What you need to know:
- The strong Kenyan showing more than made up for the disappointment of multiple world and Olympic champion and world record holder Faith Kipyegon’s only loss of the season in, ironically, her final race of 2023, in the road mile
- Simiu, silver medalist at last month’s Budapest World Championships, said his “small” shoes made him uncomfortable towards the finish, but was happy to settle for another global silver
- For Jepchirchir, focus now quickly turns to the final month of preparations for the November 5 New York City Marathon
In Riga, Latvia
As the world celebrated the serving of an exciting new offering on the World Athletics Series menu, the inaugural World Athletics Road Running Championships in Riga - the self-styled “running capital of the world”- was a huge source of motivation for Kenya’s distance runners.
Olympic marathon champion Peres Jepchirchir interrupted her training programme for next month’s New York City Marathon to have a go at a third world half marathon title and wasn’t disappointed at all, winning in one hour, seven minutes and 25 seconds.
And world cross country champion and 5,000 metres track specialist Beatrice Chebet featured in an unfamiliar five-kilometre road race, enjoying the experience with a gold medal to show.
Meanwhile, world 5,000 metres silver medalist Daniel Simiu Ebenyo and Margaret Chelimo, fourth at the Worlds in Budapest last month, were both happy to surrender their advantage to compatriots in the half marathon races on Sunday.
The strong Kenyan showing more than made up for the disappointment of multiple world and Olympic champion and world record holder Faith Kipyegon’s only loss of the season in, ironically, her final race of 2023, in the road mile.
But the Kenyan superstar was gracious in defeat after finishing behind Ethiopia’s new world record holder Deribe Welteji (four minutes, 20.98 seconds).
“It was a very successful season, but, unfortunately, I am a little bit tired today, after such a long season. 2023 has definitely been a memorable year. It has been beautiful with a lot of beautiful memories from the World Championships,” Kipyegon, 29, said.
“It feels good to be part of these first World Road Running Championships, so I am glad I did it. I hope going forward I will do my best in the future. This was my first road race, so I did well.
“Now, I can say I completed my season, so I can go back home to have a little bit of rest because I am tired, and I feel I need some rest now.”
Welteji said she knew Kipyegon would struggle after such a long, hard season.
“When I approached the last stretch of the course and saw the finish line, that was the time when I decided to challenge Faith Kipyegon's leading position,” the Ethiopian said.
“I had the feeling that Faith Kipyegon would be a bit tired, so I believed it was possible to beat her today.”
Chebet had struck the first gold in the women’s five-kilometre race (14:35) and confessed that she had no idea how to tackle the road distance.
“I had no tactics in mind because it is my first time in this Road Running event. What I was sure about was that I have a very strong finish, so I knew I had to trust myself in the last few metres,” she explained.
“This was a difficult race because we were running together from the start, and some of those women are very strong runners… it was never going to be an easy race, so I just had to believe in myself, and I knew I had it in myself to take win.
“Having won a gold medal at the World Cross Country Championships and then again at the road running it is not an easy task.”
Chebet, 23, will only have a short time to rest before launching preparations for a defence of her world cross country title next March in Belgrade.
“After such a long season, I am definitely going to take a break for a while before getting back into training - we will be preparing for the World Cross Country Championships and the Olympics next year. My goal is to defend my world cross country title, and then come back strong for the Paris Olympics.”
Second-placed Lilian Kasait (14:39), meanwhile, hinted at tackling the indoors in the winter.
“It has been a good season for me and now I will go home to rest then prepare for a hard winter. Ending the year with a silver medal here is a wonderful thing, so I am very happy,” she said.
For Jepchirchir, focus now quickly turns to the final month of preparations for the November 5 New York City Marathon.
She dedicated her gold medal to her husband, Davis Ng’eno, who encouraged her to travel to Riga.
“I feel grateful, and thank God for another win. I wasn't expecting this….After London (marathon), I trusted and believed myself to come back. I wasn't sure if I would be able to race at these World Championships, but I still believed in myself when we were told we would be running at this world event because I wanted to try to see if I could make this trip.
“It was my motivation and I promised my family - specially to my husband who surprised me with a gift this week - that I would do my best. So, I dedicate my gold medal to my husband.
“My plan now is to run the New York City Marathon, so I can defend my title. I am confident about it. It was this race today that I worried about. I could hardly sleep last night thinking about.
Margaret Chelimo (1:07:26) had done most of the hard work in the latter stages of the race and was happy to relinquish her lead to teammate Jepchirchir.
“I had lots of energy and it was great to run with Peres today, I am always proud to run for Kenya,” she said.
“I was fourth in the World Championships on track so to get a medal today is very special. It is very nice to see that I am progressing and next, I will race the half-marathon in Valencia. There, I hope to run a personal best and it would be nice to get another medal, hopefully.”
First-timer Reline (third in 1:07:34), was delighted after the Kenyan sweep.
“I am super excited to win this bronze because it is the first time that I am running the world half marathon for Kenya so I am very grateful.
“I did not expect to win a medal, I am very surprised and it is a great honor to share the podium with my team mates.”
In the men’s half marathon race, winner Sebastian Sawe (59:10) said he had already given victory to silver medalist Daniel Simiu Ebenyo (59:14), but was surprised when Simiu withered with the finish line in sight.
“I am so happy with this win, but also the 1-2-3 for Team Kenya,” Sawe said.
“I always like to kick in the last kilometre. As we were approaching the finish line I wanted to salute my team mate as a sign of respect. After approaching him, I saw he wasn't pushing much and I had enough strength and after that, I never stopped.”
Simiu, silver medalist at last month’s Budapest World Championships, said his “small” shoes made him uncomfortable towards the finish, but was happy to settle for another global silver.
“My shoes ruined the race for me today - they were too small, hurting me so that was a shame. It was a really great race and this is just the start of my story, believe me.
“I know with the right shoes, that I can run faster and so I will go for a faster time in my next race, which is in New Delhi in the half-marathon again.
“There will be no party tonight - I will remain focused and get straight back to training - I believe I can do things this season and beyond.”
Elsewhere, Nicholas Kimeli (13:16) was also comfortable with his 5km bronze after chasing down Ethiopians Hagos Gebrhiwet (12:59) and Yomif Kejelcha (13:02).
“It was a great race, I enjoyed it very much. It was an exciting race, I was made to work hard but I am very pleased with my performance today, I feel I ran well,” he said.
“This medal means a lot to me - I am very proud to take it back to Kenya.
“Next for me will be the half-marathon in Valencia - it will be my first time at the distance and I am excited to see what I can do at it.”