2023 World Road Champs: Faith Kipyegon Gets Beat, Hobbs Kessler Wins Mile & Breaks WR, Kenya Goes 1-2-3 in Both Half Marathons
The American Kessler picked up a cool $60,000 for his efforts as the World Half Champs were expanded to include miles and 5000 racesBy Jonathan Gault
American Hobbs Kessler won gold and Ethiopia’s Diribe Welteji stunned Kenya’s Faith Kipyegon in the mile races at the 1st World Athletics Road Running Championships in Riga, Latvia, on Sunday. Kessler, 20, emerged from a humongous pack to kick his way to the win in 3:56.13 as fellow American Sam Prakel took the bronze in a race where the top nine were separated by less than two seconds. In the women’s race, Kipyegon tried to go wire-to-wire but could not shake the Worlds 1500 silver medalist Welteji, who moved in the final 200 to hand Kipyegon her first defeat of 2023 in her final race of the year. Both Kessler and Welteji (4:20.98) earned $60,000 – $10,000 for the win plus an extra $50,000 each for setting world records (a relatively low bar given World Athletics only began recognizing an official world record in the road mile this year).
Kenyans dominated the half marathon, going 1-2-3 in both the men’s and women’s races. Olympic marathon champion Peres Jepchirchir became just the fourth woman to win three World Half titles, outsprinting Margaret Kipkemboi for the gold in 67:25 as Sabastian Sawe ran down Worlds 10,000 silver medalist Daniel Simiu Ebenyo in the final meters to win the men’s race in 59:10. Kenya’s Beatrice Chebet (14:35) and Ethiopia’s Hagos Gebrhiwet (12:59) won the 5k titles. Recap and analysis below.
Men’s mile: Kessler wins and breaks world record
On paper, this was easily the weakest field of the championships and once it became apparent that rising Kenyan star Reynold Cheruiyot was not going to be a factor – he finished way back in 22nd – the gold medal was up for grabs.
The pack was very tightly bunched for almost the entire way, with 19 men hitting 1k within a second of the lead (2:29). With 200 meters, the pack was still 10-wide, which is when Kessler made his move. And while he could not gain significant separation, no one was able to pass him, either, with Kessler smartly running the tangent along the slight turn to the finish line to win it in 3:56.13. Brit Callum Elson, who owns a 3:35 pb on the track and was 8th at the UK championships this year, closed well to run 3:56.41, just edging Prakel (3:56.43) for silver. *Full results
Quick Take: A great run by Hobbs Kessler, who has some momentum heading into the Olympic year
Kessler was devastated not to make the US Worlds team this year after running 3:32.61 in May, but rather than pack it in after USAs, he kept racing, heading to Europe to run 3:35 in Berlin and win an 800 in Zagreb in 1:46.09. Now he gets to end his season on a major high note with a world title, world record, and very nice payday.
It reminds us a little of what Yared Nuguse did at the end of 2022, winning a bunch of second-tier races on the circuit after failing to make the World Championship team. That doesn’t mean Kessler is going to go out and set a bunch of American records next year. But he gained some valuable championship experience, and it’s always good to win. It’s a great way to head into an Olympic year.
Quick Take: Kessler felt he may have gone too early but his move paid off in the end
Kessler got a text this morning from his mentor, five-time Fifth Avenue Mile champion Nick Willis, who advised him to tuck in considering the windy (12 mph) conditions. Kessler tried to do that but he also wanted to make sure that when he did move, he went with authority. Kessler’s move left him exposed to the wind late, but at that point, there was not much he could do – in order to win the race, you do have to lead at some point.
“I struck first and I struck hard,” Kessler told Athletics Weekly. “I went and I shifted, I go around the little roundabout, I get a huge blast of wind in my face. I was like, uh-oh, I messed up. But there’s no going back. You’ve just gotta keep powering forward.”
“There was no going back and I had to power forward.”
World road mile champion Hobbs Kessler pays tribute to the advice he got from @nickwillis 💬
Kessler claimed the title in Riga in a world record of 3:56.13 🇺🇸
— AW (@AthleticsWeekly) October 1, 2023
Quick Take: Let’s not get carried away, though
Kessler did well to win today, but it’s important to put this race in its proper context. Though the men’s 1500 was incredibly deep this year, almost all of the top guys skipped this meet, and as a result, this was easily the weakest field of the six events contested in Riga today. Of the 12 finalists in the men’s 1500 in Budapest, Reynold Cheruiyot was the only one to race in Riga, and he was awful. In addition, only one of the 27 fastest men at 1500 meters this year competed today (also Cheruiyot). The three medalists today, Kessler, Callum Elson, and Sam Prakel, finished 6th, 8th, and 4th, respectively, in their national 1500m championships this year.
