Series11 May 2021


100 ones to watch in Tokyo: long distance

FacebookTwitterEmail

100 ones to watch in Tokyo: long distance runners

As the countdown to the Tokyo Olympics continues, so too does our series highlighting 100 athletes to watch in the lead-up to the Games.

This isn't simply a countdown of the 100 biggest names or medal contenders. Some are known athletics stars, some are gold medal favourites, others will be outsiders. But they all have fascinating stories that will be worth following as the Games draw ever closer.

Every 10 days we’re profiling 10 new athletes, each time focusing on a different area of the sport. Now it’s time for long-distance athletes to take the spotlight.

 

Selemon Barega

Selemon Barega

 

Ethiopia

5000m and 10,000m

Still aged only 21, Selemon Barega has already achieved a lot within the sport. He has won world U18 and U20 titles and has reached the 5000m finals at two senior World Championships, placing fifth in 2017 at the age of 17 and second in 2019 while still a teenager. His 5000m PB of 12:43.02, meanwhile, is a world U20 record and places him fifth on the world all-time list.

He started the year with an impressive 27:58.5 clocking for 10,000m at altitude in Addis Ababa, the fastest time ever achieved in Ethiopia. He then worked on sharpening his speed, setting PBs of 3:32.97 for 1500m and 7:26.10 during the indoor season. That heady mix of beastly endurance and strong finishing speed means Barega will be a danger in championship races.

 

Roza Dereje

Roza Dereje

 

 

Ethiopia

Marathon

Haji Adilo, one of the most esteemed athletics coaches in Ethiopia, says: “I think Roza Dereje will become one of the best, ever.”

Given her results from the past few years, it’s hard to argue with Adilo. Dereje won the Shanghai Marathon in 2016 and 2017 but it wasn’t until her 2:19:17 victory at the 2018 Dubai Marathon that the wider distance running world started to take note of the Ethiopian distance runner.

An injury forced her to pull up in the early stages at the World Athletics Championships Doha 2019 but she rebounded to win the Valencia Marathon two months later in 2:18:30. It turned out to be one of the highest quality marathons in history with four women finishing inside 2:19.

 

Peres Jepchirchir

Peres Jepchirchir

 

Kenya

Marathon

The Kenyan distance runner was a relative unknown when she lined up at the 2016 World Half Marathon Championships, but she timed her race to perfection to win gold on the streets of Cardiff, announcing her arrival on the world stage.

She set a world half marathon record one year later of 1:05:06 – despite being pregnant at the time. She gave birth to her daughter later that year and patiently worked on rebuilding her fitness through 2018. After returning to racing in 2019, she hit peak form in 2020 with a world record in a women-only half marathon of 1:05:34. Little more than a month later, she won the world half marathon title in Gdynia.

Keen to prove her form to Kenyan selectors, Jepchirchir ended 2020 with a 2:17:16 victory at the Valencia Marathon, ultimately earning her a place on Kenya’s Olympic squad. It was just the fourth marathon of her career, but Jepchirchir has proved herself to be a fearless competitor on many occasions.

 

Helalia Johannes

Helalia Johannes

 

 

 

Namibia

Marathon

When Helalia Johannes made her international debut at the 2005 World Cross Country Championships, few would have taken any note of her. The Namibian distance runner finished a distant 80th, almost six minutes behind the winner.

She wasn’t deterred, though, and she went on to compete in the marathon at the 2008 Olympics. She placed 40th, putting her just inside the first half of the 81-woman field – an encouraging sign of progress. Johannes continued to chip away at her PBs and improve her championship performances, placing 11th at the 2012 Olympics and fifth at the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

In 2018, competing in searing heat at the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Johannes won the marathon. One year later, in similarly difficult conditions, she took bronze at the World Athletics Championships Doha 2019.
After turning 40 last year, Johannes set a lifetime best of 2:19:52 in Valencia. If conditions in Tokyo are tough, expect Johannes to be in contention for a medal.

