2014 LRC Year-End Rankings: Men’s 5000: Caleb Ndiku Reigns as Galen Rupp Nabs The #4 Spot
December 30, 2014
2014 is almost at an end and with not much going on in the world of running until the New Year, it’s the perfect time to release our end-of-year rankings. Over the final five days of the year, we’re ranking the top 10 men and women in the world in every Diamond League event (800, 1500, 3000 steeple, 5000) and the marathon. Don’t worry, American fans: we’ll rank the top five Americans in each event as well.
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 in major races (World Indoors, Diamond League final, continental championships, Continental Cup and Commonwealth Games) is the most important, followed by Diamond League races and then all other races. For U.S. athletes, their performance at the USATF Outdoor Championships also factors heavily in the rankings.
- Season-best times matter but they’re less important if the time wasn’t run against good competition.
- End-of-season performances are weighted more heavily than those at the start of the season (but less so than a normal year as their was no Worlds so various runners had different goals)
- 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, but they won’t be valued as much as outdoor races, but we certainly recognized the fact that World Indoors was the only global championship this year.
Caleb Ndiku And Galen Rupp Top 5000 World and US Rankings*, Respectively
*we considered performances at 3000 but the main criteria was performance in 5000s
World #1 Kenya’s Caleb Ndiku accomplished pretty much everything a distance runner could in 2014. He won titles at World Indoors (3k), the Commonwealth Games and African Championships. For good measure, he won the Diamond League final in Zurich to finish as DL champ and capped off his season with a win in the 3000 at the Continental Cup. Yet even after accomplishing all that, it’s still not clear if Ndiku would have been the favorite in a World Championships held at the end of August.
That’s because the man who dominated the 5000 from 2011-13, Great Britain’s Mo Farah, didn’t race enough for us to get an accurate read on his fitness. Farah ran all of two 5000s this year, winning both with last laps of 52.6 and 52.3 seconds, respectively. That statistic alone is enough to strike fear into the hearts of his opponents; add in the fact that he’s won the last three global titles and has lost just one 5000 in the past four years and it’s hard to argue he wouldn’t have been favored at Worlds.
Whatever the reason for Farah’s absence — fatigue coming back from his marathon debut in April, the health problems that plagued him over the summer or simply the lack of desire to run Diamond League meets — he certainly left a void in 2014. Ndiku stepped in admirably and was unquestionably the best of the rest, but every victory came with the caveat, What if Farah was in this race? Hopefully, that’s a question that gets asked a lot less frequently in 2015.
Up until this year, inconsistent was the best way to describe the 5000 career of Farah’s training mate in Portland, Galen Rupp, who was a dominant US #1 in 2014. Entering 2014, Rupp had emerged as one of the world’s best at 10,000 (2nd at ’12 Olympics, 4th at ’13 Worlds) but his performance at 5000 had left a lot to be desired as he struggled against top competition in Diamond League races. Rupp had no such problem this year. He didn’t win a DL race (heck, he didn’t even finish higher than 3rd) but he was almost always in contention late in the race and consistently beat several of the top men in the world (combined 6-2 vs. Olympic bronze medallists Edwin Soi and Thomas Longosiwa). Rupp will remain a medal threat at 10,000 next season but he doesn’t have to improve much to be in contention for a medal in the 5000, either.
1. Caleb Ndiku • Kenya • 22 years old • 12:59.17 sb (#3) • Commonwealth Champion • African Champion • Diamond League Champion • World Indoor Champion (3000)
DL results: 1st Pre, 2nd Oslo, 7th Paris, 3rd Stockholm, 1st Zurich (DL final)
Championship results: 1st World indoors (3k), 1st Commonwealth Games, 1st African Championships, 1st Continental Cup (3k)
Ndiku owned 2014, from his World Indoor triumph in March through his victory at the Continental Cup in September. In between, he added two Diamond League wins (at Pre and Zurich) and two gold medals (at the Commonwealth Games and African Championships). His 12:59.17 sb from Stockholm only ranked him third in the world, but he also ran 7:31.66 for 3000 in Ostrava on June 17, a time no one else in the world came within three seconds of this year.
Primarily a 1500 runner until this season, Ndiku moved up to the longer stuff and was met with immediate success. It would be interesting to know how much of an impact Ndiku’s 1500 background had on his performance this season. The packs are tighter in 1500 races, and tactics are more important (that’s not to say that they’re not important in the 5000, but it’s easier to find a gap to move up on the final lap in the 5000 than it is in the 1500). As good as he was on the DL circuit, Ndiku was flawless in championship races (we’re including the DL final here; there were 10 men in contention at the bell and Ndiku needed to win to clinch the DL title).