In addition, the previous world record – 4:01.21 by Prakel – was very soft since WA only began recognizing a road mile WR this year.
Kessler was super pumped to win, as he should be – he’s still only 20 years old and this looked like a fun event to be a part of. But this was one of the weakest fields ever assembled in a “World Championship.”
Women’s mile: Welteji stuns Kipyegon
Unlike the men’s race, the women’s mile field was quite strong, featuring four of the top seven finishers from the Worlds 1500, headlined by gold and silver medalists Faith Kipyegon and Diribe Welteji.
Kipyegon, who has set world records in the 1500, mile, and 5,000 and won world titles in the 1500 and 5,000, has been totally untouchable in 2023 and was the heavy favorite to win today. Midway through the race, it looked to be trending that way with Kipyegon pushing from the front and stringing out the pack. But, try as she might, Kipyegon could not shake the 21-year-old Ethiopian Welteji. With 400 meters to go, it was actually Welteji who looked stronger, staying calm in second as Kipyegon began to strain just ahead of her. With 150 to go, Welteji edged ahead, and while Kipyegon put up a fight, she did not have her usual brilliant kick. By the time the finish line came into sight, Welteji had broken Kipyegon, who was looking over her shoulder to see if anyone else was coming – and indeed, Freweyni Hailu steamed by Kipyegon in the dying meters to make it an Ethiopian 1-2 sweep.
Welteji’s winning time of 4:20.98 broke Nikki Hiltz’s world record of 4:27.97, which was only ratified last week, with Hailu 2nd in 4:23.06 and Kipyegon 3rd in 4:24.13. Addy Wiley was the top American in 9th in 4:36.03. *Full results
Quick Take: This is why they run the race
Faith Kipyegon’s 2023 season has been one of the most dominant in the history of the sport and she entered today’s race as an overwhelming favorite to win and set the world record. Just two weeks ago in Eugene, Kipyegon ran 3:50.72 to win the Diamond League 1500 final by more than three seconds. But whether it was the toll of a long season or simply an off day, Kipyegon was clearly not at her best today and Welteji took advantage. Just a reminder that anything can happen in the unscripted world of professional sports.
Update: Irish journalist Cathal Dennehy, who is in Riga told LetsRun Kipyegon was hunched over in the mized zone and that she said she had been sick last week and was dealing with congestion in her chest today.
Quick Take: Did this race cost Kipyegon the greatest season ever?
For Kipyegon, this was a sour note on which to end her year, suffering her first defeat of 2023 in her final race. But it should not overshadow everything else she accomplished in one of the greatest seasons in distance running history, with three world records and two world titles on the track. We’re not inclined to hold this race against her too much and it does not change the fact that Kipyegon’s 2023 campaign was one of the greatest in track & field history. But a world title was awarded today and Kipyegon was beaten. If you’re splitting hairs between this and some of the other great seasons in athletics history, one loss could be the difference.
What do you think? Have your say on the LetsRun messageboard:
Women’s half marathon: Jepchirchir joins the legends with her third title
Kenya’s Peres Jepchirchir entered Sunday’s race as the favorite, having won the title in 2016 and 2020. She also looked strong at the Great North Run three weeks ago, winning by over a minute in 66:45. She employed a patient strategy today, biding her time as part of the lead group, which at halfway surprisingly contained Brits Samantha Harrison and Calli Thackery as well as the other three Kenyans (Margaret Kipkemboi, Catherine Reline, and Irine Kimais) plus Ethiopians Ftaw Zeray and Tsigie Gebreselama.
Five women were still in it at 20k when Jepchirchir made her attack, quickly stringing out the field. Kipkemboi was the only one to go with her and actually passed Jepchirchir, who trailed close behind her with just half a mile to run.
It was down to a kick, which would seem to favor Kipkemboi (4th in the 5,000 at Worlds this year) over Jepchirchir, who has never run a track race as a professional. But, just as she did at the NYC Marathon in 2021 and Boston Marathon in 2022, Jepchirchir was unstoppable in the home straight, holding off Kipkemboi, to win gold, 67:25 to 67:26. 21-year-old Catherine Reline completed the Kenyan sweep, running 67:34 for bronze.
