Is Faith Kipyegon the Greatest 1500m Runner Ever?

By Kyle Merber

June 7, 2023

At this point, we’ve all spent our past couple of lunch breaks huddled over a sandwich, rewatching Faith Kipyegon’s record run at least a few times, right? It almost feels ridiculous to describe it here. However as a formality, I will mention that Kipyegon’s incredible 1500m at the Florence Diamond League meet was a new world record, 3:49.11, surpassing the previous mark set by Genezebe Dibaba in 2015.

The race was set up beautifully with the opening 400 and 800 completed in 62.8 and 2:04.1. It was important that when pacemaker Sage Hurta-Klecker stepped off the track with 600m to go that Faith had life left in her legs, since it was still a long way to push alone. But thanks to a final lap of 58.9 and the motivational metronome of lights lining the inside, history was made, which was all the more impressive given this was a race against the clock.

Sure, there were other women running on the track – and even rather quickly! – they were just eight seconds behind Kipyegon. It took most fans a beat to appreciate just how fast the rest of the field also ran. That field included, among others, Laura Muir finishing second in 3:57.09 in her outdoor opener and first race since parting ways from her longtime coach, and Jessica Hull in third, who set a new Australian record of 3:57.29.

After the race, the entire field came together to embrace and celebrate Faith, who has set the tone for the event for the past seven years. Her competitors genuinely like her. And I don’t think it’s a major leap to suggest that her rivals were so stoked for her because in addition to her always gracious presence on the track, the women’s 1500m mark has had numerous question marks surrounding it since 1980 when Tatyana Kazankina of the Soviet Union ran 3:52.47. Kazankina never officially failed a drug test, but her career did end over her refusal to take one.

From that photo op, we know how a plurality of globally elite middle distance runners feel about Kipyegon. So surely the question on your mind is “but what does the fourth place finisher from last Thursday’s JP Morgan Corporate Challenge in Central Park think about her legacy?”

There wasn’t a ton of ammo in the debate against Faith as the GOAT, even before she took down this record. Her performance in Florence only further cements her as the queen of 1500 meters. But when tennis fans refer to Serena Williams as the greatest to ever play, they’re not arguing for her role as the best woman – Serena is the most accomplished tennis player, period. Can the same be said for Faith?

Faith Kipyegon 1500mFaith Kipyegon 1500m

Harlie Bassitt

If any male athlete can challenge her for that title, it’s Hicham El Gerrouj. The Moroccan is the world record holder at 3:26.00, won Olympic gold and silver in the 1500m, and took home seven World Championships between indoors and outdoors. Comparatively, Faith has two Olympic golds, plus two outdoor world championship golds and silvers. There’s probably room for debate as to which career you’d rather have, based solely on this accolade breakdown.

But an advantage for El Gerrouj is his incredible consistency. Nine of 15 fastest times ever run are his and he retired boasting a career win record of 64 - 14. The men’s all-time list is not significantly cleaner than the woman’s, but there is a lot of gray area on both sides.

Even then, there are other factors to consider, like how Faith Kipyegon missed the entirety of 2018 to give birth to her daughter, Alyn. And then one year later she finished second at the World Championships!

Not to conflate the wonder that is bringing human life into this world with leading a basketball team to the NBA Finals with Drew Gooden as your second option, but in terms of sports-debate, saying Faith “only” won silver feels like when basketball fans hold LeBron’s 2007 final loss against him. Winning silver there is not a negative, it’s a goddamn miracle!

El Gerrouj stopped competing after winning double gold in Athens when he was 30 years old – that is if you don’t include a 36-minute 10K on his World Athletics page from a road race in 2008. His “pros” column isn’t changing.

Faith is currently 29 years old and if her dominance continues through Paris then that will render this topic no longer up for discussion, and likely spell the end of this blog entries' relevance.

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Kyle Merber

After hanging up his spikes – but never his running shoes – Kyle pivoted to the media side of things, where he shares his enthusiasm, insights, and experiences with subscribers of The Lap Count newsletter, as well as viewers of CITIUS MAG live shows.