2014 LRC Year-End Rankings: Men’s 800: Nijel Amos and Duane Solomon get the #1 rankings
December 27, 2014 to December 31, 2014
The men’s 800 is one of the most exciting races in all of track and field. Tons of superstars and lots of diversity as men from seven different countries nabbed spots in our global top 10. Where is David Rudisha?
December 27, 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’ll be 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.
We begin our rankings with perhaps the best of all the track events in 2014: the men’s 800. For just the second time in history, five men broke 1:43 in a single year. All five of those men went under at the Monaco Diamond League race on July 18; the only race that bettered it for top-end quality was the legendary 2012 Olympic final. And the best thing about the men’s 800? It only figures to get better. The oldest man in our top 10 is 27-year-old Marcin Lewandowski; seven of the 10 are younger than 25, with four under 23. The 800 should once again be captivating at the 2015 World Championships in Beijing and the 2016 Olympics in Rio.
1. Nijel Amos • Botswana • 20 years old • 1:42.45 sb (#1) • Commonwealth Champion • African Champion • Diamond League Champion
DL results: 2nd Doha, 1st Pre Classic, 2nd Paris, 1st Monaco, 5th Stockholm, 1st Zurich (DL final)
Championship results: 1st Commonwealth Games, 1st African Champs, 1st Continental Cup
If there was a big race in 2014, chances are 20-year old Nijel Amos won it. The man who won Olympic silver by running 1:41.73 at age 18 didn’t run indoors, so he can be excused for not winning World Indoors, but he claimed victories at every other major race — the Commonwealth Games, African Championships, Continental Cup and the three biggest Diamond League races (Pre, Monaco and the final in Zurich). His 1:42.45 in Monaco led the world; in all, he broke 1:44 four times, more than anyone else this year.
Amos’ re-emergence this year (he won Olympic silver in 2012 but didn’t race after July 12 last year due to injury) and his rivalries with fellow 20-year-old Mo Aman and Olympic champ/world record holder David Rudisha should make for an even more exciting season in 2015. Can Amos (pb: 1:41.73) and Aman (pb 1:42.37) dip into the 1:41s? Will Rudisha regain his form of 2009-2012 after an offseason of rest for his knee? We can’t wait to find out.
There was no doubt that Amos was #1 this year. Head to head against Aman, our world #2, Amos was 5-1 on the year, winning five straight after a narrow .05 loss to Aman in the first DL event of the year in Doha in May. Head to head against Rudisha, our world #3, Amos was 4-0 on the year.
2. Mo Aman • Ethiopia • 20 years old • 1:42.83 sb (#3) • World Indoor Champion
DL results: 1st Doha, 2nd Pre Classic, 1st Rome, 3rd Monaco, 8th Zurich (DL final)
Championship results: 1st World Indoors, 2nd African Champs, 2nd Continental Cup
No 800 runner has been as consistently brilliant as Aman over the past four years. Since the start of 2011, Aman has finished 45 800 finals; he’s finished outside the top three just four times in that span (nine percent) and won three World Championships (two indoor, one outdoor). Though his 1:42.83 season best was his slowest SB since 2011, it was still the third-fastest time in the world this year. Aman looked unstoppable indoors, winning all three of his races including World Indoors and apart from the Diamond League final in Zurich (where Aman was an uncharacteristic eighth), only two men beat him at 800 all year: Amos and Pierre-Ambroise Bosse. With wins at the Diamond League events in Doha and Rome, a nice 1:43.52 victory at the Berlin ISTAF on August 31 and second-place showings behind Amos at the loaded Pre Classic, African Championships and Continental Cup, Aman accomplished more than anyone outside of Amos in 2014. Head to head against Rudisha, Aman was 2-1 on the year.
