With few professional events on the running calendar until 2018, is once again rolling out its year-end rankings of the mid-d and distance events. From now until the end of the year, we’ll be ranking the top 10 men and women in the world (plus the top five Americans) in the 800, 1500/mile, 3000 steeplechase, 3,000/5,000 and marathon. We hope you enjoy reading these rankings as much as we enjoyed putting them together.
Since these rankings are obviously subjective, we’ll lay out the criteria we’re using for them:
- An emphasis on performance in big races. How the athlete fared at the World Championships is obviously a major consideration but winning gold doesn’t guarantee that an athlete will earn a #1 ranking. For U.S. athletes, their performance at the U.S. championships also factors heavily in the rankings.
- Diamond League success.
- Season-best times matter, and if an athlete has a bunch of fast performances, they’re more likely to be ranked highly.
- Runners who specialized in one event will be considered for other events but can be penalized in the rankings for not running enough races.
- Indoor races will be considered and can help an athlete’s ranking.
After a 2016 season that saw Kenya fail to medal in the 1500 at a second straight Olympics, the East African powerhouse returned with a vengeance in the metric mile this year. It began at the Diamond League opener in Doha, where Kenya swept the first six places, and ended at the Diamond League final in Zurich…where Kenya swept the first six places. In between, Rongai Athletics Club teammates Elijah Manangoi and Timothy Cheruiyot went 1-2 at the World Championships in London — the third time in the last four Worlds that Kenya has swept the top two spots.
In contrast, this was a year to forget for American 1500 runners. After earning medals in five of the last six global outdoor championships, the U.S. was kept off the podium in London, with America’s sole finalist, Johnny Gregorek, finishing in 10th place. That was due, in large part, to injuries to the U.S.’s biggest talents in the event: Matthew Centrowitz and Robby Andrews were not 100% in London, and it showed, with Centrowitz finishing last in his prelim and Andrews forced to drop out of his semi. And then there’s Clayton Murphy, who could not even make it to London after his body gave out attempting the 800/1500 double at USAs.
The good news for U.S. fans is that, as we head into 2018, Centrowitz and Andrews remain in their prime, Gregorek is just entering his, and the U.S. has two studs in the wings in Murphy and his new Nike Oregon Project teammate Craig Engels. It should be a better year.
1. Elijah Manangoi • Kenya • 24 years old • 3:28.80 sb (#1) • 3:49.08 mile sb (#2) • World champion
DL results: 1st Doha, 2nd Pre, 2nd Oslo, 1st Monaco, 3rd Zurich (DL final), 1st Brussels
Manangoi was the world champ and world leader, making him a straightforward choice for the #1 spot. In addition to that, he earned Diamond League wins in Doha, Monaco, and Brussels (not a Diamond Race event) and finished in the top three in three other DL races. Manangoi’s emergence to the top of the heap in 2017 was a natural progression for a guy who earned silver in 2015 and looked set to medal in Rio before he was felled by a hamstring injury. With legend Asbel Kiprop declining in 2017 (and claiming that he’s moving up to the 5,000 next year at Commonwealths), Kenya needs someone to take over as their top miler. Manangoi, with his incredible pure speed (46.5 in the open 400), could hold that title for a long time.
2. Timothy Cheruiyot • Kenya • 22 years old • 3:29.10 sb (#2) • 3:49.64 mile sb (#3) • World Championship silver • Diamond League champion
DL results: 5th Doha, 3rd Pre, 1st Stockholm, 2nd Monaco, 1st Zurich (DL final)
Manangoi may have won the gold in London, but he owes a chunk of his success in that race to Cheruiyot, who led almost the entire race before Manangoi pulled around him in the homestretch ). It was Cheruiyot who strung out the race and dropped the rest of the field, and Cheruiyot who broke the wind for his training partner up front. Cheruiyot certainly ran the more challenging race, even if his reward was not as great as Manangoi’s.
