2017 LRC World & US Rankings, W 800: Caster Semenya Is World #1 Again; Ajee Wilson Produces Greatest Year Ever By an American

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By LetsRun.com
December 22, 2017

With few professional events on the running calendar until 2018, LetsRun.com is once again rolling out its year-end rankings of the mid-d and distance events (2014 rankings here; 2015 rankings here; 2016 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.

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.

LRC 2016 women’s 800 rankings * LRC All 2017 Year-End Rankings * LRC 2017 World Championship 800 Recap Caster Semenya remains unbeatable in the 800 as Ajee Wilson wins bronze at 2017 World Track and Field Champs

World Rankings

In the women’s 800, the 2017 season played out very similarly to the 2016 season. For the second year in a row, Caster Semenya went undefeated and earned a global title. For the second year in a row, Francine Niyonsaba was a clear #2, losing only once to someone not named Semenya. The big chance came at #3, where Ajee Wilson usurped Margaret Wambui‘s position at Worlds to earn a hard-fought bronze medal.

That Wilson could break up the Big Three — something she did for the first time in Monaco, where she ran 1:55.61 to break Jearl Miles-Clark‘s 18-year-old American record — was an incredible accomplishment. Since the Court of Arbitration for Sport suspended the IAAF’s hyperandrogenism guidelines, Semenya, Niyonsaba, and Wambui had been invincible. Wilson changed that. But Wilson’s 1:55 in Monaco — and her subsequent bronze in London — raised two questions about the future of the event. Does the fact that Wilson was able to contend with Semenya and Niyonsaba mean that those two are beatable moving forward? Or does the fact that Wilson produced two ridiculous performances and still lost mean that Semenya and Niyonsaba are unbeatable moving forward?

The fact is, Wilson — and the rest of the world — will be an underdog in any race containing Semenya and Niyonsaba. Remember, in the World Championship final, that trio was well clear of the field coming off the final turn, and even though Wilson finished way ahead of fourth place in 1:56.65, she wasn’t even close to Semenya by the finish; Semenya ran 1:55.16, the fastest time in the world in nine years, and she did so by running a massive negative split (58.53/56.63) and Wilson was 1.49 seconds behind. This event belongs to Semenya until the IAAF hyperandrogenism guidelines are suspended.

Semenya won her third world title in London in August

Semenya won her third world title in London in August

1. Caster Semenya • South Africa • 26 years old • 1:55.16 sb (#1) • World champion • Diamond League champion

DL results: 1st Doha, 1st Pre, 1st Oslo, 1st Monaco, 1st Zurich (DL final)

Semenya won all eight of her 800 finals in 2017 (12 if you include prelims), running her win streak to 20 overall (30 if you include prelims). She saved her best for the biggest races. In Monaco, with Niyonsaba and Wilson pushing her down the home straight, Semenya responded by running a lifetime best of 1:55.27. Three weeks later in London, with Niyonsaba and Wilson again threatening her hegemony, Semenya ripped off a 1:55.16 — the fastest time in the world since 2008 — to win her fifth global title.

As mentioned above, that 1:55.16 came via a significant negative split, and with no global outdoor championship in 2018, the obvious next goal is Jarmila Kratochvilova‘s controversial 1:53.28 world record. And after her win in London, Semenya hinted that a WR attempt may be coming.

“I have Olympic, world and Commonwealth titles now so maybe it is time to target the world record,” Semenya told Reuters after winning Worlds. “It’s the next thing on the list. I know it will be difficult but I will have to attempt soon, maybe.”

If that is to happen, Semenya will have to get out faster. Semenya wanted a fast time in Monaco this year and requested a 55-second first lap, but she didn’t go with the pace, coming through 400 in 56.7.

