2024 Liévin: Girma & Tsegay Come Just Shy of WRs as Holloway, Knighton, Bol Earn Big Wins
Lamecha Girma and Gudaf Tsegay wanted WRs in the 2000m and 3000m but just missed as Girma ran 4:51.23 and Tsegay 8:17.11By Robert Johnson and Jonathan Gault
The 2024 World Athletics Indoor Tour Gold made its fifth stop of 2024 in Lievin, France, on Saturday for the Meeting Hauts-de-France Pas-de-Calais. Always one of the top meets of the indoor season, this year’s edition featured some near-world records in the distance races by Ethiopian stars Gudaf Tsegay in the 3000m (8:17.11) and Lamecha Girma in the 2000m (4:51.23) and a trio of wins by sprint stars Erriyon Knighton (20.21 for 200m, Grant Holloway (7.32 for 60m hurdles) and Femke Bol (49.63).
There were also a couple of notable pro events before the TV window began. The first was the women’s 800, where Great Britain’s Jemma Reekie won in 2:00.40. That was followed by the men’s 1500, where home favorite Azeddine Habz ran a French record of 3:34.39 to edge Kenya’s Vincent Keter (3:34.44) in a terrific home-straight duel. That race was also notable for being the 2024 opener for world bronze medalist Narve Gilje Nordas of Norway, though Nordas only finished 5th in 3:37.45.
Below, our recap/takeaways from the top events of a top meet.
Gudaf Tsegay just misses 3000m WR after having to run around lapped runners
Tsegay, who already owns world records in the indoor 1500 and outdoor 5,000, was looking to add a third today in the indoor 3,000 but came just short, running 8:17.11 to miss Genzebe Dibaba’s 8:16.60 mark by .51. It marked the second near-miss for Tsegay in as many years as she also ran 8:16.69 indoors in Birmingham last year.
Tsegay got some great pacemaking from 16-year-old Saron Berhe and Worknesh Mesele and hit 1600 meters in 4:22 right with the pacing lights, which were set to WR pace. Tsegay would run on her own for the final 1300 meters and was locked in, sticking right on the lights: her first four laps of the final kilometer were 33.69, 33.69, 33.54, and 33.56. But Tsegay, whose grimace grew with each passing lap, could not summon much of a kick on the final lap, closing in 33.28 to narrowly miss the record.
It did not help that Tsegay had to lap four runners in the late stages of the race. Multiple times, she had to move outside on a turn to pass them. It was most noticeable on the final lap, when she hesitated passing Sembo Almayew and wound up running almost all of the last turn on the outside of lane 1 with Almayew on the inside. Add up all the time Tsegay lost by running extra distance and it may have cost her the WR.
Generally the primary focus of a lapped runner should be to not interfere with the race – either stay on the rail and allow runners to pass, or move out to lane 2 or 3 and get out of the way before the lapping runners arrive. But in a WR attempt like this, it would have been useful to give runners a heads up to move aside if Tsegay was coming through on the final laps.
That being said, after the race, Tsegay said she thought the quick start is what might have cost her the WR. She bolted out and ran her first 100 in 15.41 and 200 in 31.33 before running the next 200 in 33.46.
Freweyni Hailu stays perfect, wins her third race in 10 days
Freweyni Hailu was 4th in the 1500 at the 2022 Worlds, 4th at the 2023 Diamond League final, and has a pb of 3:55. But Ethiopia has so much women’s 1500 talent at the moment that she has not always been able to run the event at global championships. In 2022, she ran the 800 at World Indoors (and earned a silver medal). Last year, she ran the 5,000 at Worlds and finished 7th. But so far in 2024, she’s been the best in the world in the women’s 1500.
She began the year by running a world-leading 4:17.36 in the mile in Ostrava on January, then followed that up with a 3:55.28 win in the 1500 in Torun on Tuesday and another 1500 win today in Lievin, this time in 3:57.24 thanks to a 28.91 last lap.
But Hailu is no lock for World Indoor gold. In both Torun and Lievin, Hailu was pushed to the line by countrywoman Diribe Welteji, the 2023 world outdoor silver medalist. Welteji was just .21 behind Hailu in Torun and .24 back today after a thrilling finish that saw three lead changes in the final 250 meters. And of course reigning world indoor 1500 champ/WR holder Gudaf Tsegay is in great shape and could be a factor in this event at World Indoors, but she told meet organizers after the race that she is not sure if she will run in Glasgow.
Erriyon Knighton starts off his Olympic year with a win
Erriyon Knighton went to high school in Florida and never ran in college, which means he had never run an indoor race in his life until today’s 200 meters. Sporting the adidas gold top we mistakenly thought was reserved for 2023 World Champs, Knighton gave up some ground at the start and stumbled briefly on the final turn, but his speed on the straightaways was too good. He would win going away in 20.21 to move to #12 on the all-time list in an event that is rarely run at the professional level.
Knighton said after the race his main goal was to beat training partner Grant Holloway’s 20.69 pb, which he managed easily.
