Josh Kerr Follows His Instincts to Incredible Upset in 1500m at 2023 World Championships

BUDAPEST, Hungary – As part of his preparation for the 2023 World Championships, Josh Kerr watched a lot of race videos. He has lost track of the number of times he watched the men’s 1500-meter final at last year’s Worlds. In that famous race in Eugene, Kerr’s fellow Brit Jake Wightman stunned Olympic champion Jakob Ingebrigtsen to win the gold medal.

After all of those viewings, Kerr concluded only an inexperienced runner would attempt to replicate Wightman’s race plan for springing the upset, a hard move to the lead with 200 meters to go.

“Ingebrigtsen’s one of the best 1500m runners, one of the fastest 1500m runners in the world,” Kerr said. “He’s not stupid enough to get beaten the same way twice. I thought someone would maybe [go with 200 to go] and have a tough last 100.”

Yet here was Kerr on Ingebrigten’s shoulder on the back straight of the final lap of tonight’s World Championship final, occupying the same space as Wightman a year ago. Kerr had prepared meticulously to put himself in this position, trying to optimize every variable, even going so far as to hire a nutritionist to script his last six weeks of meals before Worlds. 

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And when it came down to it, in the biggest moment, Kerr…did exactly what he said he was not going to do. He attacked Ingebrigtsen with 200 meters to go. Sometimes, in order to win the big prize, you have to trust your instincts and take a risk.

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“I felt like he was lagging maybe a slight percentage on that backstretch,” Kerr said. “I felt that in Lausanne [where Ingebrigtsen beat Kerr on June 30], I didn’t take that opportunity. I wasn’t going to hold anything back today.”

Ingebrigtsen answered Kerr’s move, forcing him to run the final turn on the outside of lane one, but Kerr would not relent, edging ahead early in the home straight and holding the move all the way to the finish to win gold in 3:29.38 and relegate Ingebrigtsen (3:29.65) to silver for the second year in a row. Ingebrigtsen’s fellow Norwegian Narve Gilje Nordås, coached by Jakob’s father Gjert Ingebrigtsen, earned the bronze in 3:29.68.

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It is one of those stories that seems too scripted to be true: for the second consecutive year, a Brit took on Ingebrigtsen, the world’s fastest 1500 runner, over the last 200 and beat him to win a dramatic World Championship final. And not just any Brit. Wightman, 29, and Kerr, 25, both grew up running for the same club, Edinburgh Athletic Club in Scotland. Ingebrigtsen, who hung his head in devastation after crossing the finish line, must hope there are no more men’s middle-distance prospects in the pipeline in the Scottish capital.

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After Kenya’s Abel Kipsang led the field through one lap in 56.03, Ingebrigtsen moved to the front at 500m and took control of the race. He slowed things down for the next lap (58.16, 1:54.19) at 800, at which point he began his long push to the finish line. That’s also when Kerr moved up into second behind Ingebrigtsen.

Ingebrigtsen hit 1200 in the lead in 2:49.53 (55.34) and while his acceleration had begun creating separation to the rest of the field, Kerr stuck to him like glue before shedding Ingebrigtsen over the final 100.

Ingebrigtsen said that unlike last year, where he blamed tactical mistakes for his defeat to Wightman, he ran a “perfect race, exactly how I was hoping it to be.” But Ingebrigtsen said he developed a sore throat on Sunday and had felt under the weather in the ensuing days. Though Ingebrigtsen said his throat felt a lot better by race day, he still did not feel 100%.

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“All credit to Kerr,” Ingebrigtsen said. “He did a good race…After 500-600 meters, my legs were not feeling as smooth as I would like them to be…I don’t feel like I could have done much different. It’s a good race, perfect for me, but just if you’re not 100% first, it’s frustrating not being able to get out your best.”

Ingebrigtsen, without pacemakers, did not run quite as fast as his recent victories on the Diamond League circuit, but even at less than 100%, he was still very good. His last lap of 53.76 was his fastest in any 1500 this year and his final 200 of 26.8 was very solid. But his final 100 meters – the portion of the race where he has routinely buried his rivals this year – was just 13.9, more than half a second slower than his typical split.

