I have to admit, I enjoy the writing from all of our writers. Each loves the sport intensely, and each writes about the sport they love almost daily. Deji Ogeyinbgo wrote this series on the top Ten male African athletes.
Top 10 male African athletes in 2022 (5-1)
Last week, we featured Part 1 of our annual series on the Top 10 male African Athletes of the year. We will continue our countdown in Part 2 of the series, where we highlight the achievements of the athletes that made it to the Top 5 on our shortlist. Here’s Nos. 5 to 1.
5. Tamirat Tola
Taking the No. 5 spot on our list of Ethiopia’s long-distance runners, Tamirat Tola. Tola hasn’t cracked competing on the world marathon major tour yet, but he has a knack for turning the afterburners at global competitions. To date, his only marathon wins outside the world championships or the Olympic games were in Amsterdam in 2021.
World Champion, Tamirat Tola was just one second shy off his Personal Best after he clocked 2:03:40s at @maratonvalencia
— RunBlogRun (@RunBlogRun) December 4, 2022
After claiming marathon Silver at the World Championships in London five years ago, Tola opened up his marathon season with a very competitive race at the Tokyo marathon in which he placed third in a time of 2:04:14, just outside his lifetime best of 2:03:39. It gave him the much-needed confidence to approach the world championships considering he wasn’t too far off Eliud Kipchoge who was the eventual winner in Tokyo.
Next up was the world championships in Oregon. Tola was up against current world champion Lelisa Desisa, who found the way to win in the steamy heat of Doha three years ago, and Mosinet Geremew who took silver behind Desisa then. There was also Kenya’s Geoffrey Kamworor, who was on a comeback mission after he suffered some injuries leading up to the Olympic Games in Tokyo.
With the temperature hovering at a comfortable 57 degrees Fahrenheit and cloud cover in Oregon, Tola proved his dominance over a field oozing with class. The conditions were perfect, and the Tola took advantage.
But as we know, championship races are often run quite differently than time trials, and the first half of the race was run at a comparatively pedestrian 2:08 pace. As a result, practically the entire field was bunched together for the first half of the race, and even as the pace ratcheted up, the lead pack was large.
It didn’t bother Tola as he led a 1-2 finish by Ethiopia as he opened a wide lead late in the race and cruised through the finish line. The 30-year-old Tola finished in a championship-record time of 2:05:36 on the fast, flat course that featured plenty of scenic views to soak in. Teammate Geremew held on for silver, finishing 68 seconds behind Tola.
It surely will motivate Tola heading into 2023 as he would hope to snag his first world marathon major while also defending his world championships title.
4. Emmanuel Korir
What a year Emmanuel Korir has had! After making a dream debut at the Olympics by clinching Gold over the 800m in Tokyo, the Kenyan had a lot of demons to fight afterward. He had to deal with a calf injury, ran most of the season unsponsored, and found himself isolated and depressed during the early parts of this year.
Korir picked up an injury in February of this year, one which forced him to miss the indoor season. The 2017 NCAA indoor and outdoor champion ran his first race of the season in May at a meeting in Florida, where he finished third in the 400m. His first 800m race came in June, placing sixth in Montreuil. It was followed by an eighth and sixth-place finish in Rabat and Stockholm.
He was running out of time to gain momentum ahead of the world championships in Oregon. Having missed out on the 800m final at the Champs in 2017 and 2019, this was a rare opportunity for him to make a statement result in the United States.
The back-to-back Diamond league winner prepped up for Oregon by running the 400m at the Kenyan Trials considering he already had a wild card over the two-lap. With his not-so-great form going into the worlds, Korir ran himself into form through the rounds.
In the final, Korir sat near the back of the tightly-bunched pack for 600m before putting his foot down, sweeping past most of them on the bend, then overhauling fading leader Marco Arop on the home straight. It was a textbook tactical race that saw him emerge victorious in 1:43.71.
Korir, who is the sixth fastest man in history, ended the season with yet another victory in the Diamond League final in Zurich. The Kenyan is now settled at Puma and will be looking to put behind him the turbulent part of the year while focusing his attention on defending his title in Budapest in 2023.
3. Jacob Kiplimo
At 21, Jacob Kiplimo is already an accomplished runner on the road and on the track. The Ugandan is the kind of athlete you will tag a generational talent, and his accomplishment this year emphasizes that phrase all the more.