3. David Rudisha • Kenya • 26 years old (on 12/17) • 1:42.98 sb (#5) • Commonwealth Silver
DL results: 7th Pre Classic, 1st New York, 1st Glasgow, 5th Monaco, 3rd Zurich (DL final)
Championship results: 2nd Commonwealth Games
After going over 12 months without racing due to a knee injury, Rudisha, one of the sport’s most electrifying athletes, returned at the Pre Classic and his message was clear: I’m still a front runner. Though Rudisha’s desire to lead every step led him to foolishly match a suicidal move by Aman with 200 to go in that race, causing him to fade to seventh, his performances throughout the rest of the season made it clear that Rudisha is still among the event’s elite. He won the Diamond League events in New York and Glasgow, took second in the Commonwealth Games behind Amos and third in the Diamond League finale behind Amos and Ayanleh Souleiman.
Rudisha won’t be satisfied with merely returning to the event’s elite; from 2010 to 2012, he was on another plane of existence compared to every other 800 runner. With his knee troubles behind him, Rudisha will look to regain his dominant stature in 2015. Can he get there?
Rudisha’s main competitor for the title of Greatest 800 Runner Ever is Wilson Kipketer, whose prime lasted five years, from 1994 to 1999 (ages 21 to 26). Though Kipketer won Olympic silver in 2000 (at age 27) and bronze in 2004 (at age 31), he was an unstoppable force of nature from age 21 to 26 (but sadly had to miss the 1996 Olympics due to his switch of allegiance from Kenya to Denmark). Everyone ages differently (Rudisha probably entered his prime at the tail end of 2009 at age 20), but if we use Kipketer as an example, Rudisha may not have much of his prime left (Of course, it should be pointed out that Kipketer got malaria in 1998 which didn’t help things). That’s not to say that Rudisha can’t win multiple global titles over the next few years — but rather that his prime years (2010-2012, when he lost a grand total of two 800s and broke the world record three times) were so overwhelmingly dominant that it will be hard to produce another year like that.
For Rudisha, 2014 was his return, proof to himself and others that he was healthy enough to race and that he remains among the world’s elite. How Rudisha races in 2015 will show whether this year was the new normal or simply a stepping stone back to the Rudisha of old.
4. Adam Kszczot • Poland • 25 years old • 1:44.02 sb (#13) • European Champion • World Indoor Silver
DL results: 5th Pre Classic, 5th New York, 8th Paris, 1st Stockholm, 7th Zurich (DL final)
Championship results: 2nd World Indoors, 1st Europeans, 3rd Continental Cup
Twelve men ran faster than Kszczot did in 2014, but none ran as well in as many big races as the 25-year-old Pole. In March, Kszczot took silver on home turf at World Indoors and in May he delivered a clutch anchor leg for Poland (1:44.79, the fastest of the race) to clinch silver over the U.S. at the World Relays. Later in the summer, he won a dominating gold at the European Championships and followed that up with a win at the Stockholm Diamond League meet. Only one of the men ranked below him — Asbel Kiprop — won a DL race this season and none were as good in championship races (we can’t rank Bosse ahead of Kszczot after the latter steamrolled him at Euros). Kszczot has made the final at Worlds just once (he was sixth in 2011), but at 25, he’s primed to increase that total and perhaps chase a medal in Beijing next year.
5. Pierre-Ambroise Bosse • France • 22 years old • 1:42.53 sb (#2)
DL results: 4th Pre Classic, 4th Paris, 2nd Monaco, 4th Stockholm, 5th Zurich (DL final)
Championship results: 8th Europeans
Bosse has dropped his pb by a second or more in each of the past five years, and after reaching his first global final in 2013, he proved in 2014 that he’s among the very best in the world over two laps. His 1:42.53 at the Monaco DL meet set a French record and made him the second-fastest man in the world. The biggest difference for Bosse this year was that he was finally able to start beating runners who were previously out of his league. In five DL 800s, he was 4th, 4th, 2nd, 4th and 5th, enabling him during the season to take the scalps Amos, Aman and Rudisha, none of whom he had beaten prior to 2014.
His blowup at Euros (he led with 150 to go before fading to last) was a black mark on his record considering that it was his only major championship of the season, but it was also the result of the 22-year-old Bosse’s unfamiliarity with his role as the favorite. He’ll be year wiser in 2015 and unless he makes another jump, Bosse won’t have the pressure of leading the race or running as the favorite at Worlds. Another second-plus improvement would be a lot to ask from Bosse next year, but if he can just maintain his form from this season, he’ll be a threat to medal at Worlds.