Thackery, who finished 7th in a pb of 68:56, and Harrison (9th in 69:26) were the first non-African-born women to crack the top 10 since 2016. The result was particularly poignant for Thackery, whose father Carl earned the bronze at this race almost exactly 30 years ago.
An emotional Calli Thackery in tears when I asked her about her dad, Carl, winning medals at the World Half-Marathon Champs.
— Jason Henderson (@Jason_AW) October 1, 2023
Molly Grabill was the top American finisher, running a pb of 69:53 for 13th. *Full results
Quick Take: Peres Jepchirchir is an incredible championship racer
With the win today and her victories in 2016 and 2020, Jepchirchir joined Tegla Loroupe, Paula Radcliffe, and Lornah Kiplagat as the only women to win three World Half titles. Those three are all legends of the sport, and Jepchirchir is most definitely a legend after what she has accomplished in the last four years. Since the start of 2020, Jepchirchir has won four of the biggest marathons on the planet – 2020 Valencia, 2021 Olympics, 2021 New York, and 2022 Boston. She has also won two World Half titles (the first in a women’s-only world record of 65:16) as well as the 2023 Great North Run. In all, she has won 10 of her last 13 road races dating back to October 2019. What an athlete.
Quick Take: Last weekend in Berlin, Tigist Assefa ran more than a minute faster than the winning time today – twice
Want more perspective for how fast Tigist Assefa ran in her 2:11:53 world record at the Berlin Marathon? Her first-half split of 66:20 and her second half split of 65:33 were both way faster than Jepchirchir’s winning time of 67:25 today.
Men’s half marathon: Sebastian Sawe runs down Daniel Ebenyo for gold
Thirteen men were within two seconds of the lead at 15k, but shortly after that, 58:58 half marathoner Sabastian Sawe made the first move to break up the pack. Daniel Ebenyo, the silver medalist in the 10,000 in Budapest, came over the top with a move of his own, and Ethiopia’s Jemal Yimer was the only one to come with him. After a 13:33 split from 15k to 20k, Ebenyo had a four-second lead with just just over a kilometer to run.
Ebenyo looked to be free and clear, but his big move began to take its toll late just as Sawe, who had passed Yimer for second before 20k, was rolling up the field. Very quickly, Sawe was closing the gap to Ebenyo, and as he drew close, an odd scene unfolded. Ebenyo, seeing Sawe coming, turned and extended his arm, almost as if he was asking Sawe not to pass him. Whatever the message, Sawe kept pressing forward, saluting Ebenyo as he did so, at which point Ebenyo, realizing he was beaten, saluted Sawe right back. Sawe broke the tape in 59:10 with Ebenyo taking another silver in 59:14 and Samwel Mailu completing the Kenyan sweep in 3rd with a pb of 59:19.
Can't remember seeing something like this before.
Daniel Ebenyo, fading in the final meters of the World Half Marathon Championship, turns and salutes countryman Sabastian Sawe, who pulls away to win gold in 59:10.
Just as in the women's race, Kenya gets a 1-2-3 sweep. pic.twitter.com/8BrcPvnvU6
— Jonathan Gault (@jgault13) October 1, 2023
Abbabiya Simbassa took top American honors, running 61:28 for 25th place. *Full results
Quick Take: Sebastian Sawe is now five for six in his half marathon career, including a win in the biggest half of all
Before debuting in the half with a 59:02 win in Seville in January 2022, Sawe, then 26, had virtually no major results on his World Athletics profile. Since then, he has become one of the world’s premier half marathoners, running 58:02 (on an aided course) to win Rome-Ostia in March 2022, then 59:23 in Valencia (6th place) and a pb of 58:58 at the Bahrain Night Half Marathon. This year, he finished 7th at World Cross but has added two more wins on the roads, at the Berlin Half in April (59:00) and now the World Half.
In all, Sawe has won five of his six career half marathons, with a slowest time of 59:23. He is clearly one of the top half marathoners in the world and is now the world champion – though it would have been great to see how he would have fared against reigning champion/world record holder Jacob Kiplimo today. A healthy Kiplimo would definitely have been favored given he has a pb of 57:31 and has broken 58:00 three times in the last four years.