He’s never made a senior outdoor Worlds team at any distance, but that will almost certainly change in 2015. Ndiku, a former world junior champ in both xc and the 1500, has too much talent not to make it to Beijing. Could he unseat Mo Farah, winner of the last three global 5000 championships? Farah turns 32 in March, while Ndiku, ten years younger, is just entering his prime. If Ndiku runs like he did in 2014, he’s got a shot.
2. Yenew Alamirew • Ethiopia • 24 years old • 13:00.21 sb (#5) • 5th at African Championships
DL results: 1st Shanghai, 2nd Pre, 1st Oslo, 2nd Paris, 2nd Glasgow, 12th Zurich (DL final)
Championship results: 5th at African Champs
Alamirew, the 2013 Diamond League champion, enjoyed another successful year on the circuit but has developed a distressing inability to perform in big races. Here’s what he’s done over the past three years in major races:
2012 World indoors (3k): 9th
2012 Olympics: 12th
2012 DL final: 10th
2013 Worlds: 9th
2013 DL final: 1st
2014 African Championships: 5th
2014 DL final: 12th
Alamirew can be partially excused for 2012 since he wasn’t truly one of the world’s elite then, but his other results aren’t what you’d expect from a guy who hasn’t finished lower than third in 10 DL races over the past two years (excluding DL finals). Alamirew won DL races in Shanghai and Oslo this year and needed only a third-place finish to secure his second straight DL title, yet he couldn’t manage that, finishing in 12th, 13 seconds behind race winner Caleb Ndiku. Diamond League races go faster than World Championship finals, but it’s puzzling that Alamirew hasn’t been able to put it together yet on the big stage (save for his clutch win at the 2013 DL final). In May, he closed in 53.66 to win a 13:04 race in Shanghai; Farah closed in 53.44 to win Worlds last year.
We didn’t penalize Alamirew that much for his lack of championship success because it was a non-championship year and he was so successful in his first five Diamond League races (two wins, three 2nds). He’s a fantastic 5000 runner and if he figures it out at Worlds next year, he will be a serious medal threat.
3. Muktar Edris • Ethiopia • 20 years old • 12:54.83 (#1)
DL results: 8th Paris, 1st Stockholm, 2nd Zurich (DL final)
Championship results: none
The 20-year-old, Edris arrived in 2014, busting out a 12:54.83 world-leader in Stockholm on August 21 and following that up with a runner-up finish at the DL final a week later. Edris, the 2012 World Junior champ, raced just three times on the DL circuit this year but his last two performances were so good that he earned this ranking.
Edris entered the year with a 13:03 pb and just two races of DL experience. Now he’s a 12:54 guy and the next logical step is to shoot for sub 12:50 and a world medal. Staying at a high level after a breakthrough can be difficult; Hagos Gebrhiwet and Isiah Koech were both 19 when they medalled at Worlds last year in the 5000 but both took a step back this season.
4. Galen Rupp • USA • 28 years old • 13:00.99 sb (#7) • 4th at World Indoors (3000)
DL results: 3rd Oslo, 4th Paris, 4th Stockholm, 3rd Zurich (DL final)
Championship results: 2nd USA indoors (3000), 4th World indoors (3000)
Rupp has been regarded as a world-class 10,000 runner for a few years now (Editor’s note: In fact, if we had done 10,000 rankings this year, Rupp would have ranked first in the world this year. But given that it was a non-championship year, few global 10,000s of note were run, and thus we thought doing rankings was largely pointless as only 10 men broke 27:30. If you think we should do the 10,000 rankings anyway, email us and maybe we’ll change our mind.), but the knock on him heading into 2014 was that he doesn’t have the wheels to close with the best of the best in the 5k. Here’s his Diamond League record in 3ks/5ks from 2010 to 2013:
Inconsistent is the best way to characterize those results. In 11 races, Rupp finished in the top four just twice — in Birmingham in 2011 and at the Pre Classic in 2012. Here’s what he did this season in DL 5ks:
Aside from Stockholm, where Rupp led the middle portion of the race before fading badly over the final 500, Rupp was battling for the win in the final lap in every DL race he ran. He’s still a better 10,000 runner (remember, he set the American record of 26:44.36 back in May at the Pre Classic) but he’s now a factor against the top guys in the 5k as well, something that wasn’t always true before 2014. It’s phenomenal how much Rupp’s ability to close hard at the end of races has improved under coach Alberto Salazar.
