Emmanuel Korir after his Continental Cup 800 win (Getty Images) © Copyright
General News

2018 in review: middle and long distances

Our 2018 review series continues with statisticians A Lennart Julin and Mirko Jalava looking back at the middle and long distance events.

Men’s 800m

Twenty-three-year-old Emmanuel Korir emerged as the number one 800m runner during the 2018 season. The Kenyan joined the professional ranks this year after taking NCAA titles both indoors and outdoors for University Of Texas-El Paso in 2017. He had lowered his personal best to 1:43.10 when winning his only 2017 international meeting in Monaco, but crashed out of the World Championships in London in the semifinals.

2018 was almost perfect for the young Kenyan, who won seven of his eight finals with the only loss coming at the African Championships in Asaba in August. In the first race of the season, he set an African indoor record at New York’s Millrose Games clocking 1:44.21. He then clocked a big personal best and world lead 1:42.05 in London in July to become the sixth fastest athlete of all-time. Another 1:42.79 win in Birmingham was followed by victories at the Diamond League final in Brussels where he was crowned Diamond League champion, and at the Continental Cup in Ostrava. Korir also clocked a fast 44.21 personal best in 400m to win the national title in Nairobi in June, making him the sixth fastest 400m runner in 2018 as well.

Nijel Amos made a return to the top of event, recording his fastest time since 2012 when he won the silver medal at the London Olympics in 1:41.73. The 24-year-old Botswanan won the Herculis meeting in Monaco in 1:42.14, the second fastest time of the season, before defeating Korir at the African Championships (1:45.20). Adam Kszczot won the world indoor title in Birmingham and later in the season the 29-year-old Pole won a third successive European title in Berlin in 1:44.59, a season’s best.

Men’s 1500m

Timothy Cheruiyot, the 2017 World Championships silver medallist, was the strongest 1500m runner of the season. He won all of his Diamond League starts, recording a total of nine wins in 11 outings in 2018. The losses came at the Commonwealth Games in April and the African Championships in August, finishing second in both. The 22-year-old Kenyan dipped under 3:30 twice, setting a personal best and world lead 3:28.41 in Monaco in July and also won the Diamond League final and title in Zürich.

 

Timothy Cheruiyot notches a world lead in Paris (Kirby Lee)Timothy Cheruiyot notches a world lead in Paris (Kirby Lee) © Copyright

 

Elijah Manangoi, the 2017 world champion, was the only man to beat Cheruiyot this season. He won the Commonwealth title in 3:34.78 and the African Championships in 3:35.20 for a 2-5 record agains his fellow Kenyan. Manangoi, 25, clocked his 3:29.64 season’s best in Monaco, finishing second. Third in Monaco was Filip Ingebrigtsen with a Norwegian national record 3:30.01, narrowly missing the magical 3:30 barrier. However the 25-year-old Ingebrigtsen, who took European gold in 2016 and world bronze in 2017, could not renew his European title in Berlin.

That title in Berlin did go to an Ingebrigtsen, but it was his 17-year-old brother Jakob instead, who won in 3:38.10 making him easily the youngest ever European champion in the event. The youngster also finished fourth in Monaco in 3:31.18, a European U20 record, the fastest time ever by a 17-year-old. He also set the European U20 record in the mile clocking 3:52.28 in Eugene in May. Surprisingly he was beaten the World U20 Championships in Tampere in July by Kenyan George Manangoi, 3:41.71 to 3:41.89. Manangoi, also just 17, ran his personal best 3:35.53 in Doha in May.

Men’s 5000m

The 13-minute barrier was only broken in one competition in 2018, but in Brussels eight athletes succeeded in doing so. The winner was 18-year-old Selemon Barega of Ethiopia in 12:43.02, a world U20 record and the fastest time in the world in 13 years - since Kenenisa Bekele clocked 12:40.18 in Paris in July 2005. The performance also elevated Barega to fourth on the all-time list. Barega, who also won the 3000m silver at the World Indoor Championships, also won in Stockholm and finished second in Lausanne, but was beaten out of the medals at the World U20 Championships where Kenyans Edward Zakayo and Stanley Mburu Waithaka finished one-two.

