2016 LRC Year-End Rankings, Men’s Marathon: Eliud Kipchoge Caps a Historic Year as World #1 as Breakout Marathon Star Galen Rupp Leads the Americans

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By David Graham
December 31, 2016

(Talk about these rankings on our fan forum / messageboard. MB: 2016 Men’s Marathon Rankings controversy – Where should Galen Rupp be ranked?)

Editor’s note: With few professional events on the running calendar until 2017, LetsRun.com is once again rolling out its year-end rankings of the mid-d and distance events (2014 rankings here; 2015 rankings here). 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. However, it’s been a lot of work to compile them so we’re taking a mini break here.

For the past three years, we’ve published a series of terrific articles by friend of LRC David Graham, who has shared his thoughts on the year in men’s marathoning. Instead of spending the time on our own rankings, we are (headed to some New Year’s Eve parties) running David’s marathon thoughts once again in 2016, as they are very well done. We love everything about them except for Galen Rupp‘s ranking which we feel is way too high. Talk about where Galen Rupp should be ranked on our fan forum/messageboard: MB: 2016 Men’s Marathon Rankings controversy – Where should Galen Rupp be ranked?

Enjoy. You can find David’s previous year-end rankings at the following links: 2013, 2014, 2015.

LRC 2015 men’s marathon rankings * LRC All 2015 Year-End Rankings * LRC All 2016 Year-End Rankings

LRC’s coverage of the 2016 World Marathon Majors

LRC 2016 Tokyo Marathon Recap: Feyisa Lilesa (2:06:56) Wins, Denies Dickson Chumba Share of WMM Title; Helah Kiprop Wins First Major in Course-Record 2:21:27, Moves Into Tie Atop AWMM Standings
LRC Lemi Berhanu Hayle Drops The Hammer On Lelisa Desisa To Win Boston and Get His First World Marathon Major Win
LRC A Race For The Ages: Eliud Kipchoge (2:03:05) Crushes Course Record, Runs #3 Time Ever at 2016 London Marathon
LRC Olympic Marathon: Eliud Kipchoge Cements His Status As The World’s Greatest Marathoner As Galen Rupp Doubles Back From The 10K To Win Bronze
LRC The King is Back – Kenenisa Bekele Runs 2:03:03 to Defeat Wilson Kipsang in a Race for the Ages at BMW Berlin Marathon
LRC 2016 Chicago Marathon: Abel Kirui Digs Deep To Resurrect His Career With His First Win Since 2011; Florence Kiplagat Sends A Statement To Athletics Kenya
LRC Ghirmay Ghebreslassie Wins New York, Abdi Abdirahman of the US Third With Five Americans in Top 10

LRC 2016 Olympic Marathon Trials America’s Next Great Marathoner Arrives as Galen Rupp Dominates Olympic Trials in Debut; Meb Keflezighi, Jared Ward Grab Final Two Spots on Team USA

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A mere eight years ago, the great Haile Gebrselassie averaged slightly more than one second faster per mile than his existing marathon world record to become the first man in history to run under 2:04, with his 2:03:59 coming in the 2008 Berlin Marathon. A mere two Olympiads later, Geb’s time is now only the seventh best on that course; and the average of the top 10 times in Berlin is now 2:03:35, 24 seconds faster – nearly one second faster per mile – than Geb’s second WR!

Who says distance running does not rapidly evolve?

[Berlin’s Top 10: Dennis Kimetto 2:02:57 (2014), Kenenisa Bekele 2:03:03 (2016), Emmanuel Mutai 2:03:13 (2014), Wilson Kipsang 2:03:13 (2016), Wilson Kipsang 2:03:23 (2013), Patrick Makau Musyoki 2:03:38 (2011), Haile Gebrselassie 2:03:59 (2008), Eliud Kipchoge 2:04:00 (2015), Eliud Kipchoge 2:04:05 (2013), Geoffrey Mutai 2:04:15 (2012)]

The same thing has happened with HG’s 2008 Dubai race. His 2:04:53 broke the course record by a full 4:40 and was the second fastest marathon in history, trailing only his WR 2:04:26 run at Berlin four months earlier. Now the average of the top 10 times of the Dubai Marathon is 2:04:40; and even more impressive is that only eight8 years later, HG’s time doesn’t rank in Dubai’s top 10.