2. Francine Niyonsaba • Burundi • 24 years old • 1:55.47 sb (#2) • World Championship silver

DL results: 3rd Pre, 2nd Oslo, 1st Stockholm, 1st Lausanne, 2nd Monaco, 2nd Zurich (DL final)

Last year, the only person who could beat Niyonsaba was Caster Semenya. This year, things were slightly different as Niyonsaba finished third in her 800 opener — behind Semenya and Margaret Wambui — before finishing first or second behind Semenya in her remaining seven 800s (she did lose to Ajee Wilson in a 600 on August 27). Niyonsaba has been incredibly good and incredibly consistent for the past two years; unfortunately, so has Semenya.

Wilson earned a world outdoor bronze to go with her silver from World Indoors last year

Wilson earned a world outdoor bronze to go with her silver from World Indoors last year

3. Ajee Wilson • USA • 23 years old • 1:55.61 sb (#3, American record) • World Championship silver • U.S. outdoor champion • U.S. indoor champion (600)

DL results: 3rd Monaco

Wilson has been running at a high level internationally ever since winning the world junior title in 2012, but outside of her camp, few could have expected what she delivered in 2017 (her coach Derek Thompson did give us the heads up, telling LRC that she was in American record shape before she had even raced outdoors). The year began with Wilson running a U.S. indoor record of 1:58.27 in February, only for the record to be annulled when it was revealed Wilson tested positive for the anabolic agent zeranol. The appeals process prevented Wilson from racing outdoors until the U.S. champs in late June, with USADA ultimately issuing a no-fault finding, meaning her time did not count but Wilson did not have to serve a ban.

Once she was finally able to race again, Wilson was spectacular. She ran 1:57.78 to win USAs in commanding fashion, then went to Monaco and ran a shocking 1:55.61 to crush the American record. In London, she held the lead on the final turn in the World Championship final, but could not stop Semenya or Niyonsaba and had to settle for bronze.

Considering how easy Wilson made her victory look at USAs, her ridiculous time in Monaco, and the bronze medal at Worlds (which could easily have been a gold if the rules were different), this was the greatest year ever by a female American 800 runner. And that is due in large part to the mindset of Wilson and her coach Derek Thompson, who have not let the presence of Semenya and Niyonsaba prevent her from chasing her goals.

“I definitely look at it as Hey, I’m racing, I want to win,” Wilson said after earning bronze in London. “Whoever I’m on the line against, like I said, I’m competitive against. When I race in practice, we have a mixed practice. We train with a 12-year-old girl. I train with a 26-year-old guy. So no matter who I’m racing against, I’m like, Hey, I’m going to try and catch her, I’m going to try to beat him.”

Wilson has yet to beat Semenya since CAS suspended the hyperandrogenism guidelines two years ago. But she got a big step closer in 2017.

One final note on Wilson: despite running the fastest times ever by an American both indoors and outdoors this year, she won’t finish it (officially) with an American record. We already explained why the indoor mark didn’t count, but Wilson’s outdoor mark wasn’t officially reported/applied for at the USATF annual meeting, and as a result, Jearl Miles-Clark is still listed by USATF as the official record holder. For the record, Wilson’s agent Ray Flynn did inform us that Wilson took (and passed) a drug test in Monaco and that her shoe sponsor (adidas) already paid her bonus, so expect the record to get certified next year.

4. Margaret Wambui • Kenya • 22 years old • 1:56.87 sb (#5) • 4th at Worlds

DL results: 2nd Doha, 2nd Pre, 3rd Oslo, 9th Monaco, 3rd Zurich (DL final)

Apart from a slipup in Monaco, Wambui was incredibly consistent this year, beginning 2017 with her third-fastest time ever (1:57.02 in Doha) and ending it with her fastest time ever (1:56.87 in Zurich). In between, she finished fourth at Worlds.

