I like your list, however Jim Ryun was the best @ 880 yards. Most of his records for that distance were never broken.
I like your list, however Jim Ryun was the best @ 880 yards. Most of his records for that distance were never broken.
I like your comment that Kipketer was the best 800m if not the greatest. I feel the same. Had the WR been 1'40"91 when Kipketer entered the scene, I feel like he would have managed to get it.
There s something special I like about the 800m. It is the only track event for which times have more or less remained the same throughout. You can compare with greats from 60 years ago. It adds some kind of depth, appreciation and value.
It's about shoes, tracks, and modern training knowledge. How many people know that Jim Ryun's coach, Bob Timmons, was really a swimming coach and constantly overtrained him? Why was he running the mile rather than the 880. He was 6'2" and would have been a monster at the 800!
Thanks for posting OP. Nice work.
Like Stitchmo said, Rudisha is the clear #1 and those top 6 (Rudisha, Snell, Coe, Cruz, Kipketer, Juantorena) are significantly separated from the rest. Any top-10 ranking that recognizes those “facts” is respectable. Personally I’ve gone Rudisha-Kipketer-Snell-Coe-Cruz-Juantorena in the past, but I can’t seriously quibble with your order.
Your 7-8-9 are fine. Only when you get to your 10 through 16 do I have to seriously diverge from your rankings. The 3 athletes who I believe are more deserving than a few of your lower-ranked guys are Wilfred Bungei, Mike Boit and Johnny Gray.
Compare Wilfred Bungei’s resume with Bucher’s and I don’t see how you can give Bucher the nod. Bungei has the faster PB, ran 1:42 in more seasons (3 to 2), broke 1:45 in more seasons (9 to 6), won the same number of Golden League 800s (6) but also added 2 wins in the World Athletics Final that Bucher lacks, and has a decidedly better record in Olympic/World Championship finals (Bucher 1 WC gold, 1 Olympic 5th, 1 World Indoor bronze; Bungei 1 Olympic gold, 1 Olympic 5th, 1 WC silver, WC 4th + 5th, 1 World Indoor gold, 1 World Indoor bronze). Finally, Bungei had a 13-9 record head-to-head vs. Bucher.
Mike Boit’s legacy was impacted by the Kenyan Olympic boycotts, but he has a case for being in a way the #1 800 guy of the 1970s. At the end of 1975 he owned the fastest F.A.T. of 1:43.79, when the WR was Fiasconaro’s 1:43.7 hand timed. Less than 4 weeks after Juantorena ran the 1:43.50 WR in the Olympic final, Boit ran 1:43.57. In the Track and Field News world rankings, Boit was ranked #3 in 1972, #3 in 1981, and earned an additional 6 top-5 rankings in the years between including #1 in 1975.
Johnny Gray never won the big one, but he had such incredible longevity at an elite level, running under 1:45 in 14 consecutive seasons and 1:45.50 or better in 18 consecutive seasons—incredible. He ran 1:42.xx in 4 different seasons from ‘84 to ‘92. His 1:42.60 was #4 all-time in 1985. He made 4 straight Olympic finals and won the bronze in ‘92.
Those 3 guys are better than Konchellah, Ereng, Mulaudzi, and probably a couple others you have from 10-16.
Good points here,
I might go:
Coe - I think you have to give respect for him completely taking the 800m to a new stratosphere, even though he was not a good championship 800m racer relative to his ability
Ovett - I respect him, but frankly I think you had him too high if we're talking 800 only
I agree with JWH, your list goes off the rails a bit at #10.
In the second tier, you probably have to have Alfred Kirwa Yego, Bungei, Konchellah, Mulaudzi, and Doubell. If you're gonna go one-hit wonder types, Bucher should not be in over Ereng (who won the Olympics and likely would've won a Worlds in 1989 too) or Wottle (similarly would be favored to win a title in 1973 had worlds existed). Arop has a chance to join this list too.
Winning the Olympics is a huge deal, but I think the Rodal one also should not be overrated as it definitely wouldn't have happened with Kipketer allowed to compete.
It's fun to make comparisons like these, and I have enjoyed reading your rankings. There will never be an absolute consensus and the criteria we use often comes down to personal values. For example, how do we value longevity versus absolute peak, consistency versus one-offs, records versus championships, etc..?