[Dubai’s Top Times: 1) Ayele Abshero 2:04:23 (2012), 2) Tesfaye Abera 2:04:24 (2016) 3) Tsegaye Mekonnen Asefa 2:04:32 (2014), 4) Lemi Berhanu Hayle 2:04:33 (2016), 5) Lelisa Desisa 2:04:45 (2013), 6) Tsegaye Mekonnen 2:04:46 (2016), 7) Berhanu Shiferaw Tolcha 2:04:48 (2013),  8) Tadesse Tola 2:04:49 (2013), 9) Dino Sefir 2:04:50 (2012), 10) Endeshaw Negesse 2:04:52 (2013), 11) Haile Gebrselassie 2:04:53 (2008) & Bernard Kiprop Koech 2:04:53 (2013), 13) Markos Geneti 2:04:54 (2012), 14) Jonathan Maiyo 2:04:56 (2012)]

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So, with those preliminary comments about how quickly men’s marathon times continue to progress, for what it’s worth, here’s how I see the top 10 marathoners for 2016:

1. Eliud Kipchoge, Kenya, 32 years old – (London, 1st, 2:03:05/Rio Olympics, 1st, 2:08:44) – As he did last year, Kipchoge again made things easy for choosing #1 in the rankings, didn’t he?  Even with Bekele’s surprise in Berlin, Kipchoge’s 2:03:05 in London remains shockingly impressive. (It’s 4:41.7 per mile, for cryin’ out loud!) It is just as amazing to consider that his tactical 2:08:44 to win the Olympics was the slowest marathon he has ever run…by over three minutes!!! But that last half of 62:49 and 10K split of 29:09 from 30 to 40K, in the heat of Rio, was not slow at all. I have seen the video of the race several times, and over the last 400 meters, I always find myself marveling at Kipchoge’s leg turnover: he looks like he is finishing a 1,500-meter race, not a marathon. He had more – a lot more – left in the tank. There are still a few things missing from Kipchoge’s very impressive marathon resume – a world record, a world championship, a win in New York or Boston – but if he were to retire tomorrow, even though he has only run the marathon for four years, he would still be considered one of the greatest marathoners in history.

2. Kenenisa Bekele, Ethiopia, 34 years old – (London, 3rd, 2:06:36/Berlin, 1st, 2:03:03) – It was impressive enough to see Bekele take third in 2:06 in London on a minimal amount of training, but then his 2:03:03 at Berlin took down Kipchoge’s London race as the fastest of the year (and second fastest ever on a record-eligible course). Please note his Berlin race works out to 4:41.6/mile! That is jaw-dropping. I was surprised by his performance in Berlin – beforehand he acted as though he’d be happy get a PR with a sub-2:05. But he went way beyond that, even breaking Gebrselassie’s Ethiopian national record. Kipchoge was well ahead of Bekele in London, but what will happen next year if they both show up in London in great form? Will they come back to London a few months afterward for the World Championships and slug it out twice in one year? (Editor’s note: With the news that Kipchoge will bypass the 2017 London Marathon in a Nike-sponsored attempt to break 2:00, if Kipchoge and Bekele are to race at all in 2017, it likely won’t come until the World Championships at the earliest)

3. Feyisa Lilesa, Ethiopia, 26 years old – (Tokyo, 1st, 2:06:56/Rio Olympics, 2nd, 2:09:54/Honolulu, 4th, 2:15:56) – He had two strong outings, with a win in Tokyo and a silver medal in the Olympics (even though he was controversially chosen over Bekele to represent Ethiopia.) I ranked him behind Bekele because London/Berlin represented a more competitive combo than Tokyo/Rio/Honolulu; plus, a 2:03:03 is a 2:03:03!! (And Bekele needed it, for right behind him was a 2:03:13.) By comparison, Lilesa’s win in Tokyo was nearly four minutes slower. And his result in Honolulu was lackluster. Lilesa’s PR, by the way, is the 2:04:52 he ran to finish second at Chicago in 2012. His fastest since then was a 2:06:35 that he ran at Dubai last year.

(LRC Addition: It will be interesting to see how Lilesa fares in 2017 as after his protest he won’t be returning to Ethiopia. His first post protest marathon (Honolulu) wasn’t a great one).

4. Galen Rupp, USA, 30 years old – (LA U.S. Olympic Trials, 1st, 2:11:12/Rio Olympics, 3rd, 2:10:05) – Not a bad year for a rookie, huh? First in the U.S. Olympic Trials in his marathon debut and then a bronze-medal performance in the Olympics. In both races, he showed that he can handle the heat. I agree with Tim Hutchings that Rupp’s future is in marathoning, where he seems to be a natural. Ok, Rupp wants one last year on the track in 2017, but after that, he really needs to the make the marathon his primary event. He’s 30 years old and it is time to move up (to an event for which he seems well-suited).

MB: 2016 Men’s Marathon Rankings controversy – Where should Galen Rupp be ranked?

