Who and What to Watch in the 1500m Finals

When it comes to the 1500m races in Tokyo, nothing less than two gold medals will suffice for Kenya given the world-leading ability of their stars: Faith Kipyegon and Timothy Cheruiyot. After commanding performances at the Monaco Diamond League, they are very much the athletes to beat.

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The 1500m race at major championships usually plays out in one of three ways. Often, it’s a slow, tactical affair, with the leading contenders unwilling to push the pace over the opening half as others follow in their slipstream. In this case, athletes will jostle for position through the opening 800 meters, after which the gears slowly start shifting and someone winds the pace up  at the front on the penultimate lap, but few will truly go for broke until the final 200 meters.

Other times, the race can be slow from the beginning but someone without super-fast finishing speed will inject a mid-race surge, trying to break clear. This is rare due to it often backfiring for the athlete, who more often than not gets swallowed by the pack and quickly dropped off the back.

The third option is that the race is fast from the start, which occurred in both men’s and women’s finals at the 2019 World Championships, where Timothy Cheruiyot and Sifan Hassan were so superior that they decided to replicate races on the circuit and be their own pacemaker. Occasionally, such athletes will employ one of their teammates to sacrifice their own chance, act as a rabbit and push the pace early.

Kenyan Dominance

When it comes to the 1500m races in Tokyo, most fans around the world will cheer on their athletes in hope but one nation – Kenya – will do so in expectation. For the proud East African nation, nothing less than two gold medals will suffice given the world-beating ability of their leading stars: Faith Kipyegon and Timothy Cheruiyot.

After commanding performances at the Monaco Diamond League, they are very much the athletes to beat, and both have shown themselves smart enough, strong enough and speedy enough to get the job done in Tokyo.

Men’s Olympic 1500m Preview

Timothy Cheruiyot of Kenya, Jakob Ingebrigtsen of Norway, Jake Wightman of Great Britain and Filip Ingebrigtsen of Norway compete in the Men's 1500 meters during the Herculis EBS Monaco 2020 Diamond League meeting at Stade Louis II on August 14, 2020 in Monaco.
Timothy Cheruiyot of Kenya is favorited to win, clocking the fastest time in the world in the event this year with 3:28.28. His biggest challenge will likely come from Norway’s Jakob Ingebrigtsen, who looks more dangerous than ever this year after a third-place finish in Monaco after recovering from an illness. Photo: Guillaume Horcajuelo/Pool via Getty Images

Cheruiyot was initially left off the Kenyan team after carrying an injury into the Kenyan trials, where he finished fourth, but was added after stamping his supremacy over the world’s best in Monaco, clocking the fastest time this year with 3:28.28.

His biggest challenge will likely come from Norwegian star Jakob Ingebrigtsen, who he has a 13-0 record against, but Ingebrigtsen looks more dangerous than ever this year.

In the heats on Tuesday morning, Cheruiyot coasted through, as did Ingebrigtsen, and it’s only in Thursday night’s semi-final that we might get a better idea of their current chances.

U.S. champion Cole Hocker proved himself well capable of contending when also breezing through his heat in an automatic qualifying position. “I felt really good, that race gave me a lot of confidence because it’s my first Olympics and first international race altogether so that was just a completely different experience,” he said. “I’m really happy with how I was able to handle myself.”

The 2016 Olympic champion Matt Centrowitz also advanced with ease and is sure to be dangerous, particularly if the semi-final and final are run at a slow pace. Poland’s Marcin Lewandowski, a big kicker, will also be dangerous in that scenario and he was initially eliminated after falling in his heat but was reinstated for the semi-final, deemed not to be at fault for the incident.

New Zealand’s Nick Willis ran a typically wily race in his heat to also advance, the two-time Olympic medallist finishing seventh in his heat, his fifth consecutive Games making the semi-finals. U.S. contender Yared Nuguse, meanwhile, was unable to line up after dealing with a quad strain on the build-up.

Women’s Olympic 1500m Final Preview

Faith Kipyegon of Kenya celebrates victory in the Women's 1000 metres during the Herculis EBS Monaco 2020 Diamond League meeting at Stade Louis II on August 14, 2020 in Monaco, Monaco.
Faith Kipyegon, who was the 2016 Olympic 1500m champion will look to cement her place at the very top of the all-time greats in the Tokyo Olympics. Photo: Eric Gaillard/Pool via Getty Images

The women’s race will see 2016 Olympic champion Faith Kipyegon look to cement her place at the very top of the all-time greats. A little over a year after giving birth to her daughter, she surrendered her global crown in 2019 to Sifan Hassan but heading into Tokyo, Kipyegon looks in pole position once again even if Hassan looks capable of beating her, or just about anybody, right now.

Kipyegon was beaten by Hassan in a thrilling duel in Florence, Italy in June, both athletes clocking 3:53, but Kipyegon looked imperious a month later in Monaco, changing gears and powering away from Hassan to win in a Kenyan 1500m record of 3:51.07.

“In Monaco when I lost the 1500m, I was in great shape, trained hard, but I had jetlag, I was so tired,” Hassan said earlier this week. “Losing makes me crazy.”

Hassan is attempting a triple in Tokyo and so far, so good, the Dutch athlete powering to gold in the 5,000m on Monday night with a breath-taking final lap, this just 12 hours after she ran the opening round of the 1500m, where a fall with just under a lap to run proved no barrier to her qualifying, Hassan clocking a 43-second final 300m to actually win the heat.  

“Many people think I’m crazy. I also think I’m crazy,” Hassan said that night. “Life is not only about the gold and the winning and the fame. It’s also about following your heart. I told my manager, ‘I’m going to do three, I don’t care what happens, I’m going to do it.’”

Hassan ran an astonishing 3:51.95 solo effort to win the world title in 2019 but if she tries that again, the difference is Kipyegon will be right there with her, and the Kenyan has superior finishing speed.

What will Hassan’s tactics be? On Monday she was tight-lipped about it. “I’ll do my best and if I win, I’ll handle that,” she said. “If I don’t, I’ll handle that.”

In the 1500m semi-finals on Wednesday she again coasted to victory, coming from well back with 300m to go to edge Britain’s Laura Muir in 4:00.23. In the first semi-final Kipyegon looked supreme, kicking to victory in 3:56.80.

U.S. hopes will be led by Elle Purrier, who will be hoping for a fast pace from the outset in the final. She coasted through her heat in third, an automatic qualifying position, but had to go all out in her semi-final, finishing sixth in 4:01.00 to advance as a time qualifier.

Another hoping Hassan takes the final out hard is Muir, who looks capable of winning her first medal at a global outdoor championships, particularly in that kind of race. But all signs are that the gold medal fight will come down to a head-to-head between Hassan and Kipyegon, and a potential race for the ages.


Men’s Olympic 1500m

Date: August 5 — Semifinals
Time: 7 p.m. local time / 6 a.m. EDT

Date: August 7 — Finals
Time: 7 p.m. local time / 6 a.m. EDT

Women’s Olympic 1500m

Date: August 6 — Final
Time: 7:50 p.m. local time / 6:50 a.m. EDT