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From Tigist Assefa to Juan Carlos Zabala, we’ve had the privilege of sharing many more athlete stories in 2023.

As the year draws to a close, we look back at some of the most read features.

Antonio Watson

At first, he appears quiet and mild-mannered off the track, in stark contrast to his fierce competitiveness on it. But don’t be fooled by his gentle and unassuming nature; a strong sense of determination fuels him.

Jamaica’s world 400m champion Antonio Watson (© Getty Images)

Meet Antonio Watson, the newly minted world 400m champion. His stunning victory on that beautiful evening in Budapest in August saw him join a distinguished group of Jamaican 400m runners who have won senior global titles.

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Femke Bol

Just four days after running the indoor 400m in less than 50 seconds – clocking 49.96 in Metz to go fourth on the all-time list – Femke Bol arrived in Lievin for the World Athletics Indoor Tour Gold meeting with the expectation of running something even faster.

Femke Bol breaks the world indoor 400m record in Apeldoorn (© Erik van Leeuwen)

After winning by more than a second in 50.20, she said: “This is a good race I can be happy with. I hoped to run a 49-second race again. But this is the real world, not a dream world.”

Fast forward four more days – very fast forward – and the 22-year-old 400m hurdles specialist was in that dream world, coming to terms with the staggering fact that she had just beaten the oldest track world record on the books.

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Mario Garcia Romo

Mario Garcia Romo may be one of the newest members to the 1500m sub-3:30 club, but the Spaniard cares more about championship performances than fast times.

But sometimes – as was the case at last year’s World Championships – a fast time is required for a strong championship showing.

Mario Garcia Romo after taking bronze at the European Championships (© Getty Images)

In fact, to simply secure his place on the Spanish team for the World Championships, Garcia Romo produced a lifetime best of 3:35.52 to win the national title, beating Spanish record-holder Mohamed Katir.

Garcia Romo’s momentum continued at the World Championships three weeks later as he navigated the rounds, setting a PB of 3:35.43 in his heat, finishing second in his semifinal, and then placing fourth in the final in a huge PB of 3:30.20 – just 0.30 shy of a medal.

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Mary Moraa

Athletics may be painful for world 800m champion Mary Moraa, but it has changed her life. It has made her a somebody.

“Athletics has uplifted me, from a nobody to now a somebody, from the poorest of all,” Moraa says.

Mary Moraa in Budapest (© Getty Images)

“If I stayed in the village in Kisii, western Kenya, I wouldn’t be known, but my talent has made me known. Yes, athletics has changed my story, my life greatly. It is hard to explain,” adds Moraa, who has been nicknamed the Kisii Express.

Moraa likens athletics to being in school, each day with different subjects for the students – which translates to different training and workouts for athletes.

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Donald Thomas

By now, many others would have walked away. But not Donald Thomas. Not when he has so much left to give.

Donald Thomas at the World Athletics Championships Oregon22 (© Getty Images)

It’s 16 years since the Bahamian won the world title in the high jump, soaring over 2.35m in Osaka. That marked his debut at the World Athletics Championships. He was 23. He’s 39 now and, in the years since, Thomas has returned to every edition, racking up nine appearances in all, which no other jumper has ever achieved.

There’s a good reason for that, given the strain that the vertical and horizontal jumps put on the joints and tendons, meaning athletes with Thomas’s longevity are rare.

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Faith Kipyegon and Patrick Sang

For three years, Faith Kipyegon had been ready to break the world 1500m record, says her coach Patrick Sang.

Multiple world record-breaker Faith Kipyegon (© Vincent Riemersma / NN Running)

That a week later, she would then take down the 5000m mark too, well that wasn’t in the plan. The Kenyan star has since added the mile record for good measure – taking it to 4:07.64 – and she believes that the four-minute barrier will one day be broken.

Since 2019, Kipyegon’s journey has been guided by 1992 Olympic steeplechase silver medallist Sang and his assistants at the Global Sports Camp in Kaptagat in the Kenyan Rift Valley. Every session is meticulously planned and splits on the track exactly, led by her pacemaker of 13 years, Bernard Soi. Everything else is done with uncompromising purpose.

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Jakob Ingebrigtsen

Following the successful defence of his 1500m title at the European Athletics Indoor Championships in Istanbul, Norway’s 22-year-old Jakob Ingebrigtsen was asked to describe his ambition.

“My main goal is to become the best runner that ever existed,” said the athlete who has already accrued Olympic, world and multiple European gold medals as well as a world indoor 1500m record. “To do that, I will need to win more races and the next one is tomorrow.”

Jakob Ingebrigtsen at the European Indoor Championships (© Getty Images)

Guess what? He won that race too, a 3000m heat. And the following day he won the next one, the 3000m final, to repeat the double he achieved at the 2021 edition of the championships in Torun.

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Sintayehu Vissa

Most people who know Italian middle-distance runner Sintayehu Vissa simply call her ‘Sinta’.

In both Italy and the US, people had trouble understanding her full name, and shortened it to make it easier.

But her full name, Sintayehu, in Amharic, loosely means: “I have seen many things”.

Middle-distance runner Sintayehu Vissa (© Kelcey McKinney)

Even though Vissa remembers little Amharic from her childhood, she knows the meaning of her name. “The meaning of my name makes me proud,” she says. “I feel like I’ve seen a lot of things.” The 26 year-old, who later this week will vie for a medal at the European Indoor Championship in Istanbul, Turkey, has indeed seen a lot.

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Woody Kincaid

Many athletes have a trademark tactic. For Woody Kincaid, it’s his kick. No matter the distance, something switches when he hits the bell.

“It’s like, I have to give everything now,” he says. “I’ve come this far, maybe I have something left and we’re about to find out.”

Now Kincaid is applying the same strategy to the rest of his elite racing career.

Woddy Kincaid at the World Athletics Championships Oregon22 (© Getty Images)

“It’s definitely the back nine of my career, no doubt, but it’s also time to make it happen,” he says. “I have the development, I have the workouts underneath me, I have the aerobic base. Everything is there, if I can just put it together.”

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Wayne Pinnock, Tajay Gayle and Carey McLeod

Shortly after the men’s long jump final at the World Athletics Championships Budapest 23, bronze medallist Tajay Gayle was asked about Jamaican athletes finishing second, third and fourth, with Wayne Pinnock, Gayle and Carey McLeod filling the spots behind Olympic champion Miltiadis Tentoglou of Greece.

“That’s never happened before,” a Jamaican journalist told Gayle, who smiled as he responded: “Yeah, but a 1-2-3 sounds better.”

Wayne Pinnock, Tajay Gayle and Carey McLeod at the World Athletics Championships Budapest 23 (© Getty Images)

As the focus starts to turn towards the Paris Olympics, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility, even if Tentoglou will take some shifting from the top of the long jump tree. Still, the evidence was there in Budapest, just as it has been across the breadth of the long jumping landscape in recent years: Jamaica is on the rise, and fast.

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