Jakob Was Magnificent In Poland, But Remember: They Don’t Run The 1500 Final In Lanes

Jakob Ingebrigtsen is a treasure the sport needs to cherish. Not only is he one of the all-time greats in terms of talent, but he’s also someone who races all the time, both indoors and out, on the oval and on grass, and isn’t media-shy — hell, there was a reality TV show on him in his early teens. If every track event had someone like him in it, the sport would be much more popular.

The Ingebrigtsen show kept rolling on Sunday at the Silesia Diamond League as he ran his second 1500 pb of 2023 by clocking 3:27.14, nearly two seconds up on second placer Abel Kipsang of Kenya (3:29.11). Ingebrigtsen’s confidence should be sky-high entering Worlds as he has now run nearly two seconds faster than anyone else in the world (1.75 seconds ahead of Mo Katir) in 2023 and is up to #4 on the world all-time list.

That being said, I certainly don’t think the 1500 gold medal is automatically his. The 1500 is not run in lanes. It’s not like the 100, 200, or 400, where there is no drafting as everyone runs in their own lane against the clock. If that was the case, you could safely hand him the gold.

There is a reason why meet organizers employ rabbits. Physics is real and drafting helps. Anyone remember the army of rabbits that were hired to hop in and out of Eliud Kipchoge‘s 1:59:40 exhibition?

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If an athlete runs a 1500 time trial all alone, LetsRun.com coaching guru John Kellogg thinks they’d run roughly a second per lap slower than if they were able to run directly behind someone. Now I’m not saying a rabbit helps you by four seconds in a pro 1500. The reality is no one has a rabbit for the full race and the people in the back often have to run extra distance and don’t have a smooth trip.

But when Ingebrigtsen won his lone global title in the 1500, at the 2021 Olympics, he only led for about 60 seconds of it (from about about the 20-second mark to 60-second mark and then the final 20 seconds of the race) while Timothy Cheruiyot led for more than two minutes the middle. Last year, Jakob tried to lead the majority of the World Indoor and World Outdoor finals and was beaten in both races. Now last year, Jakob wasn’t nearly two seconds faster than everyone else in the world. His seasonal best of 3:29.02 only ended up being .21 faster than Jake Wightman‘s.

Ingebrigtsen himself knows rabbits help. Within the first 25 seconds of his post-race interview in Poland on Sunday, Ingebrigtsen said, “Getting the world’s best pacemakers” helps “a lot.”

At the end of the interview in the Wanda Diamond League virtual mixed zone, I put in a request for the interviewer to ask Jakob if he’s ever thought about asking the Diamond League organizers to have zero pacers in a meet so he can get a dry run for Worlds. I was surprised by what happened next. Ingebrigtsen acted stunned by the question and responded with a statement that seemed to contradict what he said at the start of the interview.

“Who asked that question? I’m pacing every race. When the pacemakers drop out, I’m the pacer so every race is practice…But I’m always pacing. Just watch the races. (Normally) I’m the third pacemaker. Today I was the fourth pacemake…But there is no difference between doing this – the Diamond Leagues – and the World Championships.”

I beg to differ. There’s a huge difference between Silesia and Worlds/Olympics.

For starters, go back and watch the start of Sunday’s race. It most definitely was not a random lane draw. Ingebrigtsen was given hip #1 and was in lane 1. The three pacers are right to his outside. Once the race started, they all went out to the side and basically created a tunnel so he could just effortlessly run up lane 1. It wouldn’t surprise me if the rest of the field was told to stay out of the way.

US Viewers, Watch The Start Here (Need a VPN? Check out the one we use).

Do you think everyone will just let Ingebrigtsen go to the lead at Worlds without having to run a single foot of extra distance?

It’s possible the time trialers try to encourage that, but it’s far from a guarantee.

