NOTE: This story was written remotely --Ed.
(05-May) -- At the opening of the 2023 Wanda Diamond League in Doha tonight organizers saved the best for last.
PHOTO: Faith Kipyegon wins the 1500m at the 2023 Wanda Diamond League meeting in Doha in a world-leading 3:58.57 (photo by Marise Nassour for the Wanda Diamond League)
Kenya's Faith Kipyegon, twice the Olympic 1500m gold medalist and the reigning world champion, breezed her way to victory in the 1500m, the final event of today's meeting, clocking an early world leader of 3:58.57. The 29 year-old completely controlled the race, letting pacemaker Sarah Billings of Australia run well ahead of the field, staying in front of all the other contenders through the middle laps, then launching a long kick for home with about 300 meters to go. She prudently looked over her left shoulder three times in the homestretch only to see Ethiopia's Diribe Welteji a safe distance behind.
"It was an exciting race, but a little bit windy, so I decided to not push too much and just focus on winning the race," Kipyegon told reporters in the mixed zone. "I have been training well. I really like racing in Doha; the crowd and fans are really amazing."
Welteji, who is only 20, ran a solid 3:59.34, comfortably ahead of compatriot Freweyni Hailu (4:00.29) who just managed to edge Australia's Jessica Hull (4:00.90). Another Australian, Abbey Caldwell, was an unexpected fifth in a personal best 4:01.15. She ran just half a step behind Hull in the homestretch.
Kipyegon --who only ran in six 1500m races in 2022, winning all of them-- is keen to hold on to her world title in Budapest in August. With her sensational 3:50.37 personal best, it is hard to see anyone beating her.
"I'm really grateful to be here, and looking forward to the rest of the season," she added. "My big goal is to win the World Championships, and to break the world record this summer."
In the men's 3000m, Ethiopia's Lamecha Girma was nearly as impressive. The 22 year-old steeplechaser, who ran a world indoor 3000m record of 7:23.81 in Liévin last February, fought off strong challenges from compatriots Selemon Barega, the reigning Olympic 10,000m champion, and Berihu Aregawi, the 2023 World Cross Country Championships silver medalist. After the three men ran laps of 59.4, 59.6 and 59.7 seconds, Girma blasted down the backstretch to open a gap on his rivals. The gap held all the way to the line on the strength of a 57.4-second lap where he won in a meeting record 7:26.18, a world leader which just might hold up until the end of the season.
Barega, who finished second in 7:27.16, was happy to get a personal best.
"The race was very good. I am happy with how I performed," Barega told reporters. "It's great to get a personal best at the beginning of the season. Second behind Girma is good; I'm excited for the rest of the season."
Aregawi got third in 7:27.61, and Morocco's Soufiane El Bakkali, the reigning Olympic and world steeplechase champion, had to settle for fourth. Nonetheless, the tall and lanky Moroccan set a career best 7:33.87.
"My goal was to break my personal best," El Bakkali said. "Doha is my second home and I would like to thank all the Moroccans who came to support me. My goal after winning gold medals last year and the Olympic medal... is to break the world record."
Also on the distance program tonight was a high-quality women's steeplechase won by Bahrain's Winfred Yavi, fourth at the last two World Championships. Yavi, who was born in Kenya and switched her allegiance to Bahrain in 2015, clocked an early world leader of 9:04.38 after emerging from a pack of four on the backstretch of the last lap. She smiled broadly after her victory, looking equal parts relieved and triumphant.
"Well, I'm extremely happy," she said. "My goal is the World Championships in Budapest. I'm thinking of getting in the podium (and) I want to win the gold in the Asian Games. I am so happy to be in Doha, it feels like home."
Ethiopia's Sembo Almayew, and Kenya's Faith Cherotich and Beatrice Chepkoech finished second, third, and fourth in rapid succession in 9:05.83, 9:06.43 and 9:06.90, respectively. Surprisingly, Slovenia's Marusa Mismas Zrimsek finished fifth in a national record 9:13.61. That's the fastest time by a European this year.
Unfortunately, it was a bad day for the two Americans in the race, Olympians Emma Coburn and Val Constien, who are both from Colorado. As the field was running down the homestretch for the second time, Coburn fell as she cleared the barrier, perhaps clipped from behind by another athlete. She got up quickly, uninjured, but only managed to finish tenth in 9:29.41. Constien landed badly off of the first water barrier, and went down hard holding her right knee. In obvious pain, she was unable to finish the race.
In the other distance event on the program, the men's 800m, the race came down to a wild sprint finish off of a very slow first lap where the field essentially ignored pacemaker Erik Sowinski. As the athletes began their final lap, Kenya's Wycliffe Kinyamal surged and tried to run away with the race. He managed to hold the lead into the homestretch, but with about 50 meters to go he was rolled-up by the charging Slimane Moula of Algeria. Moula won in 1:46.06 to Kinyamal's 1:46.61. Another Algerian, Djamel Sedjati, got third in 1:46.97.
"I came in the first place; it's an honor for me," Moula said. "I hope to win a medal in the World Championships. I'm happy that I honored my country. This is the first time that I win. I thank the organizers; the Doha Diamond League is the best."
Noah Kibet, the 19 year-old Kenyan who was the silver medalist at the 2022 World Indoor Championships, finished tenth and last in 1:49.95. He was with the main pack coming out of the final bend, but faded in the final 50 meters.
The Wanda Diamond League continues in Rabat on May 28.