2023 World Road Running Champs Preview: Kipyegon Chases WR #4, Kejelcha v Aregawi
World Half returns for first time since 2020 with a rebrand and expansionBy Jonathan Gault
On Sunday, many of the world’s best distance distance runners will be headed to Riga, Latvia, for the first-ever World Athletics Road Running Championships. Faith Kipyegon will try to close out one of the greatest seasons ever by becoming the first-ever world champion in the road mile, Beatrice Chebet will try to add the 5k road title to the World XC title she won in February, and Peres Jepchirchir will attempt to join Tegla Loroupe, Paula Radcliffe, and Lornah Kiplagat as the only women to win three world half marathon titles. On the men’s side, the 5k is the highlight with Ethiopians Yomif Kejelcha and Berihu Aregawi leading the way. From a US perspective, Hobbs Kessler and Addy Wiley (mile) are the biggest names who will be racing this weekend.
This competition is an expansion of the World Half Marathon Championships, which started in 1992 (but was run as a 20K in 2006). With the addition of the mile and 5k distances for the first time in 2023, it’s now known as the World Athletics Road Running Championships. It should be a celebration of distance running, and World Athletics is turning it into an annual event beginning with the 2025 championships in San Diego.
Let’s run through all six championship races and see which athletes will be vying to be crowned world champion this weekend in Latvia.
World-wide there is a free stream of the mile and 5000s (details here). There also is a free stream of the half marathon in many countries (if you need a VPN, sign up for the VPN we use at LetsRun.com) but that race is also on TV or streaming in other countries like the US (details here).
What: 2023 World Athletics Road Running Championships
Where: Riga, Latvia
When: Sunday, October 1. Races begin at 4:50 a.m. ET (11:50 a.m. local)
Women’s 5K (4:50 a.m. ET)
The favorite: Beatrice Chebet, Kenya
Chebet began 2023 by upsetting Letesenbet Gidey to win the world cross country title in Australia. This time, she’s the favorite after a strong track season that saw her earn bronze in the 5,000 at Worlds and run 14:05.92 at the Pre Classic two weeks ago — the #3 time in history. Chebet tends to get overlooked considering the insane glut of talent in women’s distance running right now — she’s running in the era of Gidey, Gudaf Tsegay, Sifan Hassan, and Faith Kipyegon, all of whom have broken world records at either 5,000 or 10,000 in the last three years. But none of those women are in the 5k in Riga, making Chebet the favorite.
Keep an eye on: Ejgayehu Taye, Ethiopia
Taye is the world record holder in this event, running 14:19 on the streets of Barcelona in 2021. She heads to Riga after her most successful season ever on the track, running 14:13/29:57 and earning her first outdoor medal with a bronze in the 10,000 at Worlds. Taye was also 5th in the 5,000 in Budapest; the problem is that Chebet has a much stronger kick and Taye is unlikely to drop her.
The Americans: Weini Kelati and Fiona O’Keeffe
An American woman has never medalled at this distance on the track and it is unlikely someone does it on the roads on Sunday. Kelati is usually strong on the roads (she’s won the last two US 5k titles) and has run pbs on the track this year in both the 5,000 (14:53) and 10,000 (31:04). But she looked rusty at the Pre Classic, running 15:25 and getting lapped. O’Keeffe has also run pbs this year (15:01/30:52) and was 7th at the Falmouth Road Race in August, 12 seconds and three places behind Kelati.
Men’s 5K (5:15 a.m. ET)
The favorite: Yomif Kejelcha, Ethiopia
Kejelcha has been in supreme form throughout 2023. He began by running 12:50 on the roads in March, missing the world record by one second in Lille, and continued with a stellar track campaign that saw him finish 2nd in the Florence Diamond League before big wins in Oslo (12:41) and Zurich (12:46) before finishing 5th at Worlds (0.23 from a medal). Most recently, he battled Jakob Ingebrigtsen to the line in the 3,000 at the Pre Classic and was rewarded with the #4 time in history, 7:23.64.