5. Sifan Hassan • The Netherlands • 24 years old • 1:56.81 sb (#4)

DL results: 4th Lausanne, 4th Monaco, 5th Zurich (DL final)

This spot came down to Hassan vs. Melissa Bishop, and though Hassan did not run the 800 at Worlds, we’re giving her the edge due to her 2-0 head-to-head record and stronger season’s best. The fact that Hassan appears on this list at all — and you can quibble about her placement, but she certainly ranks somewhere in the world’s top 10 — is remarkable considering she also medalled in the 5,000 meters at the World Championships. Imagine Paul Chelimo also being able to run 1:43 for 800 meters and you get an idea of how unique Hassan’s talent is. We hope that Hassan, who excelled in her first year with the Nike Oregon Project, continues to race several distances; as fans of the sport, it’s fun to see her battle Semenya one week and Almaz Ayana the next. The dominance of the big 3 4 was so much, that Hassan, who never finished higher than 4th in an 800 in the world all year, is ranked #5 in the world.

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6. Melissa Bishop • Canada • 29 years old • 1:57.01 sb (#6) • 5th at Worlds

DL results: 6th Pre, 5th Oslo, 4th Stockholm, 5th Monaco, 7th Zurich (DL final)

CAS’s decision to suspend the IAAF’s hyperandrogenism guidelines have had a massive impact on the women’s 800, and few women have been affected as much as Bishop. Shortly after the guidelines were suspended in July 2015, Bishop broke out at the World Championships in Beijing, running the two fastest times in Canadian history (to that point) in a span of three days to earn a surprising silver. Since then, Bishop has been even better, lowering her Canadian record in each of the past two years and, just as in Beijing, peaking perfectly for each major championship. Unfortunately for Bishop, who ran 1:57 in the 2016 Olympic and 2017 World Championship final, her best was not good enough for a medal in either meet. Right now, Bishop has one medal. Remove Semenya, Niyonsaba, and Wambui from the results, and Bishop would have Olympic gold and two World Championship silvers in the last three years. That’s a pretty big difference.

That shouldn’t distract from what Bishop has accomplished, however. She’s the only woman to have finished in the top five in each of the last three global championships, she’s run 1:57 in three straight years, and is the greatest female 800 runner Canada has ever produced — by a wide margin. And she’s not showing any signs of slowing down.

7. Charlene Lipsey • USA • 26 years old • 1:57.38 (#8) • 7th at Worlds • 2nd at USAs • USA indoor champion (1000)

DL results: 6th Doha, 1st Pre, 2nd Lausanne, 1st London, 8th Monaco, 3rd Birmingham, 6th Zurich (DL final)

Hands up if, on January 1, 2017, you had Charlene Lipsey making the World Championship final this year.

If your hand is up right now, and you don’t know Charlene Lipsey personally, you’re a filthy liar.

Lipsey’s breakout season was one of the biggest surprises of 2017. Lipsey entered the season as a 25-year-old who had never broken 2:00 in her life. She didn’t make the final at the 2016 Olympic Trials, or at USAs the year before that. Yet on February 11, she ran 1:58.64 at the Millrose Games — the fastest ever by a U.S. woman indoors (she lost to training partner Ajee Wilson in that race, but Wilson’s time was later nullified due to the results of her post-race drug test). And that was no fluke; Lipsey used that performance as a springboard to make her first U.S. team, ultimately placing 7th in the world in London, and lowered her PR to 1:57.38 — #7 on the all-time U.S. list, just .04 behind the great Alysia Montaño.

Much of Lipsey’s improvement this year can be credited to new coach Derek Thompson, who upped Lipsey’s mileage and began training her like a 1500 runner, enabling her to get stronger and navigate the rounds at major championships. Expect to see Lipsey running the longer event more frequently next year.

“I definitely think [the 1500] is going to be her best event,” Thompson told us in June.

8. Habitam Alemu • Ethiopia • 20 years old • 1:57.05 (#7) • World Championship semis

DL results: 4th Doha, 4th Pre, 9th Lausanne, 1st Birmingham, 4th Zurich (DL final)

Alemu was eliminated in the semis at Worlds (she was last in heat 1) but in general, her results were very strong, including a huge PR in the Diamond League final in Zurich (dropping from 1:58.92 to 1:57.05!). She was 4th in three Diamond Race events (Doha, Pre, Zurich) and won the non-DL event in Birmingham (which included Lipsey and Lynsey Sharp, among others).

