Olympic bronze medallist Josh Kerr (coach: Danny Mackey, club: Edinburgh) delivered another performance of a lifetime to claim the World Championship title in the men’s 1500m, keeping the crown firmly in British hands as he repeated the feat of a teammate from a year ago in leaving pre-race favourite Jakob Ingebrigtsen trailing in his wake.
Just over a year on from Jake Wightman’s sensational global gold ahead of Ingebrigtsen in Eugene, Kerr went for the Norwegian with 200m to go in an exhilarating world men’s 1500m final and had a far superior kick in the final few metres as he won in a season’s best time of 3:29.38 minutes, 0.27 seconds ahead of the favourite.
Kerr was joined in the men’s 1500m final by teammate Neil Gourley (Stephen Haas, Giffnock North) who placed ninth in 3:31.10 while there was drama elsewhere in the stadium on the fifth night as Molly Caudery (Stuart Caudery, Thames Valley) soared to a huge personal best to place a brilliant fifth in the women’s pole vault final on the biggest occasion of her career.
All the while Kerr was winning a sensational gold and Caudery was flying to fifth, Anna Purchase (Mohamed Ali Saatara, Notts) was quietly going about her business on her World Championship debut in Budapest to advance to the women’s hammer final from qualification Group B after a best throw of 71.31m.
There was no denying who the night belonged to on the banks of the Danube though as Kerr became the second British world champion in Budapest after Katarina Johnson-Thompson’s (Aston Moore, Liverpool) gold in the heptathlon while it pushes the team’s medal tally to four overall after five days – two gold, one silver and one bronze.
Kerr said: “It has been a long time coming. It is quite an overwhelming experience but I am so proud of myself. I am so proud of my team and my family – they got me here. I didn’t feel like I ran the best race either so I just threw my whole 16 years of this sport at that last 200m and didn’t give up until the end.
“It was fast from early and I kind of got bumped back into sixth or seventh but I stayed calm and I just wanted to execute a race that I would be proud of and I knew that I was capable of a World Championship gold medal for the team so I am very proud to be able to add to that medal count today.”
Kerr and Gourley were placed in the middle of the bunch as the men’s 1500m final got underway with the latter on the inside. The British pair had to jostle around the bend before the bell went for two laps to go with Kerr starting to make his move as he moved wide.
He moved to second behind Ingebrigtsen with 600m and was right on the Norwegian’s shoulder as the last lap began. The two started to stretch away from the field down the back straight before Kerr decided it was time to push for the lead with 200m to go.
Kerr always looked confident even as Ingebrigtsen responded but try as the Norwegian might to prevent him from coming through – in a near repeat of the final from a year ago that saw Wightman triumph – the Brit powered through in the closing metres to take a sensational gold.
Kerr roared away in celebration as Ingebrigtsen looked completely stunned. The new world champion’s time a season’s best of 3:29.38 – 0,26 quicker than he has gone all year – and he added: “There is a very big reminiscent of Wightman in there [over the last 200m]. I was battling with Jakob pretty hard – you could see by my face that I was throwing everything I could at this guy. We were both hurting – I was just like ‘I have wanted this for my whole life and I am not letting anyone get in the way of that’.
“I looked up at the screen, didn’t see anyone coming and I made sure I pumped all the way home. I am so happy. With 50m to go, I kind of broke him and it was just about holding form at that point. I’d be proud – giving everything in that situation – if it was gold, silver or bronze. I’ve had the bronze and the gold is sweeter.
“This is a lot for our family. They have put a lot of time and effort and money into me and I just couldn’t be more proud to represent the Kerr family name today. I gave everything for them, myself and my fiance. This is the life I want to lead for them.”
Gourley meanwhile was competing in his second outdoor World Championship final after an 11th in 2019 and, after finishing ninth in 3:31.10, he said: “I tried to hang on but it didn’t quite happen in the last 200m, it was a hard pace. I tried to go and there wasn’t a whole lot left – I gave it my all.
“I don’t think it’s that complicated how to win these things, it’s just holding on for the last 200m. If you have enough left you can go by but it’s just very hard to hold on and feel fresh at 200m to go the way Jakob pushes on from the front.