Editor’s note: It looks like Rupp and his coach Alberto Salazar agree with David. One week after David sent us these rankings on December 13, it came out that Rupp will be running the Boston Marathon in April. Then on December 28, Salazar told The Oregonian‘s Ken Goe that he believes the marathon is Rupp’s best event and that Rupp will concentrate on marathon training from 2017 onward.

5. Ghirmay Ghebreslassie, Eritrea, 21 years old – (London, 4th 2:07:46/Rio Olympics, 4th, 2:11:04/New York City, 1st, 2:07:51) – A strong year for a man who turned 21 years old in November. Fourth in the always hyper-competitive London race, same spot in the Olympics, then an impressive win in the fifth fastest time ever run in NYC. He only ranks behind Rupp because of the race in Rio, where Rupp beat him (by almost a minute). My question is: will Ghebreslassie end up like Tsegaye Kebede? Which is to say, someone who has amazing races from age 19/20 onward, but who is essentially done as a major force in the marathon well before his 30th birthday? (Thought: is it true that ‘there are only so many marathons’ in each body?)

6. Wilson Kipsang, Kenya, 34 years old – (London, 5th, 2:07:52/Berlin, 2nd, 2:03:13) – I admit, I was fooled: at 34, with a DNF (2015 Worlds), well-beaten fourth (2015 NYC), and well-beaten fifth in 2:07 (2016 London) in his previous three marathons, I thought Kipsang’s best days were behind him heading into 2016 Berlin. In fact, rumor had it that he let the Kenyan Olympic selection committee know that he wasn’t interested in going to Rio, so wasn’t that an admission that he didn’t fancy his chances? Yes, he could still be competitive, could probably on the right day even dip under 2:05, but his best days were behind him, right? Wrong. Kipsang’s PR race in Berlin was, for me, even more surprising than that of Bekele’s. That 2:03:13 was scorching. Combined with a top-five finish in the year’s most competitive field at London, this gives him a well-deserved top-10 spot in the rankings.

7. Tesfaye Abera, Ethiopia, 24 years old – (Dubai, 1st, 2:04:24/Hamburg, 1st, 2:06:58/Rio Olympics, DNF) – An impressive win in a fast time at the always competitive Dubai race, combined with a “W” in the city where the great Eliud Kipchoge ran his first marathon three years ago, had Abera looking good in the rankings until those two fine performances were sandbagged by the Rio DNF. Still, two “W’s” is two “W’s,” so he gets a top-10 spot.

8. Lemi Berhanu Hayle, Ethiopia, 22 years old – (Dubai, 2nd, 2:04:33/Boston, 1st, 2:12:45/Rio Olympics, 13th, 2:13:29) – Berhanu was in the medal hunt in Rio until he faded badly in the final miles. Still, a second at the very competitive Dubai race in the year’s sixth fastest time plus a win in Boston put him up in the top 10.

9. Evans Chebet, Kenya, 28 years old – (Seoul, 2nd, 2:05:33/Berlin, 3rd, 2:05:31) – Remember when in 2002 Khalid Khannouchi became the first man to run 2:05 twice in the same year and ranked first in the world (and second in Track & Field News’ Athlete of the Year voting)? Well, running two 2:05‘s now garners no such laurels, though this year, I think it does get Chebet in the door for top 10. His Seoul race was a PR by over two minutes. His two-second PR in Berlin came behind Bekele/Kipsang’s amazing performances, in which Chebet still managed to take the scalp of another 2:03:13 man, Emmanuel Mutai, as well as 2:05:16 man Sisay Lemma, 2:05:21 man Eliud Kiptanui, & 2:06:00 man Mark Kiptoo.

10. Stanley Biwott, Kenya, 30 years old – (London, 2nd, 2:03:51/Rio Olympics, DNF/New York City, DNF) – I know, I know: with 2 DNF’s, how can Biwott be ranked in the top 10? I guess the opposite question is, how can a man run 2:03 and not be ranked in the top 10? And as that 2:03 came at London, with its high-quality field, his second place finish & his time that day (a full 37 seconds under Kipsang’s previous course record of 2:04:29, the 12th fastest marathon time in history) gets him a top-10 spot.

