2017 LRC World & US Rankings, W Marathon: The Incredible Tirunesh Dibaba Is #1; Shalane Flanagan US #1 In the Best Year Ever For American Women’s Marathoning

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By LetsRun.com
January 6, 2018

Our 2017 women’s marathon rankings are below. (See all 2017 distance rankings here, 2014 rankings here; 2015 rankings here; 2016 rankings here).

Since these rankings are obviously subjective, we’ll lay out the criteria we’re using for them:

  • Not all marathons are created equal. Tirunesh Dibaba was only second at the London Marathon, but her 2:17:56 in that race was the second-best performance of the year.
  • Season-best times were given some consideration, but we didn’t penalize a runner for having a slow sb if they ran tougher courses (such as New York).
  • Head-to-head results factor heavily in the ranking criteria if it’s close between two runners for a spot.
  • While we strive to be objective with our rankings, with only two (occasionally three) data points for each marathoner, it’s inevitable that some subjectivity comes into play in these rankings, more so in the marathon than any other event.

LRC 2016 women’s marathon rankings * LRC All 2017 Year-End Rankings

LRC’s coverage of the 2017 World Marathon Majors

LRC Kenyan Sarah Chepchirchir Announces Herself As a Marathon Star, Wins 2017 Tokyo Marathon in 2:19:47; American Sara Hall Runs Big PR of 2:28:26
LRC Edna Kiplagat Wins Boston and Possibly $500,000 as Jordan Hasay’s Debut is a Huge Success, Desi 4th
LRC Wow: Mary Keitany Survives Nearly Suicidal First Half and Blitzes A 2:17:01 To Take Down Paula Radcliffe’s Women’s Only World Record and Win 2017 London Marathon
LRC Amy Cragg Ends America’s 34-Year Medal Drought In The Women’s Marathon At Worlds By Snagging A Surprising Bronze in London
LRC Kenya’s Gladys Cherono Wins Her Second Berlin Marathon In 2:20:23
LRC Tirunesh Dibaba Wins The First Marathon Of Her Career In Chicago in 2:18:31 As Jordan Hasay Runs The #2 Time in US History (2:20:57)
LRC Shalane Flanagan Wins 2017 New York City Marathon – 1st American Winner in 40 Years

World Rankings

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1. Tirunesh Dibaba • Ethiopia • 32 years old

2017 results: 2nd London (2:17:56), 1st Chicago (2:18:31)

When you run two of the six fastest marathons in history in the same year, you’re the World #1.

After a track career that saw Dibaba claim three Olympic golds, five world titles, and set the still-standing 5,000-meter world record, many observers believe that Dibaba is the greatest female distance runner of all time. Dibaba added another silver at Worlds this year in the 10,000, but it was her marathon exploits that really served to strengthen her argument as the GOAT of women’s running. She ran 2:17:56 in London in April — just the third woman ever under 2:18 — and did so despite losing approximately 20 seconds to dry-heave during mile 25. Then in Chicago, Dibaba ripped a 2:18:31 to win Chicago in the sixth-fastest time in history.

That’s two of the greatest marathon performances in history in the span of six months. The only similar stretch by a marathoner was Paula Radcliffe‘s ridiculous 2002-03, in which she went 2:18:56 in London, 2:17:18 in Chicago, and 2:15:25 in London in three consecutive marathons.

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2. Mary Keitany • Kenya • 35 years old

2017 results: 1st London (2:17:01), 2nd New York (2:27:54)

Keitany’s 2:17:01 in London was one of the greatest marathons ever run, not just for the ridiculous time, but the way in which Keitany ran it: screaming away from the most loaded field of the year and testing her body’s limits by hitting 10k in 31:17 and the half marathon in 66:54. Those paces would have crippled any other female marathoner, and they certainly affected Keitany, who slowed to “only” 70:07 for her second half. Smarter pacing may have delivered a 2:16 (or 2:15?) but that’s not Keitany’s style. She’ll have to settle for the fastest marathon ever in an all-female race (yes, there was a men’s race in London too, but the elite women started earlier on their own).