Kiplimo has also been in sensational form on the road in 2022. Back in February, he won the RAK Half Marathon in UAE’s Ras Al Khaimah (UAE) with a world-leading time of 57:56 minutes and followed it up with his only Diamond League appearance in Stockholm, in which he competed in the 3000m.
At the world championships in Oregon, Kiplimo opted to race only the 10,000m. It was always going to be a herculean task to surmount the might of his countryman Joshua Cheptegei. Still, he put up a good fight as he picked up the Bronze with a time of 27:27.97.
Kiplimo’s most significant achievement this season was at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham. In the absence of Cheptegei, Kiplimo upped his game and performed to expectations. Going shoulder to shoulder with Kenya’s Nicholas Kimeli, he outsprinted him to claim victory in the 10,000. A couple of days later, he followed that up with yet another win in the 5,000m.
In September, Kiplimo became the first Ugandan man to win the Great North Run. The 21-year-old reigning world half-marathon champion left a world-class field in his wake in his first appearance at the event, having built up a 32-second lead by the 12-mile mark. He crossed the line in 59:33.66s ahead of Olympic 10,000m champion Selemon Barega, with Ethiopia’s Kenenisa Bekele third in 1:01:01.
2. Sofiane El Bakkali
Sofiane El Bakkali is simply untouchable. He was one of the few African athletes to go unbeaten this year. Six races, six wins. It was flawless from the Moroccan, whose rivals were just content on playing second fiddle to him in the men’s 3000m Steeplechase.
This was an event that the Kenyans had dominated for the better part of the last three decades, but since El Bakkali became the first non-Kenyan to win Olympic Gold in the men’s Steeplechase in 37 years, there was an inclination he was going to sweep aside his opponents with ease this year.
El Bakkali opened his season at the Doha Diamond League with a routine win in the Qatar capital. Perhaps, his biggest race came at home in Rabat in June, where his biggest rival, Lamecha Girma of Ethiopia, was. In front of a raucous crowd, the Moroccan did not flinch as he held the fort to beat Girma in 7:58.28, his only race inside eight minutes this year. It put him in the right stead entering the world championships in Oregon.
El Bakkali went through the motions in the heats and semis in Oregon. The final was always going to be gun-blazing. Without the slew of the Kenyan might at full force, the Olympic champion timed his kick to perfection in a slow and tactical race as he surged to the lead around the final bend and accelerated down the straight to capture gold.
The victory gave the 26-year-old El Bakkali a complete set of World Championships medals, adding to the silver he won in London in 2017 and bronze in Doha in 2019. Although his 8:25.13 clocking was the slowest winning time in history, it snapped Kenya’s streak of seven consecutive world titles in the event, including Conseslus Kipruto’s run of two straight championships.
El Bakkali ended his season on a high note as he snagged his first Diamond League win in Zurich to make it a double victory in 2022 for him.
1. Eliud Kipchoge
Cometh the man cometh the hour! In this case, though, cometh 2:01:09. Eliud Kipchoge cemented his status as the greatest marathon runner of all time by winning the Berlin Marathon in a new WR, smashing the former mark by 20 seconds.
What can’t he do at this point? The Kenyan is in his own world, and we are just savoring the moment. Two races this year, two wins for Kipchoge. These days, winning has never been in doubt for him; the manner in which he obliterates his opponents makes people stand up on their feet.
After a routine win at the Tokyo marathon in March in which he clocked 2:02:40, a time that would have been the world record in 2014, Kipchoge made it a cakewalk.
The biggest of them all came in September in Berlin. A place he took down the world record in 2018. This time though, he wanted to go inside two hours officially. He had done it in Austria in 2019, albeit in controlled conditions, but the key thing was that his body was already used to it already.
Unlike his last world record run in 2019, the double Olympic champion went out hard on this occasion, passing through 5km in 14:14 and 10km in 28:22 – not just comfortably inside world record pace but also well inside a projected two-hour finish. The world waited with bated breath for what the next half would present.
Kipchoge maintained that pace through halfway, which was reached in 59:50 – identical to his halfway split when he produced a sub-two-hour run in an unofficial orchestrated race in Vienna three years ago. His pace started to drop slightly from then on, and by 25km (1:11:08) his projected finish had slipped to just outside two hours, eventually coming home in 2:01:09.
The sheer level of this performance put many observers on the edge of their seats as the questions began popping up about where and what next for Kipchoge. Until then, we would have to savor every time we have to watch him race.