2015 LRC Year-End Rankings, Women’s Steeplechase: Hyvin Kiyeng, Emma Coburn Top World, U.S. Lists

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By LetsRun.com
December 23, 2015

2015 is drawing to a close and since there aren’t many major races from now until the New Year, we’re putting out our annual end-of-year rankings. Over the final days of the year, we’ll rank the top 10 men and women in the world in every Diamond League distance event (800, 1500/mile, 3000 steeple, 5000) as well as the marathon. We’ll also rank the top five Americans in each event.

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 in the World Championships is obviously a major consideration but winning Worlds doesn’t guarantee that an athlete will earn a #1 ranking. For U.S. athletes, their performance at the USATF Outdoor Championships also factors heavily in the rankings.
  • Season-best times matter but they’re less important if the time wasn’t run against good competition.
  • 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, but they won’t be valued as much as outdoor races, especially because there was no World Indoors this year.

LRC 2014 women’s steeple rankings * LRC All 2014 Year-End Rankings * LRC 2015 WC steeple Recap Kenya’s Hyvin Kiyeng Wins Wild Steeple Final as Emma Coburn Settles for Fifth

LRC All 2015 Year-End Rankings

World Rankings

1. Hyvin Kiyeng • Kenya • 23 years old • 9:10.15 sb (#2 in world) • World Champion

DL results: 3rd Doha, 1st Rome, 2nd Birmingham, 2nd Monaco, 2nd Brussels (DL final)

In a crazy year in the women’s steeple, Kiyeng’s brilliance was one of the few constants. She opened her season with a 3rd-place finish in Doha on May 15 and wouldn’t finish lower than second in any of her remaining seven races, including Worlds in Beijing, where she prevailed in an epic final. We’ve embedded the final lap below in case you forgot what a great race that was.

Kiyeng had strong competition for the #1 ranking in Tunisia’s Habiba Ghribi, who took second to Kiyeng in Beijing and ran the year’s fastest time (9:05) but we valued Kiyeng’s world title and year-long consistency (Ghribi ran just three steeples this year, not counting finals, none before July 17).

Ghribi missed gold once again at Worlds, but her 9:05 in Brussels helped to soothe that blow

Ghribi missed gold once again at Worlds, but her 9:05 in Brussels helped to soothe that blow

2. Habiba Ghribi • Tunisia • 31 years old • 9:05.36 sb (#1) • Silver at Worlds

DL results: 1st Monaco, 1st Brussels (DL final)

Ghribi followed the same strategy that she did to earn Olympic silver in 2012 (behind doper Yuliya Zaripova) as she ran just one steeple prior to Worlds, winning in Monaco in 9:11.28 — at that time a new world leader. With Zaripova (who also denied Ghribi a title at the 2011 Worlds) out of the picture serving a doping ban, the stage was set for Ghribi to earn her long-coveted gold.

Instead, she endured more heartbreak. She, Kiyeng and Germany’s Gesa Krause were level coming off the final barrier in Beijing, but Kiyeng’s speed won out and Ghribi had to settle for silver once more. Ghribi took out her frustration by running the world’s third-fastest time ever in Brussels on September 11, setting an African record with her 9:05.36.

3. Virginia Nyambura • Kenya • 22 years old • 9:13.85 sb (#4) • 7th at Worlds • Diamond League Champion

DL results: 1st Doha, 2nd Rome, 1st Birmingham, 1st Lausanne, 3rd Monaco, 6th Brussels (DL final)

Nyambura authored one of 2015’s biggest upsets in Doha on May 15, when she stayed in the race after rabbiting the first 2k and won the thing in 9:21.51 — a 37-second pb in 99-degree heat. From there, Nyambura picked up wins in Birmingham and Lausanne en route to the DL title dropped her pb another eight seconds, getting down to 9:13.85 in Monaco.

Given that Nyambura had mainly served as a rabbit in years past and was expecting to do so again in 2015, she can be forgiven for running out of steam at the end of the year, finishing 7th at Worlds and 6th in the DL final in Brussels. But her potential in 2016 is massive, especially since she will have a clear goal in mind: Olympic gold in Rio.