“Running 200m on a short track was much tougher,” Knighton said. “It felt more like a 400m race, but I still enjoyed my first indoor race ever. The crowd was incredible. I won’t be extending my indoor season. I’m heading back to the United States to prepare for the summer season.”
— World Athletics (@WorldAthletics) February 10, 2024
Selemon Barega wins for the second time in five days
Four days after running a world-leading 7:25.82 in Torun, Selemon Barega won again, taking down a field of his Ethiopian countrymen to take the victory in 7:31.38. This was billed as an attempt on Lamecha Girma’s 7:23.81 world record, set at this meet last year, but that was always going to be an ambitious goal with Barega and his top rival Getnet Wale having run fast earlier this week in Torun.
By 2k (4:58, or 7:28 pace), the WR was still just about possible with a big kick, but no one was able to pick up the pace and the final kilometer would actually prove to be the slowest of the race at 2:32.50. But Barega still had enough to summon a kick on the final lap, closing in 27.90 to pull away from 17-year-old Biniam Mehary (7:33.04).
Quick Take #1: Not every race needs to be a WR attempt
There were five distance races in Lievin (1500 and up), and four of them were billed as world record attempts. Lievin has hosted its fair share of world records in recent years, but some of these races had no business being billed as such. It was not realistic to expect Freweyni Hailu or Diribe Welteji to break the 1500 WR of 3:53.09, nor was it realistic to expect Barega and Getnet Wale to break the 3000 WR of 7:23.81, particularly because all of those athletes raced hard in Torun just four days ago.
There’s nothing wrong with having just a plain old race rather than a WR attempt – indeed, the women’s 1500 was one of the races of the night even though the time was nowhere close to the WR. Either the organizers need to be less ambitious or the athletes/their agents need to be more realistic and not ask for WR pace every time.
Quick Take #2: Remember the name Biniam Mehary
Mehary is listed as only 17 years old and looks it. His only result on his World Athletics profile before this year was a 13:04 road 5k in December; he followed that with a world indoor U20 record of 3:34.83 for 1500 in Torun on Tuesday and has now run 7:33.04 for 3,000, beating some strong runners in Getnet Wale and Dominic Lobalu. He also wasn’t afraid to mix it up at the front, taking the lead a couple times over the final 800 meters before Barega outclassed him at the end. Mehary has vast potential and is worth keeping an eye on.
Eliott Crestan goes wire to wire to win a quick 800
Anything under 1:46 is quite good indoors and three men bested that mark today, with Belgium’s Eliott Crestan the best of them in 1:45.10. Crestan, who also ran 1:45.96 to win in Nantes on January 27, ran a smart race, getting to the front early and running the least distance possible, holding off Spain’s Mariano Garcia (1:45.50) and France’s Benjamin Robert (1:45.70) for the win. Garcia, the 2022 world indoor champ, looked much better than in Boston last weekend where he was only 5th in the 1000 meters.
“Until today I never dared to run at the front in a big international meet, but I did today, and it worked,” Crestan told meet organizers. “…It’s really nice. I’m beating some very big guns today. After 500 meters I had a difficult moment, and I was afraid to crash, but I could resist. If you can go to a World Championship with the world lead, you can have high ambitions I think. Championship racing is completely different from running against the clock, but I still think I can go there to do something.”
Lamecha Girma WR attempt comes up short for second time in a week
After taking a stab at his own 3,000 WR last week in Boston and coming up well short, Girma tried this week for the relatively softer 4:49.99 2000m world record of Kenenisa Bekele from 2007. Girma hit halfway a little behind the pace at 2:25.59 and could not summon a kick, having to settle for the comfortable win in 4:51.23, #2 on the all-time list.
Girma and Tsegay, who came up just short of the 3,000 WR today, were the only two athletes in tonight’s series of “world record attempts” to even come close to the records. Both athletes seem capable of running the times, but both lacked juice toward the end of their races tonight, likely because they raced hard in Boston on Sunday evening, then had to cross the Atlantic and race hard again six days later.
Femke Bol and Grant Holloway continue to win and get faster
Grant Holloway stretched his incredible win streak in the 60m hurdles (42-inch barriers) to 59 in a row, clocking 7.39 in the prelims and 7.32 in the final to win comfortably. Holloway has now run 7.32 and 7.35 this season, both of which are top-10 times ever, but the world record holder (7.29) and reigning world champ still believes he can get better.
“I’m happy, but not satisfied,” Holloway said. “I don’t mean that I wanted to go quicker today, but I’m talking about the rest of the indoor season. I still have the trials and the World Championships left. I feel very confident about making the team for Worlds, and if I can fix my start, I can also produce very fast times. I feel fast and strong, it’s just about getting my start right.”
Meanwhile, in the women’s 400, Bol improved her world-leading time from 49.69 to 49.63 after going out in a quick 23.52. 23.52 is actually faster than what she split when she ran her 49.26 WR last year (23.63).