“It’s [Josh beating Jakob] not maybe as big a shock as some people think. Jakob hasn’t been beaten this year in any Diamond League races but this isn’t a Diamond League race so it’s a lot different.”
Caudery may not have medalled but she arguably produced one of the best British performances at these Championships so far, more than stepping up to the occasion of a first global women’s pole vault final for the 23-year-old.
She started with a challenge however after failing with her first effort at 4.30m – but composing herself to clear second time – Caudery was then into her rhythm as the bar moved to 4.50m and then 4.65m.
That height of 4.65m matched what Caudery achieved in qualifying for the final and was at that time the second best performance of her career so far. It was no issue in the final as she cleared without a mistake with the bar then moving to a personal best of 4.75m.
In qualifying Caudery would need three attempts to clear 4.65m and she had to drink from the last chance saloon in the final at 4.75m. But with everything on the line on the third attempt – including a four-centimetre personal best – Caudery stepped up to clear comfortably.
By now there were only five athletes remaining – an impressive achievement for Caudery – who would fail first time at the next height of 4.80m before making the decision to pass and move onto 4.85m, which if cleared would likely give her a medal.The British champion gave the height her absolute all but just narrowly failed to clear with her two attempts as she would indeed place fifth from her first World Championship final outing.
Caudery said: “A PB, Olympic qualifier, fifth in the world – my emotions are all over the place. It is just not settling in – what a night. I don’t have words for it. It is pure joy [clearing 4.75m] and all the hard work, effort – I have had two surgeries this last year – I didn’t think I would be at worlds and now I have just come fifth. It is just pure joy.
“I came in really wanting to make the final. If I made the final, anything else was a bonus – top eight would be great – but top five is amazing. I had an OK attempt at 4.80m and two run throughs at 4.85m – I was just a bit tired by then.
“To be competing with those girls that I was watching a couple of years ago was so amazing. Hopefully I will start getting into a few more higher competitions now, and mixing with them more.”
Amidst the drama of Kerr’s glorious gold and Caudery soaring to a personal best, Purchase was quietly slicing her own piece of history as she made her maiden World Championship final on her global debut. Purchase had the benefit of knowing what qualification Group A had achieved and put herself well and truly in contention for a finals place after an opening throw of 70.99m. Not content with that, she threw out further to 71.31m to really cement her place.
She landed all three qualifying throws with a 67.76m third attempt with her best of 71.31m – her third best mark this season – ranking her fourth overall in Group B and 11th overall going into the final.
She said: “My goal was to show up for myself and make sure I performed and I was trying to keep it together. A big thing I have tried to keep over the last year, and this season, was to mentally prepare. So I was really happy with the way I showed up and it came down to the wire but I made it to the final
“Talking to my coach – a big switch for me was like ‘this is fun’. We get to show the world what we do on a huge stage rather than being intimidated by such a large stadium. I train with such a good group that I’m really not intimidated by the big throwers that I used to watch on tv and I think it’s so cool to be in that environment.”
Charlotte Payne (Paul Dickenson, Reading) finally made her World Championship bow, starting the British action on the fifth night in Budapest as she attempted to make it a debut to remember by advancing out of qualification for the women’s hammer. Placed in Group A, meaning she had the honour of being the first Brit competing on the night, Payne opened up with an effort of 64.56m before throwing ever so to close to 70m with a 69.32m registering second time into the circle.
Payne improved further with her third and final attempt, throwing 69.57m, which would place her tenth overall from Group A and with a wait to see whether the standard of Group B would not be as good and she might sneak a place in the final. Unfortunately that wasn’t to be the case as Payne eventually ranked 20th overall. She said: “It was amazing. It was my debut on that stage so to come out with a solid set of throws, I’m pleased with it. It’s boiling hot out there and it’s a totally different environment to what I’m used to. I’m quite pleased to come out with 69.57 and a solid set of throws.”
Aimee Pratt (Thomas Dreißigacker, Sale Harriers Manchester), seventh in the women’s 3000m steeplechase at the last World Championships in Eugene last year, faced different circumstances this time around in Budapest with only the first five in each heat qualifying.