9. Lynsey Sharp • Great Britain • 27 years old • 1:58.01 (#10) • 8th at Worlds

DL results: 8th Pre, 8th Oslo, 8th Stockholm, 7th Lausanne, 4th London, 6th Monaco, 2nd Birmingham

Sharp’s Nike contract was not renewed at the beginning of the year, and early on, that looked to be a good decision on Nike’s part. Sharp didn’t break 2:00 until a mixed-gender race on June 24 (she didn’t do it against women until July 6) and could only manage 3rd at the British Championships. But she picked it up in July and August, running 1:58 four times, including in the final at Worlds (though that did not prevent her from finishing last). That late surge, however, was enough to propel Sharp into our world rankings at #9. Sharp also deserves props for her consistency: since we started our World Rankings in 2014, she is the only women’s 800 runner to appear in all four editions.

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10. Brenda Martinez • USA • 30 years old • 1:58.43 (#14) • World Championship semis • 3rd at USAs

DL results: 7th Monaco

Martinez will be moving up to the 1500 in 2018, but she made a good go of it in her final year as an 800 runner, enjoying her best season at that distance since her silver-medal season of 2013. Martinez only ran one Diamond League (the super deep Monaco meet) but she broke 1:59 on three occasions and clocked 1:59.21 on another. She was only third at USAs, but considering how strong the U.S. was in the 800 this year — both women who finished ahead of her also appear on this list — that’s nothing to be ashamed of (by the way, how crazy is it that Martinez has never won a U.S. outdoor title?).

You could argue for a few different women in this spot — Poland’s Angelika Cichocka was 6th at Worlds but missed out on our rankings — but we’re going with Martinez. In Cichocka’s case, she simply didn’t run the 800 enough (expect to see her in our 1500 rankings), and she also had an easier path to the final in London than Martinez, who drew the toughest of the three semifinals (Martinez’s heat contained Niyonsaba and Wambui).

U.S. Rankings

1. Ajee Wilson (see above)

2. Charlene Lipsey (see above)

3. Brenda Martinez (see above)

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4. Raevyn Rogers • University of Oregon/Nike • 21 years old • 1:59.10 sb (#4 in US) • 4th at USAs • NCAA indoor & outdoor champion • NCAA record

This year’s USA final came down to four studs for three spots at Worlds. Rogers was the stud that got left off, as that race in Sacramento was the only 800 Rogers lost all year. Indoors, Rogers cruised to her second consecutive NCAA title before claiming her third straight NCAA outdoor title three months later. Add in her collegiate record (1:59.10 at Mt. SAC) and her heroics on Oregon’s 4×400 (she anchored them to the win at NCAA outdoors to close out Oregon’s historic triple crown) and Rogers put together an incredible year. She just happened to go against three of the world’s best at USAs in Wilson, Lipsey, and Martinez.

Rogers had one year of eligibility remaining at Oregon, but chose to go pro this summer, a decision we back 100%. When the only reason to stay is to chase the NCAA indoor record (that’s the response Oregon coach Robert Johnson gave us when we asked what Rogers had left to accomplish in college), it makes sense to turn pro. With room to improve — and Martinez out of the event — Rogers is a good bet to make a string of U.S. teams moving forward.

5. Chrishuna Williams • Nike • 24 years old • 2:00.03 sb (#7 in US) • 5th at USAs

DL results: 2nd Pre, 5th London

Williams was 5th at USAs, and apart from the women already listed, only two Americans ran faster than her this year: Kate Grace (who ran only three 800s all year and did not run the 800 at USAs) and Laura Roesler (against whom Williams was 4-1 in 2017, with a win at USAs). That pretty much settles who the #5 spot in our rankings belongs to.

LRC 2016 women’s 800 rankings * LRC All 2017 Year-End Rankings * LRC 2017 World Championship 800 Recap Caster Semenya remains unbeatable in the 800 as Ajee Wilson wins bronze at 2017 World Track and Field Champs


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