 

Jacob Kiplimo

Jacob Kiplimo

 

Uganda

5000m and 10,000m

The 20-year-old Ugandan may have been slightly overshadowed by fellow Ugandan Joshua Cheptegei for most of 2020, but Kiplimo ensured the world knew of his ability after winning the world half marathon title in Gdynia.

Aged just 19 at the time, and having contested just one half marathon up until that point, Kiplimo struck gold in a national record of 58:49 while Cheptegei – who had set world records for 5000m and 10,000m earlier in the year – finished outside of the medals. Seven weeks later in Valencia, Kiplimo clocked 57:37, the second-fastest time in history for the distance.

The half marathon performances underlined Kiplimo’s versatility, having previously won global medals at cross country and on the track. He missed the 2019 World Championships due to injury, but rebounded in 2020 to set PBs of 7:26.64 for 3000m and 12:48.63 for 5000m.

 

Stewart McSweyn

Stewart McSweyn

 

 

Australia

5000m and 10,000m

After the postponement of the Olympics, Australian distance runner Stewart McSweyn didn’t want to let the 2020 season – and the work he had put in to it – go to waste.

So when competitions started to happen again in August and September, McSweyn put together a hectic racing schedule and was richly rewarded. He was victorious at Diamond League and Continental Tour meetings, setting a national 1500m record of 3:30.51 and an Oceanian 3000m record of 7:28.02 along the way.

McSweyn, who has achieved Olympic qualifying marks in the 1500m, 5000m and 10,000m, is still undecided about which disciplines to contest in Tokyo. If he lines up for the longer distances, his 1500m finishing speed may come in useful in a tactical race.

 

Nibret Melak

Nibret Melak

 

 

 

 

Ethiopia

5000m

The 21-year-old may not be a household name, but he has already proven himself to be among the best runners in Ethiopia, one of the strongest distance nations in the world.

Melak won the highly competitive Jan Meda Cross Country, which doubles as the Ethiopian Championships, in 2020. He then retained his title earlier this year, joining a select group of athletes to achieve back-to-back wins there.

Two weeks prior, he had beaten two-time world champion Muktar Edris over 5000m in Addis Ababa. Melak then notched up another victory at the prestigious Cinque Mulini Cross Country at the end of March, once again beating Edris.

Melak’s 5000m PB of 13:07.27 dates back to 2018, but if his recent racing form on the cross country translates to the track, he could contend for a place on Ethiopia’s team for Tokyo.

 

Shogo Nakamura

Shogo Nakamura

 

 

 

 

Japan

Marathon

The Japanese distance runner has won just one marathon in his career. Fortunately for him, it was also one of the most important.

Nakamura won the men’s race at the Marathon Grand Championships, Japan’s main selection race for the Tokyo Olympics. In the fiercely competitive race, Nakamura made a break in the final two kilometres and pulled clear to win in 2:11:28.

He has competed sparingly since then, but a half marathon PB of 1:01:40 last year showed Nakamura has maintained good form. He has already thrived in one high-pressure race on the streets of Tokyo and could do so again later this year.

 

Hellen Obiri

Hellen Obiri

 

Kenya

5000m

The Kenyan distance runner will be on everyone’s radar as she heads to the Tokyo Olympics.

Obiri first came to attention in 2012 when winning the world indoor 3000m title. In recent years she has won two world titles at 5000m, along with gold at the 2019 World Cross Country. She is now the only woman in history to have won world titles indoors, outdoors and at cross country.

One medal is missing from her collection, though. “I’ve won a lot but I’m not yet there,” she says. “Olympic gold is the only medal that's missing from my collection.

 

Beth Potter

Beth Potter

 

Great Britain & NI

10,000m

Following a successful career on the track, during which she represented Britain at the 2007 World U18 Championships, 2010 World Cross, 2016 Olympics and 2017 World Championships, Potter switched her focus to triathlon a few years ago and made a decent impact in that sport.

After narrowly missing out on making the British Olympic triathlon team, Potter adapted her competition schedule and lined up for a recent 5km road race. She ended up clocking 14:41, which is faster than the official world record, but could not be ratified for various reasons. Nevertheless, the time stands as one of the fastest in history and could be enough to tempt Potter into trying to qualify for the Olympics in athletics.