 

Selemon Barega wins the 5000m at the IAAF Diamond League final in Brussels (Gladys Chai von der Laage)Selemon Barega wins the 5000m at the IAAF Diamond League final in Brussels (Gladys Chai von der Laage) © Copyright

 

The 2016 Olympics bronze medallist Hagos Gebrhiwet clocked a 12:45.82 personal best for second in Brussels. This was only the Ethiopian’s second race of the season in 5000m and makes him the fifth fastest all-time. Ethiopian Yomif Kejelcha won his second straight 3000m world Indoor title. The 21-year-old was third in the Brussels race in 12:46.79, a personal best that moved him to seventh all-time.

Jakob Ingebrigtsen shocked the world in the European Championships 1500m, and did so in the 5000m as well. Just day after his historic 1500m win, he grabbed the 5000m title in only his second race of the season over the distance, clocking a 13:17.06 European U20 record. Earlier, the 17-year-old took World U20 bronze in the event in 13:20.78. Before these two races his 5000m best was only 13:35.84 from 2017. Ingebrigtsen also became the youngest 5000m winner in European Championships history and became the first athlete to win the 1500m/5000m double in the same championships edition. He’s only the third athlete to win titles over both distances. Michel Jazy (FRA) and Sydney Wooderson (GBR) won both, but in different years.

Men’s 10,000m

The men’s 10,000m season was a lean one with the fastest times of the year clocked in surprising places. The 27:19.62 world lead by Joshua Cheptegei came in April at the Commonwealth Games where the Ugandan grabbed a narrow victory ahead of Canadian Mohammed Ahmed who ran 27:20.56 for the silver. A big surprise is spot number three where Kenyan Rhonex Kipruto won the World U20 title in 27:21.08, a competition record for the 18-year-old.

 

Joshua Cheptegei wins the 10,000m at the Commonwealth Games (Getty Images)Joshua Cheptegei wins the 10,000m at the Commonwealth Games (Getty Images) © Copyright

 

The Commonwealth Games race was easily the fastest of the season, hosting the next three fastest times as well. Kenyan Rodgers Chumo was third in 27:28.66, Ugandan Jacob Kiplimo fourth in 27:30.25 and Jake Robertson fifth in 27:30.90, a national record for New Zealand. The fastest European of the year was Richard Ringer, who won the European 10,000m Cup in London in a personal best 27:36.52. In that race Frenchman Morhad Amdouni was second in 27:36.80, also a personal best. He later went on to take the European title in 28:11.22.

Women’s 800m

For the third straight year this event was completely owned by Caster Semenya. In eight international competitions – five Diamond Leagues, he Commonwealth Games, African Championships and Continental Cup – her average time was 1:55.60, faster than anyone else’s seasonal best, with an average winning margin of 1.67 seconds.

 

Caster Semenya en route to the Continental Cup 800m title (Getty Images)Caster Semenya en route to the Continental Cup 800m title (Getty Images) © Copyright

 

What was special with 2018 was that Semenya approached her races much more aggressively than before. In 2016 and 2017 she was normally content to follow until the last bend, relying on her superior finishing strength. But this year Semenya chose to frontrun her races from start to finish.

The effects were immediate and obvious: Compared to 2017 she increased her average winning margin by over a second and she recorded considerably faster times lowering her PB by almost a second to 1:54.25 which moved her up to fourth on all-time list.

Behind Semenya it was once more Francine Niyonsaba and Ajeé Wilson taking turns as runners-up in the major events. Niyonsaba was 3-2 head-to-head versus Wilson and also had a slight advantage timewise (running sub-1:56 twice) while the US runner was second to Semenya in the Diamond League final as well as at the Continental Cup.

Niyonsaba and Wilson had one loss each to the most improved runner of the year, Natoya Goule. The 27-year-old Jamaican came into 2018 with a 1:59.38 PB and no previous international merits. When the summer ended she had improved by over three seconds to 1:56.15 and recorded third place finishes in the best race of the year --Monaco, with the first seven finishing in under 1:58- as well as in the Diamond League final, the Continental Cup and Commonwealth Games.

Women’s 1500m

While the top position in the 800m was crystal clear it was quite the opposite in the 1500m where a group of runners took turns on top. The seven Diamond League races saw five different winners: Shelby Houlihan and Sifan Hassan with two wins apiece and Caster Semenya, Gudaf Tsegay and Laura Muir with one each.

 

Tsegay Gudaf takes the Stockholm 1500m (Giancarlo Colombo)Tsegay Gudaf takes the Stockholm 1500m (Giancarlo Colombo) © Copyright

 

And that list still did not include the reigning world and Olympic champion Faith Kipyegon, who was on maternity leave, or the fastest of the year Genzebe Dibaba, or the winner at the Continental Cup Winnie Chebet.