4. Sofia Assefa • Ethiopia • 28 years old • 9:12.63 sb (#3) • 4th at Worlds

DL results: 7th Doha, 6th Rome, 6th Birmingham, 3rd Brussels (DL final)

Assefa’s 9:12.63 in Brussels ranked her third on the 2015 list and she was 3-2 against Hiwot Ayalew (her chief rival for this spot) with the three wins coming in her three biggest races: the WC final, the DL final and the All-Africa Games in Congo on September 15.

5. Hiwot Ayalew • Ethiopia • 25 years old • 9:14.73 sb (#5) • 6th at Worlds

DL results: 2nd Doha, 3rd Rome, 1st New York, 2nd Lausanne, 4th Monaco, 4th Brussels (DL final)

Ayalew, last year’s number one, fell four pots in our 2015 rankings but put together another strong year. She was a fixture near the top of Diamond League races, winning in New York and taking runner-up honors in Doha and Lausanne. She also had four times that ranked among the top 14 in the world; no other woman had more than three.

But the regular season has never been the problem for Ayalew. She was the Diamond League champion in 2014 and ran well on the circuit in 2012 and 2013, but she has finished 5th, 4th and 6th at the last three global championships. Is that merely bad luck or a sign that she has to rethink her strategy?

6. Gesa Felicitas Krause • Germany • 23 years old • 9:19.25 sb (#8) • Bronze at Worlds

DL results: 9th Rome, 6th Monaco

That Krause is ranked sixth despite earning a bronze medal at Worlds is proof of how unexpected her run in Beijing was. Entering that race, Krause, eighth at the 2012 Olympics, had struggled in 2013 and 2014 (after running 9:23 in ’12, she had SBs of just 9:37 and 9:35 in ’13 and ’14) but had shown some promise in 2015. She earned wins at the European Team Champs and German Champs and set a three-second PB in Monaco (9:20.15), but few were mentioning the 23-year-old German as a medal contender.

Yet there Krause was, leading the World Championship final after successfully clearing the final hurdle. She was 40 meters from a massive upset, but couldn’t quite hang with Kiyeng or Ghribi at the end. Despite coming so close to victory, Krause was extremely happy to take bronze, even if she didn’t quite reach her goal of setting the German record (she ran 9:19.25, missing the record by .71).

We penalized her for the lack of big races on her resume (just two DL outings), but she ran well in Monaco to take 6th and her run in Beijing was obviously very impressive. Those two results are good enough to make Krause #6 on the year.

Coburn won her fourth U.S. title in 2015 and shows no signs of slowing

Coburn won her fourth U.S. title in 2015 and shows no signs of slowing

7. Emma Coburn • USA • 25 years old • 9:15.59 sb (#6) • 5th at Worlds • U.S. Outdoor Champion

DL results: 3rd Lausanne, 10th Monaco, 8th Brussels (DL final)

There’s a parallel universe where Coburn set the American record and took home the U.S.’s first global medal in the women’s steeplechase this year. Coburn’s fitness was there, but unlike 2014, when she could do no wrong, a couple of breaks didn’t go her way, leaving her 5th at Worlds.

Like her countryman Evan Jager, who was 6th at Worlds, Coburn has reset the bar for what’s possible for an American steepler, and because of that it’s tempting to view a year without a medal as a failure. But that’s harsh, and it devalues what Coburn did accomplish. She won her fourth U.S. title at the age of 24, setting the meet record as she destroyed the field with a 9:15.59 clocking in 90-degree temps. Her 5th-place finish at Worlds was the best ever by an American in the brief history of the event. Coburn also lowered her 1500 best to 4:05.10 at the Pre Classic.

