(09-Jul) -- Off of an early fast pace, Kenya's Faith Kipyegon kicked to glory today in the 1500m at the Herculis meeting at the Stade Louis II, clocking the fourth-fastest time in history, 3:51.07. The 2016 Olympic 1500m champion swept past the tiring Dutchwoman Sifan Hassan in the homestretch, to beat the reigning world 1500m and 10,000m champion by two and one half seconds and break her own Kenyan record.
IMAGE: Faith Kipyegon wins the 2021 Herculis 1500m (television image via Peacock TV)
"I thought I could run faster than that," Kipyegon said improbably after the race.
American 800-meter runner Chanelle Price got the race off to a good start, leading Kipyegon, Hassan and Ethiopia's Freweyni Hailu through 400m in 61.5 and 800m in 2:03.6. Price quickly stepped aside, and Hassan took the lead and was clearly focused on running a fast time. Kipyegon stayed close, but did not attempt to pass. She knew this was a great opportunity to run a fast time.
"I knew Sifan was going for a fast race and my goal was to run a fast race here and I thank God that was," Kipyegon said.
The petite Kenyan, who took a full year off in 2018 to have her daughter Alyn, waited until she came out of the final bend to launch her lethal sprint, and she clearly showed the kind of fitness which will be required to defend her Olympic title in Tokyo.
"I am really looking forward to Tokyo and I know it will be a very hard competition but I hope to go there and defend my title," she said. "I have a lot of pressure because the 1500m is a tactical race. Now I will train hard and hope to do my best at the Games."
Hailu, who is only 20 years-old, held on to get third place in a personal best 3:56.28.
There was also fast men's 1500m tonight. Off of the perfect pacing job by American 800m runner Chris Sowinski who hit 400m in 54.2 and 800m in 1:50.8, reigning world champion Timothy Cheruiyot of Kenya had a narrow lead over Australia's Stewy McSweyn and Norway's Jakob Ingebrigtsen. Spain's Mohamed Katir was close behind the leading trio.
With about 200 meters to go, Katir tried to pass Cheruiyot on the outside, but the tall Kenyan quickly responded. In the homestretch, Katir continued to dig, but Cheruiyot would not relent and beat the Spaniard 3:28.28 to 3:28.76. Cheruiyot's time was a 2021 world leader and a personal best, while Katir bested Fermin Cacho's 24 year-old Spanish record of 3:28.95.
"Today's race was good and I won it for the third time," said Cheruiyot who also won here in 2019 and 2020. "I missed competition a lot after spending a lot of time in Kenya where I had a few issues like my hamstring injury and after also losing a relative in my family on the day of the Kenyan trials explaining why I missed out on making the team," Cheruiyot added. "I am therefore happy I am back again after all this."
There were more fast times down the finish order; 11 men broke 3:33. Ingebrigtsen finished third in a season's best 3:29.25, and McSweyn ran an Australian record 3:29.51. McSweyn has also run an Australian record for the mile in Oslo eight days ago.
There were strong 800m races here for both women and men. In the women's contest, Scotswoman Laura Muir got a dramatic victory moving from fourth place to first by sweeping wide in the final 50 meters. She ran a personal best 1:56.73 ahead of her training partner Jemma Reekie (1:56.96 PB), American Kate Grace (1:57.20) and Jamaican Natoya Goule (1:57.35). Goule had led the race into the final 200 meters but tied up in the homestretch.
The men's two-lap race played out similarly when 2012 Olympic silver medalist Nijel Amos muscled past the tiring Marco Arop of Canada --who had led after the pacemaker dropped out-- and Emmanuel Korir of Kenya in the homestretch. Amos finished in a world-leading 1:42.91, while Korir got a season's best 1:43.04 and Arop a personal best 1:43.26. Clayton Murphy, the 2016 Olympic bronze medalist finished seventh in 1:44.41.
"It is always a good feeling coming out here to Monaco, that I am always winning out here, always having a good time," said Amos. "So I try to channel that positivity and bring it to the race. No matter what shape I am in, it always seems to come together."
The men's steeplechase was marred after an official rang the bell when there were still two laps to go. Kenya's Benjamin Kigen shot ahead of Lamecha Girma of Ethiopia and compatriot Abraham Kibiwott thinking he was running the final lap (his manager said he ran it in 59 seconds). When the bell rang again after what was actually the penultimate circuit, Kigen was both confused and exhausted and only managed a seventh place finish. Instead, the win went to Girma who was just able to hold off the charging Kibiwott at the line. The pair finished in 8:07.75 and 8:07.81, respectively. Girma's mark was a 2021 world leader.
The women's steeplechase had a different kind of tragedy. Entering the final water jump American Emma Coburn was close on the heels of Kenya's Hyvin Kiyeng. But when Coburn leapt up for the final barrier, her food did not make good contact and she fell forward when she tried to push off, landing in the water pit on hands and knees. Kiyeng kept going and Coburn was passed by both Beatrice Chepkoech of Kenya and Winfred Yavi of Bahrain.
"I feel very good because this win gives me great confidence going into the Olympics," Kiyeng said after running 9:03.82. " I am very happy with how my preparation this season has gone. Although I did not run a PB today, which was my target, the Olympics is the most important."
Chepkoech, the 2019 world champion, clocked 9:04.94 in second, Yavi got third in 9:05.45, and Coburn fourth in 9:09.02.
Tonight's meeting was the sixth stop of the 2021 Wanda Diamond League. The next meeting will be in Gateshead, England, next Tuesday, before the Diamond League goes dark to allow athletes to prepare for, and compete in, the Tokyo Olympics. The series picks back up again in Eugene, Oregon, with the Prefontaine Classic on August 21.