2017 LRC World & US Rankings, M 3K SC: Conseslus Kipruto Kicks His Way to World #1; USA’s Evan Jager Is #3 in World, USA’s Stanley Kebenei #4

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By LetsRun.com
December 29, 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 men’s steeple rankings * LRC All 2017 Year-End Rankings * LRC 2017 World Championship Steeple Recap American Evan Jager Comes Up Short In Quest For Gold, Settles For America’s 1st-Ever Men’s World Championship Steeple Medal

World Rankings

One question hangs over the men’s steeplechase as we head into 2018: how does anyone beat Conseslus Kipruto? From 2009 to 2015, Ezekiel Kemboi lorded over the event, winning five straight global titles, and the 23-year-old Kipruto, who has won the last two after claiming the world title in London in August, could be poised to do the same. Evan Jager and Soufiane El Bakkali both got themselves into low-8:00s shape by the time of the World Championships while Kipruto was forced to watch from the sidelines due to an ankle injury: he says he ran just one track session between the Kenyan Trials on June 24 and the first round of Worlds on August 6. Yet neither Jager nor El Bakkali could drop Kipruto at Worlds, as he blew them away, just as he did in Rio a year ago. His kick was just too strong.

Perhaps running sub-8:00 is the answer. Neither Kipruto, Jager, nor El Bakkali has ever broken the barrier, though all three men have shown potential. Can Jager, who has worked so hard to become one of the best in the world, take the next step and become World #1 in 2018? Or will Kipruto beat him to sub-8:00 and retain his ranking?

One final shoutout to Ezekiel Kemboi. The greatest steepler ever (two Olympic, four World Championship golds, plus three World Championship silvers), Kemboi said that he has retired from the steeple and will move onto the roads and the marathon. Kemboi said the same thing after the Olympics last year only to return in 2017 after he found out he’d been stripped of his medal, but, at 35 years old and coming off an 11th-place finish in London, we think he means it this time. Our tribute to Kemboi from last year (when we thought he was retiring in Rio) is here: LRC Farewell to the GOAT: Ezekiel Kemboi, the World’s Greatest Steeplechaser, Retires (Then Unretires) 

1. Conseslus Kipruto • Kenya • 23 years old • 8:04.63 sb (#2) • World champion • Diamond League champion

DL results: 1st Rome, DNF Rabat, 1st Brussels (DL final)

Though Kipruto was out of commission for a good chunk of the summer nursing his injury, he still did enough to become our World #1 for the second year in a row. He beat El Bakkali in Rome in June, won Worlds, then beat El Bakkali and Jager again by using one of the kicks of the year to win the DL final in Brussels. Check out how big El Bakkali’s lead is at the final barrier (skip to 8:39):

If Kipruto is close, he’s going to win the race. That’s what happens when you have 22-second 200 speed. Now that Kipruto is the Olympic and world champion, it’s time for him to chase some times in 2018. First up: sub-8:00 (his PR is 8:00.12). After that, the world record (7:53.63) isn’t out of the realm of possibility.

2. Soufiane El Bakkali • Morocco • 21 years old • 8:04.83 sb (#3) • World Championship silver

DL results: 2nd Rome, 1st Stockholm, 1st Rabat, 2nd Brussels (DL final)

El Bakkali broke through by finishing fourth at the Olympics last year and was even better in 2017, slicing 10 seconds off his PR, winning two Diamond Leagues (including one on home soil in Rabat), and earning silver at Worlds. Just 21, he should be in the medal mix for a long time.

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3. Evan Jager • USA • 28 years old • 8:01.29 sb (#1) • World Championship bronze • U.S. champion

DL results: 1st Monaco, 3rd Brussels (DL final)

Jager makes history every year. He’s been so good for so long — he broke the American record in just his fifth steeple ever — that it’s easy to forget that it’s not normal for an American to be this good at the steeplechase. In 2015, he came .46 of a second from becoming the first non-African-born athlete to break 8:00. Last year, he won the U.S.’s first Olympic steeplechase medal in 32 years. This year, he became the first non-African man to win a Diamond League steeple and the first American to earn a medal at Worlds.