That being said, I have one major disagreement with these rankings. Wilson Kipketer has broken 1:42 four times, 1:43 twenty-one times (more than Rudisha), and won three outdoor world championships. During his peak seasons of 1995-1997 he toyed with the fields at the world championships. He won silver and bronze medals at the Olympics when he was past his peak in 2000 and 2004. He shouldn't be punished for missing the 1996 games for citizenship reasons that were beyond his control(he had lived in Denmark for 6 years and was not there as a hired gun). He could win races from the front (1997 worlds) or the back(1995 worlds) and during his peak seasons of 1995-1997 he was utterly dominant. He had longevity, first running 1:43 at 21 and running 1:43 for the last time at 31, after which he retired after the Olympics. I am a big fan of Sebastian Coe as an athlete, but I don't see how one can look at the careers of each of these athletes and place Coe ahead. Neither has Olympic gold. One could argue that Kipketer should have won in 2000, and maybe he should have, but Coe's infamous 1980 performance surely would cancel that one blemish.
I would tend to put Cruz ahead of Coe as well, as he ran more very fast races and has an Olympic gold. He didn't have the longevity because of injuries, so this one could go either way.
Snell was dominant, but there was much less depth in that era and the athletes didn't race each other as often. Surely he could have run 1:42 with modern technology, but his 400 speed may have prevented him from running any faster than that.
These are just some ideas that probably reveal my own personal biases. Once again, thanks for doing these rankings, as they were a lot of fun to read.
For me it is Kipketer. Regardless of Rudisha's fast times he was attimes vulnerable. I recall he easily lost to Nigel Amos a few times.Kipketer was absolutely peerless when he reigned and he did for a long time.Just like in the 1500m Regardless Ingrebritsen's impressive performances I reckon EL G will remain the 1500m GOAT for a very long time to come.
Likelihood of impact from doping is only relevant to people like you. In the absence of a positive test result, it is people like you who have a (decidedly) negative impact on global sport. What are you hiding about yourself that you must continuously project onto others as being dopers? Must they *all* be dirty so you can be clean? It'll never stop until you do some work on yourself to realise what you dislike and disavowel about yourself. Just stop.
Rudisha would never lose to Amos in a race of much significance. Never at a global champs certainly. I think once at African champs, but that is a supreme outlier. I wouldn't say he was vulnerable except for late in the season (after the championships) OR coming off injury.
Both were peerless in their eras to me, and I'd give Rudisha the tiebreaker because he won in 2016 in a comparable situation to Kipketer in 2000. Neither guy was in their absolute prime, but Rudisha had the superior racing instincts and tactics and won. And then I think you have to give a lot of credit to Coe for taking the event to a different stratosphere. That being said I could see valid arguments for Kipketer as high as 2. He should be no lower than 4 that's for sure. He deserves credit for winning a medal in '04 way out of his prime. His longevity is truly impressive.
OP did kinda mention that this would be for modern era (1960's onward). So, mentioning Harbig is kinda moot by default.
Thank you for this OP. I grew up a mid-distance fan at the time of Coe-Ovett and still remember as a kid watching in utter amazement Coe's 800m world record on tape delay. Had me hooked on the distance.
I do however wish to see Johnny Gray in that top 16 - not a top 10'er but his longevity and numerous fast times make him an 800 legend in my book.
and I was going to shout out to this post and this name - Rudolph Harbig, wow - great call. Took the WR from 1.48.4 to 1.46.6 - in 1939..... Hard to know where to rank him but his WR comparatively might have been the most astonishing of any WR set over the distance. It is still the largest drop in the WR (1.8 seconds) in history (since the first ratified WR of Ted Meredith).
Thanks - and of course at these levels of ability we are splitting hairs. But this was always my logic.
Rudisha was dominant when he figured out that when he set the rhythm and tempo of the race he basically couldn't be beaten and we saw him utilize this in all of his 4 glorious gold medal runs across the WC and OG. In fact the only race where he didn't lead after the full break (I count that as hitting the 200m point) was Rio and that was only because Alfred Kipketer went out in 23.0 but really Rudisha led that actual race out too). But for all the kudos we have to give him for having the guts to never waiver or doubt this execution every time (because it's easy to - just ask Coe), it is (dare I say it) a little single dimensional.
Kipketer was different - his 3 WC wins display the full spectrum of 800m excellence from running at the back of the field in 1995 and having the acceleration and speed to rip off the entire field with a 25.0 last 200m, through to the ultimate masterclass in 97 where he basically fartlek'ed the final to almost jog 1.43.3 and then in 99 where he survives a brutal attack from Sepeng. There are also races that are hard to fathom in terms of how he runs them - from the first WR where he survives 48.3 at the bell, through to lesser known ones like Monaco in 1997 where he goes through in 52.0, is 1.18.2 at 600m then closes out in 24.6 in a sub 1.43 race (1.42.78). Those are just dimensions that Rudisha for all his strength - just didn't exhibit.
