2023 will go down in the realm of Athletics history after Faith Kipyegon smashed two World records in a span of a week.
Just at the age of 29, the swift female athlete has won it all, she has completed athletics.
Here is the incredible story of Faith Kipyegon;
Born on January 10, 1994, Kipyegon was born in a family of Athletes. Her father, Samuel Koech, was a 400 m and 800 m runner in his youth, while her elder sister and former training partner, Beatrice Mutai, is a 10 km and half marathon specialist.
I know you are all presuming, her being born in a family of athletes was how she ventured into athletics. That was not the case as she had to wait until age 14 when she lined up for a one-kilometer run in PE class and won that race.
“I won that race by 20m,” Kipyegon told SPIKES. “Only then did I know I could run fast and be a good athlete.”
Fast forward to the age of 16, Kipyegon would slowly but surely reveal her untapped potential. Imagine competing in a field of elite athletes at such a tender age while bare-footed. She remarkably missed the podium by a whisker after finishing fourth in the women’s junior race at the 2010 World Cross Country Championships held in Bydgoszcz, Poland. That showed her grit and resilience in tones.
“It was my first overseas competition and I was just running to follow my fellow Kenyans,” she admits. “It was a surprise for me to finish fourth.”
A few months later, the swift athlete would compete in the first 1500 meters race event of her career at the World Youth Championships in Villeneuve-d’Ascq, France. She did it the ‘Kipyegon way’ by winning the gold medal. It was a championship record 4:09:48. What an upward trajectory Kipyegon was having!
The same year, she would secure herself the prestige to present Kenya in the 2012 Olympics that were held in London. One month before the 2012 Olympics, she would participate in the World Junior Championships held in Barcelona where she continued her impressive form. She set a new Championship record- 4:04.96.
“From competing at the World Youth Championships the previous year, I knew many of the same people were running in Barcelona. I knew I would win.”
The 2013 season was no different, Kipyegon would successfully defend her junior title at the World Cross Country Championships in Bydgoszcz. Later in the year, she would make a statement in the Diamond League held in Doha after she broke for the first time the 4-minute barrier in the 1500 m, clocking an African U20 and Kenyan senior record of 3:56.98. She finished second.
In 2015, things took a positive turn. For Kipyegon to reach the next level, she had to seek the best coaches to guide her. In March 2015 she connected with a new coach, 2006 European 800m champion Bram Som. The Dutch middle-distance master –took a look at her training regimen and adopted a “holistic approach.”
“Faith is a physically talented athlete, as everybody can see,” explains Som of Eldoret-based Kipyegon. “But that’s not enough to become a world-class athlete. So I took stock of all the different aspects that influence performance; nutrition, exercises, rest, recovery, and physiotherapy.
“Importantly she also learned more about the program, about when to keep it easy and when to push. She tells me how she feels, and what the body needs, and I translate into the program without losing the long-term strategy.”
The holistic approach would start bearing fruits after bagging Silver in the 1500 m event at the World Championships held in Beijing. She clocked 4:08.96 behind Genzebe Dibaba- the former World Champion.
On 14 May 2016, Kipyegon improved her own 2013 1500 m Kenyan record by running 3:56.82 when winning at the Shanghai Diamond League. Two weeks later, she bested her record with a 3:56.41 performance to place first at the Eugene Diamond Race meeting. She also won the mile event during Oslo Diamond League in June.
It was during the 2016 Olympics in Rio that Kipyegon rose to stardom. In 2016, she beat the by-then unstoppable Genzebe Dibaba, to clinch the Olympics gold medal.
In 2017, she etched her name in history books after she clinched the London World Championships 1500 meters gold medal, becoming the third woman in history to win both the Olympic and World Championships 1500 m race. Earlier that year, she earned her first Diamond League 1500 m title, winning three races in Shanghai, USA’s Eugene, and Brussels.
According to Kipyegon herself, giving birth to Alyn in June 2018 was a landmark in her career. It bolded even deeper her professionalism, dedication, and resilience in the sport.
In the delayed 2020 Tokyo Olympics held on August 2021, Kipyegon would overcome her fiercest rival, Sifan Hassan, to clinch the 1500 meters Olympics gold medal. Not only did she win the event, but she also broke the Olympic record which had stood for 33 years. She also became the second woman in history to win back-to-back Olympic 1500 m titles.
In 2022, at the World Championships in Eugene, Oregon in July, Kipyegon decisively won the 1500 m gold medal with a time of 3:52.96, which made her the first female athlete to win four global titles over the distance. She later ended the year on a high at Monaco Diamond League, Kipyegon after setting a new national record of 3:50.37, the second-fastest performance of all time and just 0.3 s off Dibaba’s world record, which was set also in Monaco in 2015.
The present year- 2023, was when Kipyegon silenced the doubters and etched her name as the greatest 1500 meters and one of the all-time athletes of all time.
At the Rome Diamond League staged in Florence on June 2, 2023, she completed Athletics, by breaking the 1500 meters world record that was set by Genzebe Dibaba (3:50:07) in 2015 at the Monaco Diamond League. She ran an enthralling 3:49.11 to become the first woman in history to break the 3:50 barrier in the discipline.
“I wanted to go gradually, slowly, slowly, to see what was possible this year and the world record just came as a surprise. I am still looking forward to the World Championships and I thank my coach for giving me the tactics to run today and see what is possible,” she told World Athletics.
Barely a week after smashing the 1500 meters World record, she smashed the 5000 meters World record clocking 14:05.20 after a terrific duel with Letesenbet Gidey (the world record holder before Friday 9 June) at the Paris Diamond League.
“I didn’t think about the world record, I don’t know how I made it,” a delighted and surprised Kipyegon told World Athletics immediately after the race. “I just focused on the green light and tried to stay relaxed and enjoy the race.”
Of all the sports personalities I have written stories about, Faith Kipyegon is the only one that when compared to others stands in a league of her own. An athlete that has had it all and whom many consider the complete athlete of all time.
Completely unstoppable, no matter the stage, she has proven time and time again she is special. An athlete who regardless of era would completely dominate.
The fact she is still 29 years and has few more years to compete is a true reflection of her class. Having dominated the 1500 meters and now venturing into the 5000 meters and later hopes to become a marathoner, Kipyegon is just different.