World Champ v Olympic Champ v 3:43 Miler: Who Wins the Incredible Men’s 3000 at World Indoors?

Between Josh Kerr, Selemon Barega, & Yared Nuguse, three of distance running's biggest stars are racing in Glasgow but only one can win

On August 23, on a warm summer’s night in Budapest, Josh Kerr upset Jakob Ingebrigtsen to win the 1500-meter world title. It was a colossal upset and a race that will live long in the memories of distance fans. But in case there was any doubt, both Kerr and Ingebrigtsen have spent the ensuing six months ensuring that no one forgets what happened in Hungary. The title of world champion confers certain bragging rights and Kerr, who has never lacked for self-belief, has wasted no time making use of them, chiding Ingebrigtsen for his overconfidence last summer. Ingebrigtsen has responded by inviting half of Norway’s national media to his house and spewing off a series of hyperbolic takes, including the claim that he would have beaten Kerr at this year’s Millrose Games while blindfolded.

It has been delighfully entertaining. The men’s 1500 has not had an offseason this exciting in decades.

But that offseason is over. And Kerr is not satisfied with just one global title. He has gone from NCAA champion to global finalist, global finalist to Olympic medalist, Olympic medalist to world champion. Now he wants more. So far, so good: in his first race of 2024, he ran 8:00.67 at the Millrose Games on February 11 to erase Mo Farah‘s world record in the indoor 2-mile.

“I’m world champion and having fun with it and creating big goals to get myself out the door and prove that I’m not all talk,” Kerr said afterwards.

Article continues below player.

That’s the way it works. Winning big races brings more of everything. Fame. Glory. Money. And expectations. Kerr cannot fly under the radar anymore. On Saturday night in Glasgow (3:40 p.m. US ET, Peacock), he will be the center of attention for the men’s 3,000 meters, one of the marquee races of the 2024 World Indoor Athletics Championships, the first global track championship to be staged in Kerr’s native Scotland.

Kerr’s presence in this race was not guaranteed. He mulled for months with his coach Danny Mackey about whether to compete with the Olympics on the horizon. Skipping out on a home championships while in terrific form would have been a bad look. But it never came to that. Kerr is here and the very fact that he is lining up in Glasgow shows that he is not all talk. Now comes the hard part: winning the race.

Kerr has been on top of the world since winning in Budapest last year (photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly)

Ingebrigtsen won’t be in Glasgow after battling an Achilles injury this winter, but two of the planet’s best distance runners are still standing between Kerr and the gold medal. One is Ethiopia’s Selemon Barega, the Olympic 10,000 champion and reigning champion from this race two years ago. The other is American Yared Nuguse, winner of two Diamond League 1500s last year and author of a 3:43.97 mile from last year’s Pre Classic, the fourth-fastest time in history. He’s not bad over 3,000 either — Nuguse owns the American indoor record at 7:28.23.

It’s the sort of hypothetical track fans love — who would win in a 3,000 between the world 1500 champ and the Olympic 10,000 champ? It’s also the sort of race the sport sorely needs. Track is at its best when the big stars compete with genuine stakes, and the men’s 3,000 in Glasgow has both. Think about what each man could accomplish with a victory:

Kerr wins
Beating a stacked field on home soil would go down as one of the signature victories of Kerr’s his career and as one of the greatest moments in the history of Scottish athletics.

Nuguse wins
Here’s the list of American men to win a global track title in the 1500/3,000/5,000/10,000/steeple since Bob Schul won the 5,000 at the 1964 Olympics: Bernard Lagat, Matthew Centrowitz. That’s the whole list. Seems like a pretty big deal if Nuguse can do it.

Barega wins
Two straight World Indoor titles is quite a feat. Stepping down from the 10,000 and holding off the milers Kerr and Nuguse would be even more impressive.

There are a few other men worth mentioning in this field, notably Ethiopians Getnet Wale (7:26 sb) and Telahun Bekele (ran 12:42 last year) and Adel Mechaal of Spain (7:30 pb, ’23 Euro indoor silver). But Kerr, Nuguse, and Barega the favorites to go 1-2-3 in some order. What order? Let’s dive in.

Getting to the lead before the bell will be huge

Photo by Srdjan Stevanovic/Getty Images for World Athletics

Conventional wisdom says that in a 3,000 between a miler and a 10,000 runner, the miler has the advantage as long as they have a bit of aerobic strength. And Kerr doesn’t just have a bit of strength; he has a lot. His 8:00.67 2-mile at Millrose is worth 7:24.90 for 3,000 accoding to LRC guru John Kellogg. Barega’s pb, which he ran on February 6, is 7:25.82.

Game over, right? If Barega can’t drop Kerr, surely he’s not going to beat him in a kick.

Not so fast.