Bosse is also in the running for outfit of the year as he raced in a French national soccer team jersey at the Paris DL meet on July 5.
6. Ayanleh Souleiman • Djibouti • 22 years old • 1:43.69 (#9)
DL results: 2nd Stockholm, 2nd Zurich (DL final)
Championship results: none
Souleiman’s a tough guy to rank because he spent the majority of the 2014 season as a 1500/mile runner. Still, he’s shown that he’s an extremely capable 800 runner when he drops down, taking bronze at Worlds in 2013 and running great in two DL races in 2014 (second in Stockholm to Kszczot, second in the DL final in Zurich to Amos). It’s hard to imagine, but Souleiman actually would have been the DL 800 champ if he won that race (he lost to Amos by 0.16 seconds) as he and Amos would have finished level on points and wins, but Souleiman would have owned the tiebreaker of higher finish at the final.
On the year, Souleiman was 1-0 against Rudisha and Aman and 1-1 against Amos. If he’d run the event full-time, he’d probably have been no worse than our #4 pick. But he almost didn’t get ranked at all as he only ran four 800s this year (and two were low-key races in Sweden). Still, all four of his races were very solid.
June 26 – 1:44.39 win in Sollentuna, winning by nearly 1.84 seconds (field included Musaeb Abdulrahman Balla who’d run 1:44.03 this year)
July 25 – 1:43.69 win in Huddinge, winning by 3.89 seconds over Leo Manzano.
August 21 – 1:45.49 second-place showing at DN Galan, Stockholm, beating Lewandowski, Bosse, and Amos.
August 28 – 1:43.93 second-place in DL final Zürich, beating Rudisha, Cheruiyot, Bosse, Lewandowski, Kszczot, Aman.
7. Ferguson Rotich Cheruiyot • Kenya • 25 years old • 1:42.84 sb (#4)
DL results: 3rd Doha, 7th New York, 5th Paris, 4th Monaco, 4th Zurich (DL final)
Championship results: 4th Commonwealth Games, 4th African Championships
Cheruiyot’s name doesn’t get brought up in the Amos/Aman/Rudisha conversation, and rightfully so, but after the Big Three, he may be Africa’s best pure 800 runner. Yes, he was fourth behind two other Africans at major championships this year (Andre Olivier at the Commonwealth Games; Taoufik Makhloufi at the African Champs; Cheruiyot was fourth in each race) but his 1:42.84 SB was fourth in the world and he was way more consistent on the DL circuit than those two, as well as the other men ranked behind him on this list. No one broke 1:45 more than Cheruiyot (six times) this season. He’s not as well-known as his more heralded peers, but you only need to look at his results in 2014 for proof that he belongs.
8. Asbel Kiprop • Kenya • 25 years old • 1:43.34 sb (#6)
DL results: 1st Paris, 11th Zurich (DL final)
Championship results: none
Outside of the historically-deep Monaco race, the fastest time run this year was 1:43.34 in DL victories by Rudisha in Glasgow and Kiprop in Paris. Kiprop is the two-time defending world champion at 1500, so we can forgive him for focusing on that event, but he ran well enough in Paris (defeating Amos and four other men on this list) that that performance alone is good enough for eighth. What the rankings come down to at this point is whether 1500 specialists like Souleiman and Kiprop deserve more credit for a handful of truly elite performances than 800 guys like Marcin Lewandowski or Andre Olivier do for several very good runs. We’ll give the nod to Kiprop because his win in Paris was one of the three best performances on the year, but we understand the argument for Lewandowski/Olivier.
9. Taoufik Makhloufi • Algeria • 26 years old • 1:43.53 sb (#7) • African Champs Bronze
DL results: 2nd Shanghai
Championship results: 3rd African Championships
Like the two men directly above him on this list, Makhloufi is considered more of a 1500 runner (since he’s the reigning Olympic champ at that distance) but he actually ran more 800s than 1500s in 2014 (though he also ran the mile at Pre). Makhloufi won one race — the Rieti IAAF World Challenge on September 7 — and his SB of 1:43.53 ranked him seventh in the world. He took bronze at the African Champs behind the top two runners on this list (but ahead of Cheruiyot) and would have won the Shanghai DL race were it not for an ill-advised early celebration. Makhloufi could have been higher if he ran more DL races (he surprisingly chose not to run the DL final in Zurich even though he could have clinched the DL title with a win) but running 1:44, 1:43 and 1:43 in his three non-championship 800s and finishing behind only Amos and Aman at the African Champs earns him the #9 spot.
