Rivals of the double Olympic and world champion embraced her after making history in Florence
The biggest compliment you can receive as an athlete is getting respect from your competitors.
When athletes who battle you for Olympic and world titles come together in an expression of unity, to congratulate you on a historic achievement, you realise the impact you’ve made off the track as well as on it.
That was the situation when Faith Kipyegon set the world 1500m record at the Florence Diamond League (June 2).
The 29-year-old clocked a stunning 3:49.11 in the capital of Italy’s Tuscany region, finally surpassing the 3:50.07 that Genzebe Dibaba ran in Monaco eight years ago.
Kipyegon, already considered by many as the greatest female 1500m runner in history because of her two Olympic and world crowns, knew breaking that elusive world record would cement her place at the top of the tree.
After opening up her outdoor season with a comfortable 1500m win at the Doha Diamond League, the Kenyan told AW: “Absolutely [breaking the world record], everything is possible. This year, I’m looking forward to challenging it and I will try and break the record. I didn’t get it before and I hope this time around it will be really good.”
Kipyegon refers to last year’s Monaco Diamond League, when she missed out on the world record by just three tenths of a second after running 3:50.37.
In 2021, she also attempted to break Dibaba’s mark in Monaco but clocked 3:51.07.
Those two failed attempts, plus the 3:49.11, means that Kipyegon now holds the third and sixth fastest times in history as well as the world record.
She will be the heavy favourite to claim a third world 1500m title in Budapest and, if fit, no one would be in their right mind to bet against her.
Such was the level of respect for Kipyegon in Florence that Laura Muir, Jessica Hull and Cory Ann McGee – who finished third, seventh and ninth respectively in Oregon – waited on the track to congratulate the Kenyan after her lap of honour.
Not only did the trio, plus the entire 1500m field, hug Kipyegon but they posed for a photo, pointing at the double Olympic and world champion as she held the world record sign.
It’s the kind of moment that, in track and field, is usually synonymous with multi-eventers who celebrate two days of work. For an individual discipline that lasts less than two minutes, that kind of reaction is a rarity.
Muir, who was beaten by Kipyegon to Olympic gold in Tokyo, told Scottish Athletics: “When you’re trying to stick with the world record-holder, it’s going to be tough! I’m just so happy for Faith [Kipyegon], she deserves that so much.”
Ciara Mageean, a double European 1500m medallist, finished second to Kipyegon in last year’s Diamond League final and was even more emphatic about her praise for the Kenyan.
She told AW: “I crossed that line and I saw ‘world record’ and I was like ‘holy moly’. To be in a race where a world record was broken and to go to such an amazing woman is just fantastic.
“I’m so delighted for her and that will be the highlight of that race for me, never mind my time! I’m not going to be a sub-3:50 runner and I know that.”
The group photo was as special as the run itself and spoke volumes of how Kipyegon is perceived as a person and not just an athlete.
Benevolent and endearing, she radiates a warmth that is impossible not to notice.
Kipyegon, who started out in athletics by running the 4km journey from her home in the village of Keringet to her primary school and back again, stepped away from the sport in 2018 – having already become Olympic and world 1500m champion in 2016 and 2017 respectively – to give birth to her daughter Alyn.
After a 21-month absence, she returned to claim a world silver medal over the distance in Doha and then retained her Olympic crown in Tokyo.
Family and female empowerment is everything to Kipyegon, who is based out of Kaptagat in Kenya and is, like world marathon record-holder and double Olympic champion Eliud Kipchoge, under the stewardship of coach Patrick Sang.
In an exclusive interview with AW in our November 2022 magazine, she stated: “When I’m training in camp, I think about her [Alyn]. When I’m out of the country, I think about he, so when I get home it’s something special for me to be around her.
“I want to motivate women. I want to show them the right way and I was them to follow in my footsteps. I want to be their mentor and for them to think ‘Faith Kipyegon is a great woman. I want to do things like Faith’.
“I want to motivate the women and young athletes around the world – not just in Africa – to follow their hearts and work on their careers.”
It’s no surprise then that Kipyegon has joined up with Nike as part of an Athlete Think Tank that aims to inspire young girls both in sport and fashion.
The initiative seeks to accelerate change from the grassroots level by investing in more than 135 community partners supporting women and girls worldwide.
In decades to come, people will look back at athletes from this era and Kipyegon’s legacy will likely be one of the strongest.
The world record was the final piece of the jigsaw on the track and every athlete in that race in Florence knew it.
A picture truly does tell a thousand words.
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