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News30 Dec 2017

2017 end-of-year reviews – middle distance

Faith Kipyegon prevails in the 1500m at the IAAF World Championships London 2017

Our end-of-year review series continues as statisticians A Lennart Julin and Mirko Jalava look back on the best middle-distance performances of the year.

Men’s 800m

David Rudisha entered 2017 as the world and Olympic champion but injury woes made him abstain from defending his world title.

There were two major candidates to the vacated No.1 position: Botswana’s Nijel Amos and Kenya’s Emmanuel Korir.

Amos – who got Olympic silver behind Rudisha at age 18 in 2012 – brought the experience, but the 2015 World Championships and 2016 Olympics had ended in bitter disappointment as he failed to reach the finals. But this year he entered the World Championships with confidence boosted from three straight IAAF Diamond League wins in July.

Korir was a true new kid on the block who – guided by former great Paul Ereng – had emerged from obscurity to dominate the US collegiate scene during winter and spring. Korir managed to carry that form into the summer, winning the Kenyan Trials and making an eye-opening international debut in Monaco, striding away from his opponents in the final 200 metres in something of a Rudisha-esque style.

The world title, however, went to Pierre-Ambroise Bosse who spectacularly rose to the occasion after an inconspicuous season. He was well beaten in all three of his pre-World Championships races, finishing seventh in Paris and fourth in Monaco. Indeed, he had only advanced to the final as a non-automatic qualifier.

Pierre-Ambroise Bosse on his way to winning the 800m at the IAAF World Championships London 2017


But the Frenchman made a committed move on the last back-straight in the World Championships final, taking everybody by surprise. He powered to the front into the bend and kept going strong all the way to the finish line. Amos, seemingly disillusioned by Bosse’s move, appeared to give up on the home straight and finished fifth.

Having been undefeated all season across a range of distances both indoors and out, Korir was eliminated in the semi-finals at the World Championships following a lacklustre race attributed to a hip injury. But the Kenyan still certainly has the tools to become the next big thing in the 800m.

Men’s 1500m

Since bursting on to the global scene at age 18 in 2007, Asbel Kiprop has been the main man in the 1500m, picking up four global titles. But in the past couple of years Kiprop has been struggling to reach his previous top form and he didn’t seriously challenge for a medal at either the 2016 Olympics or this year’s World Championships.

Instead, a couple of Kiprop’s previous ‘sidekicks’ – Elijah Manangoi and Timothy Cheruiyot, who had first emerged in 2015 to finish second and seventh at that year’s World Championships – had stepped up their game.

They were determined that the World Championships final wouldn’t be a rerun of the 2016 Olympic final which was won in 3:50 after a last-lap burn-up. After a 61-second first lap, Cheruiyot went to work and two 56-second laps left just six runners in contention. In the end it came down to Cheruiyot vs Manangoi with the latter inching ahead in the last 50 metres. Kiprop faded and instead it was Norway battling Spain – Filip Ingebrigtsen vs Adel Mechaal – for the bronze with the Norwegian prevailing.

Elijah Manangoi wins the 1500m at the IAAF World Championships London 2017


Manangoi’s 3:33.61 was the fastest winning time at the World Championships since El Guerrouj’s final triumph 14 years ago. After missing out on gold by just a third of a second, Cheruiyot gained some redemption at the IAAF Diamond League final where another sub-3:34 effort was this time enough for victory, putting him at the head of a Kenyan top-six sweep.

Once more, Monaco produced the fastest race of the year as Manangoi and Cheruiyot ran the only sub-3:30s of 2017. There have been 25 sub-3:30 performances over the past six years; all but five of them were set in Monaco.

Women’s 800m

With Caster Semenya’s last loss coming on 6 September 2015, the South African was really the only favourite for the 2017 season.

The 26-year-old continued in the same style she did in 2016, setting an early world lead of 1:56.61 at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Doha in May.

Further wins came in Eugene, Oslo and Monaco, her last meeting before the IAAF World Championships in London, where she ran 1:55.27 for another world lead and national record, 0.01 faster than her previous best from the 2016 Olympic final.

Caster Semenya wins the 800m at the IAAF World Championships London 2017


In London there was no one who could stop Semenya. She started like usual, in the back of the pack, and only started to move towards the front during the back straight of the second lap. With 200 metres to go, she was right behind leaders Francine Niyonsaba and Ajee’ Wilson and then calmly moved to the lead with 50 metres to go to win her third world title.

Niyonsaba, 24, took the silver, her first medal at an outdoor IAAF World Championships, to add to her 2016 Olympic silver and world indoor title. Wilson, 23, also earned her first outdoor senior global medal, taking bronze in London one month after setting a North American record of 1:55.61.

Semenya ended her season by winning the IAAF Diamond League title, bringing her winning streak to 20 finals.

Women’s 1500m

Faith Kipyegon approached 2017 with an almost identical plan to the one she used in 2016 which culminated with winning the Olympic title.

Just as she had done in 2016, the 23-year-old Kenyan won her first two IAAF Diamond League meetings of the year in Shanghai and Eugene. This time she clocked 3:59.22 and 3:59.67 respectively.

And just like in 2016, Kipyegon raced only four times in 2017 before the major championships. While she won all four of her pre-championship races last year, in 2017 she had three wins and one narrow loss in Paris in July, where she clocked a season’s best of 3:57.51 to finish second to Sifan Hassan.

The 24-year-old Dutchwoman had been even faster in two races in June, clocking world leads of 3:56.22 in Rome and 3:56.14 in Hengelo, meaning she headed to the World Championships undefeated at 1500m and with the three fastest times of the year. But despite winning the 2016 world indoor title, Hassan hasn’t always performed well when being touted as a medal favourite. Just as she had done in Rio 12 months prior, Hassan finished fifth at the World Championships.

The waning metres of the women's 1500m at the IAAF World Championships London 2017


In one of the most intense and dramatic races of the World Championships, the final straight was a gallant fight between Kipyegon and USA’s 2011 world champion Jenny Simpson. The 31-year-old hadn’t enjoyed the best of seasons before the World Championships, but once again showed her quality in big meetings to take her second silver medal at the World Championships.

World 800m champion Caster Semenya earned her first global 1500m medal, taking bronze in 4:02.90. She had only contested one minor race at the distance this year before the World Championships, winning the South African University title in 4:16.87.

After London, Kipyegon went on to win the IAAF Diamond League title in Brussels in a season’s best of 3:57.04, again beating Hassan to underline her status as the No.1 1500m runner in the world.

Mirko Jalava (women’s events) and A Lennart Julin (men’s events) for the IAAF