So why is Keitany number two, especially when she defeated Dibaba head-to-head? Well, Dibaba’s run in London was almost as historic, and her second marathon, a 2:18:31 win in Chicago, was far more impressive than Keitany’s, a 2:27:54 in New York. For anyone other than Keitany, second in New York would still be a good result, but — and we mean no disrespect to Shalane Flanagan — the Keitany that showed up in New York on November 5 was not the same athlete who ran 2:17:01 in London in April. Flanagan knows this to be true:

“If I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been [in] and she’s in ‘okay Mary’ shape, maybe we match up,” Flanagan told LRC before New York. “I don’t know. But if she’s in 2:17 shape, yeah I won’t be there.”

Keitany was not in 2:17 shape on the day — in part because she got her first period in three months the day before the race — but she deserves props for gutting it out and not using the period as an excuse (she didn’t mention it during the post-race press conference, where she was very complimentary of Flanagan). That second in NYC plus a big win in London puts her #2 in our rankings.

3. Edna Kiplagat • Kenya • 38 years old

2017 results: 1st Boston (2:21:52), 2nd Worlds (2:27:18), 4th New York (2:29:36)

In a year in which she turned 38 years old, Kiplagat continues to amaze. She began by winning Boston in April, torching the field over the final seven miles. for her fifth major victory. That, coupled with her runner-up finish at 2016 Chicago, powered her to her third World Marathon Majors series title.

But Kiplagat wasn’t done. She went to Worlds seeking to become the first woman to win three world titles in the marathon and came up just seven seconds short, earning the silver medal. Three months after that, she ran her third marathon of the year and took fourth against a strong NYC field.

4. Rose Chelimo • Bahrain • 28 years old

2017 results: 2nd Boston (2:22:51), 1st Worlds (2:27:11)

It was a close call between Kiplagat and Chelimo who traded places at Boston and Worlds. The field Chelimo beat at Worlds was stronger than the one Kiplagat beat to win in Boston, but Kiplagat ran faster in her win and her winning margin (59 seconds) was much bigger than Chelimo’s (seven seconds). Add in Kiplagat’s fourth in New York and she just edges Chelimo, who nonetheless had a fine year in 2017. It’s a testament to how strong global marathoning is right now that second in Boston and a win at Worlds only gets you fourth in the world rankings.

5. Sarah Chepchirchir • Kenya • 33 years old

2017 results: 1st Tokyo (2:19:47), 1st Lisbon (2:27:57)

Though the field Flanagan beat in NYC was stronger than the one Chepchirchir beat in Tokyo, the combination of a fast time (her 2:19 in Tokyo was the fourth-fastest marathon of the year) and an extra win in Lisbon put Chepchirchir ahead of Flanagan in our rankings.

Based on performance alone, Sarah Chepchirchir would be ranked #5 in the world for 2017. However, there is so much suspicion around her performances and training group that we are not going to rank her in the top 10.

Chepchirchir’s win in Tokyo was amazing as she blasted a 2:19:47 in the third marathon of her career. She had gone from 2:30 to 2:24 to 2:19 in the span of 10 months. On its own, that would normally arouse some suspicion, but we at LetsRun.com do not want to dismiss performances solely because they are remarkable.

However, Chepchirchir is the training partner of 2016 Olympic champ Jemima Sumgong, who was busted for EPO last year. That raises a red flag but would not be enough for us to totally ignore Chepchirchir’s performances in our rankings. However, Chepchirchir is also the sister of Noah Talam, who is not only her coach, but also Sumgong’s coach and husband. When LetsRun.com travelled to Kenya and met with the group (see: LRC My Trip to a Possible Doping Camp in Kenya: What I Saw When I Spent a Day with Olympic Champion Jemima Sumgong), they indicated their incredible success was due to the tight-knit nature of the group and the coaching of Talam. If that’s the case, then when your sister-in-law gets busted for drugs, and your brother is your coach and her coach, we are going to ignore your performances from our rankings. Unusual circumstances deserve unusual measures.