10. Marcin Lewandowski • Poland • 27 years old • 1:44.03 sb (#14)
DL results: 5th Shanghai, 6th Pre Classic, 3rd Rome, 4th New York, 7th Paris, 6th Monaco, 3rd Stockholm, 6th Zurich (DL final)
Championship results: 5th Europeans
Lewandowski was consistently solid in the Diamond League, but that’s only enough to earn him 10th in our rankings. He’s a very good 800 runner (4th at the last two World Championships) but he had nine chances to post an impressive Diamond League performance and his highest finish was just third. His SB of 1:44.03 ranked him just 14th in the world and he lacks the upside of guys like Kiprop and Souleiman who occasionally drop down to the event. Lewandowski didn’t run as well on the circuit as he did in 2013 (top four in all four of his DL races plus 4th at Worlds) and his best performance of the year — bronze at World Indoors — was wiped out because he got disqualified. At 27, Lewandowski should still have a few years left as a top-tier 800 runner, but more young talent emerges in the event every year. He’s got some work to do if he’s to post his fourth straight top-four at Worlds in 2015.
Honorable mention: Yeimer Lopez (#10 in world with 1:43.71 sb, 3rd Paris), Alfred Kipketer (World Junior champ, 1:43.95 sb)
2012 and 2013 were two of the best years ever for American men in the 800. The 2012 Olympic final saw Duane Solomon and Nick Symmonds become just the second and third members of the U.S. sub-1:43 club. It also marked the first time two Americans finished in the top five at the Olympics since 1956; before 2012, the last time the U.S. had even one runner finish in the top five in the Olympic 800 final was 1992. Solomon and Symmonds kept rolling in 2013, as both made the final at Worlds, with Symmonds taking silver (the first medal for a U.S. man in that event since Rich Kenah‘s bronze in 1997). Converted hurdler Brandon Johnson joined them at Worlds (he was the first man out of the final, missing out by .04 seconds) and gave the U.S. three men under 1:44 for the first time since 1992.
Americans in the event took a step back this year, as only three men broke 1:45, the fewest since 2010. Symmonds missed the entire outdoor season with a knee injury. After setting a world record for fastest 800 run in the month of April (1:43.88), Solomon struggled during the first half of the Diamond League season and only ran one DL race after June 14 — a DNF in Monaco on July 18. Johnson only broke 1:47 once this year after doing so 15 times in 2013. And a pileup meant that the 800 final at USAs was really a two-person affair, with Solomon comfortably dispatching runner-up Cas Loxsom.
With Symmonds returning in 2015 and youngsters like Loxsom and Elijah Greer on the rise, 2015 should be a better year for Americans in the event.
1. Duane Solomon • Saucony • 30 years old (on 12/28) • 1:43.88 sb (#1 in US) • U.S. Outdoor Champion
DL results: 10th Pre Classic, 4th Rome, 3rd New York
Championship results: 1st USA outdoors, 6th Continental Cup
With Symmonds out since March, Solomon is a no-brainer for the number one spot in these rankings. He won his second straight USA title in comfortable fashion (1.67-second margin of victory), was the only American to break 1:44 and didn’t lose to an American all year. After running 1:43 in April, the 30-year-old ran out of steam over the second half of the season but by then he’d already done enough to clinch the #1 ranking. While Solomon didn’t challenge his pb of 1:42.82 (he spoke several times about trying to break his coach Johnny Gray‘s 1:42.60 American record), there was no Worlds/Olympics to peak for and he ran his best in his biggest race of the season (the U.S. Championships).
