This is Deji Ogeyingbo’s second part, in his salute to the Top 10 Male African Athletes in 2023 (5-1).
Top 10 male African athletes in 2023 (5-1)
In our ongoing annual series spotlighting the Top 10 male African Athletes of the Year, we unveiled Part 1 earlier today.. Part 2 carries forward the countdown, focusing on the outstanding accomplishments of the athletes who secured positions in the Top 5 of our selection. Here, we present the remarkable achievements of athletes ranked from No. 5 to No. 1.
5. Soufiane El Bakkali
Moroccan runner Soufiane El Bakkali takes the number five spot. He’s one of the few athletes on the grid to have completed the full set of titles, winning the Olympic, World, and Diamond League titles in the last three years. To add to that, he went the entire 2022 unbeaten in the men’s 3000m Steeplechase, a situation that meant he had a target on his back heading into 2023.
El Bakkali opened his steeplechase season on home soil as he stormed to a massive Personal Best of 7:56.68s. That race proved that he was in good shape, coming off the back of a fourth-place finish in the 3000m at the Doha Diamond League, a race he lost to the young and vibrant Lamecha Girma.
Soufianne El Bakkali, Kennth Rooks, World Athletics Championships
August 19-27, 2023, photo by Kevin Morris
It was against that backdrop that many wondered if the Ethiopian was going to knock him off his perch heading into the world championships in Budapest. El Bakkali replied with two statement wins at the Stockholm and Silesia Diamond League in July. For the very first time in two years, the Moroccan wasn’t seen as the favorite to defend his crown in Budapest.
Ultimately, it became a game of Chess in Budapest. In the end, Girma, twice a world record-breaker this year, had to settle for a fourth global 3000m steeplechase silver medal as the world and Olympic champion El Bakkali beat him in a familiar manner to win in 8:03.53.
There was another monumental struggle between the two men over the final lap as Ethiopia’s Girma – who set a world indoor 3000m record and then lowered the world steeplechase record that had stood since 2004 to 7:52.11 – strove to make his new status tell. But as in last year’s World Championships in Oregon and the Tokyo Olympic final, the 27-year-old Moroccan found the killing final speed to frustrate Girma’s ultimate ambition.
El Bakkali ended his season with a fine display at the Xiamen Diamond League as he clocked 8:10.31.
4. Eliud Kipchoge
One name that has become synonymous with marathon running is Eliud Kipchoge. The Kenyan continues to reach heights only few would dream of getting to. That’s why it came as a surprise when he lost his opening race of the season in Boston. For just the third time in his illustrious career, Kipchoge did not win a marathon that he was competing in.
Kipchoge finished sixth in the 2023 Boston Marathon to make it the Kenyan’s worst performance since he placed eighth at the 2020 London Marathon. He crossed the finish line with a time of 2:09:23, which — though still incredibly fast by virtually any measurement — was the slowest of his career.
Eliud Kipchoge, photo by NN Running Team
As a champion would do, Kipchoge picked up the pieces and prepared himself for the Berlin marathon, a ground he had conquered many times. In September, as expected, the Kenyan won it for the fifth time, in 2:02:42. Though he fell short of breaking his own world record, he does surpass Ethiopian Haile Gebrselassie for the most victories in Berlin.
This 2023 triumph comes just a year after the Kenyan set the world record on the same course when he came home in 2:01:09 to break his previous best by 30 seconds. He has now won 16 of the 19 marathon races he has competed in.
3. Letsile Tebogo
Never in the history of the world championship has an African made the podium in the men’s 100m! It was a record that felt strange, but more importantly, with the caliber of top-level sprinters on the grid, such as Akani Simbine and Ferdinand Omanyala, there was increasing positivity on the continent that it was going to end in 2023.
It was, however, its brightest youngster, Letsile Tebogo, who shone like a million star in Budapest this year as the 20-year-old sprinter from Botswana secured Silver in the men’s 100-meter final at the World Athletics Championships.