Based on his results in Europe this year and his 26:44 10k, Rupp was undoubtedly in pb shape in the 5000 but unfortunately only one of the seven DL races in 2014 was won in faster than 12:58.90 (Rupp’s pb). In 2015, we’d like to see Rupp get in a really fast 5k and take a run at Bernard Lagat‘s American record of 12:53.60. There’s a men’s 5k in Monaco next year on July 17 and that will likely be his best bet.
5. Thomas Longosiwa • Kenya • 26 years old • 12:56.16 sb (#2)
DL results: 2nd Shanghai, 4th Oslo, 5th Paris, 4th Glasgow, 2nd Stockholm, 4th Zurich (DL final)
Championship results: none
Longosiwa enjoyed another solid season in 2014 and broke 13:00 for the fourth consecutive year. Like Rupp, the Olympic bronze medallist was consistent on the DL circuit (the two both had an average finish of 3.5 in DL races) and his 12:56.16 sb from Stockholm stood up as the year’s second-fastest time. It was tight between Longosiwa and Rupp for the fourth spot, but Rupp’s 3-1 record against the Kenyan — including a head-to-head win in the DL final in Zurich — relegated Longosiwa to fifth. Longosiwa has made three consecutive Kenyan teams at 5k; look for him to make it four in 2015.
6. Edwin Cheruiyot Soi • Kenya • 27 years old • 12:59.82 sb (#4)
DL results: 5th Shanghai, 3rd Pre, 5th Oslo, 1st Paris, 3rd Glasgow, 5th Stockholm, 10th Zurich (DL final)
Championship results: none
Soi accomplished something neither Rupp nor Longosiwa did in 2014; he won a DL race, with a then-world-leading 12:59.82 effort in Paris on July 5 (Rupp was 4th in that race, Longosiwa 5th). But Soi, like Longosiwa an Olympic bronze medallist, would not defeat Rupp again (he ended the year 1-3 vs. Rupp) and lost five of his seven matchups against Longosiwa on the year (including one loss at 3k). Those poor head-to-head records and his 10th-place finish at the DL final in Brussels dropped Soi to sixth, but his six top-fives in DL races meant he didn’t drop any further than that. Soi has broken 13:00 six years in a row (Longosiwa is at four; the next-longest streak is one) and showed no signs of letting up in 2014. That’s an impressive streak, and Soi can tie the record of seven consecutive years with a sub-13:00 next year. He’d be in good company; the only men to do it are Kenenisa Bekele (2003-2009) and Haile Gebrselassie (1994-2000).
7. Isiah Koech • Kenya • 21 years old • 13:07.55 sb (#15) • Commonwealth Silver • African Silver
DL results: 5th Pre, 6th Oslo, 9th Stockholm, 11th Zurich (DL final)
Championship results: 2nd Commonwealth Games, 2nd African Championships, 1st Continental Cup
Koech didn’t have a phenomenal DL season, but he’s our pick for #7 based on his silvers at the Commonwealth Games and African Championships (both times behind Caleb Ndiku) and a win at the Continental Cup in September. None of those fields were loaded (though he did defeat Alamirew at the African Champs) but there isn’t anyone ranked behind him with a stellar DL resume. That means that other factors, such as Koech’s medal haul this year, come into play. Koech, who was 17 according to his IAAF profile when he ran 12:53 indoors in 2011, remains a big talent but it was a little disappointing that he wasn’t able to build on his bronze at Worlds last year (it should have been silver but he let up and allowed Gebrhiwet to pass him at the line).
8. Lawi Lalang • Kenya • 23 years old • 13:03.85 sb (#10) • NCAA Outdoor Champion
DL results: 6th Paris, 6th Zurich (DL final)
Championship results: 2nd NCAA indoors, 1st NCAA outdoors
When a runner is in the NCAA, you tend to think of them mainly as a college guy. But Lalang — who finished his career at Arizona with eight NCAA titles — was so good this year that he demands recognition among the world’s best too. His 13:18.36 at NCAAs in June set a meet record and came in the greatest NCAA 5000 of all-time, as Lalang took down the seemingly-invincible Edward Cheserek on Cheserek’s home track. Because of the NCAA season, Lalang got a late start on the DL season, but he acquitted himself admirably in his two races, taking some big scalps with sixth-place finishes in Paris and Zurich (he even beat Ndiku in Paris).
It’s difficult for any Kenyan to make a Worlds squad given their depth at 5000 and 10,000, and that’s why there haven’t been many Kenyan men recently to come through the NCAA and hit it big on the world stage (Bernard Lagat had success running for Kenya, but he was in college 15 years ago). Lalang and former teammate Stephen Sambu (10,000m) have a chance to change that as both have legitimate shots to make Team Kenya in Beijing next year (it helps that Kenya gets four slots in the 5000 thanks to Ndiku winning the Diamond League). And of course Cheserek should be dangerous when he turns pro, but has indicated he may try and get US citizenship.
