As we get closer to the 2023 World Athletics Championships, one wonders inside, but Deji Ogeyingbo wonders outside; who can challenge Faith Kipyegon? 

Who can really challenge Faith Kipyegon in Budapest? 


If you were living under a rock in the last six months and came out to this headline, you’d be forgiven if the first thought that pops out of your head is along the lines of how impossible it can be to challenge the might of Faith Kipyegon that it feels like a rhetorical question. At this point, the Kenyan has reached a new level of running, and only the daring punters will even dare to stake their money against her come the world championships in Budapest. 

Faith Kipyegon sets WR  at 1,500m with 3:49.11 WR at Florence DL, photo by Diamond League AG /Matthew Quine.

Until this year, Kipyegon had been known as the queen of the 1500m. It was a title befitting to the Kenyan, considering how she has dominated the event in the last half a decade. Two Olympic and world titles, four Diamond League crowns, and a host of national titles to her name had put Kipyegon in the top echelons of athletes to have graced the sport. However, she took it a notch higher this year. 

Faith Kipyegon sets new WR at 5,000m in 14:05.20, at Stade Charlety, photo courtesy of NN Running team.

In a sport like athletics, titles are seen as the holy grail for an athlete, but when you begin to churn out god-like numbers, the conversation about being immortal might just begin to come up. Hence the headline. Kipyegon has shattered the ceiling with her world record in the women’s 1500m, Mile, and 5000m this year. How can you compete against her? 

Faith Kipyegon runs 4:07.64 WR for the Mile, Wanda Diamond League Athletics Meeting
Herculis EBS
July 21, 2023, Monaco, photo by Kevin Morris

Like everybody, nobody is infallible, and Kipyegon is at the peak of her powers this year, having become the first woman to break the 3:50s barrier in the women’s 1500m, having clocked 3:49.11 at the Rome Diamond League. But what makes her really good is her uncanny ability to turn up at major championships. Also, having broken the 5000m world record in Paris, she will take a tilt at becoming the world champion in the event. 

Sifan Hassan, Doha 2019, photo by World Athletics

Waiting in the wings to spoil the party for Kipyegon is Sifan Hassan. The Dutch runner has gone shoulder-to-shoulder with Kipyegon over the 1500 since their first meeting as teenagers in 2014. However, since Hassan’s incredible feat of winning two gold and a bronze at the Tokyo Olympics, she seems not to have recovered fully and has just come up short in key races since then, including her races at last year’s world championships in Eugene. 

Sifan Hassan, qualifying in London 2017 heats, photo by Mike Deering / The Shoe Addicts

Hassan has the range and dexterity to match up to Kipyegon over the 1500m. Her Personal Best of 3:51.95 was set when she beat Kipyegon to the world title in 2019, with the Kenyan coming second then. The Ethiopian-Dutch runner followed it up with another win at the Golden Gala in 2021 when she took down her Kenyan rival by a hairs breath. 

Since then, Kipyegon has gone unbeaten in the women’s 1500, including taking the scalp of Hassan in their last three meetings, all coming in 2021. Hassan has taken up new challenges this year as she made her marathon debut with a win at the London Marathon in April. She has won her other two races in the 1500m and 10,000m, with her only loss coming over the 5000m to Ethiopia’s Gudaf Tsegay at the London Diamond League.

The bell lap begins, Hassan, Tsegay, Women’s 5,000 meters, World Athletics Championships
Eugene, Oregon, USA, July15-26, 2022, photo by Kevin Morris

Tsegay is another name to watch out for, having grown in leaps and bounds in the last year. The Ethiopian finished second to Kipyegon in Eugene last year and will look to go further this year.

Gudaf Tsegay, Wanda Diamond League
London Athletics Meet
July 23, 2023, London, England, U.K. photo by Kevin Morris

Tsegay, the World indoor 1500m record-holder who ran 4:16.16 for the mile and 8:16.69 for 3000m indoors in February, ran one of the races of the Rabat Diamond League earlier this year as she went on to win the women’s 1500m in 3:54.03. The time doesn’t come close to Kipyegon’s world record, but it gives her the right momentum to challenge the Kenyan over 1500m and 5000m this summer. 

There is also the argument that being a well-rounded athlete, she can tackle both the 1500m and 5000m very well. We had such doubts about Kipyegon earlier this year until her world record flurry in both events. Hassan has been registered to run in the 1500m, 5000m, and 10000m. How she will navigate a grueling six days of running rounds and finally remains to be seen. 

Beatrice Chebet, photo by Thomas Windestam for Diamond League AG

Over in the 5000m, Beatrice Chebet, Letsenbet Gidey, and Taye Ejgayehu are some of the names that will be hoping to claim the scalp of Kipyegon over the 5000m. Gidey is the former world record holder over the 5000m and will be seeking revenge when the clash over the distance in Budapest. 

World Athletics Championships
Eugene, Oregon, USA
July15-26, 2022

Apart from the established stars, we have precocious youngsters like Hirut Meshesha and Birke Haylom, both of whom have run inside 3:55 this year. It’s a long shot, but championships like these bring out the best in athletes, and some are good at showing up when it matters most. Whatever happens, we are in for a big treat come Budapest.