The fact that Jager was disappointed with that medal — remember, he entered Worlds as the favorite after destroying the field in Monaco to run a world-leading 8:01 just two weeks earlier — shows just how far he has elevated American steeplechasing. Jager has only run three Diamond League steeples in the past two years, but with no Worlds/Olympics in 2018, he should have the green light from coach Jerry Schumacher to chase sub-8:00 in Europe this summer.

We may not have to wait that long, though. There’s a men’s steeple at next year’s Pre Classic. Circle May 26 on your calendar.

LRC 2017 USAs recap: Evan Jager Blasts 56.70 Final Lap to Win Sixth Straight USATF Title, As Andy Bayer Finishes 4th Again
LRC 2017 Monaco recap: Evan Jager Crushes 8:01.29 World Leader in Monaco to Become First Non-African Man to Win a Diamond League Steeplechase & Establish Himself as the Favorite at Worlds

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4. Stanley Kebenei • USA • 28 years old • 8:08.30 sb (#6) • 5th at Worlds • 2nd at USAs

DL results: 3rd Monaco, 4th Brussels (DL final)

After missing out on Team USA with final-lap falls in the USA final in both 2015 and 2016, the Kenyan-born Kebenei wasn’t going to let anything stand in his way this year. He ran 8:18.52, just .02 off his PR, to hold off training partner Hillary Bor and Andy Bayer to make his first U.S. squad on the track, then went to Europe and slashed 10 seconds off his PR in Monaco to become the second-fastest American ever, after Jager. Kebenei showed that result was no fluke by taking fifth at Worlds and fourth in the Diamond League final in Brussels.

5. Jairus Birech • Kenya • 25 years old • 8:07.68 sb (#4) • 12th at Worlds

DL results: 3rd Rome, 2nd Rabat, 2nd Monaco, 9th Brussels (DL final)

Birech is capable of running incredibly fast — he’s the only man to have broken 7:59 in the past five years, and he’s done it twice — but has struggled mightily when it comes to the major championships. He could only manage fourth at Worlds in 2015 as the heavy favorite, did not even make the 2016 Olympic team (though he was not 100% healthy at the Kenyan trials), and was a disappointing 12th in London this year. Birech has been one of the best steeplers on Earth over the past four years — we’ve had him 1, 1, 3, and 5 in our rankings during that span — but he’ll have to wait another 21 months — at least — for a shot at that elusive global medal.

6. Benjamin Kigen • Kenya • 24 years old • 8:11.38 sb (#9)

DL results: 4th Monaco, 6th Brussels (DL final)

If the IAAF went to a strict meritocratic qualifying system for Worlds, Kigen certainly would have made the final. That’s almost always the case for the athlete who places fourth at the Kenyan trials in the steeplechase, as Kigen did this year. He also won in Ostrava (in a nine-second PR of 8:11.54) and lowered that best to 8:11.38 to take fourth in Monaco a month later. Kigen went another month without racing before returning for the DL final, where he finished sixth.

7. Amos Kirui • Kenya • 19 years old • 8:08.37 sb (#6)

DL results: 4th Rome, 5th Monaco, 7th Brussels (DL final)

Kirui was just one of six men to break 8:10 in 2017, and though he raced well on the DL circuit, he saved his worst race for when it mattered most, finishing 10th in the Kenyan trials in Nairobi in June. Still, the future remains bright for Kirui, the 2016 world U20 champion.

8. Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad • France • 32 years old • 8:14.67 sb (#19) • 4th at Worlds

DL results: none

Mekhissi-Benabbad almost never races on the Diamond League circuit (he’s run two DL steeples in the last four years), which makes him hard to rank. But his championship record — he’s finished in the top four in his last five global championship appearances (he was hurt in 2015 and didn’t run Worlds) — shows that he’s one of the best steeplers of his generation. Because he did very little outside of Worlds (he won the European team championships, but as you may have noticed, there are not other European steeplers on this list), he can’t be in our top five, but he does finish in our top 10.

One tip for racing Mekhissi-Benabbad — make sure you don’t step on the line when rounding a curve. Mekhissi-Benabbad successfully appealed stole an Olympic medal from Ezekiel Kemboi last year and tried to do the same from Jager in London this year. Thankfully, the appeal was turned down. A big thumbs down to Mekhissi-Benabbad and the French for poor sportsmanship.