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5. Shalane Flanagan • USA • 36 years old

2017 result: 1st New York (2:26:53)

Flanagan only ran one marathon this year, but she made it count, becoming the first American woman to win a WMM race since Deena Kastor in 2006 and the first American women’s champ in NYC in 40 years. Her historic win in New York was validation for seven years of grinding away at the marathon, and the cherry on top of perhaps the greatest career ever by an American distance runner. It also provided hope, both to her fellow pros and the next generation of U.S. runners, that an American can take on the best the world has to offer in the marathon and win.

6. Gladys Cherono • Kenya • 34 years old

2017 results: 5th Boston (2:27:20), 1st Berlin (2:20:23)

Cherono bounced back from an injury-plagued 2016 by returning to the winner’s circle in Berlin in September in 2:20:23, a time that made her the fifth-fastest woman on the year. Her first marathon of the year, a fifth-place in Boston, wasn’t anything to write home about but, given the quality of the competition, was far from a stinker. You could argue Cherono should be ranked ahead of Flanagan as she has a 5th place finish in Boston and a WMM win, but we don’t give too much stock to a 5th place finish, and give Flanagan the nod for beating 2 of the top 3 in the world in New York.

7. Brigid Kosgei • Kenya • 23 years old

2017 results: 8th Boston (2:31:48), 2nd Chicago (2:20:22), 1st Honolulu (2:22:15)

Kosgei got better with each marathon in 2017. She began by finishing eighth in Boston (we bumped her below Cherono because of that head-to-head defeat), but ran a four-minute PR of 2:20:22 in Chicago (making her the fourth-fastest woman of the year) and, perhaps most impressively, returned just two months later to crush the tough Honolulu course record of 2:27:19 by running 2:22:15. Only 23 years old, Kosgei is a star in the making and a future major champion.

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8. Jordan Hasay • USA • 26 years old

2017 results: 3rd Boston (2:23:00), 3rd Chicago (2:20:57)

Hasay exceeded even the most optimistic expectations in her rookie season as a marathoner. Her debut in Boston (2:23:00) was almost three minutes faster than the fastest debut marathon by an American woman (Kara Goucher‘s 2:25:53 at 2008 New York was the previous best) and her 2:20:57 in Chicago made her just the second U.S. female under 2:21. The latter performance was even more impressive when you consider how Hasay did it: by boldly going out with the leaders in 69:13 and hanging tough over the second half even as Tirunesh Dibaba sped away from her.

After that race, we proclaimed Hasay America’s #1 female marathoner, a distinction that didn’t last long considering Flanagan won New York a month later. But with Flanagan, Hasay, Molly Huddle, and Desi Linden all entered in Boston next year, we won’t have to wait long to settle things on the course.

9. Valary Jemeli • Kenya • 26 years old

2017 results: 1st Prague (2:21:57), 3rd Berlin (2:20:53)

Jemeli’s results were fairly similar to Hasay’s. Both finished third in a major, and a win in Prague in 2:21:57 is roughly equivalent to third in a major. Their times were also similar, when you consider that Boston is a slower course than Prague. But when you look more closely at who each woman beat, Hasay has the slight edge — she beat both Gladys Cherono and Brigid Kosgei in Boston (who both appear on this list), while Jemeli didn’t beat anyone in our top 10 and lost to Cherono in Berlin.

10. Eunice Kirwa • Bahrain • 33 years old

2017 result: 1st Nagoya (2:21:17), 6th Worlds (2:28:17), 1st Macao (2:29:12)

Kirwa followed up her Olympic silver medal with a successful year, winning in Nagoya in a quick time, getting 6th at Worlds and getting a bonus win in Macao.

