Heading into the Golden Gala meeting in Florence, Faith Kipyegon said the world 1500m record was in her heart and on her mind. By the end of the race on Friday (2), it was also in her legs and on the clock – which she stopped in an astonishing 3:49.11*.
The world and Olympic champion delivered a thrilling finale to the third leg of the Wanda Diamond League with a bravura performance in a city that last saw a world record in 1981, when World Athletics President Sebastian Coe broke the 800m mark.
The pacemakers had been asked to take the field through in 3:54 pace, which seemed ambitious on a damp track after early rain. But that pace merely left Kipyegon full of running when she took the lead in the penultimate lap, as she blazed through the final 600m at unprecedented speed.
Her feet barely seemed to touch the track as she flew home in incomparable style to take down the eight-year-old standard of 3:50.07, set by Ethiopia’s Genzebe Dibaba in Monaco in 2015.
Having won Olympic and world titles twice, the 29-year-old Kenyan was determined to claim the last great 1500m prize available with the world record.
“I said yesterday that I wanted to run a beautiful race, run my race, and see what is possible, and this was possible,” she said.
“There’s still more to come. I’m still working on running faster than that, faster than 3:49. I’m really thankful today that I managed to run 3:49 and I’m still heading towards beautiful races in the rest of the season.”
Born: 10 January 1994. Coach: Patrick Sang
A world record was considered the only thing missing from Faith Kipyegon’s hugely decorated 1500m CV. A two-time Olympic and two-time world champion, the 29-year-old has been winning major titles since the age of 17 and her honours list has been growing steadily ever since.
Born in Bomet on 10 January 1994, Kipyegon grew up as the eighth of nine children on a farm in the Kenyan Rift Valley. Her first sport was football but that all changed when she was introduced to athletics at school aged 14, when her PE teacher asked the class to run a 1km and she won by 20 metres. Kipyegon has athletics in her blood, too, with her elder sister Beatrice Mutai and her father Samuel Koech also both runners.
Kipyegon’s first international event was the 2010 World Cross Country Championships in Bydgoszcz, where at the age of 16 and running barefoot she finished fourth in the U20 race and formed part of Kenya’s gold medal-winning team.
Her individual gold medal success started just one year later, when she progressed to the top of the U20 podium at the World Cross Country Championships in Punta Umbria, again racing barefoot. And Kipyegon won another world title just a few months later, claiming world U18 gold in what has become her specialism – the 1500m – in a championship record of 4:09.48 in Lille.
It was a victory that gave her belief.
“I wasn’t expecting to win,” she said. “I was my first time in Europe for a track race. Winning that title gave me lots of confidence.”
Her 2012 season started with a bang as she set a national U20 1500m record of 4:03.82 in Shanghai. She followed it up by taking the national U20 title to book her ticket for the World U20 Championships in Barcelona, then further illustrated her huge potential by finishing third at the Kenyan Olympic Trials to secure a spot on the national team for the London 2012 Games.
Kipyegon went into the World U20 Championships hoping and expecting to pick up gold and she duly delivered, setting another championship record of 4:04.96 to win by more than two-and-a-half seconds. She then made her Olympic debut in London, finishing sixth in her 1500m heat at the age of 18.
In 2013 Kipyegon retained her world U20 cross country title in Bydgoszcz, this time wearing spikes, and then, in her first 1500m of the season, she set an outstanding national record and African U20 record of 3:56.98 in Doha. She went on to finish fifth in the 1500m at her first senior World Athletics Championships in Moscow later that year.
In 2014 she secured the Commonwealth 1500m title in Glasgow and featured in the world record-breaking Kenyan 4x1500m team at the World Athletics Relays in The Bahamas. Then, in 2015, she claimed her first global senior individual track medal with silver at the World Championships in Beijing, finishing behind the then world record-holder Genzebe Dibaba.
Further national records followed in 2016 as Kipyegon ran 3:56.82 in Shanghai and 3:56.41 in Eugene. She headed to her second Olympic Games as one of the favourites and she turned the tables on Dibaba in Rio to gain her first Olympic gold.
In 2017 the Olympic champion became world champion – Kipyegon getting her first senior world track title in London. After ending her 2017 season by beating Sifan Hassan to the Diamond League 1500m title in Brussels, Kipyegon decided that she was ready to start a family with her husband Timothy Kitum, the 2012 Olympic 800m bronze medallist. “It was always my plan to have a baby in 2018 and take a break from the sport,” she explained.
They welcomed their daughter Alyn in June 2018.
“She has changed my life a lot,” said Kipyegon. “Her birth was a really great moment and I have enjoyed being a mum. She acts as an extra motivation for me.”
It also led to a change in coaching set up, as Kipyegon relocated from Keringet to Eldoret. Previously guided by Bram Som, the 2006 European 800m champion, Kipyegon joined Patrick Sang, the prominent coach of world marathon record-holder Eliud Kipchoge.
She made her return to competition in June 2019 and won the 1500m at the Diamond League meeting in Stanford in 3:59.04. It was a sign that things were on track ahead of the World Championships in Doha and once there she secured silver in another Kenyan record of 3:54.22, in a race won by Hassan in a 3:51.95 championship record.
International competition returned in 2021 and after improving again to 3:51.07 in Monaco, Kipyegon prepared for her Olympic title defence in Tokyo. It was a huge success. Clocking an Olympic record of 3:53.11, she became the first athlete to win back-to-back Olympic 1500m titles since Sebastian Coe in 1980-84.
Then came 2022 and the opportunity to regain the world 1500m crown in Oregon. Clocking 3:52.96 she claimed an unprecedented fourth medal in the event, and it was another gold.
“Everybody was like, ‘Faith, we believe in Faith,’ so it was a real pressure. But I managed it,” she said.
Instead of taking her foot off the gas and celebrating, Kipyegon turned her attention to the Herculis meeting in Monaco, where she ran 3:50.37 to miss Dibaba’s world 1500m record by just 0.3. She ended her season by winning the Diamond League title in Zurich.
Returning to her roots, Kipyegon started 2023 by winning the 10km race at the Sirikwa Cross Country Classic in Eldoret. Then she went back to the track and opened her season with a 3:58.57 1500m win at the Diamond League in Doha.
She was just getting warmed up.
Less than a month later, she took to the start line at the Golden Gala meeting in Florence. Her aim was a world lead, but she hadn’t ruled out a world record attempt.
“The record is in my heart and on my mind and I hope this will be a perfect year for me,” she said.
It has certainly started on the right note. Storming over the finish line in 3:49.11, Kipyegon became the first woman to break 3:50 in the 1500m and took almost a second off the previous world record.
Kipyegon will now turn her attention to the 5000m in Paris next week before returning to Kenya to top up her training for another tilt at the record at the Herculis meeting in Monaco in July.
She will then have the opportunity to go for a third world 1500m title at the World Athletics Championships Budapest 23 in August.
Faith Kipyegon’s PBs
800m: 1:57.68 (2020)
1000m: 2:29.15 (2020)
1500m: 3:49.11 (2023)
One mile: 4:16.71 (2015)
3000m: 8:23.55 (2014)
5000m: 14:31.95 (2015)
*Subject to the usual ratification procedure