For the past eight seasons, regular rivals Senbere Teferi and Agnes Tirop have been two of the most versatile yet underrated distance runners in the world.
From the 2015 World Cross Country Championships, where Tirop took gold just ahead of Teferi in the senior race, despite both being teenagers at the time, to the Tokyo Olympic 5000m final where the two women finished just shy of the medals, the duo have brought out the best of one another on the roads, track and cross country.
In their most recent competition, however, they contested different distances but with the same outcome: a world record-breaking run*.
Competing at the adizero Road To Records event in Herzogenaurach on Sunday (12), Tirop took 28 seconds off the long-standing women-only world record for 10km, clocking 30:01, while Teferi set an outright world record for 5km with 14:29.
Tirop broke away from fellow Kenyan Sheila Chepkirui with little more than two kilometres to go and eventually won by 16 seconds, though Chepkirui still finished comfortably inside the previous world record.
“I’m so happy to have broken the world record,” said Tirop, who finished fourth over 5000m at the Tokyo Olympics. “I felt the pace was good and Sheila assisted me a lot. The course was very good too.”
Teferi, meanwhile, dropped the rest of the 5km field after the first kilometre and went on to win by 25 seconds from fellow Ethiopian Melknat Wudu. Not only did it break the women-only world record of 14:44 set by Beatrice Chepkoech and the 14:43 outright world record set by Sifan Hassan in a mixed race, Teferi also bettered the fastest 5km clocking in history of 14:32, set by Joyciline Jepkosgei before the distance became an official world record event.
“After the Olympics, I knew I was ready to go after this world record,” said Teferi, who earlier this year moved to seventh on the world all-time list for 5000m with 14:15.24. “I’m so happy.”
Born: 3 May 1995
At the Oromia Club in Ambo, Ethiopia, where she began running, Senbere Teferi focused initially on the 1500m and the 5000m.
In 2011, she left Ethiopia for the first time to compete at the World U18 Championships in Lille, where she took home the silver medal behind Faith Kipyegon. She picked up another medal behind Kipyegon, this time bronze, at the World U20 Championships in Barcelona one year later.
In 2013, despite still being a teenager, Teferi represented Ethiopia at the senior World Championships in Moscow, having clocked a 1500m PB of 4:04.55 earlier in the season. 2014 was her final season as an U20 athlete, but she competed exclusively in senior competitions across a range of surfaces and achieved podium finishes in almost all of them.
But Teferi’s big breakthrough came in 2015 when, aged 19, she took silver in the senior women’s race at the World Cross Country Championships in Guiyang, finishing one second behind Agnes Tirop.
She achieved another silver medal at the World Championships in Beijing later that year as part of an Ethiopian podium sweep, finishing in between Almaz Ayana and Genzebe Dibaba.
Teferi became a regular on the international circuit and at major championships, placing fifth at the 2016 Olympics, fourth at the 2017 World Championships and second at the 2018 African Championships and Continental Cup.
Although she hasn’t abandoned track racing, Teferi has spent more time on the roads in recent years. She made her marathon debut in 2018 with a 2:24:11 run in Dubai. One year later, she set a national record of 1:05:45 to win the Ras Al-Khaimah Half Marathon and then improved to 1:05:32 later in the year in Valencia.
In between those runs, she returned to the track and finished sixth over 10,000m at the 2019 World Championships in Doha.
Track was once again her focus in 2021 and she secured her place on Ethiopia’s Olympic team by running a lifetime best of 14:15.24 over 5000m. She went on to finish sixth at the Olympic Games, maintaining her record of top-six finishes at every global track championships since becoming a senior in 2015.
Teferi’s world 5km record of 14:29 in Herzogenaurach in September 2021 will undoubtedly remain one of her career highlights and suggests she could enjoy a fruitful future career on the roads. But the 26-year-old continues to enjoy racing across a range of distances and terrain.
“Running comes with two things,” Teferi said. “Naturally, you have ‘it’. The rest comes from training. My ability is natural and comes from inside me, so I can run in the middle distances up to the marathon. This is just natural for me so I am able to run.”