Pratt went in the first of three, which started at a fairly steady pace with the Briton making sure she was in the mix in and around fifth in those early laps. She would move down to seventh as the laps began counting down but would soon make a move for ta qualification spot. She moved up to sixth with two laps to go and the last lap essentially became a chase down of Tunisia’s Marwa Bouzayani, who was occupying fifth. Unfortunately Pratt couldn’t find the legs to reel in the Tunisian and would eventually place seventh in 9:26.37.
Pratt said: “It was a weird one because the pace was up and down so I think we were doing more like a fartlek session. I just couldn’t pick it up at the end. I felt quite heavy today. I am not really sure why but sometimes that happens.”
Cindy Sember (Chris Johnson, Woodford Green Essex Ladies) was the only British athlete in semi-final action on the night and unfortunately would miss out on a place in the women’s 100m hurdles final despite a valiant performance in the first of three races.
Sember produced a solid run to clock 12.97 for sixth with only the top two from the three semi-finals and the next two fastest progressing. She said: “I am very disappointed with that. I’ll have to go back and look. It wasn’t a good race, from the gun I knew it wasn’t going to be a good race.
“It wasn’t even a mental thing – I am not really sure. I felt ready to go and it just didn’t click when I wanted it to. I’m disappointed, I knew I had more, I knew I am capable of more. I just wasn’t healthy enough earlier this year and I thought I had enough time but I didn’t. I’m quite sad.”
The second of the women’s 5000m heats, involving Amy-Eloise Markovc (Rob Denmark, Wakefield), was run extremely differently to the first with no runaway athlete but Dutch Olympic champion in the distance Sifan Hassan controlling from the front. Markovc was towards the back as the field stretched out at the halfway stage and would not be part of a train of 11 that kicked on thereafter. The Briton didn’t let that impact her though and, as those at the back of that 11 were dropped themselves, Markovic managed to make up a lot of metres in the closing laps to finish 11th in a season’s best 15:13.66
Only the top eight from each heat would reach the final and Markovic said: “It’s complicated because my gut reaction is to be disappointed with that based on my previous performances.
“But on the other hand I have gone through a lot of changes over the past year and I have dealt with a lot of physical and mental stuff on and off the track. I am actually proud of myself which I know might sound a bit cheesy after a sub-par performance, but only we as athletes can know what we have dealt with.”
Megan Keith (Ross Cairns, Inverness) was the first British athlete in action on the track in the first of two women’s 5000m heats, which began at an absolute crawl. The Briton settled at the back and then went wide as part of a chase group after Latvian European junior champion Agate Caune blasted away completely on her own.
Caune had a good 20m lead after 600m and would at one point extend that to nearly 150m as the pack was never tempted to chase until it absolutely had to. Keith kept herself in the mix on the outside of the pack and with five laps to go, the Briton decided to edge towards the front.
Keith was at the front with 1600m to go as it became clear that not everyone in the pack wanted to reel in Caune. Unfortunately for Keith she was dropped as the chasers upped the pace, eventually placing outside the top eight needed for qualification for the final in 14th in 15:21.94.
She said: “It was quite a slow race but it felt like the fastest a 5k has ever gone because there was not a dull moment in that race. It was non-stop with the surges. She [Caune] is incredible and had I seen her move I would have gone with her.
“I know that is a pace I am capable of but I missed it as I got caught up in the whirlwind of it all. She was incredibly brave so hats off to her. It has been quite an incredible season. I have a lot to work on so I can come back and improve upon that.
“I am so happy with how I did but I have some work to do to try and compete better next time. It is quite the turnaround for me. A year ago my family and I were playing the fantasy predictions game for Oregon where you could try and win tickets to come and watch these Championships!”
The Great Britain and Northern Ireland medal tally:
Gold (2): Katarina Johnson-Thompson – Women’s Heptathlon, Josh Kerr – Men’s 1500m
Silver (1): Mixed 4x400m Relay
Bronze (1): Zharnel Hughes – Men’s 100m