Jakob Ingebrigtsen’s late-race splits in 2023

Race Time Last 400 Last 200 Last 100
2023 Rabat 3:32.59 54.26 26.16 ?
2023 Oslo 3:27.95 55.0 27.3 13.4
2023 Lausanne 3:28.72 54.7 26.8 13.3
2023 Silesia 3:27.14 54.0 26.7 13.3
2023 Worlds 3:29.65 53.76 26.80 13.9

Kerr, meanwhile, was magnificent on the last lap, closing in 52.77 with a 26.5 last 200. Only Nordås, who went from 7th to 3rd over the last 200, closed faster (52.61 final 400, 26.10 final 200).

“It’s been like a fight camp”

Warning: The section below discusses self-harm.

Kerr had already raced Ingebrigtsen twice in 2023. The first meeting, on Ingebrigtsen’s home turf in Oslo on June 15, was not close: Ingebrigtsen won in 3:27.95 with Kerr 9th in 3:30.07. In their next matchup in Lausanne two weeks later, Ingebrigtsen won again, but the gap was smaller, 3:28.72 to 3:29.64. But Kerr has never been overly concerned about regular-season results.

“I get slated throughout the year like, Oh Josh isn’t fit now, Josh isn’t fit,” Kerr said. “This is the day I’ve always wanted to be fit. Every year, it’s the same thing. I show up at championships, I don’t miss championship finals.”

After Lausanne, Kerr, who trains in the United States as a member of the Brooks Beasts under coach Danny Mackey, headed to Albuquerque for a final altitude camp, where he put together some of the best training of his life. Mackey is a fan of combat sports, and Kerr likened that stint in ABQ to a boxer’s training camp ahead of a prize fight.

It was more than just the workouts that put Kerr in position to succeed – though they were good, highlighted by an 8×400 session averaging 54 seconds per rep. Kerr frequently reviews his program to ensure he is wringing every ounce of talent from his body, and he felt a couple of decisions he took toward that end helped provide that extra percent or two of improvement that can be the difference between bronze – which he won two years ago at the Olympics – and gold. One was Kerr’s choice to work with a sports psychologist, something he began before Tokyo and has kept as part of his routine.

A more recent change came courtesy of a recent suggestion by Kerr’s fiancee, who noted that his diet – including Kerr’s guilty pleasure of Chipotle – could use some improvement.

“She said, if you’re going to do everything right, if you’re going to tick every box, this is something you can do better,” Kerr said.

To that end, he began working with a nutritionist and hired a chef to prep his meals in the leadup to Worlds. Noticeably leaner, Kerr competed at Worlds at 155 pounds – 10 pounds lighter than last year – after going on what he described as an “insane diet” this year.

“Every stone had to be turned,” Kerr said.

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Kerr’s bold move with half a lap remaining tonight in Budapest was in keeping with the story of his career. At 17, he made the decision to leave Scotland and enroll at the University of New Mexico, nearly 5,000 miles away, without even visiting the campus. After winning three NCAA titles, he turned pro in the summer of 2018. He was down to two offers with similar base salaries – one from Nike, which offered lucrative incentives but potentially harsh reduction clauses, or a deal with Brooks which offered smaller bonuses but no reductions. He signed with Brooks and began training with the Beasts, splitting time between Seattle and Albuquerque.

Tonight’s win was, by far, the biggest ever by a Brooks Beasts athlete, but Mackey, the head coach, was not here to see it. Mackey said that in March, his fiancee died by suicide in their house, leaving him to raise their five-month-old daughter, Isla, on his own. After taking six days away from the team, Mackey returned to coach this season with a heavy heart. He remained stateside during Worlds. It has been the most challenging year of Mackey’s life, but it will end with his athlete as the world champion in the 1500 meters.

Mackey, watching the race on TV from Albuquerque, said he was particularly proud of Kerr’s form at the end of the race. Last year, they switched up Kerr’s weight routine – another minor change chasing an extra percent – and over the final 100 meters, Mackey saw it paying off.

“The nerd in me was really happy with how he looked,” Mackey said.

Mackey and Kerr had also drilled down on nailing the final 250 meters, simulating pace changes within reps to replicate race conditions. But fitness can only take you so far. Sometimes, springing a legendary upset requires a little more. Like making the move with 200 meters to go that only an “inexperienced” runner would try.

