Female athletes put in an impressive performance at the 2023 World Athletics Championships in Budapest, with women runners bailing out most of the world’s top running countries – including Africa’s – and keeping them in the medals.
By Joel Omotto
While the USA was the top-ranked country in Hungary, with 29 medals (12 gold, eight silver and nine bronze) and Kenya the most successful African nation, with 10 medals (three gold, as may silver and four bronze), it was the women athletes who brought home most of the medals in both cases.
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The year’s premier athletics event saw America’s women bag 14 medals compared to 13 for the men, while Team Kenya had six from their women and four from the men.
Kenya would have missed gold completely, had it not been for in-form women runners, in the shape of Faith Kipyegon and Mary Moraa.
The indefatigable Kipyegon, who had broken three world records in 1,500m, mile, and 5,000m, came into the championship as the woman to beat and delivered gold in both the 1,500m and 5,000m. It was the first time she was doubling at the global event while she also become the first woman to claim three world titles in the 1,500m, after victories in London 2017 and Eugene in 2022.
For Moraa, it was a race like no other as she lined up against American and defending champion, Athing Mu, whose parents hail from South Sudan and 2022 silver medallist Keely Hodgkinson from Great Britain.
Moraa, who had finished third behind the two at the 2022 event, got her sweet revenge as she ran a tactical race, claiming gold after outsprinting Mu with less than 10 metres to go before fending off a surging Hodgkinson.
The Americans were led by the world’s newest sprint queen, Sha’Carri Richardson, who contributed three medals for Team USA. She claimed her first gold medal following victory in the women’s 100m before she anchored her country’s 4x100m team to a win, then clinched bronze in the 200m.
The indefatigable Kipyegon delivered gold in both the 1,500m and 5,000m.
It was the first World Championships for the 23-year-old who had endured great disappointments in the two years prior.
Richardson missed the delayed 2020 Tokyo Olympics due to a one-month doping suspension, after testing positive for banned substance THC metabolites, despite coming first at the US trials – and then failed to qualify for the 2022 World Championships, having started the year in great form.
In a race that featured defending champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and 2022 sliver medallist Shericka Jackson, both from Jamaica, Richardson looked unfazed as she did the unthinkable by out-sprinting her rivals from the outer lane to win her first major individual title on the international stage.
Jamaica, Ethiopia and the Netherlands were also rescued by their women. Since the retirement of the legendary Usain Bolt in 2017, Jamaican men have struggled to grab gold in the sprints. 2023 was no different.
Of the 12 medals that the Caribbean nation won, seven were claimed by women, who brought in two of their three golds.
It was the same case for Ethiopia, whose men had an underwhelming championship, with women claiming five of the nine medals they won, including two of their three gold medals.
The horn of Africa nation’s women runners provided a clean sweep in the 10,000m, with Gudaf Tsegaye leading compatriots Letesenbet Gidey and Ejgayehu Taye to gold, silver and bronze in that order. Women runners also claimed a 1,2 in a women’s marathon won by Amane Beriso, followed by Gotytom Gebreslase in second.
Meanwhile, the Netherlands saw all five medals in Budapest won by women, with double European champion Femke Bol delivering the two golds they won. Just like America’s Richardson, Bol is another superstar-in-the-making and announced her arrival in grand style. The 23-year-old had no equal in the 400m hurdles before she delivered a scintillating finish for the Dutch 4x400m relay team to win a second gold medal.
Australia also saw five of their six medals come from their women, and the same for Ukraine, whose women won two medals in the Hungarian capital.
Africa won 26 medals, with Kenya the best-placed African nation, in fifth, followed by sixth-placed Ethiopia, while Uganda, with two gold medals, 11 th on the global medal standings.
The 2023 event also saw a lot more women superstars emerge compared to men. In addition to Richardson and Bol, Kenya’s Moraa showed that there is a new 800m queen.
Kenyan-born Bahraini Winfred Yavi also stunned all to claim the women’s 3,000m steeplechase gold, while American Tara Davis-Woodhall was an unexpected silver medallist in long jump. 19-year-old Kenyan, Faith Cherotich, upset the established order to claim bronze in the steeplechase.
With Paris 2024 Olympics next, women athletes at these top running countries could rule the roost even further, given that many of the new champions are just getting started.