Senbere Teferi’s PBs
Half marathon: 1:05:32
Born: 23 October 1995
Born in Uasin Gishu County, Agnes Tirop first came to prominence in 2012 when, aged 16, she notched up a series of podium finishes in national-level cross-country races.
Those performances earned Tirop a place on Kenya’s team for the African Cross Country Championships in Cape Town where she secured the silver medal, finishing behind Faith Kipyegon. Later that year, Tirop secured another podium finish at a major event, taking bronze over 5000m at the World U20 Championships in Barcelona.
Tirop turned the tables on Kipyegon at the start of 2013, securing a rare victory over her compatriot at the Kenya Cross Country meeting in Kericho. The finish was a lot closer at the World Cross Country Championships two months later, where Kipyegon finished a whisker ahead of Tirop to take gold.
Outdoors, Tirop improved her PBs across all track distances and raced on the senior international circuit, performing well in Diamond League races.
She capped her U20 career in 2014 with victory at the African Cross Country Championships in March and another 5000m bronze medal at the World U20 Championships in Oregon.
Tirop joined the senior ranks in 2015, though few could have predicted how soon she’d make an impression on the global distance-running scene. She claimed a surprise triumph at the World Cross Country Championships in Guiyang, becoming the second-youngest winner of the senior women’s title in the history of the event.
She continued to compete across a range of distances and on various surfaces, but shifted her focus to the 10,000m in 2017. After winning the Kenyan trial race at that distance, she took bronze at the World Championships in London in a PB of 31:03.50.
Tirop replicated that feat in 2019, taking another World Championships bronze over 10,000m in a PB performance, this time clocking 30:25.20. Earlier in the year she had set PBs of 14:20.68 for 5000m and 8:27.51 for 3000m.
She raced sparingly in 2020 but reduced her 3000m PB to 8:22.92 at the Wanda Diamond League meeting in Doha. 2021 was another lean racing year for Tirop, but she focused on quality rather than quantity; she finished third at Kenya’s Olympic Trials, placed fourth at the Olympic Games over 5000m and then turned to the roads with a 10km world record of 30:01 in Herzogenaurach.
Agnes Tirop’s PBs
3000m steeplechase: 10:27.4
World 5km all-time list
14:29 Senbere Teferi (ETH) Herzogenaurach 2021
14:32 Joyciline Jepkosgei (KEN) Prague 2017
14:41 Beth Potter (GBR) Barrowford 2021
14:43 Beatrice Chepkoech (KEN) Monaco 2021
14:44 Sifan Hassan (NED) Monaco 2019
14:46 Meseret Defar (ETH) Carlsbad 2006
14:47 Violah Jepchumba (BRN) Prague 2016
14:47 Lornah Kiplagat (NED) Brunssum 2004
14:48 Genzebe Dibaba (ETH) Carlsbad 2015
14:48 Caroline Chepkoech Kipkirui (KEN) Prague 2018
World 5km record progression (women-only)
15:48 Sarah Pagano (USA) Albany 2018
14:44 Sifan Hassan (NED) Monaco 2019
14:29 Senbere Teferi (ETH) Herzogenaurach 2021*
World 10km all-time list
29:43 Joyciline Jepkosgei (KEN) Prague 2017
29:46 Sheila Chepkirui (KEN) Valencia 2020
29:50 Rosemary Wanjiru (KEN) Valencia 2020
29:51 Norah Jeruto (KEN) Valencia 2020
29:57 Dorcas Kimeli (KEN) Prague 2019
30:01 Agnes Tirop (KEN) Herzogenaurach 2021
30:05 Lonah Chemtai Salpeter (ISR) Tilburg 2019
30:06 Fancy Chemutai (KEN) Prague 2017
30:15 Tsehay Gemechu (ETH) Valencia 2019
30:19 Caroline Chepkoech Kipkirui (KEN) Prague 2018
World 10km record progression (women-only)
30:29 Asmae Leghzaoui (MAR) New York 2002
30:01 Agnes Tirop (KEN) Herzogenaurach 2021*
*Subject to the usual ratification procedure
- WORLD ATHLETICS