Overall, the two men — both of whom train under Bernard Ouma in Nairobi — were almost inseparable this year, with Manangoi claiming head-to-head victories in Doha, Eugene, and Worlds, and Cheruiyot coming out on top at the Kenyan Trials and the Diamond League final in Zurich. It’s hard not to look at them and think of Asbel Kiprop and Silas Kiplagat. Manangoi, like Kiprop, has big wheels and can kick off any pace, while Cheruiyot, like Kiplagat, has a remarkable ability to grind from the front. Kiprop and Kiplagat dominated the Diamond League circuit for the first half of this decade, and Manangoi and Cheruiyot could well do the same over the latter half.
3. Ronald Kwemoi • Kenya • 22 years old • 3:30.89 1500 sb (#3) • 3:49.04 mile sb (#1) • World Championship semis • Kenyan Trials champ
DL results: 1st Pre, 3rd Monaco
Were it not for an untimely bout of illness and injury in the lead-up to Worlds, Kenya could well have gone 1-2-3 in London. Kwemoi earned big wins in Doha (3k) and at the Pre Classic (mile), and even after coming down with sickness before Paris on July 1, almost beat eventual world champ Muktar Edris at 5000 (not factored in our rankings). In Monaco on July 21, Kwemoi finished third — behind only Manangoi and Cheruiyot — but after the race he could barely walk due to a lower leg injury and had to be helped off the track. That injury wound up costing him more time and the result was that the Kwemoi who showed up in London was not the same guy who had run so brilliantly in May and June. Remember, in addition to his world-leading mile at Pre, Kwemoi also beat both Manangoi and Cheruiyot by running 3:30.89 (at over 5,000 feet of elevation in Nairobi) to win the Kenyan Trials.
And the scary thing is, Kwemoi could be even better in 2018. If he can remain healthy and improve his tactics, he’ll challenge Manangoi and Cheruiyot for next year’s World #1 (assuming he stays in the 1500; his coach Renato Canova has already guaranteed that Kwemoi will win the 2020 Olympic 5,000 title).
4. Filip Ingebrigtsen • Norway • 24 years old • 3:32.48 sb (#8) • 3:53.23 mile sb (#10) • World Championship bronze
DL results: 8th Pre, 4th Oslo, 5th Lausanne, 3rd London, 4th Monaco, 12th Zurich (DL final)
Ingebrigtsen has been overshadowed by older brother Henrik (3:31 pb, 2012 European champion) for his entire life. And even after Henrik had to cut short his 2017 season due to injury, it was younger brother Jakob — the teenage sensation who this year became the youngest person ever under 4:00 in the mile — who stole the headlines. But only one member of the Ingebrigtsen family has a global medal, and it’s Filip, whose reward for a strong, consistent season was a bronze in London. The signs of a breakthrough were there in 2016, when Ingebrigtsen lowered his PR by six seconds down to 3:32.43 and won the European title. But until Worlds, that win at 2016 Euros was the only time in his five major senior championship appearances (’14 Euro outdoors, ’15 Euro indoors, ’16 Euro outdoors, ’16 Olympics, ’17 Euro indoors) in which Ingebrigtsen had advanced beyond the first round. He slayed those demons in the British capital, winning Norway’s first Olympic/World medal in the event.
5. Sadik Mikhou • Bahrain • 27 years old • 3:31.34 1500 sb (#4) • 6th at Worlds
DL results: 2nd Stockholm, 10th Lausanne, 10th Zurich (DL final)
After the top four, there’s a big jumbled mess for spots #5 through #10 on this list. Mikhou, despite a pair of lackluster Diamond League races, is #5 in our books due to a couple of fast races (he ran 3:31.34 and 3:31.49, the sixth- and seventh-fastest times in the world this year) and a sixth-place finish at Worlds.
6. Silas Kiplagat • Kenya • 28 years old • 3:32.23 1500 sb (#6) • 3:57.59 mile sb (#42)
DL results: 2nd Doha, 12th Pre, 7th Oslo, 3rd Lausanne, 2nd Zurich (DL final)
Kiplagat didn’t make it onto a loaded Kenyan team for Worlds — he was only 12th at the Kenyan World Championship Trials — but he placed highly in three quality Diamond League meets, including a runner-up finish in the final in Zurich.