“The last 250, not to quote Craig Mottram, but it does come down to your balls a bit, your heart,” Mackey said.

Full results *Splits

3:29.38 SB
3:30.70 PB
3:31.25 NR

Post-race with Josh Kerr

Post-race with Jakob Ingebrigtsen

Quick Take: Within minutes of winning his first World Championship medal, Narve Nordås was already getting ready to do a threshold workout

Nordås has been one of the most incredible stories of 2023. A self-described “talentless” runner, Nordås was not on anybody’s radar as a potential 1500 medalist at the start of 2023. He was eliminated in the heats of the 5k at the 2021 Olympics and 2022 Worlds and after struggling in the hot weather at those two events, switched to the 1500 in 2023, thinking he’d be less affected in a shorter race. It has proven to be an inspired decision. Nordås dropped his pb from 3:36 to 3:29 and is now a World Championship medalist in his first year focusing on the event.

Incredibly, Nordås is now the third Norwegian whom Gjert Ingebrigtsen has coached to a World/Olympic medal in the 1500 after his sons Filip (2017 world bronze) and Jakob (2021 Olympic gold).

Nordås has succeeded in part by buying in to Ingebrigtsen’s threshold-based philosophy and there are few more zealous believers. When we asked him how it felt to earn bronze at Worlds, Nordås was already looking ahead to his next workout.

“Feeling good, feeling recovered,” Nordås said. “Ready to run some thresholds just outside now in a few minutes…Hopefully I can run a lot and keep on building until the next season.”

Quick Take: Yared Nuguse had fun out there

If you told us in January Nuguse would finish 5th at Worlds this year, we’d consider it an unqualified success. But based on his performance this year – Nuguse had yet to finish lower than 3rd in any race heading into Worlds – 5th was a slight underperformance. That doesn’t change the fact that Nuguse has had an outstanding 2023 season with two (or three, depending how you’re counting) American records, a US title, and a Diamond League win.

“I feel like I went out there and gave it all I had, and even if that is 5th, I still feel like I gave a solid effort, had a good time,” Nuguse said. “Really, really great race to be a part of.”

Last two quick takes by Robert Johnson

Quick Take: Cole Hocker was proud of himself for getting in shape quickly and giving himself a shot

In 2021 at the Tokyo Olympics, Hocker was 6th in a pb of 3:31.40. Tonight, he was 7th but ran a pb of 3:30.70. So he’s run in two global finals in his life and PR’d in both of them. That’s pretty good. Hocker said he was proud of his run tonight as he felt like he was in the medal hunt whereas in Tokyo, he knew he was just running for place by 800m. Also, Hocker missed a lot of time this year due to Achilles tendon problems in both legs. Moving forward, he said he wants to still be coached by Ben Thomas but isn’t sure what that exactly means as Thomas recently accepted a job at Virginia Tech and Hocker is based in Eugene.

Quick Take: 18-year-old wunderkind Niels Laros ran aggressively and went for it

A big thumbs up to Niels Laros’ parents (center) for showing up to the LetsRun get-together in Budapest on Wednesday

This afternoon at the meetup at a local pub, we were surprised to be joined by two guests: Niels Laros’ mom and dad. The former UTEP runners said they were fans of the podcast and said Laros was a LetsRun baby as just a few years ago they were going on vacations with him in the backseat listening to the podcast, dreaming of being great. Now he was in the World Championship final.

They said Laros’ coach Tomasz Lewandowski texted them he had devised two race plans – one conservative and one aggressive. It was clear which one he decided to go with – the aggressive one, as Laros was in the thick of this one until the final 50. He was 4th at 400 and tied for third with 200 to go, all at the age of 18. Laros ran out of gas in the final 50 but still was rewarded with a Dutch record of 3:31.25 — his second pb at Worlds as he ran 3:32.74 in the semis after coming into Worlds with a 3:32.89 pb.

If he was a US high schooler, he’d be the high school record holder at 800 (1:44.78), 1500 (3:31.25), 3000 (7:48.25), and 5000 (13:23.01).

LRC Note: Life is precious. If you are struggling with mental health you can 988 in the United States to talk to someone or visit  

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