Honorable Mention

a) Daniel Wanjiru, Kenya, 24 years old – (Amsterdam, 1st, 2:05:21/Prague, 4th, 2:09:25) – a splendid 2:05:21 won the Amsterdam Marathon in a new course record over some stiff competition (Sammy Kitwara 2:05:43, Marius Kimutai 2:05:47, Laban Korir 2:05:54, Ezekiel Chebii 2:06:06, plus previous course record holder Wilson Chebet and previous winner Bernard Kipyego), but his fourth place finish in Prague in 2:09:25 in May didn’t add to his Amsterdam result to help him make the cut.

b) Lucas Rotich, Kenya, 26 years old (Lake Biwa, 1st, 2:09:11/New York City, 2nd, 2:08:53) – I toyed with putting him in the top 10, but in the end, neither the field in Lake Biwa nor New York City was strong enough to garner him a top-10 spot. (Rotich was one of six men to break 2:10 at Lake Biwa, but in this day and age, that is no longer a mark of a highly competitive field.)

c) Abel Kirui, Kenya, 34 years old – (Tokyo, 5th, 2:08:06/Chicago, 1st, 2:11:23) – a fifth at Tokyo (2:08:06) and a first at Chicago (2:11:23) shows that, like fellow 34-year-old compatriot Kipsang and 34-year-old Bekele, his career isn’t over (though unlike Kipsang and Bekele, Kirui is not still running PR’s, his 2:05:04 dating back to 2009). In this Olympic year, Chicago had a weak field, so a win there doesn’t carry as much weight as it has in the past. Hence, he doesn’t make the cut.

What do you think of these rankings? Talk about them on our fan forum / messageboard. MB: 2016 Men’s Marathon Rankings controversy – Where should Galen Rupp be ranked?

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American Rankings
1) Galen Rupp, 30 years old – (1st U.S. Olympic Trials/3rd Olympics 2:10:05)
2) Jared Ward, 28 years old – (3rd U.S. OT/6th Olympics 2:11:30)
3) Meb Keflezighi, 41 years old – (2nd U.S. OT 2:12:20/33rd Olympics)
4) Luke Puskedra, 26 years old – (4th U.S. OT/19th Chicago 2:20:18)
5) Tyler Pennel, 29 years old – (5th U.S. OT/8th NYC 2:15:09)
7) Matt Llano, 28 years old – (6th U.S. OT/17th NYC 2:20:15)
6) Shadrack Biwott, 31 years old – (7th U.S. OT/5th NYC 2:12:01)
8) Patrick Smyth, 30 years old – (8th U.S. OT/10th NYC 2:16:34)
9) Nick Arciniaga, 33 years old – (10th U.S. OT/6th Grandma’s 2:17:12/23rd Berlin 2:18:18/7th Honolulu 2:24:28)
10) Bobby Curtis, 32 years old – (63rd, U.S. OT/4th Frankfurt, 2:11:20)Honorable mentions
Ben Payne, 35 years old (17th U.S. OT/9th NYC 2:15:46)
Daniel Tapia, 30 years old (28th U.S. OT/3rd California Int. Marathon 2:12:28)
Sean Quigley, 31 years old (9th at US OT but I find no second marathon for him in 2016)————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————–

Journeyman Award – (“Journeyman – a worker or sports player who is reliable but not outstanding”) This goes to Jared Ward, who for me was the biggest surprise in Rio. As I was watching the finishing stretch of the Olympic marathon, I looked into the distance and…could it be? Yes, it was! The U.S.A. uniform meant that was Jared Ward who was going to finish in sixth place in the Olympic final. Wow. I was as proud of him as I was of anyone in either the men’s or women’s marathon in Rio. Like Brian Sell, Dan Browne, Pete Pfitzinger, Don Kardong, Kenny Moore, Ron Daws, or Gordon McKenzie, to name but a few, Ward is one of those talented athletes who nevertheless lives in shadow of those with slightly more natural gifts. Yet these journeyman work just as hard to get the most out of their bodies. Third in the Olympic Trials to make the U.S. team, then sixth place in the Olympics themselves: well done, Jared Ward!

Honorable MentionYuki Kawauchi, who, though running injured, gritted it out to take third at Fukuoka in 2:09:11 to put himself in a good position to make the Japanese marathon team for the World Champs in London.

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Masters Special Mention: Hats off to Meb Keflezighi, who broke his own American masters record for the marathon at the U.S. Olympic Trials in February. Hats off as well to Kenneth Mburu Mungara, who only two months before turning 43 went down to Australia and defended his Gold Coast Marathon title with a one-second win over Yuki Kawauchi. Mungara’s 2:09:00 was only 18 seconds off of his CR (and masters WR) from last year.

