BUDAPEST (19-Aug) -- In a nail-biting race with a painfully slow start and a rough and tumble finish, the Ethiopian trio of Gudaf Tsegay, Letesenbet Gidey and Ejgayehu Taye took gold, silver and bronze, respectively, in the women's 10,000m on the first day of the 2023 World Athletics Championships at the brand new National Athletics Center here. It was the third podium sweep by Ethiopian women at a world championships in this discipline, a feat achieved previously in Helsinki in 2005 (Tirunesh Dibaba, Birhane Adere and Ejagayou Dibaba), and in Edmonton in 2001 (Derartu Tulu, Birhane Adere and Gete Wami).
PHOTO: Gudaf Tsegay of Ethiopia (left) passes the falling Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands to win the 10,000m title at the 2023 World Athletics Championships in Budapest (photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly)
"We never give up," a delighted Tsegay told reporters after the race.
But such an outcome was a long shot given that the powerful Dutchwoman Sifan Hassan was entered in the race and had the audacious goal of winning the 1500m, 5000m and 10,000m at these championships. She won her 1500m preliminary heat earlier today (see below), and had a plan to use her superior speed to win tonight. And she nearly did it, but you'd never know that from her 11th place finish.
"It was kind of crazy," said American Alicia Monson, who finished fifth, when asked about the final 800 meters of the race.
Until that point, it was a classic championship-style race. The field of 22 women jogged through the first kilometer in 3:37.6 led by American Natosha Rogers, then Finland's Camilla Richardsson took over and ran at the front through 5000m in 16:23.55. Hassan was in 15th place, in no hurry to join the leaders.
Richardsson had been running laps in the 75 to 77-second range, a pace that the entire field could handle. It wasn't until about 6000m that the pace quickened when Tsegay, the 2022 world 5000m champion, took over at the front. Working with her teammates, she clocked 72.1, 72.3 and 73.5 through 7200m and the race sudden got more serious. Still, nothing of real consequence would happen until there were two laps to go when Gidey squeezed it down to 71-flat and the big players decided to show their cards. Hassan moved up from ninth place the lap before to fourth place at the bell. She held steady until the beginning of the backstretch where she unleashed her explosive kick for the finish. Tsegay responded, but was still trailing the Dutchwoman with 200 to go.
Charging down the homestretch, Hassan began to tie up. She veered into lane three as Tsegay tried to pass her and the slow motion reply showed the two women made contact with Hassan's right elbow hitting Tsegay's torso. The race was too close to call until the final 20 meters when the exhausted Hassan lost her balance, pitched forward, and fell hard to the track. Stunned, she slowly rose to her feet before walking across the finish line, passed by ten women, including the fifth place Monson.
"I was there with a lap to go," Monson told reporters. She added: "I fought for every spot and I'm proud of that, I'm happy with that."
Hassan, who has her 1500m semi-final tomorrow night, did not immediately speak with the media.
Tsegay was clocked in 31:27.18, and despite the contact with Hassan, ran her final circuit in 59.1 seconds and the second half in 15:03.6. Gidey, the defending champion, ran 31:28.16 and Taye was just a fraction of a second behind in 31:28.31. Kenya's Irine Kimais got fourth in 31:32.19.
USA champion Elise Cranny had a tough day and finished 12th. She struggled, she said, in the final two kilometers.
"I think I was, like, blacking out those last three laps," she told reporters. She added: "I feel like with a mile to go it just hit me. I had nothing left."
Plenty Of Qualifying Action
PHOTO: Kenneth Rooks of the USA and Soufiane El Bakkali of Morocco battle on the final lap of the men's steeplechase preliminaries at the 2023 World Athletics Championships in Budapest (photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly)
In the first round of the men's steeplechase the impact of the new qualifying system was on full display. With no time qualifiers allowed, only the top-5 from each of the three heats could advance to the final. Predictably, that led to last-lap burn-ups in all three heats.
"I was really in my head and I was ready for any scenario," said Canada's Jean-Simon Desgagnés, who competed in the first heat. Desgagnés, the reigning Canadian champion, ran mid-pack for the first kilometer then moved up to fifth by the end of the second. He kept the key contenders --Ethiopia's Getnet Wale and Kenya's Simon Koech-- within close range, then made sure he had enough gas for the final circuit.
"It went out a little bit slow for these guys, Desgagnés continued. "I knew I was preparing for it, I was ready for it. I was just trying to stay (in) contact with the lead pack, and I kicked for the last 800, 400. So it was perfect."
Desgagnés finished second in 8:20.04 to Wale's 8:19.99. Koech got third in 8:20.29 and, like Desgagnés and Wale, advanced to the final. The lone American in the heat, Benard Keter, finished eight in 8:24.20 and failed to advance.
American champion Kenneth Rooks of Brigham Young University was the surprise winner of the second heat, just pipping reigning world and Olympic champion Soufiane El Bakkali of Morocco. Both men were given the same time of 8:23.66. Rooks --competing in his first global championships after winning the USA title despite falling over a barrier-- said that all of the racing he did during the NCAA season made him well-prepared.
"I've had a lot of racing experience this year," Rooks told Race Results Weekly. "It helped me get ready for that kind of racing." He added: "That was in my mind. I was just trying to stay relaxed with two laps to go. I was feeling good; I just had to move up a little bit."
Failing to advance from the second heat was Ethiopia's Abrham Sime, who had a season's best of 8:10.56. He finished eighth in 8:31.49.
The gold medal favorite, Ethiopia's Lamecha Girma, won the third and final heat. The current world record holder, with a personal best of 7:52.11, controlled the race from the gun and clocked 8:15.89. Second went to New Zealand's Geordie Beamish of the On Athletics Club who was competing in his first major championships in this discipline (he ran the 5000m in Eugene last year). He clocked 8:16.36.