2. Erik Sowinski • Nike • 25 years old (on 12/21) • 1:44.58 sb (#2 in US) • 3rd at USA Outdoors • U.S. Indoor Champion
DL results: 10th Shanghai, 6th Rome, 5th Glasgow
Championship results: 1st USA indoors, 5th World Indoor semis, 3rd USA outdoors
After a breakthrough year in 2012, where Sowinski lowered his pb from 1:47.71 to 1:45.90, the 25-year-old Iowa grad has continued to improve, winning the last two U.S. indoor titles and finishing 6th (2013) and then 3rd (2014) at USAs outdoors. He was the second-best guy in the USA final in Sacramento, but Charles Jock‘s fall enabled Solomon and Loxsom to break away, ruining Sowinski’s hope at the top two. Still, he beat everyone else in that race by 1.51 seconds or more, and his 1:44.58 at Mt. SAC was a nice pb. He was also the victorious anchor in one of the races of the year — the indoor world record-setting 4×800 at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix.
If Sowinski runs as he did this year in 2015, he will deserve to be the third man onto the U.S. squad in Beijing. But the 800 is notoriously fickle and there are several men behind him who wouldn’t need to improve much to surpass Sowinski.
3. Elijah Greer • OTC Elite/Nike • 24 years old • 1:44.91 sb (#3 in US) • 4th at USA Outdoors
Championship results: 4th USA outdoors
Greer is one of those men who could move past Sowinski with a big year in 2015. He followed up his spectacular 2013 (NCAA indoor/outdoor champ, 4th at USAs) with another great year in 2014, setting a pb of 1:44.91 pb and again taking 4th at USAs. Greer is the guy most likely to follow in Symmonds/Solomon’s footsteps as the next global medal threat in the event. Unlike Sowinski, whose high school pb was 1:54, Greer has always been a stud (1:47 as a junior in high school and 1:45 as a sophomore in college) and he’s proven himself as a great championship racer. He’s still got a lot of work to do in terms of lowering his pb to a world-class level, but he does have some time. Symmonds and Solomon didn’t start peaking until their late 20s; at this point in their careers, Symmonds had run 1:44.54 and Solomon had run 1:45.69.
First, Greer has to make his first U.S. senior team; he’ll get his chance in June.
4. Cas Loxsom • Brooks Beasts • 23 years old • 1:45.80 sb (#6 in US) • 2nd at USA Outdoors
Championship results: 2nd USA outdoors, 3rd USA indoors semis
After running 1:45.28 and finishing sixth at USAs at age 20 in 2011, Loxsom seemed poised for greatness. But he stagnated over the next two years, failing to make a U.S. final or improve on his pb. He didn’t set a pb in 2014 either, but he won some races and didn’t just make a U.S. final — he placed second (though we won’t know how high he would have been without the fall). To be a factor at USAs next year, Loxsom will have to build on his success in 2014. With a new training partner in Seattle in Symmonds, that seems possible.
5. Ryan Martin • Asics • 25 years old • 1:45.65 sb (#5 in US) • 6th at USA Outdoors
Championship results: 6th USA outdoors
The battle for the #5 ranking came down to Martin, Jock and Michael Rutt, and we were tempted to give it to Rutt given that he finished fourth at USAs. However, the US 800 final was hugely impacted by a fall by Charles Jock and Jock’s fall affected Martin more than it did Rutt, and Martin was more consistent this year — Rutt’s SB was 1:46.04 and Jock’s was 1:45.90; Martin ran faster than 1:45.90 on three different occasions. He did it in three straight races – his final three 800s of the year in Europe in July. Martin also had the nation’s fifth-fastest time this season (Solomon, Sowinski, Greer and Harun Abda, who didn’t make the final at USAs, were the only men faster).
The UC-Santa Barbara grad struggled in his first year as a pro last year, failing to break 1:46.71 and going out in the first round at USAs. After moving from Orange County back to Santa Barbara this year, he found success under college coach Pete Dolan and put together a solid season. Martin was the first guy out of the Olympic team in 2012 (he missed by .25 seconds) and if he can return to his form from that year (where he ran a pb of 1:44.77), he’ll be in the mix for the U.S. squad.
Honorable mention: Michael Rutt (1:46.04 sb, 5th USAs), Charles Jock (1:45.90 sb, DNF USAs after falling), Harun Abda (4th in US with 1:45.55 sb)