Jakob Ingebrigtsen (3:43.73) Tops Yared Nuguse (3:43.97) in Epic 2023 Bowerman MileBy Jonathan Gault
EUGENE, Ore. – Twenty-four years ago, on a midsummer’s night in Rome, two men waged war over one mile. There was Moroccan Hicham El Guerrouj, chasing the ghosts of history. And upstart Kenyan Noah Ngeny, who was chasing El Guerrouj. The race is remembered primarily for the world record El Guerrouj set, 3:43.13, but what made it truly iconic among track fans is that it remained a race to the very end. Ngeny, who had stalked El Guerrouj for four laps and a little more, crossed just behind in 3:43.40.
On Saturday, on a late-summer afternoon in the Pacific Northwest, we saw the spiritual sequel in the Bowerman Mile at the 2023 Prefontaine Classic. Norway’s Jakob Ingebrigtsen took El Guerrouj’s role as history chaser, winning in 3:43.73, with Yared Nuguse as Ngeny, doing all he could do to hang on and finish second in 3:43.97 – nearly three full seconds faster than Alan Webb’s 3:46.91 American record from 2007. The world has now seen precisely four 3:43 miles, evenly split between two eerily similar races, nearly a quarter of a century apart.
El Guerrouj and Ngeny expanded the limits of mile running on their special night in 1999, and that is where those limits have stayed for more than two decades, even as innovations like super-cushioned spikes and pacing lights push average times ever lower. From El Guerrouj’s retirement in 2004 until this afternoon, no man had come within even three seconds of the world record; Ingebrigtsen closed a sizable portion of that gap, but he knows better than anyone how hard those final six-tenths of a second will be. When Ingebrigtsen was asked after the race whether it felt bittersweet to just miss the world record, he quickly set the record straight.
“It’s not just,” Ingebrigtsen said. “It’s quite a margin. It’s just that the world record is so good that no one has ever come close [since 1999]. So it seems like I’m close.”
Ingebrigtsen ranked today’s run as either the greatest or second-greatest of his career alongside his 3:27.14 for 1500 meters in Silesia in July (LetsRun’s rule of thumb is to divide mile times by 1.0802 to get a 1500m conversion; by that measure, Ingebrigtsen’s run today was worth 3:27.12). Either way, this was Ingebrigtsen at his very best. Which makes it so jarring that he could not shake Yared Nuguse.
Nuguse Runs 3:43
“I ran 3:43,” Nuguse said. “Like, a second from the world record. I’m just like, how the hell did I do that?”
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It’s a fair question. Seriously, let’s pause for a second here.
Yared Nuguse, an American man, just ran a 3:43 mile.
Three. Forty. Three.
Those numbers have been appended to the world record for so long – Nuguse was barely one month old in July 1999 – that it is deeply strange to see them next to any name but El Guerrouj or Ngeny. But Nuguse earned them, and in so doing, took US distance running to a new level. 3:43.97 will serve as the target for generations of American milers to shoot at, just as 3:46.91 did for Nuguse and his peers.
Webb’s record lasted more than 16 years. Given how rarely the mile is contested and the perfect storm of factors in today’s race – an uncommon talent in peak fitness paced for the entire distance by one of the greatest milers in history – it would not be surprising to see Nuguse’s record stand for even longer.
Ingebrigtsen and Nuguse were not the only men to run fast. Great Britain’s George Mills ran 3:47.65 for third. Kenya’s Reynold Cheruiyot set a world U20 record of 3:48.06 in 5th – two-hundredths ahead of Cole Hocker, whose 3:48.08 places him fourth in US history behind Nuguse, Webb, and Steve Scott. Niels Laros, the Dutch phenom who turned 18 in April, ran 3:48.64 and finished ninth. Eleven of the 13 finishers broke 3:50; no previous race had featured more than six.
Results *Full splits
|1||Jakob INGEBRIGTSEN||3:43.73||AR, DLR, MR, WL, PB||NOR|
|2||Yared NUGUSE||3:43.97||AR, PB||USA|
|4||Mario GARCÍA||3:47.69||NR, PB||ESP|
|5||Reynold Kipkorir CHERUIYOT||3:48.06||WU20R||KEN|
|7||Narve Gilje NORDÅS||3:48.24||PB||NOR|
|8||Azeddine HABZ||3:48.64||NR, PB||FRA|
|9||Niels LAROS||3:48.93||NR, SB||NED|
|10||Stewart McSWEYN||3:49.32||SB, PB||AUS|
A race that lived up to the hype
Even for a Bowerman Mile, Saturday’s race carried high expectations. Any race with Ingebrigtsen is going to go fast, and even Nuguse, typically humble and laid back, openly shared his belief that the American record was possible. Unlike last week’s 2000m in Brussels, this was deliberately not hyped as a world record attempt, with Ingebrigtsen citing Hayward Field’s windy back straight as a potential limiting factor. But when the Wavelight system was programmed on Saturday, 3:43.13 was input as the target time.
Nuguse didn’t know about the target time and didn’t care. His instructions before the race from coach Dathan Ritzenhein were simple: don’t give Ingebrigtsen an inch. No matter what pace Ingebrigtsen ran today, Nuguse was going to follow it.
“I don’t want to be in no-man’s-land,” Nuguse said. “Might as well just go for it and if I die, I die.”
Ingebrigtsen was just fine with that, even going so far as to encourage Nuguse during Friday’s pre-meet press conference.
“Stick to me as long as you can,” Ingebrigtsen said, “and we’ll get you sub-3:46.”
