5 Takeaways from the 2023 World Road Running Championships

By David Melly

October 2, 2023

This weekend, the new and improved World Road Running Championships went off without a hitch in Riga, Latvia, crowning World champions at three different road-race distances. With races over 1 mile, 5000m, and 13.1, the event formerly known as World Half Championships added a unique spin to the period between the summer track season and the bulk of fall marathon season. Kenyans dominated the medal table (although the heaviest favorite of all was beaten in the mile) and Team USA picked up two medals of its own, a gold and a bronze in the men’s 1 mile. The overlapping courses provided ample opportunity for local spectators, and early risers on the East Coast of the U.S. were able to wake up with a cup of coffee and some relatively easy-to-watch racing.

Without further ado, here are a few key takeaways from the 2023 World Road Running Championships.

Full results | Race replay

World Road Running Championships Women's 5kWorld Road Running Championships Women's 5k

Justin Britton / @JustinBritton

A New Twist On A Classic Race

When it was announced that the World Half Championships would be re-rebranded as the World Road Running Championships (it was briefly renamed once already in 2006, but they switched back the following year), running fans didn’t quite know what to expect out of the expanded format that now includes a road mile and road 5km alongside the traditional half marathon distance. The result was a mixed bag, both from the standpoint of the races and the presentation. With the concept now a little more proven, the hope moving forward is to build on the successful parts of Riga to an even better showing in San Diego in 2025.

The half marathons were both thrilling races with high-quality fields and the road miles featured surprising results, with a big American win and an even bigger Kenyan loss. For whatever reason, the 5km races still feel like they haven’t quite found a home in this program, however. The athletes on the podiums would be familiar to anyone following the Diamond League circuit this year, but coming off the heels of both the Worlds 5000m and the Diamond League final, some of the shine was missing from this particular event. It was also nice to see World Athletics making an effort at accessibility to offer a free livestream for some viewers, but confusingly, Americans were instructed to tune into the online stream for the shorter races, then switch to Peacock for the half marathons. Combined with a 4:50am E.T./1:50am P.T. start time, it felt like a missed opportunity to build an audience for a world championship that will be held on U.S. soil in two years’ time.

Sabastian SaweSabastian Sawe

Justin Britton / @JustinBritton

Team Kenya Brings The Brooms

While Latvia played host to this World Championships, the finish line felt like a Kenyan pride parade. Kenya swept the men’s and women’s half marathons and picked up four more medals (gold and silver in the women’s 5km and a pair of bronzes in the men’s 5km and women’s mile) to claim a whopping 56% of the 18 medals up for grabs in the whole competition. A particularly charming moment occurred during the finish of the men’s half marathon, where Daniel Ebenyo, after making a hard move in the second half of the race to break up the field, got outkicked by countryman Sabastian Sawe and gave him a friendly salute with 100 meters to go in the race.

Peres Jepchirchir also came out on top of a dramatic 1-2-3 Kenyan finish on the women’s side with her third World Half title, and Beatrice Chebet picked up her second World title in the 5km to bookend a fantastic 2023 season that began with a World XC title and included a bronze medal in Budapest. One of the less-heralded Kenyan runners who’s quietly made a name for herself is Margaret Kipkemboi, who doesn’t get quite the attention of her teammates but has now claimed a silver in the half marathon in Riga, a World bronze in the 10,000m in Eugene in 2022, a World silver in the 5000m in Doha in 2019, and two fourth-place finishes in the last two World 5000m finals. Talk about versatility!

Hobbs KesslerHobbs Kessler

Justin Britton / @JustinBritton

Hobbs Kessler Goes For Gold

20-year-old adidas pro Hobbs Kessler is clearly trending in the right direction headed into the biggest year of his career to date. He’s set personal bests at 800m, 1500m, and 3000m this season, and now he has two big road mile titles to his name with wins at the BAA Mile in April and the championship race in Riga. The latter of which is technically a world record (certification of road mile world records only began this year), so Kessler picked up a $50,000 bonus from World Athletics for his 3:56 victory. Clearly he’s taking tactical notes from mentor and Very Nice Track Club teammate Nick Willis, because Kessler ran like a road mile veteran here, timing his move perfectly to pull away from a tight pack and cross the finish line in first.

While Kessler has shown flashes of generational brilliance in the last two years, breaking the high school 1500m record in 2021 and improving his PB to 3:32.61 earlier this summer, he’s yet to make a World/Olympic team for the U.S. His best finish at a national championship to date has been 6th, and this year was his first time making the U.S. 1500m final (in his third attempt). International racing experience is an invaluable commodity for a young professional, and the confidence built in Riga will hopefully be channeled into even better championship performances moving forward.

A Rare Faith Kipyegon Loss

A long, jam-packed season will eventually take its toll on even the best athletes. While it’s hard to improve on an already legendary resume, Faith Kipyegon’s 2023 was arguably her best year yet: two World titles, three world records, a Diamond League title, and an undefeated season of 9 straight victories headed into this weekend.

But a new surface and a new race format proved too much for Kipyegon this time, as she could only manage a third-place finish behind the Ethiopian duo of Diribe Welteji and Freweyni Hailu, albeit in a still-respectable 4:24 clocking. Until Riga, Kipyegon was a combined 13-0 against Welteji and Hailu in 1500m/mile competitions, but that’s why they run the race. In a way, it was oddly comforting to see the almost invincible Kipyegon get taken down. After the 5-time global champion at 1500m moved up in distance to the 5000m and still couldn’t be beaten, it almost felt like Kipyegon’s name on the start list added a sense of inevitability (or boringness?) to races, so this result proving that nothing is guaranteed in the sport adds a little spice to her narrative heading into 2024.

Peres JepchirchirPeres Jepchirchir

Justin Britton / @JustinBritton

What’s Next In Women’s Marathoning?

In case you have a very short memory, Peres Jepchirchir used Riga to remind the world why she’s arguably the best marathoner in the world when healthy. The 2021 Olympic marathon champ followed up her victory in Tokyo with wins in New York (2021) and Boston (2022), and this weekend she added a third World Half Marathon title to her trophy shelf. Facing a field that included this year’s 4th placers in both the World 10,000m and 5000m, Jepchirchir flexed impressive footspeed of her own with a final victory sprint to rival any track star. Jepchirchir is clearly back in top form after missing last summer and fall with injury, and she’s trending upward after finishing 3rd in London this past spring.

But is Jepchirchir the best marathoner in the world headed into a presumed Olympic title defense in 2024? Hard to say. With her commanding win and shocking world record performance in Berlin, Tigst Assefa is probably the most recent claimant to that title. But 2023 World champion Amane Beriso has run 2:14:58 in Valencia and finished 2nd in Boston in addition to her gold medal, all in the last 12 months. And while she probably isn’t World #1 at the moment, former World record holder Brigid Kosgei has 5 World Marathon Major titles, her most recent of which being Tokyo in 2022, and is still only 29 years old. And on top of all that, Beriso and Jepchirchir have both lost major races this year to the likes of former track stars Sifan Hassan and Hellen Obiri, whose upside at the new distance is sky-high. Whether they face off in spring majors or at the Paris Olympics, the women’s marathon is going to be one of the most heavily-stacked events to watch in the coming year and Jepchirchir has made it clear she’s back to battle the best.

David Melly

David began contributing to CITIUS in 2018, and quickly cemented himself as an integral part of the team thanks to his quick wit, hot takes, undying love for the sport and willingness to get yelled at online.