Discussion: 2017 World Marathon Rankings: Tirunesh Dibaba #1, Shalane Flanagan #5, Jordan Hasay #8 as Sarah Chepchirchir Unranked 

U.S. Rankings

1. Shalane Flanagan (see above)

2. Jordan Hasay (see above)

3. Amy Cragg • Nike Bowerman Track Club • 33 years old

2017 result: 3rd Worlds (2:27:18)

In a normal year, a World Championship medal would make Cragg an easy choice for U.S. #1. But 2017 was not a normal year; it was the best year ever for U.S. women’s marathoning. As a result, Cragg’s historic achievement in London — it was America’s first medal in the event since 1983, five months before she was born — was only good for third in our rankings. Cragg is the one woman missing from the epic showdown in Boston next year, but if sitting out a spring marathon (as she and BTC teammate Shalane Flanagan did this year) results in another big-time performance next fall, Cragg will be happy to make the sacrifice.

4. Desi Linden Hansons Brooks Distance Project • 34 years old 

2017 result: 4th Boston (2:25:06)

Linden only ran one marathon this year, but that performance was clearly better than anything else anyone not named Flanagan, Hasay, or Cragg was able to produce. 2:25:06 would have been the fastest time by a U.S. marathoner in 2012, 2013, 2015, and 2016; other than Flanagan, Hasay, and Linden, you’d have to go back to Goucher’s 2:24:52 in the wind-aided 2011 Boston race for a faster marathon by an American woman.

5. Laura Thweatt • Saucony/Boulder Track Club • 29 years old

DL results: 6th London (2:25:38)

As we just pointed out in the Linden section, sub-2:26s by Americans are rare. So the fact that Thweatt could run that and place sixth against a tough field in London puts her fifth in our rankings. Thweatt has battled a nagging case of osteitis pubis (inflammation of the tendons that attach above the pelvic bone) that has limited her ability to train for the last two years, but when healthy, she has shown she is capable of big things, with a 2:28 in New York in her debut in 2015 and now a 2:25 in London.

Honorable mention: Sara Hall (2:28:26 for 6th in Tokyo, 2:27:21 for 5th in Frankfurt, 2:28:10 for 1st at CIM), Serena Burla (2:26:53 for 4th in Osaka, 2:29:32 for 11th at Worlds), Kellyn Taylor (2:28:51 for 13th in London, 2:29:56 for 8th in New York)

Discussion: 2017 World Marathon Rankings: Tirunesh Dibaba #1, Shalane Flanagan #5, Jordan Hasay #8 as Sarah Chepchirchir Unranked 


LRC 2016 women’s marathon rankings * LRC All 2017 Year-End Rankings

LRC’s coverage of the 2017 World Marathon Majors

LRC Kenyan Sarah Chepchirchir Announces Herself As a Marathon Star, Wins 2017 Tokyo Marathon in 2:19:47; American Sara Hall Runs Big PR of 2:28:26
LRC Edna Kiplagat Wins Boston and Possibly $500,000 as Jordan Hasay’s Debut is a Huge Success, Desi 4th
LRC Wow: Mary Keitany Survives Nearly Suicidal First Half and Blitzes A 2:17:01 To Take Down Paula Radcliffe’s Women’s Only World Record and Win 2017 London Marathon
LRC Amy Cragg Ends America’s 34-Year Medal Drought In The Women’s Marathon At Worlds By Snagging A Surprising Bronze in London
LRC Kenya’s Gladys Cherono Wins Her Second Berlin Marathon In 2:20:23
LRC Tirunesh Dibaba Wins The First Marathon Of Her Career In Chicago in 2:18:31 As Jordan Hasay Runs The #2 Time in US History (2:20:57)
LRC Shalane Flanagan Wins 2017 New York City Marathon – 1st American Winner in 40 Years


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