Coburn wanted to take a run at the American record (technically still 9:12.50 by Jenny Simpson, though Coburn ran 9:11.42 last year), but events conspired against her in her first two Diamond League races. In Lausanne on July 9, no one ran fast (winning time 9:16.99), in part due to wind on the backstretch, and Coburn was a competitive 3rd in 9:20.67. Then a week later in Monaco, Coburn was sick prior to the race and struggled to a 10th-place finish in 9:23.91. Coburn’s 9:32.13 at the DL final was simply a bad race — “pretty pathetic,” according to Coburn (though she was dealing with a nagging Achilles injury). But it also marked the first time she had lost to another American since 2010 — an indication of just how dominant she has been during that span.

“In general, [I was happy with 2015],” Coburn said earlier this month to LetsRun.com. “I wish I could have run a PR; that was a goal that I really wanted. Get a PR and re-break the American record. Other than that, the season went as expected. I had a goal to finish top-five at Worlds and I finished 5th.”

Coburn is in a great spot heading into 2016. She has a good rapport with coaches Mark Wetmore and Heather Burroughs, and they’ve clearly found a formula that works. It won’t take a drastic change for Coburn to earn a medal at the Olympics, and she knows that.

“Continuing to work on my overall fitness is most important,” Coburn said. “I think the hurdling and the water jumps, that kind of stuff seamlessly falls into place if you’re fit … I think that just another year of training under my belt and another year of solid mileage and more flat races, that will just continue to help that will help me develop me to be a better runner. But steeple-specific, there’s nothing to change or tweak or add or take out for the 2016 season. I’ve been doing the same recipe here since 2008.”

If Coburn remains in her 2014/2015 shape, she’ll be in the hunt for a medal. If she can improve her fitness, down to the 9:0x range, she’ll be a medal favorite and have a shot at gold.

8. Purity Kirui • Kenya • 24 years old • 9:17.74 sb (#7)

DL results: 12th Doha, 5th Monaco, 5th Brussels (DL final)

Kirui was 2-0 vs. Coburn, but she’s behind her in these rankings because she aside from those two races (Monaco and Brussels), she didn’t accomplish much in 2015. She was 12th in her only other DL outing in Doha and was 4th at the Kenyan World Championship Trials (the woman who beat her out, Roseline Chepngetich, was last in the WC final). Kirui did earn a bronze at the All-Africa Games, but didn’t beat anyone noteworthy in that race. Considering Coburn ran faster and was just short of medalling at Worlds, we’re ranking her ahead of Kirui.

Garcia pushed the pace at USAs and was rewarded with a pb and a runner-up finish

Garcia pushed the pace at USAs and was rewarded with a pb and a runner-up finish

9. Stephanie Garcia • USA • 27 years old • 9:23.48 sb (#14) • 9th at Worlds • 2nd at USA Outdoors

DL results: 4th Birmingham, 7th Brussels (DL final)

Garcia built on a breakthrough 2014 season — when she slashed 17 seconds off her 9:41 pb — with an even better 2015. She recorded her highest finish at USAs (2nd) with a gutsy front-running race; even though Coburn pulled away over the last lap-and-a-half, Garcia kept battling, and the result was another pb (9:23.48). In Beijing, Garcia qualified for her first World Championship final, placing 9th overall, and she capped her year with a solid 7th-place finish in the DL final in Brussels, in the process beating Coburn for the first time in over six years.

Garcia excelled at other distances as well, dropping her 1500 best from 4:13.33 all the way down to 4:05.39 and her 5,000 from 15:43.47 to 15:19.50. When both are at their best, Coburn is on a different level than Garcia, but the gap is not as wide as it once was.

10. Salima El Ouali Alami • Morocco • 32 years old (on 12/29) • 9:20.64 sb (#10) • 10th at Worlds

DL results: 9th Doha, 8th Rome, 7th Monaco

El Ouali Alami was 10th at Worlds (improving on her 15th-place finish two years ago) and had the 10th-fastest SB on the year, so it’s only fitting that she occupy the #10 spot on our list. She ran her season best in the deep Monaco meet. This spot came down to El Ouali Alami and Bahrain’s Ruth Jebet, who was 11th at Worlds, but El Ouali was 2-0 against Jebet head-to-head, which tipped the scales in her favor.