Quick Take: A great run by France’s Jimmy Gressier
African-born athletes typically dominate the World Half, so it was impressive to see France’s Jimmy Gressier running with the leaders at the 15k mark. Gressier, who ran 12:56 for 5,000 this year and finished 9th in that event in Budapest, held on to finish 5th in a pb of 59:46. That’s the best finish by a non-African-born man at the World Half since Dathan Ritzenhein’s bronze in 2009. Since that race, only two other men (Switzerland’s Julien Wanders in 2018 and Japan’s Tomoyo Oshi in 2010) have even finished in the top 10.
Women’s 5K: Chebet completes banner year
It was always going to be challenging for anyone to beat Kenya’s Beatrice Chebet today. Chebet began 2023 by outlasting Letesenbet Gidey to win the world cross country title in Australia and was still in supreme form two weeks ago when she clocked the third-fastest track 5,000 ever run, 14:05.92 at the Pre Classic.
Chebet did not falter. She was part of the seven-woman lead pack at 3k (8:54), and while Worlds 10,000 bronze medalist Ejgayehu Taye did her best to break up the field during the fourth and fifth kilometers, she could not shake Chebet, who finally made her move with just under 200 meters to go and would run unchallenged from that point on to win in 14:35. Lilian Rengeruk, who won the 5,000 at the Brussels Diamond League, ran down Taye to earn silver by one second in 14:39.
American Weini Kelati rebounded from a poor race at the Diamond League final to finish 8th in 15:10 after running with the leaders through 3k. *Full results
Quick Take: Chebet was incredible in 2023
If we told you at the start of the year that Chebet would win World XC and the World Road Running Champs and that she would also run 14:05.92 on the track (the world record at the start of the year was 14:06.62) and close her last lap in Worlds in 56.86, you’d have thought she put together one of the greatest years ever by a women’s distance runner. And while Chebet did win two global titles, the fact that she “only” earned bronze at Worlds on the track – and that was with Gudaf Tsegay a nonfactor due to injury – shows how loaded the 5,000 is right now. In any other year, Chebet would be the dominant force in the event, but with the likes of Tsegay, Sifan Hassan, and Faith Kipyegon, that is not the case. Running fans need to appreciate just how much talent is in the women’s 5k/10k right now.
Men’s 5K: Gebrhiwet defeats Kejelcha in home straight duel
The men’s 5,000 meters has been incredible all season long, from the Florence race that saw a record 13 men break 13:00 to the duels between Yomif Kejelcha and Jacob Kiplimo in Oslo and Berihu Aregawi and Joshua Cheptegei in Lausanne to Jakob Ingebrigtsen’s last-gasp win in the World Championship final. So it was fitting that we got one last great showdown in Riga.
Ethiopia entered the strongest team on paper, with Kejelcha (12:41 sb) and Hagos Gebrhiwet (12:42 sb) comprising their two entries – something of a surprise given road world record holder Aregawi (12:40 sb) has run faster than either of them on the track this year (each country can only run two athletes, so Aregawi sat this one out).
Kejelcha led most of the way and by 3k (7:58), he and Gebrhiwet had gapped the rest of the field. From there, Kejelcha did his best to drop Gebrhiwet, ripping a 2:31 penultimate kilometer, but Gebrhiwet would not crack.
Gebrhiwet took the lead entering the final turn roughly 400 meters from the finish and opened up two strides on Kejelcha, who promptly answered back with a move of his own. The two battled side-by-side until Gebrhiwet hit top gear and pulled away to win by three seconds in 12:59 thanks to a 2:30 final kilometer (5:01 final 2k). Kejelcha settled for silver as 2022 Diamond League champ Nicholas Kipkorir of Kenya was a distant 3rd in 13:16. *Full results
Quick Take: Ethiopia and Kenya utterly dominated the 5ks
Ethiopia and Kenya are already the world’s dominant powers in the distance events. In addition, while many top athletes from other countries opted to sit this one out, Kenya and Ethiopia sent very strong teams. Predictably, these two factors led to domination of the podium as Kenya and Ethiopia combined to go 1-2-3-4 in the women’s 5K and 1-2-3-5 in the men’s 5K.
Congrats to Eritrea’s Dawit Seare for being the only other person to beat a Kenyan or Ethiopian athlete – he was 4th in the men’s 5K in 13:21, three seconds ahead of 5th placer Cornelius Kemboi of Kenya. Seare is someone to keep an eye on moving forward. The 18-year-old had no results at all in 2023 in the World Athletics database and a pb of just 14:28 on the track but ran over a minute faster than that today.