Kejelcha had been hoping to race a 5,000 at Pre instead — perhaps to target the world record of 12:35.36 — and will get his crack in Riga, albeit on the roads rather than the track. The road WR of 12:49 is in serious danger.
Keep an eye on: Berihu Aregawi, Ethiopia; Stanley Mburu, Kenya
This may be the most exciting race of the weekend, fitting because the men’s 5,000 has been full of excitement on the track this season. Berighu Aregawi, who holds the road WR of 12:49 and is #5 all-time on the track at 12:40.45, is entered and should push Kejelcha throughout — though Kejelcha has the stronger kick.
(We’re assuming Kejelcha and Aregawi both run; each country can only run two and Ethiopian 12:42 man Hagos Gebrhiwet is also listed among the entries).
Ethiopia will be favored to go 1-2 but Kenya has a pair of strong entries in Nicholas Kipkorir (2022 Diamond League champ) and Stanley Mburu (2022 Worlds 10k silver). Aussie standout Stewart McSweyn is also running.
The Americans: Olin Hacker and Ahmed Muhumed
Hacker and Muhumed, now teammates at HOKA NAZ Elite, finished 7th and 8th at USAs in the 5,000 in July. Both will be representing the US for the first time at the senior level.
Women’s mile (6:00 a.m. ET)
The favorite: Faith Kipyegon, Kenya
This is easily the most predictable event on the schedule. Kipyegon, who has set world record in the 1500, mile, and 5,000 this year and won two world titles on the track in Budapest, has put together arguably the greatest season ever by a distance runner. A win in Riga would be the cherry on top, and another world record should be a formality.
This is the first year that World Athletics has recognized an official world record in the road mile, which means American Nikki Hiltz is the current world record holder — Hiltz ran 4:27 in Des Moines in April and the Drake Relays filed the proper paperwork to get it ratified as the WR. But even Hiltz knows Kipyegon should run much faster than that on Sunday. Kipyegon ran 4:07.64 on the track in July. How close can she get to that on the roads?
I think my favorite part about this is that in 1 week I get to congratulate the goat 🐐 @Kipyegon_Faith for breaking my world record 😂
— Nikki Hiltz (@Nikki_Hiltz) September 22, 2023
Keep an eye on: Diribe Welteji, Ethiopia
Welteji is the clear pick for silver after finishing 2nd behind Kipyegon at Worlds and the Diamond League final. The second Ethiopian, whether it’s Hirut Meshesha (3:54 1500 sb) or Freweyni Hailu (3:55 1500 sb) should also be in the medal mix, though emerging 20-year-old Kenyan Nelly Chepchirchir (5th at Worlds in the 1500) will put up a fight.
Let’s also pause to give props to Japan’s Nozomi Tanaka. Tanaka absolutely loves to race. Last year, she ran the 800, 1500, and 5000 at Worlds in Eugene, and she is one of the very few athletes to have run all five major champs over the last two years: 2022 World Indoors, 2022 Worlds, 2023 World XC, 2023 Worlds, and 2023 World Road Running Champs (on the men’s side, Berihu Aregawi has also done all five). Unfortunately for Tanaka,
she can only run one event in Riga — wait, we’re being told Tanaka is entered in the mile and 5k on Sunday (with about 55 minutes in between). Awesome.
The Americans: Addy Wiley and Helen Schlachtenhaufen
It’s wild to think, but America’s best shot at a women’s medal at this meet is a 19-year-old who just started her sophomore year at an NAIA school. Addy Wiley has continually reset expectations throughout 2023, and rather than slow down or burn out, she has gotten faster, running pbs of 1:57.64 for 800 and 3:59.17 for 1500 earlier this month. Given the East African talent in this race plus Australia’s Jessica Hull, a medal is still unlikely, but it’s not totally out of the question.
Men’s mile (6:10 a.m. ET)
The favorite: Reynold Cheruiyot, Kenya
After winning the World U20 title in the 1500 last year, Cheruiyot had a solid rookie year on the senior circuit, shaving four seconds off his pb to 3:30.30 and finishing 8th at Worlds. The men’s 1500 is one of the deepest events in track right now, but many of the big names are skipping this meet and it’s the weakest of the six disciplines being contested in Riga.
