Ethiopian completes clean sweep as Olympic champion suffers surprise 1500m defeat in Belgrade

Jakob Ingebrigtsen has not been used to losing of late, but the Olympic 1500m champion had to settle for second during the final session at the World Indoor Championships on Sunday (March 20) as Samuel Tefera surprisingly retained his title.

The Ethiopian completed a clean sweep of the men’s and women’s 1500m and 3000m competitions for his country in Belgrade as he broke the championships record with 3:32.77 to produce his first win over his illustrious foe in the closing strides.

The Norwegian star, who broke Tefera’s indoor world record for the distance almost exactly one month ago with 3:30.60, was at a loss to explain his defeat as he clocked 3:33.02. Kenya’s Olympic fourth placer Abel Kipsang was third with a season’s best 3:33.36, while Britain’s Neil Gourley was sixth in 3:35.87.

“I’ve been the best this season so I expected more,” said Ingebrigtsen. “Of course, I wanted my first world title, but it wasn’t to be. You can always learn form coming second but I felt so strong earlier in the season I was surprised I didn’t feel 100 per cent in tonight’s race.

“I felt good in the warm-up so I’m not sure what happened. It should have been better.  I’m as surprised as everybody else, I think.”

It was Kipsang and Ethiopian Teddese Lemi who shot into an early lead but Ingebrigtsen was quick to cover the move and slotted in to sit on the Kenyan’s shoulder as the first lap was covered in 27.60.

That’s where he stayed until around the 350m mark, at which point the European Indoor champion – as he so often likes to do – opted to dictate the pace from the front, taking the field through 400m in 55.81 as Tefera moved into third ahead of compatriot Lemi.

Ingebrigtsen briefly dropped to third, as Kipsang clocked 1:54.01 at 800m, and though he was soon back in charge the European 1500m and 5000m outdoor champion now had Tefera breathing down his neck.

It’s in this kind of battle where Ingebrigtsen usually attempts to grind down his opposition but he looked unusually edgy, glancing over his shoulder regularly as his pursuer refused to budge.

The Ethiopian in fact then moved level with the leader as the pair completed the final bend, and Tefera was not to be outdone in the final battle to the line.

Insisting he is only just back to full fitness after Achilles surgery, the 22-year-old said: “I am ready for any kind of races and championships. Since I am completely healed from my injury, I want to add more medals.”

Grant Holloway (Mark Shearman)

Holloway blows the opposition away

Expectation follows Grant Holloway whenever he runs – especially over the 60m hurdles.

As British world finalist David King put it: “When Grant’s in the race, you just need to know there are two races going on – there’s the one he’s running and trying to beat the world record, then there’s everyone else.”

The American Olympic 110m hurdles silver medallist did little to quell the crowd at the Stark Arena when he equalled his indoor world record of 7.29 in the semi-finals and the stage appeared set for more history to be made.

Would Holloway land his first World Indoor crown and lower his mark at the same time? When the gun was fired, it didn’t take long for him to establish a sizeable lead and the destination of the gold medal to become clear. Hitting the third hurdle, however, meant the record would have to wait.

In the end, the winning time was 7.39 as Pascal Martinot-Lagarde took silver in 7.50, ten years after winning his first World Indoor medal. Bronze went to 2018 silver medallist Jarret Eaton in 7.53. If there was any frustration on the winner’s part, he certainly wasn’t showing it.

“To come and run a world record, a world lead, to win a title and name myself world champion again, it’s a great feeling,” he said. “As long as I’ve got my team behind me, I feel like we’ll be able to conquer anything.”

King was having one of the strangest evenings of his life, given that his place in the final had come down to drawing lots after both he and Japan’s Shusei Nomoto both clocked 7.57 (or 7.565 to be precise).

The rules were checked and, rather than run with only seven finalists, the last remaining qualifying place went to the athlete whose name came out of the hat. King got the nod.

“I would have taken sixth in the world and a PB in the semis every day of the week, this is what I train for,” said the man who is based in Phoenix and trains with Eaton. “I’ve surrounded myself with great people and they’ve really made me up my game.”

Ajee Wilson (Mark Shearman)

Wilson’s last-lap brilliance finally brings her 800m gold

Two-time World Indoor silver medallist Ajee Wilson went one better as she left the rest of the field trailing with a final lap surge of 29.59 to win the women’s 800m in a season’s best of 1:59.09.

Also a two-time world bronze medallist outdoors, the American took full advantage of pre-championships favourite Keely Hodgkinson’s absence, moving to the front at the bell (reached in 1:29.50) and easing away from Natoya Goule, who had led up until that point.

The Jamaican ultimately finished outside of the medals as Ethiopian Olympic finalist Freweyni Hailu came through for silver in a season’s best of 2:00.54, just ahead of Halimah Nakaayi (2:00.66).

“It feels amazing to finally come home with the gold after coming so close so many times,” said Wilson. “It’s such an emotional win for me because I keep thinking about all the family and friends who have supported me over the years. I’ve been working really hard this season, so to be able to finish how I did is very exciting.

“It feels like this is the end of a couple of difficult years, not just for me but for everyone. I’ve never won gold at a global championships so to make that accomplishment it means the world to me. I’ve been working on that last phase of the race and I knew if I was close I had a good chance of running away with it.”

Jamaica take relay gold (Mark Shearman)

Belgium and Jamaica take relay titles

The men’s and women’s 4x400m relays brought the championships track action to a close and it was Belgium and Jamaica who took the men’s and women’s titles respectively.

In the men’s race a tight European tussle emerged between Spain and 2018 bronze medallists Belgium as the lead changed hands but experienced anchor runner Kevin Borlée led his team to victory in 3:06.52 to 3:06.82. The Netherlands, European Indoor champions, were third with 3:06.90.

Defending champions Poland were fourth in 3:07.81 while a rejigged British quartet of Ben Higgins, Alex Haydock-Wilson, Sam Reardon and Guy Learmonth had been in bronze medal position heading into the closing lap but finished sixth in 3:08.30.

USA’s women had won four of the last five World Indoor titles but their dominance was broken their line-up finished just outside of the medals.

Instead, top spot went to Jamaica, who were anchored by individual bronze medallist Stephenie Ann McPherson to 3:28.40, while a brilliant closing surge from Femke Bol grabbed silver for the Netherlands 3:28.57 ahead of Poland’s 3:28.59. Great Britain were fifth in 3:29.82.

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