World Record — Samuel Tefera Runs 3:31.04

Smart money said an Ethiopian would break the 1500 record in Birmingham; Samuel Tefera’s name wasn’t the one generally in play, however. (MARK SHEARMAN)

Birmingham, England, February 16—Yomif Kejelcha, the versatile Ethiopian 3K/5K standout stepping down in distance, came to the Birmingham stop on the World Indoor Tour with announced intentions to take down all-time great Hicham El Guerrouj’s 22-year-old 1500 World Record of 3:31.18. But Samuel Tefera, 19 and the world indoor champion, had aims of his own. He ran them into reality and with a well-timed kick, defeated his 2-years-older countryman and lowered the WR to 3:31.04. Kejelcha’s 3:31.58 in 2nd raised him to No. 3 on the all-time list as the pair produced the fastest indoor clockings in 21 years.

Tefera’s victorious pursuit of Kejelcha was a tactical master work, especially in light of his youth. Kejelcha, reed-thin at 6-1¼ (1.86) and versatile—he raced the half-marathon in 59:17 last fall—had every reason to be confident and hungry after running up short of the mile record at Millrose last week by an at once consternating and appetizing 0.02 margin.

At the gun the two Ethiopians broke from the rest of the field led by pacemakers Bram Som (55.69, 1:52.7) and Jordan Williamsz (2:21.27 at the kilo), and each split signaled record hopes were real. When the Aussie peeled off 500m from the finish, Kejelcha took the lead with alacrity. And Tefera followed like a caboose one stride behind, noted assuredly around 3:00 in when Kejelcha stole a look over his shoulder. Still there.

Kejelcha, who is coached by Alberto Salazar as a member of the Nike Oregon Project, reached 1100 in 2:35.7, 0.5 slower than El G’s split (in an unrabbited race against Haile Gebrselassie). Tefera passed in 2:35.9. Neither showed the slightest hint of fatigue. A half lap later 1200 went down in 2:49.28 for the older young Ethiopian. Kejelcha needed a 41.90 final 300 for the record. At 3:03.4 with a lap to run, a 27.8 close was called for, and Kejelcha had wound up the second of his two World Indoor 3000 titles on this track last winter with a final circuit a full second faster. Yet a win was not assured; Tefera flashed through his World Indoor 1500 win—a highly tactical contest—in 25.9.

As the two hit the final backstretch, Tefera, a good 3–4 inches shorter than his rival, sprinted with turnover notably quicker than Kejelcha’s. With half a circuit left, just before the last turn he drove into the lead to open a margin of a meter by the final, short, home straight. With placid visage and a gold chain around his neck, Tefera dashed to the line 3½m to the good.

He jogged into his lap of honor and raised his arms a few seconds later. No broad smile, a workmanlike winner. “I can’t believe that,” he allowed later. “I’m delighted with the outcome and to have the World Record is a special feeling.”

Tefera had run his last 200 in 27.4 and final 400 in 55.4. El Guerrouj had split 56.0 and said afterwards, “I could have run under 3:30 today but my trainer told me to ease up if the record was sure. He shouted to me with two laps remaining. We have more races planned indoors, so there’s no point in doing too much damage to the record at once.” Ten days later the Moroccan essayed his 3:48.45 mile WR but he never again lowered the undercover 1500 mark. Tefera, not yet 20, could have more bites at his apple. If he succeeds he’ll be the first to improve the standard more than once since Jürgen May in ’65–66.

Upon learning of Tefera’s run, El Guerrouj tweeted, “I am very proud and happy to have held the world indoor 1500m record for 22 years. I would like to congratulate Samuel Tefera for his excellent race and wish him good luck for the rest of his career.”

1500 Results

1. Samuel Tefera (Eth) 3:31.04 WR (old WR 3:31.18 Hicham El Guerrouj [Mor] ’97) (56.3, 56.8 [1:53.1], 56.4 [2:49.5], 41.5) (13.9, 27.4, 55.4); 2. Yomif Kejelcha (Eth) 3:31.58 PR (3, 3 W) (14.5, 28.2, 56.1); 3. Stewart McSweyn (Aus) 3:35.10 NR; 4. Josh Kerr (GB) 3:35.72 PR; 5. Chris O’Hare (GB) 3:37.42; 6. Ryan Gregson (Aus) 3:37.52; 7. Vincent Kibet (Ken) 3:38.01; 8. Neil Gourley (GB) 3:38.32 PR; 9. Charlie Da’Vall Grice (GB) 3:39.04 PR; 10. Elliot Giles (GB) 3:39.53 PR; 11. Bethwel Birgen (Ken) 3:41.03; 12. Brimin Kiprotich (Ken) 3:41.30 PR; 13. Jake Heyward (GB) 3:42.84 PR; 14. Piers Copeland (GB) 3:44.21 PR; … rabbits—Bram Som (Neth) (55.69, 57.01 [1:52.70]), Jordan Williamsz (Aus) (2:21.27).