9. Abraham Kibiwott • Kenya • 21 years old • 8:10.62 sb (#7)

DL results: 11th Rome, 4th Rabat, 8th Monaco, 11th Brussels (DL final)

Kibiwott beat Amos Kirui at the Kenyan Trials (he was fifth), but lost their other four meetings. Hence, Kirui ranks in front of Kibiwott, though Kibiwott ran well enough at the trials (and fast enough outside them) to place in our top 10.

10. Getnet Wale • Ethiopia • 17 years old • 8:12.28 sb (#12) • 9th at Worlds

DL results: none

Wale was only ninth at Worlds and didn’t race on the DL circuit. But of the men above him whom we haven’t ranked yet — Matt Hughes (sixth), Tesfaye Deriba (seventh), and Tafese Soboka (eighth) — only Hughes ran a DL race, and he managed just 8:38 for 11th in Monaco (Hughes got a late jump on his season due to injury). Wale, meanwhile, won in Hengelo on June 11 (defeating Deriba and Soboka), beat Soboka again in Ostrava and had two times faster than the SBs of Hughes, Deriba, and Soboka.

U.S. Rankings

1. Evan Jager (see above)

2. Stanley Kebenei (see above)

3. Hillary Bor • U.S. Army WCAP • 28 years old • 8:11.82 sb (#3 in U.S.) • World Championship semis  3rd at USAs

DL results: 6th Rome, 7th Monaco

Bor did successfully lower his PR from 8:13.68 to 8:11.82, but he finished lower at USAs this year (third vs. second) and, a year after finishing seventh at the Olympics, disappointingly failed to even make the World Championship final in London. Still, his top-three finish at USAs and impressive DL runs in Rome and Monaco ensure he finishes no lower than third on the U.S. list.

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4. Andy Bayer • Nike • 27 years old • 8:14.46 sb (#4 in U.S.) • 4th at USAs

DL results: 8th Rome, 5th Rabat, 6th Monaco, 10th Brussels (DL final)

Had Bayer come along 10 years earlier, he wouldn’t just be making U.S. teams; he’d likely be winning U.S. titles. As it stands, however, Bayer happens to be competing in the same era as the first- (Jager), second- (Kebenei), and sixth-fastest (Bor) U.S. steeplers of all time. So even though Bayer gets better every year — he’s gone from 8:25 in his debut steeple season of 2014 to 8:18 in 2015 to 8:16 in 2016 to 8:14 in 2017 — he has yet to make a U.S. team, finishing an agonizing fourth three years in a row. 2017 was his closest shave yet (he finished just .07 behind the third-place Bor at USAs).

5. Haron Lagat • U.S. Army WCAP • 34 years old • 8:25.73 sb (#3 in US) • 5th at USAs

DL results: 10th Monaco

Not including our top four, the 2017 U.S. steeple list looked like this:

1. 8:25.73 Haron Lagat
2. 8:25.75 Donn Cabral
3. 8:26.75 MJ Erb
4. 8:30.28 Donnie Cowart
5. 8:30.36 Dan Huling
6. 8:30.86 Michael Jordan
7. 8:31.08 Darren Fahy
8. 8:31.17 Dylan Blankenbaker
9. 8:31.46 Donnie Cowart
10. 8:32.23 Mike Hardy

The top 10 times were run by nine different individuals. So when it comes time to ranking that mess, the two key ingredients are: 1) Who finished highest at USAs? and 2) Who ran the fastest SB?

In both cases, the answer is Lagat (though Cabral finished just .02 behind him at USAs). It’s not like Lagat was totally useless outside of USAs (he broke 8:40 three more times in ’17) but considering the importance of USAs and the mess behind him in the top 10 list, he is our U.S. #5.

Discuss the rankings here: Men’s and Women’s Steeple World and US Rankings: US Women Go 1-2 at Worlds, But American Men Go 3-4 in Rankings, USWomen 4&7


LRC 2016 men’s steeple rankings * LRC All 2017 Year-End Rankings * LRC 2017 World Championship Steeple Recap American Evan Jager Comes Up Short In Quest For Gold, Settles For America’s 1st-Ever Men’s World Championship Steeple Medal


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