World Athletics Road Running Championships – Riga 23 Recap

A championship packed with records from world to personal launched a new wave of road running magic

A new championships

Prior to this event in Riga, the road running disciplines had not had a focus. There was the world half marathon championships which was the biennial celebration of the 21.1km discipline. The road 5km and mile were celebrated in various events around the world but without an official world championships. Riga saw a change to that. The half marathon, the 5k and the mile would be settled in one day, in one city and we were guaranteed records. If nothing else, each race winner would set the official championship record. Coming insanely late in the season after a world championships in Budapest and before the build up to an Olympic year, anything could happen. Indeed it did!

5km Championships

The Women

The first race of the new format was the women’s 5km. As the race set off, a group of rather special athletes including Beatrice Chebet, the World Cross Country Champion from February this year, Joy Cheptoyek and Peruth Chemutai the Olympic 3000m steeplechase champion, set the pace. Going through the first kilometre in 2:55, the pace soon became too hot for some. Through the second kilometre, the group had narrowed to 7 athletes including European Cross Country Champion, Nadia Battocletti and America’s Weini Kelati. 


Heading through the fourth kilometre in a time of 11:47, Kelati dropped from the group and 6 were left to race for the title. With the finish getting ever closer, the kicking began. Taye was first to blink but Chebet was never far from her shoulder. The group of 6 was now 4. 3 places to fight for and 4 athletes in the mix. Who would be the strongest? As the line loomed, Chebet was able to outkick the rest to claim her third World Athletics podium of the year to go with her Cross Country win and Budapest 5000m Bronze. 14:35, an automatic championship record and a gold medal for the collection. Second place went to with a personal best run of 14:39 and bronze went to Taye of Ethiopia in 14:40 (SB).


The race set the tone for the day with many runners setting personal bests and new national records set for Italy (Battocletti 14:45), Uganda (Cheptoyek 14:50), Burundi (Niyomukunzi 15:23) and  Slovenia (Lukan 15:25). With that for the first race of the day, what would we see by the end of the day to cap off a record breaking season?

The Men

The men had a tough act to follow. After a fairly pedestrian first kilometre where a large group were still together on Riga’s roads, Yomif Kejelcha decided that enough was enough and the pace needed to be pushed. The second kilometre completed in 2:39 saw the pack spread. Kejelcha was accompanied by Cornelius Kemboi, Nicholas Kipkorir and fellow Ethiopian Hagos Gebrhiwet. Again, Kejelcha pushed the pace. This time, through 3km with a clock time of 7:58 and only Gebrhiwet for company. 


The Ethiopian pair stayed together until the final 800m when Gebrhiwet kicked and Kejelcha had no answer. 12:59 through the finish to take the title and the championship record. Kejelcha finished 3 seconds after and Kenya’s Kipkorir stopped the clock at 13:16. Not to be outdone by the women, national record were set by Jonas Glans for Sweden (13:32), Kanta Shimizu for Japan (13:37) Denmark’s Joel Lillesø (13:46) and Latvia’s Ugla Jocis (14:14). A breathless start to the day with so much more to come!

Women's 5km Riga 23
Men's Mile Riga 23

Road Mile Championships

Women’s Race

Nearly 70 years after Sir Roger Bannister dipped under the 4-minute mark for the mile, World Athletics has made the road mile a world record event rather than a world best event. A small semantic change but a huge accolade for the title holder who can refer to themselves as a world record holder. Much greater cachet. 


It only took 4:20.98 for Diribe Welteji to put herself as the holder. In a race featuring Faith Kipyegon in a season which has seen her unstoppable, it was assumed that the title and maybe the record would be hers. And so it looked for the first kilometre or so of the race. Heading to the front and pushing the pace in her signature style Kipyegon looked strong. However, she could never quite shake Welteji and Hailu. Into the closing 400 where, so often this year, we have seen Kipyegon throw down a ferocious kick to leave her opponents in the dust, the legs didn’t have it. Welteji timed her attack to perfection and sailed past Kipyegon. Hailu finished 3 seconds later in 4:23.06 (PB) and Kipyegon took a rare bronze (4:24.13 PB).


Welteji’s time takes nearly 7 seconds off the mark set by Nikki Hiltz earlier in the year which was the de facto world record before the championships after the change in September. With the event set for every second year, how low will this mark be driven?

Men’s Race

Next to take to the road was the men’s mile. A crazy race which was mostly run in a huge pack with 9 men finishing within a 2 second spread. A race which could’ve been taken by anyone until the tape was broken, was won by the young American Hobbs Kessler. His 3:56.13 a world record. While Josh Kerr’s 3:47.9 earlier this year is obviously faster, to be world record eligible, the start and finish of the course can be no more than half a mile apart as the crow flies. The New York course does not meet this stipulation as it is a straight line mile. 


Callum Elson took silver in 3:56.41 (PB) and Sam Prakel took third place (3:56.43 PB). The first 11 men in the field stopped the clock under the magical 4 minute barrier and the field contained a list of personal bests far too long to list here.The races continued to deliver times and excitement.

Half Marathon Championships

Women’s Race

With a very strong field, the women’s half marathon began in an interesting manner. The first three quarters of the race saw a pack of 8 athletes sharing the lead and trying to beat the breeze. Great Britain’s Cali Thakery and Samantha Harrison were perhaps rather unexpected members of the lead group along with the Kenyan and Ethiopian teams. 


The race came down to the final 5km. The Kenyan team put dropped the hammer on the field and no one was able to answer. The final kilometre was a race between the Kenyans for the podium positions. In the end, it was Peres Jepchirchir who had the class to take the gold. Her third world half marathon title! The time of 1:07.25 put her just a second ahead of compatriot Margaret Kipkemboi (1:07.26) and Catherine Amanang’ole completed the sweep for Kenya in 1:07.34. 

Men’s Race

The men closed the event for the elites. Kenya again swept the podium for the first time since 1997 and only the second time ever. The race began in earnest during the second five kilometres, with Sebastian Sawe leading the group through 10km in 28:35. Daniel Ebenyo made a bid for gold from 16km taking only Mekkonnen with him on his attack. The fourth 5km covered in a scorching 13:33. Unfortunately for Ebenyo, he didn’t have the legs to finish the job. 


The more patient Sawe made his move and the two shared a moment of smile and salute as the lead changed hands just before the line, 59:10 took the gold medal and was four seconds ahead of silver. Samwel Mailu completed the sweep for Kenya in 59:19. Possibly the most outstanding result of the day belonged to Jimmy Gressier. The formidable Frenchman claimed fifth spot in the 97 deep field in a superb time of 59:46 (PB). This also cemented his spot as the top European at the event. Chapeau!


With the first World Road Running Championships completed in Riga with a huge roll of records in the books, we greatly look forward to next year’s Paris Olympics and San Diego for more road action in 2025. What incredible scenes will we witness there?

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45 years old

173cm (5’8″) – 66kg (145lbs)

Forefoot striker – (Very) high cadence runner


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