Honorable mention: Ruth Jebet (Bahrain)

U.S. Rankings

1. Emma Coburn (see above)

2. Stephanie Garcia (see above)

Quigley capped her collegiate career with a long-awaited NCAA title in June

Quigley capped her collegiate career with a long-awaited NCAA title in June

3. Colleen Quigley • Florida State University/Nike Bowerman Track Club • 23 years old • 9:24.92 sb (#3 in US) • 12th at Worlds • 3rd at USA Outdoors • NCAA Champion

DL results: 11th Lausanne

Injury cut short Quigley’s 2014 season in May, but she returned with a vengeance in her senior year at Florida State. First, Quigley finished 3rd in the mile at the NCAA Indoor Championships less than two weeks after the resignation of FSU coach Karen Harvey. Outdoors went even better for the Seminole. She won ACCs in the 1500 and then defeated defending champ Leah O’Connor to win the steeple at NCAAs, running 9:29.32, good for #3 all-time among collegians. Two weeks later, Quigley lopped over four seconds off that mark to take third at USAs and book her ticket to Beijing. Quigley performed solidly at Worlds, running 9:29 in the prelims and taking 12th in the final.

4. Leah O’Connor • Michigan State University/adidas • 23 years old • 9:31.03 sb (#4 in US) • 4th at USA Outdoors • 3rd at NCAA Outdoors

DL results: 13th Monaco

Heading into the NCAA Outdoor Championships in June, the script was written for Leah O’Connor. After a dream 2014-15 campaign that included a team title at the NCAA XC Championships and a meet record in the mile at NCAA indoors, the Michigan State senior seemed poised to earn close out her collegiate career with a second straight national title in the steeplechase. Yet despite running a pb of 9:33.38 in the final, O’Connor couldn’t shake Quigley and was outkicked by UMKC’s Courtney Frerichs, relegating O’Connor to third — despite running the #8 time in NCAA history.

At USAs, O’Connor suffered more heartbreak at the hands of Quigley. The two were battling for the final Worlds spot on the final lap and as they entered the final water barrier of the race, O’Connor slipped and fell — the first fall of her steeple career. O’Connor still got up and ran another pb of 9:31.03 but Quigley once again came out on top.

While Quigley may have gotten the best of her in the year’s two biggest races, the future is still very bright for O’Connor. Her solo 4:27 in the NCAA mile was one of the most impressive performances of the meet and also demonstrated tremendous speed. And it’s hard to call an track season in which O’Connor went undefeated until NCAA outdoors (including three individual victories at Big 10s) and PR’d three times in the steeple anything but a success. Quigley and O’Connor should continue to push each other to new heights in 2016, with U.S. distance fans the beneficiaries.

5. Ashley Higginson • NJ*NY Track Club/Saucony • 26 years old • 9:31.32 sb (#5 in US) • 5th at USA Outdoors • Pan Am Games Champion • NACAC Champion

DL results: 2nd New York

It’s a testament to how much U.S. steepling has improved that Higginson could put together a season like this and still record her lowest finish at USAs (she was 4th in 2012, and 2nd in 2013 and 2014). Higginson was the runner-up at the NYC Diamond League meet, running 9:31.32, her #2 time ever, and was 5th at USAs not because she had a poor race, but because the three women in front of her had great ones (three of the four PR’d and Coburn ran 9:15).

The fact is that you now have to be in mid-9:20 shape to make the U.S. team in the women’s steeple. Higginson might be able to get there in 2016, but how many other women will be with her?

Honorable mention: Courtney Frerichs (UMKC/New Mexico)


LRC 2014 women’s steeple rankings * LRC All 2014 Year-End Rankings * LRC 2015 WC steeple Recap Kenya’s Hyvin Kiyeng Wins Wild Steeple Final as Emma Coburn Settles for Fifth

LRC All 2015 Year-End Rankings


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