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Elite runner makes history at this summer’s meets

Faith Kipyegon becomes the first woman to run 1500 meters in under 3:50

Kenya's Faith Kipyegon as she breaks the World record in the women's 5000m event during the IAAF Diamond League at the Charlety Stadium in Paris on June 9 Getty Images/Photo by Jeff Pachoud/AFP

Elite runner makes history at this summer’s meets

Kenyan President William Ruto and a row of government officials stood outside the white-columned State House on June 11, holding a large check. Ruto smiled for TV cameras as he presented keys to a new house and a $35,000 check to one of the most renowned female runners in Kenya—and the world—Faith Kipyegon.

Kipyegon broke two world records in women’s track and field last month. On June 2 at a Diamond League track and field meet in Italy, the 29-year old broke the women’s world record in the 1500-meter run with a time of 3 minutes, 49.11 seconds. Kipyegon said she knew she broke the record before she saw the time based on how strong she felt crossing the finish line. “I knew everything was possible,” she said of the race.

The mark came almost nine months after Kipyegon missed setting the record by three-hundredths of a second. Already a two-time Olympic gold medalist and world champion in the event, Kipyegon’s June 2 run distinguished her as the first woman to run the 1500 in under 3:50.

Seven days after setting that world record, Kipyegon competed in the 5000-meter run in Paris. Runners commonly progress to longer distances over time as strength tends to decline sooner than endurance with age. The race was Kipyegon’s first time running the 12½ -lap race since 2015.

The late start at about 9:45 p.m. didn’t keep fans from standing in their seats at Stade Charléty. To win, Kipyegon, the world’s fastest 1500-meter runner, would have to outrun Letesenbet Gidey, the 5000-meter world record holder and 10,000-meter world champion. Averaging slightly under 4:32 per mile for the 3.1 mile race, Kipyegon took the lead from her East African rival with about two laps to go and finished in a new world record time of 14:05.20.

Kipyegon’s race, compounded with two other world records set on the same night, made some in track and field call the 2023 Paris Diamond League one of the greatest meets of all time. Norway’s Jakob Ingebrigtsen shattered the men’s two-mile record with a time of 7:54.10, and Ethiopia’s Lamecha Girma ran 7:52.11 in the men’s 3000-meter steeplechase. The last time three world records fell in the same meet was at a Zurich Diamond League meet in 1997.

Kipyegon accepted the check and new house from Ruto with tears. She began her 13-year professional career racing barefoot because she didn’t know how to use spikes. Now, she says she doesn’t remember how to run barefoot.

Running has enabled Kipyegon to accomplish more than making history in the sport. “I can buy my father a car,” she said before Ruto presented her with the check. “I promised him when I was going to break a world record that I’m going to buy a car for him.” Kipyegon said the grace of God made it possible to provide electricity for her parents after she won her first gold medal in the 1500 at the 2016 Olympics.

“I’m just coming from a humble background of family,” Kipyegon said. “By the grace of God I won that race.”

In 2018, Kipyegon and her husband Timothy Kitum, the 2012 Olympic bronze medalist in the 800 meters, had their daughter, Alyn. Kipyegon won her first race back from childbirth in 2019 after taking 12 months off from competing. That year she also beat her 1500-meter Kenyan record before going on to medal at the world championships.

“It’s all about people around you. And it’s all about your mind. If you say you will not come back, you will not come back,” Kipyegon said in an interview with The Sports Moran. “Alyn is just somebody who is giving me strength every day … because I want to show my daughter the way.”

Kipyegon’s back-to-back, record-setting performances, as well as the others set at the Paris Diamond League, come just a few months ahead of the 2023 World Athletics Championship meet in August in Budapest, Hungary. Now, runners won’t just toe the line with the best in the world on race day. They’ll have to beat the fastest men and women who have ever covered their distances in history if they want to win.

Lillian Hamman

Lillian is a graduate of World Journalism Institute and Berry College. She is a producer for WORLD Radio.


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