9. Hagos Gebrhiwet • Ethiopia • 20 years old • 13:06.88 sb (#14) • 5th at World Indoors (3000)
DL results: 3rd Shanghai, 7th Pre, 12th Paris, 1st Glasgow, 7th Stockholm, 13th Zurich
Championship results: 5th World indoors (3k), DNF African Championships
It was an up and down year for Gebrhiwet, but his win over a strong field in Glasgow and a solid performance in Shanghai earned him the #9 spot. A disappointing results as before the season, if we were to bet on anyone to take over the #1 ranking from Farah this year, Gebrhiwet would have been one of our first choices. After all, he’s the defending silver medallist from Worlds and ran 12:47.53 as an 18-year-old in 2012 (the man who beat him in that race, Dejen Gebremeskel, would have been another strong choice, but he ran just one 5000 on the track this year). The win in Glasgow showed that Gebrhiwet can still be that guy, but for whatever reason, Gebrhiwet struggled this year (entering 2014, his lowest career DL finish was 3rd; he did worse than that four times this year). Like Koech, he will be looking to return to top form next year and prove 2014 was a fluke.
10. Mo Farah • Great Britain • 31 years old • 13:23.42 sb (#66) • European Champion
DL results: 1st Birmingham (2 mile)
Championship results: 1st Europeans
Where to put Farah? The three-time defending global champion was slow coming back from the London Marathon in April and suffered a variety of maladies over the summer that meant he ran only four track races in 2014. In July, he passed out in his bathroom in Park City, Utah, and had to be airlifted to a hospital. That incident, and the abdominal cramps that followed, kept him out of the Commonwealth Games, where he would have faced a red-hot Ndiku.
Farah looked good in his return to the track at the European Championships (he won a low-key 5000 at the Portland Track Festival in June before the health issues) and his 52.3-second last lap to win the 5000 at that meet (he also won the 10k) is the primary reason for his ranking on this list. Farah’s 52.3 there and his 52.6 last 400 in Portland (in a 13:23 race, as opposed to a 14:05 race at Euros) showed that the blazing kick that has allowed Farah to dominate his competition in recent years hasn’t gone away.
The problem is, Farah was never really tested this year (he didn’t race anyone else on this list), making it difficult to rank him. Throw everyone in a race in August, and Farah — who has lost precisely one 5000 in the past four years — probably isn’t 10th. But he also doesn’t deserve to be ranked much higher, considering he didn’t accomplish much anything of note in 2014.
Honorable mention: Augustine Choge, Hayle Ibrahimov, Bernard Lagat, Dejen Gebremeskel, Ben True, Zane Robertson, Edward Cheserek
After the Payton Jordan Cardinal Invitational at Stanford on May 4, American distance fans were licking their chops for what was shaping up as an outstanding year for U.S. men at 5000. In that race, Ben True nipped Hassan Mead at the line as they became the ninth- and 10th-fastest Americans ever (13:02.74 and 13:02.80), with three other Americans breaking 13:10 (Lopez Lomong, Chris Derrick and Evan Jager), the most ever in a single race. Unfortunately, none of those men would run faster in 2014 (running the the 5k at Pre at 2:20 p.m. on Saturday rather than the perfect distance weather of Friday night — when Rupp set his 10k AR — might have had something to do with it), but it was still a strong year for Americans. For the first time, since 1985, three Americans finished among the year’s top 10 fastest performers, with four more in the top 20.
Galen Rupp, as mentioned above, became one of the world’s top 5k men and Bernard Lagat medalled once again at World Indoors (with Rupp just behind him in fourth). Lagat struggled against DL competition outdoors, but given his track record at global championships, it would be foolish to totally disregard him from medal consideration next year, even though he’ll be competing as a master.
1. Galen Rupp (see above)
2. Bernard Lagat • Nike • 40 years old • 13:06.68 sb (#4 in U.S.) • U.S. Outdoor Champion • U.S. Indoor Champion (3000) • World Indoor Silver (3000)
DL results: 14th Pre, 12th Glasgow
Championship results: 1st USA indoors (3k), 2nd World indoors (3k), 1st USA outdoors
Lagat, who turned 40 on December 12, finally began to show his age in 2014, though he still managed to find his best for his biggest races. At the Pre Classic in May, he lost to three Americans — Chris Derrick, Hassan Mead and Ben True — in the 5000. Since becoming a U.S. citizen, Lagat had lost to an American in a 5000 just once — Rupp at the 2012 Olympic Trials. His 14th-place finish there and his 12th in Glasgow on July 11 were his his lowest DL 5k finishes by far (previous low was fifth at Pre last year) and Lagat posted his slowest sb (13:06) since 2008.