While Ingebrigtsen ran .81 faster in Poland than he did in Oslo, some of that improvement can be explained by the fact that Jakob ran exactly 1500 meters in Poland. In Oslo, he ran half of the first turn in lane 2 and the other half on the outside of lane 1. Even if it’s only ~2.5 meters of extra distance (each turn in lane 2 is roughly 3.5 meters), that’s 1/3rd of a second at Ingebrigtsen’s 3:27 pace. Add in the fact that he had a rabbit for an extra half lap in Silesia (1/2 second) and basically his entire improvement from Oslo to Silesia could be explained by simple physics, not improved fitness necessarily.

Now there was one thing about Sunday’s race in Poland that should give those who want to see him go wire-to-wire at Worlds a lot of hope. Jakob wasn’t right on the rabbit from 300 meters until 900 meters so I’m not sure how much of a drafting benefit he got for almost half of the paced portion of the race. That being said, the pacers and wavelight definitely offered a mental benefit: Jakob didn’t have to worry if the pace was lagging. He could just shut off his brain and focus on his effort.

The reality is, the 1500 has a famous history of being cruel to favorites, whether it was Jim Ryun in 1968, Hicham El Guerrouj in 2000, or Ingebrigtsen last year.

I decided to do a little research and figure out who had the fastest 1500/mile seasonal best heading into the 12 global outdoor 1500 finals from 2007-2022. Then I looked to see how big the gap was from their sb to the rest of the field and whether they won the gold medal. Here are the results.

Year Fastest SB at Worlds/Olympics Margin over #2 seed at Worlds/Olympics Finish at Worlds/Olympics
2007 Alan Webb (3:30.06*) 0.86 seconds 8th
2008 Augustine Choge (3:31.57) 0.07 seconds 9th
2009 Augustine Choge (3:29.47) 0.73 seconds 5th
2011 Silas Kiplagat (3:30.47) 1.29 seconds 2nd – Kiprop won and ended up the WL at 3:30.46
2012 Asbel Kiprop (3:28.88) 0.75 seconds 12th
2013 Asbel Kiprop (3:27.72) 3.05 seconds 1st
2015 Asbel Kiprop (3:26.69) 2.06 seconds 1st
2016 Asbel Kiprop (3:29.33) 1.16 seconds 6th
2017 Elijah Manangoi (3:28.80) 0.30 seconds 1st
2019 Timothy Cheruiyot (3:28.77) 1.39 seconds 1st
2021 Timothy Cheruiyot (3:28.28) 0.48 seconds 2nd
2022 Jakob Ingebrigtsen (3:29.65**) 1.02 seconds 2nd

*Converted from 3:46.91 mile
**Converted from a 3:46.46 mile

In the last 12 global outdoor finals, the man with the fastest seasonal best of all the 1500 entrants at the time of the race has only won the gold four times, and three of those wins were by people who served bans for anti-doping rules violations. Asbel Kiprop only won two of four finals where he entered as the #1 seed (granted he was not 100% healthy at the 2012 Olympics). The two times Kiprop won Worlds as the world leader, he led the world by more than two seconds.

All three of the men who won the 1500 at Worlds as the fastest man in the field had much greater speed than Ingebrigtsen — Kiprop’s 800 pb is 1:43.15, Manangoi’s is 1:44.15, and Cheruiyot’s is 1:43.11, while Jakob’s is 1:46.44. But that’s not saying much as Ingebrigtsen has one of the slowest 800 pbs of any elite 1500 runner (Mo Katir’s is listed at 1:51.84). And to be honest, 800 speed isn’t really that important for someone who is trying to break the field from the front.

The key thing Jakob has going for him is something that’s not shown in the table above: his strength. He’s the two-mile world record holder (7:54.10). He’s the reigning 5,000 world champion, where he has a 12:48.45 pb. When the gun goes off for the men’s 1500 final in Budapest on August 23 and Jakob tries to win it from the front as the world leader, he won’t be trying to front-run a one-off race. It will be the third 1500 for all of the finalists in five days.

Can he do it? I can’t wait to find out.

MB: Jakob’s response to LetsRun’s question: “I am the pacemaker”

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