Kenya’s Faith Kipyegon looks back four years to recall her memories of striking gold in the women’s 1500m at the IAAF World Junior Championships Barcelona 2012.
Leading into the 2012 World Junior Championships, Faith Kipyegon was already an age-group star with many predicting a glittering future. She first emerged on the global scene in 2010 when placing fourth, aged just 16, in the junior race at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships and the following year went three better to climb to the top of the podium at the 2011 edition in Punta Umbria, Spain.
That year the diminutive Kipyegon also revealed her outstanding track ability by taking the 1500m gold medal at the IAAF World Youth Championships in Lille in a championship record of 4:09.48. It was a victory that gave the Kenyan belief.
“I wasn't expecting to win,” she recalls. “I was my first time in Europe for a track race. Winning that title gave me lots of confidence.”
Her 2012 season started with a bang as she set a stunning national junior 1500m record of 4:03.82 in Shanghai. She followed it up by taking the national junior title to book her ticket for Barcelona then further illustrated her huge potential by finishing third at the Kenyan Olympic Trials to secure a spot on the national team for the London 2012 Games.
She went into the World Junior Championships hoping and expecting to pick up gold.
Being part of a highly successful Kenyan squad which won 13 medals – including four golds – made for a happy atmosphere within the team in Barcelona. She shared a room with steeplechase bronze medallist Stella Jepkosgei Rutto, with the Kenyan distance-running women particularly prevalent, winning three golds.
She also recalls being able to sample the best of what the impressive Catalan capital has to offer with a bit of retail therapy.
“We went shopping in Barcelona – it was a good place,” she adds.
Kipyegon had spoken boldly of running a fast time in Barcelona and she did not disappoint. After cruising through her heat in a winning time of 4:10.17, the short but long-striding Kenyan then gave a demonstration of her rare ability in the final.
Ethiopia’s Senbere Teferi held the early pace, but Kipyegon hit the front just before the 400m mark, covered in 1:06.86. Kipyegon stretched her legs and opened up a significant lead on the field only for Teferi to regain the advantage at 800m in 2:14.99.
Kipyegon assumed control of the race with about 900 metres remaining and unleashed a kick for home with 600 metres to go. At 1200m, the race was effectively over as the talented Kenyan had opened up a near 10-metre lead on her nearest pursuers, Teferi and Serbia’s European junior champion Amela Terzic.
Flashing past the line in 4:04.96, Kipyegon had smashed the championship record to claim an emphatic win by more than two-and-a-half seconds from Terzic.
“It was really quick, the last 400m I felt strong but I was well prepared for the race,” she says. “The race went to plan. I knew I must be fit on the last lap to win.”
Reflecting on her triumph in Barcelona, Kipyegon says winning yet another international gold medal further fuelled her confidence. Yet the most important knowledge accrued from the experience, which she has put into practise for the rest of her career, came in another area.
“What I learned was the importance of putting together a plan and it all coming together on the day,” she says. “I also learned the importance of listening to my body and being disciplined to allow this to happen. If you don’t listen to your body, it is hard to achieve good results.”
Since her stunning triumph at the 2012 World Junior Championships, Kipyegon’s career has gone from strength to strength. The following month she failed to progress out of the 1500m heats at the London Olympics but she started her 2013 campaign with a bang, retaining her world junior cross-country title in Bydgoszcz and then, in her first metric mile of the season, posting an outstanding national record and African junior record of 3:56.98 in Doha. She went on to finish fifth in the 1500m at the IAAF World Championships in Moscow later that year.
In 2014 she secured the Commonwealth 1500m title in Glasgow as well as featuring in the world record-breaking Kenyan 4x1500m team at the IAAF World Relays in The Bahamas. Last year she claimed her first global senior track medal with silver at the IAAF World Championships Beijing 2015, finishing behind world record-holder Genzebe Dibaba.
This season she is in dazzling form, following early season IAAF Diamond League wins in Kenyan record times of 3:56.82 in Shanghai and 3:56.41 in Eugene.
Advice for the next generation
Kipyegon has a simple desire for those athletes competing in the women’s 1500m at the forthcoming IAAF World U20 Championships Bydgoszcz 2016.
“I hope they work hard and break my record (4:04:98), that would be my hope,” she says. “I wish them all the best.”
Steve Landells for the IAAF