Back to the ceiling of both, based on this nobody can make the case to me that on this night in Zurich had they not got the pace a little more sensible, he wouldn't have run in 1.40.7-8 range. In the second WR 11 days later he went through almost a second slower and ran a tenth faster - there were a lot of tenths left on the track that fortnight. People might counter and say "well Rudisha didn't have a pacemaker in London" which is true - but Rudisha was also best when he was able to run at his own rhythm and tempo. If wavelight has shown us anything in recent years it's that pacemaking of the past while helpful in terms of a body out in front, really was far from optimal in terms of actual pace judging. Rudisha never split a race as well as he did in London because his training partner pacemaker Sammy Tangui was an awful pacer and often ran wild splits/was 4-5 meters ahead of him that really didn't help him. My point is, maybe if Rudisha has David Rudisha pacing him he runs marginally faster than 1.40.97. I don't think that is faster than what Wilson could have run in 1997.
When you add up that Kipketer was more dimensional and had a higher ceiling - he's better. And final point, if they were to have the hypothetical and magical "peak version" race - how does it go? Rudisha has to lead - he has no option right? Does he run away from a guy that ran 1.41.24 off 48.3? I don't see it. Rudisha can lead it out in 49.0 and Kipketer sits there until he wants to uncork his better acceleration and turnover in the straight.
I know this sounds highly anti-Rudisha but it's not meant to. Back to my original post, he's the GOAT - undisputable, because he did it and got it right when it mattered. I just think irrespective of that WK was a little better and that helps plant him on Mt Rushmore despite not having that Olympic gold that Rudisha, Snell, Cruz and Juantorena have.
Konchellah is absolutely one of the weirdest guys to try and rank. So in terms of what matters to win, the Olympics is #1 and obviously the World Championships are #2. Well there are only 3 multiple time champions - Kipketer, Rudisha and Konchellah - not bad company to keep. He's also one of only 3 guys with 3+ medals (Kipketer, Borzakovskiy and him). He also has the sneaky 4th place in LA'84 where he ran 1.44.03 in an Olympic final - that's not bad either.
I think I am more bullish on him than you are which is fine. I don't think I would have him ahead of Bungei whose very random 2008 win changed his legacy in an enormous fashion, but I feel like 3 World medals and a 4th in what was the hardest Olympic 800m program ever is a solid resume, even if he barely competed in the years in between.
I agree with you that those 3 need to be much higher. Bungei might get the nod over BK because of the OG win, but I would still have Boit and Gray behind him (Konchellah).
One correction: Emmanuel Korir has 2 golds. Very weird career of course with him bonking in his first champs in 2017, an unbeatable 2018 where it’s hard to imagine him not winning a global title, a 2019 where he was injured, just missed the 800 final and yet still made the 400m final and ran 44-low. Back to back titles in 2021-22. Now of course mired in injuries and never got it together in 2023. We’ll see in 2024.
Agree with everything you have said here (including that 1:42 run off a 52.0 first lap he ran in Monaco which you can watch on Youtube if you haven't yet people).
I guess to summarize, when can agree that Rudisha is the greatest, but Wilson was the best.
Rudisha is my pick since watching track since 1980.
Coe and Ovett don't belong on that list. Despite WRs, Coe never won a major championship 800. His only championship win was the European Championships. Ovett won a tactical Olympic race, but he never ran fast even for his time. He ranked in the top 10 only 3 years and never #1.
Fallacy to put times at the top of the criteria because you can't compare times across eras. The only way to compare runners from different eras is to compare how they competed against the competition of their day.
Mal Whitfield should be on the list. Back to back Olympic wins years before Snell. Two world records over 880 yards. Ranked #1 5 times by Track & Field News (Snell 4 times). Longer career than Snell (top 10 ranked 8 consecutive years, Snell 5 years).
I wouldn't rank Juantorena that high. He delivers on the first two criteria, but not the third. Despite his brilliance, he only dominated for two seasons. That was quite short even for his day and certainly not long enough to make him an all-time great.
Are we really dumb enough to believe Yuri Borzakovskiy was clean? Russia is literally banned for systemic cheating. BOTH of their women’s 800m 2012 Olympic medalists have been banned, among others. Of all the likely cheaters on that list, Borz is suspect #1. Wonder what he’s up to.
You're attacking the messenger. The fact is that doping has been an increasing feature in the sport for nearly 5 decades. You don't want to see it but it is a factor that is impossible separate from athletic achievement in the modern era.