Keep an eye on: Teddese Lemi, Ethiopia
Lemi ran 1:44/3:31 in 2021 but hasn’t been as good in 2023 — he did run 3:32 in Oslo but he couldn’t get out of the first round at Worlds in Budapest. That he is the second-most notable guy in the field shows you how much this race is hurting for depth.
The Americans: Hobbs Kessler and Sam Prakel
This is the Americans’ best shot at a medal by far. Prakel, who ran a 1500 pb of 3:34 in June, is the US indoor champ, won the US road mile title in April, and was 4th at USAs in the 1500. He’s also the “world record holder,” though his 4:01 from Drake is almost certain to be broken on Sunday. Prakel ran 3:50.5 at the 5th Avenue Mile on September 10, and that sort of performance could put him in the medal mix in Latvia.
Kessler, who ran 3:32 in LA in May (#3 in the US this year) and 3:35 in Berlin on September 3, has just as good a shot to contend and will enter as the #3 seed in the field based on 1500 sb behind Cheruiyot and Lemi.
Women’s half marathon (6:30 a.m. ET)
The favorite: Peres Jepchirchir, Kenya
Jepchirchir, the reigning champion, has proven very difficult to beat when she is at her best. She won this race in 2016 and 2020 and has since added the Olympic marathon title in 2021 and victories at the Boston and NYC Marathons in 2022. Jepchirchir has only raced once in 2023, finishing 3rd in the London Marathon in April in 2:18:38, but she very rarely has a bad race and is a deserved favorite.
Keep an eye on: Irine Kimais, Kenya
If Jepchirchir is to taste defeat, it will most likely come at the hands of a Kenyan countrywoman, with Irine Jepchumba Kimais the biggest challenger. Unlike Jepchirchir, Kimais has raced a ton in 2023, winning the Kenyan 10,000 trials and finishing 4th at that event at Worlds. She’s been even better in the half marathon, though, running 64:37 to win the Barcelona Half in February over former HM world record holder Joyciline Jepkosgei. That time puts Kimais #8 on the all-time list — nearly 30 seconds ahead of Jepchirchir.
21-year-old Catherine Relin (65:39 pb) and Margaret Kipkemboi (65:50 pb, 10k bronze at ’22 Worlds) round out a squad that could very well replicate the Kenyan 1-2-3 sweeps of 2014 and 2016.
The Americans: Sarah Buchanan, Molly Grabill, Amber Zimmerman
With many of the top Americans committed to fall marathons, this is far from the US’s strongest possible team and it took a further hit on Thursday when Sara Hall, who set an American record of 67:15 last year in Houston (since broken twice), scratched due to SI joint pain. Sarah Buchanan (formerly Pagano) is the top US entrant by season’s best thanks to her 70:15 at the Marugame Half in February.
Men’s half marathon (7:15 a.m. ET)
The favorite: No one
That’s not to say that this is not a good field, but it’s hard to single out one man as the favorite now that defending champion/world record holder Jacob Kiplimo of Uganda has scratched.
Keep an eye on: The entire Kenyan team plus Jemal Yimer, Ethiopia
Jemal Yimer, former Ethiopian record holder, is the fastest in the field this year at 58:38, which he ran a month ago at the Antrim Coast Half Marathon. But Kenya’s Benard Kibet (58:45 pb to win RAK Half in February, 5th in Worlds at 10,000), Charles Lagat (58:53 to win Barcelona in February), Daniel Ebenyo (silver in 10,000 at Worlds), and Sabastian Sawe (58:02 pb, 26:49 road 10k this year) form a very formidable quartet. This should be a fast, exciting race, but there’s no obvious stud floating above everyone — at least not right now.
The Americans: Abbabiya Simbassa, Futsum Zienasellassie, Reed Fischer, Jacob Thomson
Fischer has the top season’s best of this group at 61:52, which he ran at the adidas Road to Records event in Germany in April while Thomson is the US champ, running 62:38 to win the national title by one second over Leonard Korir and Zienasellassie back in February.