SOMETIMES NO ONE takes the short straw. In the 5000 final, every competitor knew that Faith Kipyegon has perhaps the best finish of any woman in history. They also knew that as the WR holder, she could probably handle any pace the leaders could dish out. So how to beat her? Driving a hard tempo would probably be suicidal for the leader. Getting someone else — or several others — to drive a hard pace had at least a slim chance. But in the end, with no one willing to undermine their own chances by pushing the tempo, the field opted for door number 3: trying to outkick Kipyegon off a slow pace.
Of course, that tactic was doomed to failure as well, but it did produce a thrilling final two circuits after 10+ laps of jogging. At the finish, it was Kipyegon who became the first to ever win the 1500/5000 double at the Worlds (though before the 5K was on the schedule 1500/3000 doubles were won by Mary Slaney in ’83 and the Soviet Union’s Tatyana Samolenko in ’87).
The 16 finalists set off in the Saturday night final in 86-degree (30C) conditions, with humidity at 52%. Ethiopia’s Gudaf Tsegay went to the front, followed by the 4 Kenyans, Beatrice Chebet, Kipyegon, Margaret Kipkemboi and Lillian Rengeruk. Per usual, Sifan Hassan stayed buried in the ruck. After a fast opening lap of 65.82, Tsegay backed off the pace. Teammate Ejgayehu Taye took over, bringing the tight pack through 800 in 2:20.00. (74.18). A 70.76 lap followed.
The next 4 laps were soporific, all between 76.40 and 77.98; the top runners shared the lead like a hot potato. Finally, with 1600 left, Tsegay took over and dropped the pace to 71 seconds, then 69. But with 600 left, no one had dropped off.
Cue Kipyegon. Running in her first championship 5K, she finally made her move to the front, but didn’t speed up the rhythm just yet. She covered the next 200 in 34.52. At the bell, it was game-on. She charged hard and by the backstretch only Hassan and Chebet could stay close. All three sprinted madly, but positions never changed, and Kipyegon crossed first, having covered the last 200 in 27.12 and the last 400 in 56.59. Her winning time was 14:53.88. Hassan finished in 14:54.11 and Chebet in 14:54.33. With a 0.45 spread, it made for the tightest podium finish in 14 years.
Kipkemboi ran 4th 14:56.62, with Taye 5th in…