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New course records run in 2016:

  • London (Eliud Kipchoge, his 2:03:05 the second – now third – fastest marathon in history on a record-eligible course, ripping a full 1:24 off of an admirable CR; Stanley Biwott was also significantly under the old CR)
  • Amsterdam (Daniel Wanjiru’s 2:05:21 took 15 seconds off of the CR)
  • Seville (Kiplimo Lagat’s 2:08:14 took 19 seconds off his own CR from 2014)
  • Mumbai (Gideon Kipketer’s 2:08:35 took 58 seconds off the previous CR)
  • Cape Town (Asefa Negewo Mengstu’s 2:08:41 took two full minutes off the CR)
  • Twin Cities Marathon (Dominic Ondoro took down one of the oldest CR’s on the books, his 2:08:51 beating the 31-year-old CR of 2:10:05 run by Phil Coppess in 1985)
  • Honolulu (Lawrence Cherono’s 2:09:39 represented the first time that someone had averaged sub-5:00 minute pace at the always high-temperature Honolulu Marathon; Wilson Chebet also averaged sub-5:00 pace in finishing under the old CR of 2:11:12)

Note: Rio de Janeiro has hosted a marathon the last few years, with Will Kimutai’s 2:14:56 from 2015 being the best thus far. The Olympic marathon course was different, though run over much of the same stretch of coastal land with basically the same degree of difficulty. Thus Eliud Kipchoge’s 2:08:44 – though not a “CR” – is by far the fastest marathon ever run in the city.

Other sub-2:10 CR’s were run in Hefei, China (Gezahegn Kelkilew’s 2:08:54 took 29 seconds off the one-year-old CR), Brescia (Ruben Kerio 2:09:05), Rabat (Sammy Korir’s 2:09:23 in this second edition of the race took 1:15 off the time run the year before), and Dongying, China (Dickson Kipsang Tuwei’s 2:09:27 took 2:17 off the CR); Seoul also had a new CR established this year, run by Wilson Loyanae Erupe, the man convicted of EPO use in 2012.

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Longstanding Questions: In 1983, Alberto Salazar ran a 2:10:08 at Rotterdam and a 2:09:21 at Fukuoka. Both were run on certified, looped courses, yet neither was given American record status. Why not? I have heard there was a problem with “paperwork” for the Fukuoka race…but for Rotterdam? Can administrative problems really negate such real-life performances? If the Fukuoka race had been granted American record status, it would have remained the AR for seventeen years (until Khalid Khannouchi’s performance at Chicago in 2000)…So, why were neither of these performances granted AR status? “Enquiring minds want to know…”

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Questions that I have for 2017:

  • Is Dennis Kimetto finished?  His WR was a mere two years ago, but he hasn’t come close to that since then. 
  • Is Emmanuel Mutai finished? His 2:03:13 was also only two years ago, but. Or will he and Kimetto return to great form in 2017, as Kipsang and Bekele did in 2016? 
  • Will Kimetto’s WR go down in 2017…and if so, will two men beat that time in the same race? 
  • If Sammy Wanjiru were alive, would he be the current WR holder? (He would have turned 30 years old in November)

That last question will always remain unanswered, but for the rest, only time will tell…


LRC 2015 men’s marathon rankings * LRC All 2015 Year-End Rankings * LRC All 2016 Year-End Rankings * LRC David Graham’s previous marathon thoughts: 2013, 2014, 2015

LRC’s coverage of the 2016 World Marathon Majors

LRC 2016 Tokyo Marathon Recap: Feyisa Lilesa (2:06:56) Wins, Denies Dickson Chumba Share of WMM Title; Helah Kiprop Wins First Major in Course-Record 2:21:27, Moves Into Tie Atop AWMM Standings
LRC Lemi Berhanu Hayle Drops The Hammer On Lelisa Desisa To Win Boston and Get His First World Marathon Major Win
LRC A Race For The Ages: Eliud Kipchoge (2:03:05) Crushes Course Record, Runs #3 Time Ever at 2016 London Marathon
LRC Olympic Marathon: Eliud Kipchoge Cements His Status As The World’s Greatest Marathoner As Galen Rupp Doubles Back From The 10K To Win Bronze
LRC The King is Back – Kenenisa Bekele Runs 2:03:03 to Defeat Wilson Kipsang in a Race for the Ages at BMW Berlin Marathon
LRC 2016 Chicago Marathon: Abel Kirui Digs Deep To Resurrect His Career With His First Win Since 2011; Florence Kiplagat Sends A Statement To Athletics Kenya
LRC Ghirmay Ghebreslassie Wins New York, Abdi Abdirahman of the US Third With Five Americans in Top 10

LRC 2016 Olympic Marathon Trials America’s Next Great Marathoner Arrives as Galen Rupp Dominates Olympic Trials in Debut; Meb Keflezighi, Jared Ward Grab Final Two Spots on Team USA


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