut Meshesha, Axumawit Embaye (3:58.80 sb), and Ayal Dagnachew (3:59.87 sb) but the final roster on Tuesday subbed in Gudaf Tsegay for Embaye and Freweyni Hailu for Dagnachew — both of whom are big upgrades. Tsegay, as covered above, is the #2 1500 runner in the world (initially she was set to do the 5000 at Worlds instead), while Hailu was 4th at last year’s Olympics as a 20-year-old.

Embed from Getty Images

The good news for Johnson is that while it just got significantly harder to medal, she still has a chance. The Pre Classic 1500 in May offered a pretty good preview of what the World Championship final could look like: Kipyegon and Tsegay battling each other up front and everyone else duking it out for third. Gabriela DeBues-Stafford won the battle for third, but she won’t be at Worlds. Right behind her? Johnson (who was, notably, over a full second ahead of Hailu).

A month later, Johnson impressively dominated the USA final on the same track, winning by over a second in 4:03.29 thanks to a 59.28 last lap. That sort of close isn’t always enough to win a medal at Worlds — Jenny Simpson closed in roughly 58.0 when she earned her last medal, a silver in 2017 — but the women’s 1500 isn’t as strong in 2022 as it has been in recent years. In 2019, when the world final was super fast, it took 3:54.38 to get on the podium; GDS ran 3:56.12 and only finished 6th. Last year’s Olympic final was also fast, but in Tokyo it took 3:55.86 to get on the podium and 4th place was 3:57.60. This year, even if the race goes fast, 3:57 may be enough to get on the podium as Kipyegon and Tsegay are the only women who’ve shown they can run that quickly in 2022.

Running 3:57 would still require a fantastic race by Johnson, and she’ll have to beat a terrific young runner in Hirut Meshesha, who has already run 3:57.30 this year. But Johnson, like Meshesha, is still improving. It’s certainly feasible for her to improve a second from Pre considering she’s had another seven weeks to improve and peak for this race.

A year ago, Elle St. Pierre was a dark horse medal threat in this event last year but has had an uneven 2022. She started out with a big win in the Wanamaker Mile at Millrose but then failed to make the World Indoor team at 1500 after finishing a shocking 3rd at USAs. She rebounded to win the 3000 and take the silver in that event at World Indoors — beating out 14:12 5k runner Ejgayehu Taye in the process. But then St. Pierre got COVID, halting her spring training, and though she was fit enough to run 3:59 at Pre, she was again only 3rd at USAs and had to work hard just to outkick US 10k champ Karissa Schweizer to make the team.

St. Pierre is more comfortable in fast races, and with Tsegay in the field, this year’s world final is likely to be fast as well. The St. Pierre who soloed a 3:58.03 to win last year’s Olympic Trials would have a great shot at a medal here. Problem is, we haven’t seen that St. Pierre for a while — she certainly wasn’t at USAs two weeks ago (though St. Pierre did just run a 800 pb in training; she didn’t mention the time, but her previous best was 1:59.99).

The third American, Cory McGee, has a shot to make the final, but essentially zero shot to medal considering she’s never broken 4:00.

JG prediction: 1. Kipyegon 2. Tsegay 3. Meshesha

Hard to envision any scenario where Kipyegon loses, and if Tsegay employs her usual strategy, she’ll probably gap everyone else for the silver. That leaves just the bronze up for grabs, and while Johnson should be in the mix, Meshesha has had the more impressive season to this point.

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LetsRun.com is the home of running and the sport’s front page. Come back every day as we’ll be previewing all of the distance events and then covering them extensively from Eugene.

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