Still, Lagat managed to beat 27-year-old Galen Rupp at USA Indoors and earned a remarkable silver medal in the 3000 at World Indoors at the age of 39. Outdoors, he rebounded from Pre with a 7:38 3k in Ostrava on June 17 and claimed his ninth U.S. outdoor title in Sacramento (seven in the 5k, two in the 1500). U.S. fans were denied a Lagat-Rupp showdown in that race (Rupp skipped the 5k at USAs to prepare an American record attempt at the Paris Diamond League meet) which is a shame since it figured to be a good one.
We can’t rank Lagat ahead of Rupp considering what the latter did on the Diamond League circuit this year, but Lagat’s victory at USA outdoors and his spectacular indoor season (albeit at 3000) earn him the nod at #2.
3. Ben True • Saucony • 29 years old (on December 29) • 13:02.74 sb (#2 in U.S.)
DL results: 11th Pre, 11th Paris, 8th Stockholm, 8th Zurich (DL final)
Championship results: none
Since relocating to New Hampshire in 2010, True has improved steadily every year and 2014 was no different. Check out his 5000 pb progression:
True’s 13:02.74 at Stanford in May made him the ninth-fastest American of all time, and he put together solid eighth-place finishes against the world’s best in the final two Diamond League meets in Stockholm and Zurich.
Andrew Bumbalough and Hassan Mead both have claims to this spot as well, but True’s eighth in the DL final in Zurich clinched the argument in his favor (Mead was just 17th, though he was an impressive sixth in Stockholm). True was 2-2 versus Mead on the season and 1-0 versus Bumbalough (though that win came at Stanford when Bumbalough was still coming back from injury) and there wasn’t much between them; had this been a championship year with a full field at USAs, those three would have staged quite a battle for third behind Rupp and Lagat.
A big negative for True in our US rankings was the fact that he did not run the USA Championships. Our rankings reward those who run championship events, but in this case we still couldn’t rank True behind Bumbalough, who was second at USAs. True ran four 5000s faster than the fastest time Bumbalough ran (13:13.67) and had two Diamond League finishes (8th) better than Bumbalough’s best (9th).
True will chase sub-13:00 and his first spot at Worlds next year. If he continues his trend of improvement, both of those goals are very attainable.
4. Andrew Bumbalough • Bowerman Track Club/Nike • 27 years old • 13:13.67 sb (#8 in U.S.) • 2nd at USA Outdoors • 8th at USA Indoors (3000)
DL results: 9th Oslo, 9th Glasgow
Championship results: 8th USA indoors (3000), 2nd USA Outdoors, 7th Continental Cup
Bumbalough vs. Mead is more clear-cut than Bumbalough vs. True or Mead vs. True. Bumbalough was 2-1 vs. Mead outdoors (with a win at 3000 indoors as well) and one of those wins was at USAs, where Bumbalough finished second to Lagat. Bumbalough got in some DL 5ks for the first time and delivered a couple of decent performances, though he would have liked to have run slightly faster in Oslo (he ran 13:13.67, his pb is 13:12.01).
One thing that changed for Bumbalough this year — at least at USAs — was that he was more confident. Bumbalough made a move for the win with 600 to go at USAs and though he still wasn’t able to beat Lagat, he wound up second, his best-ever showing at USAs. In the past, Bumbalough would usually sit and kick in big races, and he may well continue to do so moving forward. But after seeing his confidence in his strength play off at USAs, Bumbalough has another tactic he can trust in a close race, making him a wildcard if USAs goes slow next year.
5. Hassan Mead • OTC Elite/Nike • 25 years old • 13:02.80 sb (#3) • 3rd at USA Outdoors
DL results: 10th Pre, 11th Glasgow, 6th Stockholm, 17th Zurich (DL final)
Championship results: 3rd USA outdoors
Mead’s 2014 was a breakthrough, for sure (lowered pb from 13:11 to 13:02, third at USAs after previous best of eighth) but as we wrote after his 13:02.80 pb at Stanford, Mead has been good for a while (ran 13:28 at age 19; Rupp’s pb at 19 was 13:37). His sixth at Stockholm on August 21 was a fantastic performance and at 25, Mead is the youngest guy on this list, meaning that he may have the most room for improvement going forward.
Like True, he should challenge the 13:00 barrier in 2015, but the biggest priority for both will likely be securing a spot on Team USA for Beijing.