7. Aman Wote • Ethiopia • 33 years old • 3:31.63 1500 sb (#5)
DL results: 8th Doha, 3rd Stockholm, 1st Lausanne
Wote looked to be rounding into form this summer, running 3:34 in Doha, 3:33 in Hengelo, and 3:31 in Stockholm (which put him #5 on the year-end list) before winning against a good field in Lausanne on July 6. Unfortunately, that was it for Wote as Lausanne would prove to be his final race of 2017 as a case of tendonitis kept him out for the rest of the season. This year, running 3:31 and winning a Diamond League was still enough to get you in the top 10.
8. Charles Simotwo • Kenya • 22 years old • 3:32.59 1500 sb (#9)
DL results: 2nd Lausanne, 6th Monaco, 5th Zurich (DL final)
Were Simotwo from any other country, he likely would have made the World Championship final in London. But in a year where the world’s three best 1500 runners were from Kenya (and six of the top eight), he could only manage fifth at the Kenyan Trials and had to watch Worlds on TV. On paper, his Diamond League results may not look like much, but he had solid runs in all three appearances. In fact, given the Kenyan dominance of the event in 2017, you could argue that the fields in Monaco and Zurich were actually tougher than the World Championship final, and Simotwo placed well in both races (of the eight men to beat him in a Diamond League race, six appear above him on this list).
9. Jakub Holusa • Czech Republic • 29 years old • 3:34.26 1500 sb (#23) • 3:53.97 mile sb (#15) • 5th at Worlds
DL results: 9th Doha, 4th Pre (B heat) 8th Oslo, 5th Stockholm, 8th Zurich (DL final)
It’s somewhat incredible that Holusa went from fourth in the B heat at the Pre Classic to fifth at Worlds in the span of three months, but it was that kind of year in the men’s 1500. His season’s best of 3:34.26 wasn’t super impressive, but many of the men who ran faster than Holusa either didn’t make it to Worlds or performed poorly once they got there. Some of the World Championship finalists didn’t make our top 10 because they didn’t achieve much outside of Worlds, but Holusa, with a 5th in Stockholm and an 8th at the DL final in Zurich, did enough to earn a spot in our top 10.
10. Marcin Lewandowski • Poland • 30 years old • 3:34.04 sb (#20) • 7th at Worlds • European indoor champion
DL results: 3rd Oslo, 7th Stockholm, 8th Monaco, 9th Zurich (DL final)
It was tight between Lewandowski and a couple of Scots, Chris O’Hare (British champ, 12th at Worlds) and Jake Wightman (Oslo DL winner) for the final spot, but Lewandowski gets the nod for beating both men when it mattered most — at Worlds. He also had a faster season’s best than Wightman and was close enough to O’Hare (.43 behind; they ran their SBs in the same race) that we gave Lewandowski the nod despite DL losses to O’Hare (in Monaco) and Wightman (Oslo and Zurich). Lewandowski also gets credit for winning the European indoor title in March, even if the field there was watered-down.
1. Matthew Centrowitz • Nike Oregon Project • 28 years old • 3:33.41 1500 sb (#1 in U.S.) • 3:55.78i mile sb (#7 in U.S. indoors) • USA runner-up • World Championship 1st round
DL results: 7th Lausanne, 9th Monaco
This was a hard year to choose a U.S. #1. Centrowitz had the three fastest times but was second at USAs and went out in the first round at Worlds. Robby Andrews had the #3 SB and won USAs, but went out in the semis in London after pulling up lame with a calf injury. Johnny Gregorek was only third at USAs, but he had the #2 SB and was the U.S.’s sole World Championship finalist, placing 10th in London.
Were Centrowitz fully healthy, there’s little doubt he’d have finished the year as U.S. #1 — after all, he is the reigning World Indoor and Olympic champion. And even as he battled a series of injuries and a case of pericarditis, he showed enough to retain his #1 ranking, reaching a level that neither Andrews nor Gregorek could reach — Centrowitz was the only American to break 3:35 this year, and he did it three times, twice in Diamond League meets (Lausanne and Monaco) and also to win the USATF Distance Classic. And even at less than 100%, he still gave Andrews all he could handle at USAs before ultimately falling .12 of a second short. Here’s to hoping that Centrowitz and Andrews are injury-free next year, allowing the friendly rivals to truly test each other in 2018.
