World Indoor Championships 2016 Distance Review

Matthew Centrowitz (center), used a strong kick to defeat Jakub Holusa (left) and Nick Willis (right) in the 2016 World Indoor Championship 1500-meter final. Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Youth and inexperience were no barriers to success in the 2016 World Indoor Championship distance events. One eventual gold medalist had never competed indoors prior to the Portland event, while several medalists were in their teens and early 20s. Only one past champion, Genzebe Dibaba, defended her title successfully – and she did so at a still-young age of 25.

Women’s 800 Meters

Ajee Wilson of the United States, who entered the Championships as the indoor 800-meter world leader, was the fastest qualifier, winning the first heat in 2:00.61.

Kenya’s Margaret Wambui was a close second in 2:00.68. Burundi’s Francine Niyonsaba – in her first-ever indoor race – won the second heat in 2:02.37, while American Laura Roesler won the final heat in 2:04.38.

Because Niyonsaba had never previously competed indoors, conventional wisdom dictated that she’d have trouble with the different strategy required by the shorter, more steeply banked track. She solved that problem in the final by running to the front late in the second lap and simply staying there. Wilson used a strong finishing kick to pass Wambui and move into second place on the final lap, but the American couldn’t catch Niyonsaba, who won in a national indoor record time of 2:00.01. Wilson finished in 2:00.27, while Wambui took third in a personal best 2:00.44.

Men’s 800 Meters

Qatar’s Musaeb Balla was the fastest men’s 800-meter qualifier, winning the third heat in 1:47.61. Antoine Gakeme of Burundi (1:48.09) and Morocco’s Mostafa Smaili (1:51.16) were the other heat winners.

Two-time defending champion Mohammed Aman of Ethiopia was the fastest wild card entrant, finishing second overall to Balla at 1:48.02. Americans Erik Sowinski (1:48.11) and Boris Berian (1:48.55) filled out the field, with Berian squeaking into the final with just a 0.15-second margin over Kenya’s Jeremiah Mutai.

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Undaunted by his close call in qualifying, Berian charged to the front in the final. The 2016 American Indoor champion ran through one lap in 23.92 seconds and reached 400 meters in 49.73 to open a large lead. Berian came back to the field a bit on lap three, passing through 600 meters in 1:17.37, but he retained his lead and finished strongly to win in 1:45.83. Gakeme held second to take the silver in 1:46.65 and give Burundi its first-ever indoor medal (Niyonsaba earned Burundi’s second medal one day later). Sowinski used a late surge to gain the bronze in 1:47.22.

Men’s 1500 Meters

American Matthew Centrowitz, a two-time outdoor World Championship 1500-meter medalist (bronze in 2011, silver in 2013), won the opening heat while defending World Indoor champion Ayanleh Souleiman of Djibouti won the second heat and was fastest overall in 3:41.04. Souleiman then led through four laps in the final, although the pace was a slow 2:07.88. New Zealand’s Nick Willis took the lead with 400 meters left, as Souleiman faded out of contention. Willis held the lead until the final turn, when Centrowitz and then Jakub Holusa of the Czech Republic flashed past.

Centrowitz – the oldest of the Championships’ six distance gold medalists, at age 26 – won the race in 3:44.22, followed by Holusa (3:44.30) and Willis (3:44.37).

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Women’s 1500 Meters

The eventual medalists in the women’s 1500 meters were also the top three qualifiers. Ethiopia’s 19-year-old Dawit Seyaum won the initial heat in 4:09.05. Sifan Hassan, 23, won the second heat and was fastest overall at 4:07.28, followed by Ethiopian Gudaf Tsegay, 19, in 4:07.98. Like the men’s race, the women’s final started slowly – Melissa Duncan of Australia led through 800 meters, in 2:12.71. Hassan strode to the front with about 500 meters remaining and soon separated herself from everyone except Seyaum. But the Ethiopian’s challenge only seemed to motivate Hassan, who ran the final 300 meters in 45.70 to win in 4:04.96.

Seyaum took the silver in 4:05.30, while Tsegay gained the bronze in 4:05.71.

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Men’s 3000 Meters

Ethiopia’s 18-year-old Yomif Kejelcha – the 2014 World Junior champion at 5000 meters – was the fastest qualifier in the World Indoor men’s 3000-meter event, winning the first heat in 7:51.01. Abdalaati Iguider of Morocco, best known for his 1500-meter success in recent years – he earned 1500-meter silver, gold and bronze medals, respectively, in the past three World Indoor Championships – won the second heat in 7:51.65.

In the final, the lead changed hands several times as the field passed through 1000 meters in 2:52.18, and then through 2000 in a modest 5:43.33. Kejelcha was not among those leaders until two laps remained. He then moved in front and held the inside line for the final 400 meters to win in 7:57.21. Ryan Hill of the U.S. swung wide and charged into second place on the final straight, taking the silver in 7:57.39, while Kenya’s Augustine Choge gained the bronze in 7:57.43. Iguider failed to add another World Indoor medal to his trophy case, as he finished fourth.

Women’s 3000 Meters

Genzebe Dibaba of Ethiopia entered the World Indoor Championships as the biggest favorite in any event – and she didn’t disappoint. The defending World Indoor 3000-meter champion not only beat a solid field, but she ended up running by herself and winning by almost seven seconds. There were no heats in this event, just 13 runners lining up for the final. Dibaba laid back for most of the first six laps before surging to the front. She was never seriously challenged, and took home her third World Indoor gold medal (she was also the 1500-meter champion in 2012) in 8:47.43. Fellow Ethiopian Meseret Defar – who held the indoor 3000-meter world record until Dibaba broke it in 2014 – was second in 8:54.26, while American Shannon Rowbury took third in 8:55.55.

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