Barega is not your typical 10,000 runner. This is the Olympic champion. And while he’s incredibly strong — he ran a 57:50 half marathon in October — he also has the ability to change gears and kick.

Barega won this title in Belgrade in 2022, and the one word he emphasized after that race was “control.” It perfectly describes how he managed the final laps. Barega went to the front with 670m remaining and employed Mo Farah’s favored strategy from his glory years: gradually increase the pace and make sure no one passes you. Barega went 30.24-29.20-26.03 for his final three laps, and each of his final six 100m segments were faster than the previous one. That’s how you do it.

It really can’t be understated how good Barega was last time out. His last lap was the fastest of any of the last five editions of World Indoors, and the winning time was also the fastest during that span.

Year Winner Winning time Last lap
2012 Bernard Lagat 7:41.44 26.30
2014 Caleb Ndiku 7:54.94 26.67
2016 Yomif Kejelcha 7:57.21 27.93
2018 Yomif Kejelcha 8:14.41 26.82
2022 Selemon Barega 7:41.38 26.03

The other notable thing about those races: the last four winners have all had the lead at the bell. Because it is harder to pass indoors than outdoors, there is a significant advantage to leading in the final stages. If you can run 26-low from the front on the final lap, you are almost always going to win the 3,000 because for anyone to pass you, they would have to split faster and run extra distance to pass. That’s the equivalent of a 25.x final 200, which is very hard even for the world’s best runners.

The best strategy for Barega is to repeat what he did in 2022: get to the lead between 800 and 600 remaining, hold everyone off, and close in 26. Of course, that requires being in the same kind of shape as 2022 — though considering Barega just ran his 3,000 pb of 7:25 this year, he seems to be very fit.

The problem for Barega is that Kerr and Nuguse are likely to want to do the same thing. In a championship race, the most valuable real estate is right on the shoulder of the leader, and you can bet Kerr and Nuguse won’t cede it to Barega without a fight. Kerr did a terrific job of establishing position in Budapest, and that allowed him to spring his big move on Ingebrigtsen on the final turn. Nuguse, running in his first global final, showed his inexperience in that race, getting shuffled back at the bell and never fully recovering.

Who do you think will win? Vote in our poll and then I’ll give you my pick:

Who wins the men's 3000 at Worlds?

Your vote has been counted. Thank you!

JG prediction: 1. Kerr 2. Barega 3. Nuguse

I just spent the last section explaining how good Barega is and how he cannot be discounted in a kick, even against the reigning 1500-meter world champion. That said, Kerr deserves to be the favorite and I expect he will win. It’s not often someone wins Worlds and makes a jump in fitness the following year, but Kerr looks to have done just that. Kerr ran 63:44 at the San Diego Holiday Half in December 2022 and 7:33 for 3,000 at Millrose in February 2023. One year later, he ran 61:51 in San Diego and the equivalent of 7:24 for 3,000 at Millrose. As good as Barega is, I’m still taking the miler if it comes down to a kick.

Embed from Getty Images

As for Nuguse, he has said that he believes he is even fitter than last winter, when he ran American records in the 3,000 (7:28.23) and mile (3:47.38). His first two results of 2024, while still very good, did not support that claim: 13:02.09 for 5,000 at BU, 3:47.83 mile at Millrose. But the 5,000 is a little long for Nuguse’s skill set. And while the mile is Nuguse’s best event in a vacuum, the 3,000 may actually be his best right now considering coach Dathan Ritzenhein has put a greater emphasis on building Nuguse’s strength this winter.

Nuguse’s win at USA indoors offered a hint that Nuguse may actually be fitter than last year. Watch back his last lap: Nuguse runs 26.10 to close out his win and at no point does the guy look close to straining. The winning time was only 7:55, but remember that the race was held at 4,559 feet of elevation. If he can get his tactics right, he should be right there battling Kerr and Barega for the win. And Nuguse has a knack for pulling out close races — he won his two NCAA titles at Notre Dame by a combined .16 and he beat Kerr by .02 the last time they raced in the Zurich 1500.

As for the other American in the field, Olin Hacker of NAZ Elite, he has been in great form this indoor season. First, he ran a 13:08 5,000 pb at BU. Then at USAs, he closed in 26.39 for his final 200 to take 2nd behind Nuguse. He’s not on the level of Kerr/Barega/Nuguse but he had to beat some good guys to make this team and has the opportunity to claim some big scalps on Saturday.

Talk about the race on our messageboard / fan forum: Race of the year (so far): Men’s 3000 at World Indoors – Who you got? Kerr, Nuguse or Barega?

Want More? Join The Supporters Club Today
Support independent journalism and get:
  • Exclusive Access to VIP Supporters Club Content
  • Bonus Podcasts Every Friday
  • Free Shirt (Annual Subscribers)
  • Exclusive Discounts
  • Enhanced Message Boards