Letsile Tebogo, World Athletics Championships
August 19-27, 2023, photo by Kevin Morris
The remarkable race, held in sweltering Hungarian heat, was dominated by American sprinter Noah Lyles, who had boldly promised a gold medal and delivered a sensational time of 9.83 seconds. Tebogo, with a personal best time of 9.88 seconds, showcased his immense talent and determination, coming in just five-hundredths of a second behind Lyles, the face of world athletics.
He followed through with a Bronze medal in the 200m with an astonishing race that saw him clock 19.81s to finish behind Noah Lyles and Erriyion Knighton.
Amongst Tebogo’s astonishing feats was his race at the London Diamond League this year in which the youngster broke the African Record in the 200m. The Botswanan clocked an outstanding lifetime best of 19.50s for a second-place finish behind world champion Noah Lyles in a world-leading 19.47s and obliterated Namibia’s Frankie Fredericks’s long-standing AR of 19.68s set at the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games.
Tebogo did not only set an African record but also jumped from the 54th position to 6th on the all-time world 200m list.
2. Lamecha Girma
Ethiopia’s Lamecha Girma is our second-best African Male Athlete in 2023 by virtue of his exploits in the men’s 3000m and 3000m Steeplechase. Over the course of the year, Girma proved that he was the next big thing in the event as he took down two world records.
Girma had a golden moment at the Meeting Hauts-de-France Pas-de-Calais in February, breaking the world indoor 3000m record with a stunning 7:23.81 run at the World Athletics Indoor Tour Gold event.
It was the fourth time lucky in Lievin for Girma, having competed in the 3000m event for the previous three years. In 2020, he fell short of a top-three placement. The following year, despite clocking an impressive 7:27.98, a time ranking among the fastest in history, he trailed behind fellow countrymen Getnet Wale and Selemon Barega. However, Girma secured victory in the 3000m in 2022 but missed out on matching his personal best by a few seconds. 2023 became his moment.
Lamecha Girma, photo by Kevin Morris
Confident in his form, Girma opened his outdoor season in May in Doha, beating El Bakkali to win the men’s 3000m. A month later, Girma took on the unthinkable as he set his sights on breaking the men’s 3000m steeplechase record at the Paris Diamond League.
Girma entered the race with a Personal best of 7:58.68 from May 2022. The Ethiopian eventually took down Saif Saaeed Shaheen’s 3000m steeplechase world record, which stood since 2004, with a 7:52.11.
What was missing from Girma’s collection was a global Gold medal. Despite giving it his all at the world championships, he lost a tactical race to El Bakkali to take home another Silver.
1. Kelvin Kiptum
Taking our number one spot is the emerging marathon superstar Kelvin Kiptum. The Kenyan won both his marathon races this year in London and Chicago, breaking the world record in the latter. Prior to 2023, very few people had heard about Kiptum, but at the end of the year, he reigned supreme as the undisputed African athlete and the best runner in 2023.
Kiptum announced himself to the world in London when he broke the course record to win the men’s London Marathon and came incredibly close to breaking the world record. Kiptum crossed the line in 2:01:25 to smash Eliud Kipchoge’s time in London. The 23-year-old was just 16 seconds outside Kipchoge’s world record, which was set in Berlin last year.
Kelvin Kiptum, photo by Kevin Morris
Less than five months after he ran the fastest debut marathon in history (a 2:01:53 in Valencia), the 23-year-old dropped a mind-boggling 59:45 second-half split in London to run the second-fastest time ever. It was a sign that he was becoming the G.O.A.T contender.
In October, the possibility of a sub-two-hour marathon achieved under standard race conditions came one step closer all thanks to Kiptum as the Kenyan smoked the famously flat course of the Bank of America Chicago Marathon in a world record time of 2:00:35. Kiptum cut 34 seconds off of compatriot Kipchoge’s ratified world record of 2:01:09 set in Berlin in 2022.
In the process, Kiptum took a major stride closer to becoming the first man to break the two-hour barrier in a record-eligible race. Surely, Kiptum will set his sights on a faster course like Berlin in 2024 or even take a punt at the Olympic title.