Ingebrigtsen was as good as his word, hitting 56.1 and 55.9 to hit 800 meters in 1:52.0. And so was Nuguse: while the rest of the field had dropped, Nuguse remained attached to Ingebrigtsen’s heels and would stay there after Sowinski dropped at 900 meters, leaving the two racers alone. Ingebrigtsen had difficulty picking up the Wavelight in the sunlight of a gorgeous Eugene afternoon (82 degrees Fahrenheit), but he reeled off a 55.8 to hit 1200 in 2:47.8. Now came the hard part: picking it up for the world record.
Ingebrigtsen did pick it up and on the last turn finally grew his lead beyond the meter Nuguse had afforded him throughout the race. Not much more, though. Nuguse, not licked yet, moved into lane 2 as he entered the home straight, preparing the same move he used to win the US title on this track two months ago. That move allowed Nuguse to stay closer to Ingebrigtsen than any man has on the Diamond League circuit this year, just .24 behind, but it was not quite enough for the victory. Nuguse actually had the faster last lap, 54.6 to 54.7, but Ingebrigtsen, despite setting the pace and twice blocking the wind on the back straight, was too good and too strong for the American.
The win was Ingebrigtsen’s second straight Diamond League title and third straight victory in the Bowerman Mile. In all, he has won six Diamond League points races in 2023 and set world records at 2000 meters and two miles. Tomorrow, he will run the 3000m at Prefontaine, his final track race of the year. Six days later, he will get married at home in Norway.
A historic 2023 season for Nuguse and more insight on Worlds
Even before today, Nuguse’s 2023 campaign ranked among the best ever by a US middle distance runner. It began on January 27, indoors in Boston, with a 7:28.23 American record for 3000 meters, an entirely new level of performance for the 24-year-old Nuguse that he has managed to maintain for nearly eight months. Comparing accomplishments across eras is always difficult – what’s more impressive, Jim Ryun’s 3:51 on cinders in 1967 or Nuguse’s 3:43 on rubber and polyurethane in 2023? But between Nuguse’s two Diamond League victories (double the previous combined total of all US men’s 1500 runners), four* American records, US title at 1500 meters, and his staggering consistency, few Americans have ever had a better year.
The one blemish – and we use that term loosely – was Nuguse’s result at the World Championships in Budapest. Nuguse ran 3:30.25 in the 1500-meter final and finished 5th, the best result by an American in a global championships since Matthew Centrowitz’s 2016 Olympic gold. And yet, considering Nuguse’s other performances this year – 2nd, 3rd, 1st, 1st, 2nd in five Diamond League appearances, including a win over newly-crowned world champion Josh Kerr in Zurich – 5th was a little surprising. Ritzenhein revealed today that Nuguse was feeling under the weather during the rounds in Budapest (he did not want to use this as an excuse and said Nuguse felt fine for the final), but ultimately believes it was not a bad thing for Nuguse to get beaten. Nuguse has already set a deadline on his career: he does not plan on competing beyond age 30. The big birthday does not come until 2029, and Ritzenhein is worried about that timeline moving up.
“You get more out of that [than] if you do everything in the first year,” Ritzenhein said. “I don’t want Yared to be in dental school in 2025. If Yared won the World Championships this year, won the Olympics, and set the world record, we would probably not see him anymore [after] 2025.”
Even for the best athletes, it can be difficult to summon the desire to keep a long season going after the emotional high (or low) of Worlds – see Kerr, who skipped Prefontaine and called it a season after last week’s Fifth Avenue Mile. But when Nuguse returned to Boulder after his big win in Zurich, Ritzenhein saw an athlete who was locked in, especially because Prefontaine offered a slight change from his typical 1500.
“He was still just slightly disappointed enough in Budapest, I think,” Ritzenhein said. “…When we heard it was a mile, he was like, hell yeah, let’s go.”
Nuguse reaches entirely new level
Nuguse began his 2023 season by making a leap in Boston – from NCAA champion and Olympian to American record holder. He ended it with another leap, one which surprised even Nuguse. Sort of.
“I have goals that I feel like are achievable and then I get to a certain time and it’s like, nah, we’re not going to do that yet,” Nuguse said. “I always think it will come later and it always ends up coming way sooner than I think. That’s basically been this entire year.”
3:29, 3:47, and 7:28 are fast, faster than any American had ever run. 3:43 is as fast as anyone has ever run. Nuguse has reached a new level, and even Ingebrigtsen knows that having two 3:43 milers on the circuit is better than one.
“It’s good for both of us and obviously it’s better if we can have multiple athletes competing against each other to run fast and break records and not only have one guy in the front running by himself,” Ingebrigtsen said. “Because then I could just do it in my home track in Sandnes.”
Nuguse still has work to do. Ingebrigtsen is undoubtedly fitter, and Nuguse greatly benefited from drafting off him the entire way. But Ingebrigtsen also knows only one way to run: from the front. If Nuguse can keep putting himself on Ingebrigtsen’s shoulder, he will keep that benefit until Ingebrigtsen changes tactics.
All of which leaves the men’s 1500 meters in a terrific place heading into the Olympic year of 2024. Great Britain already has one Ingebrigtsen-slaying world champion in Kerr and will gain back another when Jake Wightman returns from injury. And now there’s Nuguse, with an opportunity to fulfill the second act of a long-ago mile race.
Because the story of Hicham El Guerrouj and Noah Ngeny did not end on that night in Rome 24 years ago. Fourteen months after their 3:43 race, the two men met again – without pacemakers – at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. As in Rome, Ngeny went out to lane 2 to pass El Guerrouj on the home straight. This time, he won. Is a sequel in Paris too much to ask for?
Nuguse’s coach Dathan Ritzenhein
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*Nuguse ran 3:29.02 in Oslo in June, which is the fastest by any athlete representing the United States. But in 2004, shortly after gaining US citizenship, Bernard Lagat ran 3:27.40 in Zurich. Even though Lagat was competing for Kenya at the time, USATF recognizes the time as the American record – we do not.