2. Robby Andrews • adidas • 26 years old • 3:35.25 1500 sb (#3 in U.S.) • 3:57.04i mile sb (#10 in U.S. indoors) • USA champion
DL results: 13th Birmingham
After finishing as runner-up to Centrowitz two straight years at USA outdoors (as well as at USA indoors in 2016), Andrews finally broke through with his first outdoor national title in 2017, and though he acknowledged that Centro wasn’t at 100%, a U.S national title is not easy to come by.
“I’m not going to say it’s a true battle,” Andrews told LRC after the race in Sacramento. “[Centrowitz] definitely said he’s been banged up. But you know, it feels really good to win a race.”
Unfortunately Andrews, like Centrowitz, was felled by injury at Worlds and was forced to pull up midway through his semi and step off the track. Andrews clearly has the ability to make major finals — he made the World Championship final in 2015, and only poor tactics prevented him from making the Olympic final last year — but he never really had a shot in London.
And while some might be surprised Andrews isn’t our USA #1, since he was the USATF champ, the bigger debate was whether Andrews or Gregorek should be #2, as Andrews struggled with consistency. But in a year where no American stood out on the global stage, Andrews gets the nod for his U.S. title.
3. Johnny Gregorek • asics/NJ*NY Track Club • 26 years old • 3:35.00 1500 sb (#2 in U.S.) • 3:53.15i mile sb (#2 in U.S. indoors) • 10th at Worlds • 3rd at USAs • 7th at USA indoors
DL results: 14th at Pre (B heat)
While Centrowitz and Andrews have been at the top of the US 1500 ranks for a few years now, Gregorek was a new addition in 2017. The Columbia grad didn’t exactly come out of nowhere — he was sixth at the 2016 Olympic Trials — but at the beginning of the year, no one would have expected that Gregorek would be the U.S.’s sole finalist in London. He lowered both of his PRs (from 3:36.05 to 3:35.00 in the 1500, and 3:55.27 to 3:53.15 in the mile) and ran very well domestically (he was 3-1 against Andrews head-to-head; Gregorek has a good case for #2 on this list).
And while Gregorek had a great year, he was also the beneficiary of some good fortune. At USAs, he looked to be out of it (10th at the bell) and even after mounting a furious comeback, he’s probably not on the team if Craig Engelsruns for the top three instead of running for the win. At Worlds, he had the benefit of being in the final heat in both the first round and the semis, allowing him to snag time qualifiers on each occasion. But you still need to be able to take advantage of those opportunities when presented, and Gregorek’s kick allowed him to do just that.
Next up for Gregorek? The family mile record. His father, John (3:51.34 pb) still has bragging rights at the moment.
4. Craig Engels • University of Mississippi/Nike Oregon Project • 23 years old • 3:35.95 1500 sb (#5 in U.S.) • 3:57.67 mile sb (#18 in U.S. outdoors) • 4th at USAs • 3rd at NCAAs
Despite breaking his clavicle over the winter while snowboarding, Engels bounced back with an impressive year in 2017. It took him until the outdoor season to get fully warmed up, but he impressed by finishing as the top American at NCAAs and coming within .02 of his first U.S. team. We gave Engels a lot of credit for running for the win at USAs rather than just running to get on the team. Yes, he didn’t make Worlds, but it takes a lot of guts to pull up on the shoulder of the Olympic champ and make a move for glory. With a couple of top training partners in Centrowitz and Clayton Murphy, Engels’ future is very bright.
5. Ben Blankenship • Nike Oregon Track Club • 29 years old • 3:35.29 1500 sb (#4 in US) • 3:53.04 mile sb (#2 in U.S. outdoors) • 12th at USAs • USA indoor champion
DL results: 13th Doha, 7th Pre, 10th London, 3rd Birmingham
Blankenship didn’t quite reach the heights of 2016, which saw him go all the way to the Olympic final. In fact, he didn’t even make the U.S. team after he could not sustain his power move with 600 to go in the U.S. final. But apart from a stinker in his outdoor opener in Doha, Blankenship was solid in all of his other 1500/mile races, ran fast times, and beat a good field to win the U.S. indoor title — his first at any distance on the track.