The most prolific sub-4:00 runner was Tsegay at five followed by Muir at four and Houlihan and Hassan at three. Muir and Hassan were already established at this level but fresh 3:57-runners Houlihan and Tsegay were newcomers to the uppermost echelon. Houlihan, 25, previously focused on the 5000m and came from a 4:03 PB while 21-year old Tsegay transformed herself from ”participant” to ”real contender” by raising her game 2-3 seconds.

All four of them met twice – in Lausanne in early July and in the Diamond League final in Brussels in late August. Tsegay finished fourth and Hassan third on both occasions while Houlihan and Muir exchanged the two top positions. In Lausanne Houlihan’s renowned finishing speed was decisive while in Brussels she had to be content with seconnd after staying too far back for too long to be able to catch a runner of Muir’s capability.

Muir also took the European title, however, due to the scheduling not in a match-up with Hassan: the 1500m and 5000m finals started just 15 minutes apart with Muir chosing the 1500m and Hassan the 5000m. So at these area championships spectators were not to experience Europe’s undisputed top-2 at 1500m and 5000m go head-to-head at either distance.

Women’s 5000m

The paradox of the 5000m is illustrated by 2018 being both the best ever for sub-14:30 (six runners) and the worst for twenty years for sub-15:00 (just 12). How could these two apparently contradictory facts be reconciled? The answer is, ”very few good competitive opportunities”.

 

Sifan Hassan, Continental Cup 3000m champion (Getty Images)Sifan Hassan, Continental Cup 3000m champion (Getty Images) © Copyright

 

Typically the impressive sub-14:30-stat is due to just one single race: the Rabat Diamond League which produced the 2018 world leading mark, Hellen Obiri’s 14:21.75, who was followed by four PBs that put those athletes among the 11 fastest of all-time. Actually that race was the best ever for top depth with the fifth placed runner’s time surpassing the previous best for third place.

So there is no lack of athletes capable of running fast at 5000m, missing are just a full season of major meets where top runners can go head-to-head. On a global level there were just three such races – the Eugene, Rabat and Zurich Diamond Leagues – as the event this year was not part of the Continental Cup.

All three races proved exciting and competitive. In Eugene Genzebe Dibaba won ahead of Letesenbet Gidey and Hellen Obiri while in both Rabat and Zurich Obiri narrowly defeated Sifan Hassan with Dibaba in sixth. Obiri underlined her No 1 status by also taking the Commonwealth and African titles while Hassan, who broke the European record in Rabat, also took an overwhelming win in the Europeans.

Shelby Houlihan chose to focus on 1500m in the Diamond League but did find time to attack the US 5000m national record in the Heusden-Zolder meet in mid-July. Despite running the last five laps on her own and winning by almost half a minute Houlihan did succeed, running 14:34.45 to take more than four seconds off the NR – and some 26 off her PB.

Women’s 10,000m

While the 10K road event flourishes like never before the 10,000m on the track is almost exclusively staged in various championships. With 2018 lacking a global championship numerous presumtive top runners chose not to run the event at all with Ethiopia providing the most stunning illustration.

Last year Ethiopia had the top-six in the world (between 30:15 and 31:02) while this year (as of 10 October) a 31:45-runner is the sole Ethiopian to be found in the top-100 (sub-32:39).

The general statistical effect has been brutal: The number of sub-31:30, which was 28 two years ago and 22 last year, has dropped all the way down to one. Not even the Payton Jordan race in Stanford in early May, which traditionally provides a healthy bunch of fast times, could help much this year with the winner barely dipping under 32 minutes.

As for the championships they seem all to have had the main contenders running with focus firmly on places rather than times: Stacey Ndiwa (KEN) took the African title in 31:31, Lonah Salpeter (ISR) the European in 31:43.29, Stella Chesang (UGA) the Commonwealth in 31:45:30 and Darya Maslova (KGZ) the Asian in 32:07.23.

The outstanding World leading time of the year instead ended up with Kenyan halfmarathon specialist Pauline Kaveke who – in a July race in Japan – clocked 30:41.85. A time made even more impressive by the fact that it was very much a solo race which she won by over a minute-and-a-half.

But 2019 is a World Championships year which certainly will bring back many of the top runners that took a time-out from the 25-lap event in 2018.

Mirko Jalava (men’s events) and A Lennart Julin (women’s events) for the IAAF