When Letensebet Gidey set a new WR of 1:02.52, she shook the running world up. Many elite men can not run 1:03 or better. Deji Ogeyingbo wrote this piece on the Olympic medalist and now 4 time world record holder ( 5000m, 10,000m, 15k and half marathon).
All hail Letesenbet Gidey, the Queen of African and World Running.
It was inevitable that Ethiopia’s Letesenbet Gidey was going to break another World Record and write her name into the history books, although no one would have predicted it would come this early in her career, she produced tour de force piece of running to take down the half marathon record in Valencia.
After over a year of scintillating performances in long-distance running, during which she took her running to another level, the young runner reached a new gear in Valencia as she showed the World that there are no limits to which our body can take us. She came out tops in a new World Record of 1:02:52, smashing the previous record by well over a minute and becoming the first debutante to set a World record over the distance.
So where does she stand amongst the greats in the pantheon of long-distance running? Brigid Kosegei, Paula Radcliffe, Mary Keitany, Tirunish Dibaba are some of the names that stand out when narrowing down the list. Does Gidey come close to them? Is she on course to surpass their achievement? And most importantly, what makes her special?
First, let’s put into perspective her unbelievable performance in Valencia. It’s so much of a big deal because it is the single highest-scoring World record performance (1325), holding the title by a huge margin. That in itself says so much about how much she pushed her body to achieve such a feat.
Taking an overall look at the splits over the course of the race her overall speed is just difficult to believe. Looking strong and confident, she had pacers with her that were clocking off a very swift pace, as at some point, she had even told them to go faster. After the race and her split times showed that she went through the 5km mark in 15mins (a pace of under 5mins/mile), while hitting 10k in 30mins. At that point, she was at par with some of the best male runners over the distance.
It was a flinching moment in the race, Gidey knew she had the World record in sights, and like she has done in her other World record attempts, over various distances, she stayed relaxed as much as possible while also keeping a good pace, making her strides smooth and keeping her legs ticking over beautifully. That rhythm kept her going pretty strong as she reached the 15km point at 44:29, about nine seconds slower than her own world best for the distance.
Gidey by a mile is the most impressive athlete when it comes to all-around records. The world began to take note of her prowess, when in 2019, she set a new world record of 44:20 in the 15K run at the Zevenheuvelenloop road race in Nijmegen, Netherlands, breaking the previous world record held by Joyciline Jepkosgei (set in 2017) by more than a minute, and becoming the first woman to run 15K under 45 minutes.
Almost a year afterward, she demolished the women’s 5,000m world record by more than four seconds in Valencia, setting a time of 14:06:62. The Ethiopian easily beat the previous record of 14:11.15 set by her compatriot Tirunesh Dibaba in Oslo in 2008, and earlier this year, she clocked 29:01.03 to break the 10,000m record at the Ethiopian Olympic Trials. That’s four records in her bag, all in the space of two years.
All of these did not almost happen as going back 10 years as she was expelled from school for refusing to run in physical education classes. “I really did not like racing,” she said, recalling her 13-year-old self. “I brought my parents to school to talk to the headmaster with the hope of getting reinstated. He agreed to reinstate me only if I ran for the school. I reluctantly agreed, just for the chance to get back to school.”
After struggling with inconsistency in her performances between 2012 and 2015, Gidey led an Ethiopian podium sweep in the U20 race at the World Cross Country Championships, a title she defended in Kampala two years later.
Despite a pretty stagnant 2018, the following year witnessed a return to the global spotlight. In March of 2019, she raced to bronze at the World Cross Country Championships in Aarhus and improved by a spot in Doha where she took 10,000m silver at the World Championships. The timeframe of her improvement is just phenomenal and she surely will only get better.
Gidey is still 23 years old and under the tutelage of her coach Haile Eyasu, she runs around 90 to 100 miles in a week. With the sort of dedication and hard work she now puts into her craft, are we possibly going to see her run under One hour over the half marathon? Until her World record run in Valencia, most spectators never thought a sub 63 minute in the half marathon was possible.
With the new Vapour Fly shoes coming into existence, there is no limit to Gideys capabilities. Just last month, she joined the NN running team as they do a nice job of setting up races, advising their athletes, and providing storytelling for social media. She’s going to be the entire package. Her times already are making some of these all-time greats look like park-run joggers. After obliterating the times set by Dibaba over the 5k and 10k, she now needs to add global titles to her collections.
Running at these global Championships comes with its pressure as seen from the last Olympics where she won Bronze behind gold medallist Siffan Hassan. Mo Farah proved that winning these championships requires a different skill set compared to racing on the road. That’s the one part of Gidey’s race she needs to pull her weight.
Also, if Gidey can find success in the marathon, she will be at least a top-three runner all-time, if not the undisputed best. That is still years away considering how young she still is, and we have to see how she does. While we can’t definitively say Gidey will end her career as the greatest of all time, it will certainly be a thrill to watch her fight for that title over the next decade.