Athletics Kenya Scorecard: Record-breaking Kipyegon, Kiptum crown another successful season

What you need to know:

  • From the dashing leading man of distance running Kiptum, to the glamorous history-making Kipyegon, down to two youthful Wanyonyi and Cherotich, the world was regaled by the depth of Kenyan athletics.
  • Never before has one nation dominated the annual global awards decided by ordinary athletics fans who vote through the internet, alongside media and the World Athletics family.

By Peter Njenga

In the glittering annual World Athletics Gala held at the Royal Palace of the Principality of Monaco – the playground for the wealthy and famous – under the patronage of Prince Albert II on December 11, 2023, a constellation of stars shone bright, captivating audiences with their timeless charm and indelible performances of 2023.

This was a befitting crown to a most successful year (2023) at Athletics Kenya, the country’s track and field federation. Four Kenyans – Faith Kipyegon, Kelvin Kiptum, Emmanuel Wanyonyi, and Faith Cherotich – were always on the front grind of roads and tartans of global athletics, notching victories here and there, many of them memorable or, simply told, raising the bar highest.

On this day, only hours before Kenya celebrated its 60th Jamhuri Day, the world was treated to a spectacle.

Kipyegon’s destiny of 2023 had already been discussed and sealed because one day after the global award, President William Ruto conferred her the Elder of the Order of the Golden Heart of Kenya (EGH) during Jamhuri Day celebrations, the highest civilian award. She was decorated alongside other Kenyan sportsmen and women, including Africa’s fastest man Ferdinard Omanyala, who received various other state awards.

USA’s respected Track and Field magazine also named Kipyegon its Athlete of the Year for 2023.

Locally, she was named Sports Personality of the Month in July and August by the Sports Journalists Association of Kenya (SJAK), while Kiptum was celebrated by the scribes in October.

World Cross Country Championships senior women’s champion Beatrice Chebet, Tokyo Marathon winner Rosemary Wanjiru, and London Marathon champion Kelvin Kiptum, also won this monthly SJAK award sponsored by LG Electronics across the year.

These four Kenyans won 50 percent of the global competition awards on offer, taking four of eight trophies, which was symbolic in one front, a seal of approval of Kenya’s purity in athletics.

The iconic figures continued to hold a special place in our hearts as the year progressed. 

From the dashing leading man of distance running Kiptum, to the glamorous history-making Kipyegon, down to two youthful Wanyonyi and Cherotich, the world was regaled by the depth of Kenyan athletics, its purity to the core as each personality had left an indelible mark on the golden year of athletics as the final scorecard showed in 2023.

Never before has one nation dominated the annual global awards decided by ordinary athletics fans who vote through the internet, alongside media and the World Athletics family.

Only two Kenyans had won the main World Athletics awards before this year, namely David Rudisha (2010) and Eliud Kipchoge twice, in 2018 and 2019.

Ruth Bosibori and Pamela Jelimo (2007 and 2008) were also named in the Rising Stars category with Kipyegon also given special mention as one to watch at the 2012 awards in Barcelona, where Nation Media Group’s Elias Makori was also named World Athletics Journalist of the Year, the first and so far only African journalist to receive the award from the world athletics governing body.

In 2011, Vivian Cheruiyot was handed the Female Performance of the Year Award, while distance running legend Henry Rono (Inspiration Award, 2008) and coach Colm O’Connell (Coaching Achievement Award, 2019) were also celebrated by World Athletics for their contribution to the sport.

The awards scheme was started by World Athletics, then known as the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF), under President Primo Nebiolo in 1988.

For 2023 six athletes – Tigist Assefa (Ethiopia, road running), Mondo Duplantis (Sweden, field events), Kelvin Kiptum (Kenya, road running), Faith Kipyegon (Kenya, track), Noah Lyles (USA, track) and Yulimar Rojas (Venezuela, field events) – were announced as World Athletes of the Year.

The awards structure was widened to include track, field and out of stadia competition as well as appreciating young talents.

“The depth of talent and the outstanding performances in our sport this year more than justify the expansion of the World Athletics Awards to recognise the accomplishments by these six athletes across a range of disciplines,” said World Athletics President Sebastian Coe at the awards ceremony.

“Our World Athletes of the Year alone have achieved seven world records between them in 2023, as well as a host of world titles and major wins. So, it is only fitting that they be recognised as the athletes of the year in their respective fields.

“I congratulate our award winners and all of the athletes nominated for these honours.”

Assefa, Duplantis, Kiptum and Kipyegon set world records in their respective events in 2023, while all six World Athletes of the Year secured world titles or major marathon wins. Kiptum also achieved his world record in a World Athletics Platinum Label road race, running two hours and 35 seconds at the Chicago Marathon in October, becoming the first athlete to break 2:01 in a record-eligible marathon.

The 24-year-old Kenyan won the race by almost three and a half minutes and took 34 seconds off Eliud Kipchoge’s previous world record.

Just one year on from his marathon debut, Kiptum now has three of the seven fastest times in history to his name, having also won the TCS London Marathon in April in 2:01:25. Kipyegon set world records at an incredible three distances during a season in which she also achieved a golden double at the World Athletics Championships in Budapest.

First, the 29-year-old Kenyan improved the world 1,500 metres record to three minutes, 49.11 seconds in Florence, taking almost a full second off the previous mark.

Just one week later, and despite having raced the 5,000m just twice before, she improved the world record for that event too, clocking 14:05.20 in Paris to shave off 1.42 seconds from the old record.

Her third world record came in Monaco, where she smashed the previous mile mark by five seconds, clocking 4:07.64. Then, in Budapest, she won her third senior world 1,500m title and her first world 5000m crown.

World Under-20 Championships gold medallists Faith Cherotich and Emmanuel Wanyonyi made their mark on the senior stage in 2023.

The Kenyan teenagers both won medals at the World Athletics Championships in Budapest 23, Cherotich claiming bronze in the 3,000m steeplechase and Wanyonyi securing silver in the 800m.

Cherotich, who won world U20 bronze in 2021 and gold in 2022, also moved to second on the world U20 all-time list with 8:59.65 to finish third in the Diamond League Final in Eugene, while she finished fourth in the U20 race at the World Cross Country Championships. As well as his world medal win, 2021 world U20 gold medallist Wanyonyi became Diamond League champion in 2023, claiming the trophy in a personal best time of 1:42.80.

He also won Diamond League races in Rabat, Paris, and Xiamen, and formed part of Kenya’s victorious World Cross Country Championships mixed relay team.

For a souvenir journal featuring more analyses of how Kenyan athletes performed in 2023, plus briefs about developments at Athletics Kenya during the year, click here.