"I'm still a miler," Beamish joked with reporters in the mixed zone.
Kenya's Leonard Bett, another medal contender, got third in 8:16.74 just ahead of Japan's national record holder Ryuji Miura, one of two Japanese to make the final.
In the first round of the women's 1500m, the racing was surprisingly fast, despite the fact that there would be no time qualifiers. The winners of all four heats ran faster than 4:03.5, including defending champion Faith Kipyegon of Kenya who led heat two from gun to tape, clocking 4:02.62. She finished just ahead of another medal contender, Ethiopia's Diribe Welteji, by 1/10th of a second.
PHOTO: Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands wins her heat of the 1500m at the 2023 World Athletics Championships in Budapest (photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly)
"I just wanted to qualify to the semis and enjoy it," Kipyegon told the flash quotes team here. "I do not know about my tactics in the next one because I don't know how it is going to be. Let's see, semifinals are sometimes slow, sometimes fast. I am just looking forward to it. I am expecting great things from myself."
Dutchwoman Sifan Hassan won the first heat in 4:02.92 over Britain's Laura Muir (4:03.50). Hassan, who is also competing in the 5000m and 10,000m here, didn't appear to be worried about saving any energy for tonight's 10,000m final (see above). She did not speak to the media after her prelim.
Muir, who is the captain of the British team, had this to say: "I saw a couple of the girls pushing it a bit and I thought I just don't want to leave it too late, that gap. So, I just came round and got in a good position, and I covered each move. I got clipped a couple of times, which is to be expected and I just wanted to stay clear of that. And I did and stayed out of trouble and came top six."
Both of Muir's British Athletics teammates, Katie Snowden and Melissa Courtney-Bryant, also advanced to the semi-finals.
The three Americans --Nikki Hiltz, Sinclaire Johnson and Cory McGee-- all made it through. Hiltz ran in the first heat and finished third behind Hassan and Muir in 4:03.76. Johnson finished second in heat 3 (4:01.09) and McGee finished fourth in the fourth and final heat in heat 4 (4:03.61). Hiltz, reigning USA champion, was a little surprised by the fast pace.
"It was definitely a shock to the system," said Hiltz, who finished 12th in the 2019 World Athletics Championships but did not make the team for Eugene in 2022. "I think a little bit faster than I thought. You know, I was just trying to be patient. All of a sudden there was a lap to go and I was like, let's go!"
Two of Europe's rising stars who competed in the NCAA last season, Italy's Sinta Vissa and Ireland's Sophie O'Sullivan, failed to advance despite running career-best times. Vissa finished seventh in heat three in 4:01.66. O'Sullivan ran in the same heat and finished eighth in 4:02.15. Like Vissa, she got an Olympic Games qualifier (4:02.50 or better).
"I hadn't really thought of that," she told Irish reporter Cathal Dennehy in the mixed zone, breaking into a smile after shedding tears earlier.
Also failing to advance was Poland's Sofia Ennaoui, a five-time European championships medalist. She was a distant tenth in the first heat in 4:06.47.
In the men's 1500m there was a mix of both fast and tactical racing. The first heat was dominated by the gold medal favorite, Jakob Ingebrigtsen of Norway. The reigning Olympic champion left nothing to chance. Just before the 1000m mark, he moved to the lead followed by Olympic bronze medalist, Josh Kerr of Great Britain. He picked up the pace, hit the bell first, and rolled to the win in 3:33.94. Kerr got second, and was very happy with his heat.
PHOTO: Jakob Ingebrigtsen of Norway wins the first of four heats of the 1500m at the 2023 World Athletics Championships in Budapest (photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly)
"I'm not out here to win heats," Kerr told reporters. "I'm not out here to waste energy." He continued: "We all run different, tactically. I was just trying to use as little energy as possible."
The second heat went much more slowly (65.5 for the opening 400m), and resulted in a crowded field sprint at the end. There was pushing and shoving, and some of the top athletes got boxed-in during the final push to the line. One was Britain's Neil Gourley, the race's early leader who found himself all the way back in 13th position at the 700m mark after --he said-- getting cut off by Spain's Mario Garcia Romo. He was only 12th with 200 meters to go and had to wait for a small opening up the middle of the pack to reach the top-6. Remarkably, he ended up third in 3:46.87 behind Garcia Romo (3:46.77) and South Africa's Tshepo Tshite (3:46.79).
"I felt like I had nowhere to go," Gourley said of the final sprint. He added: "The worst thing you can do in that situation is panic."
Timothy Cheruiyot, the 2019 world champion, was nearly eliminated. He snagged the sixth and final qualifying spot in 3:47.09.
In the third heat, Dutch teenager Neils Laros got the win over Spaniard Mohamed Katir, 3:34.25 to 3:34.34. American Cole Hocker got third in 3:34.43. Hocker, who finished sixth at the Tokyo Olympics, said that he executed his plan to stay near the front and wasn't really aware of how fast he was running.
"I actually didn't know the time," he told reporters. "I felt like we were moving, but I also felt like everyone flipped a switch with 300 meters to go; I felt comfortable with that."
Kenya's Abel Kipsang controlled --and won-- the fourth and final heat in 3:34.08 just ahead of USA national champion Yared Nuguse (3:34.16). Australian Adam Spencer --one of the big surprises of this year, who lowered his personal best to 3:31.81-- got third in 3:34.17. The 21 year-old was thrilled to advance to the semi-finals.
"I was feeling pretty good with 100 to go," a smiling Spencer told reporters. The University of Wisconsin Badger continued: "I looked up at the screen and I knew I had made it."