The first world record, Faith Kipyegon pointed at her time in disbelief. The second, she covered her mouth in astonishment. The third, just a quick point toward the clock and a look of pure satisfaction.
No doubt, the decorated Kenyan runner has had plenty of practice perfecting her record-breaking reactions this year.
Over a 50-day stretch, the 29-year-old Kipyegon — who began her international career running barefoot — made toppling records look like a walk in the park as she erased top marks in the 1,500 meters (3 minutes, 49.11 seconds on June 2), 5,000m (14:05.20 on June 9), and the mile (4:07.64 on July 21).
She’s altering her focus this week at the world championships, focusing more on medals (but never discounting records falling with her in a race). The two-time Olympic champion will defend her 1,500 world title in Budapest, while also incorporating another event, the 5,000, into her repertoire. If all goes well, it could be a double she attempts at next year’s Paris Olympics.
“I have (world records) in my pocket,” said Kipyegon, who advanced to the 1,500 final on Tuesday. “So next is to leave the legacy if I win gold in Budapest.”
She could be leaving Hungary exhausted, too. Kipyegon will start the first round of the 5,000 about 14 hours after the 1,500 final. Should she advance, the final is Saturday.
These days, Kipyegon is simply running at another level.
“She’s rewriting what’s possible,” said Nikki Hiltz, who set the American record in the mile on the day Kipyegon broke the world mark. “It helps us all dream bigger.”
Turns out, Kipyegon’s first love was soccer growing up on a farm in the Kenyan Rift Valley. That changed one day in gym class when she competed in a one-kilometer race — and won by a landslide. A sign of things to come.
Her first big international race was the 2010 world cross country championships in Poland. Running barefoot, she took fourth in the under-20 race. The next year in the same race, and again running without shoes, she won.
“Winning the gold medal without spikes,” Kipyegon recalled, “it was incredible.”
Many more medals would follow, including her back-to-back titles in the 1,500 at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics and the Tokyo Games in 2021, along with four at the worlds (two silvers and two golds).
Now, world records at numerous distances.
Her record-setting pace kicked off two months ago in Florence, Italy, with the 1,500, when she erased an eight-year-old record held by Ethiopian standout Genzebe Dibaba (3:50.07).
A week later, Kipyegon broke the 5,000 mark in Paris by holding off the world record holder Letesenbet Gidey of Ethiopia.
Kipyegon was merely warming up. In Monaco last month, Kipyegon broke the mile mark by more than four seconds set by Dutch runner Sifan Hassan in 2019. It was a blistering race, too, where 11 runners recorded personal-best times, with six registering national records.
That has Kipyegon thinking she could become the first female to break the 4-minute barrier in the mile.
“It’s possible,” Kipyegon said. “Nothing is impossible.”
Kipyegon dismissed the notion that shoes and technology played an overwhelming role in her record-breaking stretch. This is a runner who won the world junior cross country title without shoes.
Granted, the spikes are improved.
“But I don’t think the shoe is running. I’m running,” Kipyegon said. “I just put the shoe on, believe in myself and just go and break the world record. Training and being confident, I’m going to target that. Believing in what you can do, I think everything is possible.”
She credits her record-breaking surge to training under the tutelage of Patrick Sang, the coach of world marathon record-holder Eliud Kipchoge. She runs with Kipchoge’s marathon group in addition to squeezing in sprint work. That’s why she feels she can possibly be a world record holder in the 10,000, the half-marathon and maybe even the marathon one day.
More than anything, she just wants to inspire the next wave of Kenyan runners. That very well could one day be Alyn, her 5-year-old daughter with husband Timothy Kitum, the bronze medalist in the 800 at the 2012 London Olympics.
“She understands what I do. She understands that I broke the world record,” Kipyegon said. “It’s important to me to influence and motivate the younger generation — and young women in general — all over the world.”
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