Faith Kipyegon had to walk, twice, before she became the greatest miler in history
As Faith Kipyegon stormed to world records in the 1500m and 5000m on consecutive Friday nights in June, her 4-year-old daughter, Alyn, was back home in Kenya.
Alyn was likely asleep for both races, said Valentijn Trouw, Kipyegon’s agent.
A month and a half later, Kipyegon lined up in Monaco to race the mile. Many watching broadcasts around the globe expected another world record. This time, that group may have included Alyn.
“For the third record,” Trouw said, "[Alyn] said, ‘Now I have to be awake. I will go to bed late.’”
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Mom delivered world record No. 3 at 9:40 p.m. on July 21. Efforts were unsuccessful to confirm whether Alyn, who by then had turned 5, met her goal of staying up for it.
Kipyegon’s season is already among the greatest running years: Usain Bolt’s 2009, Florence Griffith-Joyner’s 1988, Henry Rono in 1978 (world records in the 3000m, 5000m, 10,000m and 3000m steeplechase over 81 days), Ron Clarke’s 1965 (11 world records from three miles to one hour) and Emil Zátopek’s 1952 (Olympic titles in 5000m, 10,000m and marathon).
Not to mention Leonidas of Rhodes, who won the stadion (about 180 meters), diaulos (about 350 meters) and race in armor at four consecutive Ancient Olympics from 164 to 152 B.C., according to OlympStats.com.
Kipyegon isn’t done yet. At the world championships that start Saturday, she bids to sweep the 1500m and 5000m, which no woman has done at a single worlds or Olympics.
Saturday: 1500m first round
Sunday: 1500m semifinal
Tuesday: 1500m final
Wednesday: 5000m first round
Saturday: 5000m final
Alyn, the finals are at 9:30 p.m. and 8:50 p.m. local time (one hour behind Kenya).
“The 1500m remains my favorite event, but I am doing very well in the 5000m,” Kipyegon said, understated, according to World Athletics. “So I am going to double up.”
Even though Kipyegon has never raced the 5000m at a global meet, the announcement came as little surprise.
She is known for doing things her own way — eschewing shoes to run barefoot in her first international cross-country races.
She also has an appetite for history. In 2020, after COVID postponed the Olympics, Kipyegon shifted her target to the world record in the rarely contested 1000m, racing it three times and coming 17 hundredths short. She eventually plans to move up to the 10,000m and marathon.
The seventh of eight children, Kipyegon grew up on a farm in Ndabibit, a countryside village in the Kenyan Rift Valley. She walked multiple miles to and from school. Then she began running the miles, Trouw said.
At 14, she was a soccer player who lined up for a one-kilometer run in PE class.
“I won that race by 20 meters,” Kipyegon said, according to World Athletics. “It is only then I knew I could run fast and be a good athlete.”
Two years later, Kipyegon was fourth in the world cross country championships race for women 19 years and younger. At age 16, she was the youngest finisher in the top 21.
She won the race the following year (again running barefoot) and made her Olympic debut the year after that at 18 (this time in lemon-colored Nikes).
After winning Olympic and world 1500m titles in 2016 and 2017, Kipyegon had Alyn in track and field’s “fallow” year in 2018, the lone year in the four-year cycle without an Olympics or world outdoor championships.
Kipyegon, whose running role model was champion mom Vivian Cheruiyot, has said she believed motherhood would make her a stronger runner.
“Because I am seeing my baby running around, and it gives you joy,” she said last year.
Yet she expressed doubt in reflecting after her world records this summer.
“I was so afraid, (thinking) maybe I will not come back, I will just disappear,” she said, according to the Irish Examiner. “Every lady, their mind goes like that. I thought it was the end of my career, but it was the beginning.”
Kipyegon went about a year without running during her maternity break before returning to training.
“I was like 63kg (139 pounds), and I could not even run 20 minutes,” said Kipyegon, who for the 2016 Olympics was listed at 95 pounds. “I had to first walk a little bit for first month. Second month, I was running 30 minutes.”
She won in her first international race as a mom in June 2019, then earned 1500m silver at that year’s world championships in a Kenyan record time.
She took gold at the Tokyo Olympics and last year’s worlds to become the first woman to claim four global outdoor titles in the 1500m, cementing her as the greatest female miler ever.
She is so beloved that 12 of her competitors held her across their arms for a photo op after the mile world record.
“A rising tide lifts all boats and Faith is one hell of a tidal wave!” Nikki Hiltz, who broke the American record in that race, wrote afterwards.
Back in Kenya, Kipyegon was honored by the president in a ceremony after her first two world records. She was awarded five million Kenyan shillings ($34,700) for the first record and a three-bedroom apartment in Nairobi for the second.
“Now I can buy my father a car,” Kipyegon, breaking into tears, said in a speech. “I promised him when I was going to break a world record that I’m going to buy a car for him. So now I can fulfill my promise.”
The scene conjured memories of 2016. Back then, Kipyegon’s parents could not watch her Olympic gold-medal race because they didn’t have electricity in their rural town. The Kenyan government then provided it to them.
Since returning from childbirth, Kipyegon has trained in Kaptagat in Kenya. She is part of a group of 30 or so athletes who largely live together and share chores. Even marathon world record holder Eliud Kipchoge has not been exempt from scrubbing toilets.
“One team is responsible for cleaning, another for kitchen, another for nutrition and food, and that will rotate,” Trouw said.
Kipyegon spends five days per week there, separated from Alyn by 14 miles. Husband Timothy Kitum, the 2012 Olympic 800m bronze medalist, has a job in the army that takes him out of town for weeks a time. They have help from a nanny.
For all three of her world records, Kipyegon wore a bracelet adorned with her daughter’s name and the colors of the Kenyan flag. Alyn wears a matching bracelet while doing schoolwork back home.
“I will not tell [Alyn] to run. I will not tell her to play football,” Kipyegon said. “I want her to follow her heart.”