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The 5K womens road world record was broken, but its not the fastest time ever run

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In only the fourth road race of her career, Ethiopia’s Dawit Seyaum took four seconds off the women’s road 5K world record on Saturday, winning the Urban Trail Lille 5K in Lille, France in 14:39. Despite this, she is not the fastest woman over the 5K distance on the roads. Two months ago, Seyaum’s compatriot, Senbere Teferi, set a women-only world record of 14:29 for 5K in Herzogenaurach, Germany. This raises the question — should Seyaum’s run truly be considered a world record?

🚨 WORLD RECORD 🚨

Dawit Seyaum 🇪🇹 breaks the women’s 5km world record* (for a mixed race) in Lille, France!

She crosses the line in 14:41 👏

*subject to ratification

— World Athletics (@WorldAthletics) November 6, 2021

Women’s road 5K world record falls in Germany

The previous women’s road 5K world record (for a mixed race) was set by Kenya’s Beatrice Chepkoech, in Monaco last February, in 14:43. This time was still slower than the previous women-only 5K road world record, set by Kenya’s Joyciline Jepkosgei in 14:32. Despite this, all of these women (Chepkoech, Jepkosgei, Seyaum and Teferi) have the WR (world record) distinction next to their results in the record books (Seyaum and Teferi’s records have not yet been ratified).

The reason for women-only records

The reason we have women-only world records is to account for the potential advantage women may get from running in a mixed race. In many cases, the leading women may find themselves running with some of the sub-elite men, who, in effect, act like pacers for them. Presumably, this could help these women run a faster time. A female running in a women-only race would not have this advantage, and it is assumed that she would run slower as a result.

For this reason, we’ve always had two women’s records for each distance on the road, but in the last year, things haven’t played out this way over the 5K distance. The two most recent women-only records have been faster than the outright (or mixed) record, but World Athletics has still recognized both as world records.

The state of female athletics

Peres Jepchirchir at the finish line of the World Athletics Half-Marathon Championships, which she won in a women-only world record of 1:05:16.

So the question is, should a record from a mixed race qualify as a world record if the women-only record is faster? Most runners would likely answer no. Teferi covered the 5K distance faster than Seyaum, so it doesn’t make a lot of sense to give both women world-record distinction.

This odd problem highlights an interesting shift that is happening in women’s athletics. Female runners are fast, and as knowledge of women’s sports physiology and training practices continues to improve, they’re only getting faster. Women’s road racing has now become competitive enough that perhaps having male pacers is not as much of an advantage as it once was.

20 Canadian women’s records broken in one year

Both Seyaum and Teferi are phenomenal athletes and deserve recognition for their performances, but we believe most would agree that when it comes to the 5K road world record, 14:29 is the time to beat.

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