For a brief moment, it looked as though the opening pace was too erratic.

The first two laps of the 1500m at the Meeting d’Athletisme Hauts-de-France Pas-de-Calais – a World Athletics Indoor Tour Gold meeting – were covered in 59.10, and 600m was reached in 1:31.54 – both splits faster than the equivalent marks in the ‘B’ 800m race earlier in the evening.

World bronze medallist Gudaf Tsegay was tucked in behind pacemaker Hirut Meshesha, her friend and training partner, but then the tempo dropped on the fourth lap as Tsegay reached the 800m mark in 2:05.94.

From then on, though, Tsegay gradually increased the pace as she continued to pull away from double European indoor champion Laura Muir. Tsegay reached 1000m in 2:37.36 – the fifth-fastest indoor time ever recorded for that distance by an African athlete – then covered the following two laps in 30.6 and 30.16.

The clock read 3:22.6 as the bell sounded for the final lap and Tsegay showed no signs of slowing down, churning out another sub-31-second circuit to cross the line in a world indoor record of 3:53.09*.

“I’m very happy to set a world indoor record,” said Tsegay. “I have been training really hard and I set myself a target to break the world indoor record.”

• Report: Tsegay breaks world indoor 1500m record in Lievin with 3:53.09

• Video: highlights from the Meeting d’Athletisme Hauts-de-France Pas-de-Calais


Gudaf Tsegay
Born: 23 January 1997. Coach: Hluf Yihdego.

Gudaf Tsegay, born in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, had little known form before she made her international debut in 2013.

She lined up at the KBC Night of Athletics meeting in Heusden-Zolder in July that year, aged just 16 at the time, with a PB of 4:27.3 from a low-key meeting in Addis Ababa two months prior. Her lack of experience proved no obstacle, though, as she hacked 15 seconds from that time to win in 4:12.27.

Her mini European tour continued six days later with a second-place finish in Bottrop, Germany, where she ran 4:07.47, and she shaved a further 0.2 from her best in Ninove one week later, winning in 4:07.27 to defeat a strong international field of senior athletes.

In global terms, Tsegay’s times weren’t earth-shattering, but they captured the attention of national team selectors. Just eight months later, Tsegay was selected to represent Ethiopia at the World Indoor Championships in Sopot. By far the youngest in the field at just 17, Tsegay narrowly missed out on a place in the final, but the experience was a valuable one and she found she thrived on indoor tracks.

She went on to enjoy a strong outdoor season, taking silver at the World U20 Championships in Eugene and clocking a PB of 4:02.83 for 1500m to move to third on the world U18 all-time list.

In 2015 she made regular appearances on the Diamond League circuit and her progress continued into 2016. She set a world U20 indoor 1500m record of 4:01.81 in Glasgow and took bronze in the same event at the World Indoor Championships in Portland. Outdoors, she clocked outdoor PBs of 1:59.77 for 800m and 4:00.18 for 1500m and represented Ethiopia at the Olympic Games in Rio, narrowly missing out on reaching the semi-finals by just one place.

Tsegay’s first sub-four-minute run for 1500m came at the 2017 Diamond League meeting in Paris, where she finished third in 3:59.55. But luck wasn’t on her side at the World Championships in London later that year as she tripped on the first lap of her semi-final and trailed home in last place.

She rebounded in 2018 and achieved her first Diamond League win with a lifetime best of 3:57.64 in Stockholm. Four more sub-four-minute clockings followed and she also showed her versatility by recording PBs of 8:33.78 for 3000m and 14:51.30 for 5000m.

Tsegay continued to finish in the top three in most of her Diamond League appearances throughout 2019 and she headed to the World Championships in Doha as one of the medal favourites. In one of the highest quality 1500m races of all time, Tsegay secured the bronze medal in a lifetime best of 3:54.38, beaten only by Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands and Olympic champion Faith Kipyegon. The performance moved Tsegay to 13th on the world all-time list.

Following an undefeated indoor season in 2020, during which she clocked an indoor 1500m PB of 4:00.09 in Torun, Tsegay didn’t race again until September, due to the Covid-19 pandemic. But both of her outdoor track races last year resulted in PBs – 8:25.23 for 3000m in Doha and 14:46.22 for 5000m in Ostrava – showing Tsegay’s form hadn’t dropped.

Tsegay opened her 2021 campaign at an Olympic Candidate Trial competition in Addis Ababa in mid-January. Despite the altitude, which makes endurance races far more challenging, Tsegay won in a swift 4:02.4, the fastest time ever recorded in Ethiopia.

But while her performance in the Ethiopian capital hinted that Tsegay was in great form, few would have predicted that she was in shape to take down the world indoor record of 3:55.14 set seven years ago by her compatriot Genzebe Dibaba. She did exactly that, though, winning in Lievin in 3:53.09.


World indoor 1500m record progression

4:00.8h Mary Decker (USA) New York City 1980
4:00.27 Doina Melinte (ROU) East Rutherford 1990
3:59.98 Regina Jacobs (USA) Boston 2003
3:58.28 Yelena Soboleva (RUS) Moscow 2006
3:55.17 Genzebe Dibaba (ETH) Karlsruhe 2014
3:53.09 Gudaf Tsegay (ETH) Lievin 2021

World indoor 1500m all-time list

3:53.09 Gudaf Tsegay (ETH) Lievin 2021
3:55.17 Genzebe Dibaba (ETH) Karlsruhe 2014
3:57.91 Abeba Aregawi (SWE) Stockholm 2014
3:58.28 Yelena Soboleva (RUS) Moscow 2006
3:59.58 Laura Muir (GBR) Lievin 2021
3:59.75 Gelete Burka (ETH) Valencia 2008
3:59.79 Maryam Yusuf Jamal (BRN) Valencia 2008
3:59.87 Konstanze Klosterhalfen (GER) New York City 2020
3:59.98 Regina Jacobs (USA) Boston 2003
4:00.20 Elinor Purrier (USA) New York City 2020

Gudaf Tsegay’s 1500m progression

2013: 4:07.27
2014: 4:02.83 / 4:08.47i
2015: 4:03.09 / 4:07.69i
2016: 4:00.18 / 4:01.81i
2017: 3:59.55 / 4:13.37i
2018: 3:57.64 / 4:05.91i
2019: 3:54.38
2020: 4:00.09i
2021: 3:53.09i

Gudaf Tsegay’s PBs

800m: 1:59.52
1500m: 3:54.38 / 3:53.09i
Mile: 4:16.14 / 4:24.98i
3000m: 8:25.23 / 8:46.27i
5000m: 14:46.22
5km: 15:37
10km: 32:18

*Subject to the usual ratification procedure

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