2014 LRC Year-End Rankings: Women’s 1500/Mile: American Jenny Simpson Is On Top Of The World

By LetsRun.com
December 28, 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, U.S. 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.

World Rankings

The women’s 800 might be the weakest it’s been in decades, but 2014 was a golden year for the women’s 1500. Outdoors four women broke 3:58 in the same year for the first time since 2006 (three of the four women who achieved the feat in ’06 subsequently served doping bans) while five women broke 3:59 in the same year for the first time since 1998. And neither of those totals include Genzebe Dibaba, who blasted an indoor world record of 3:55.17 1500, the fastest time, indoor or out, since 1997. Of the nine races in history in which at least five women broke 4:00, two of them took place in 2014 — the Pre Classic and the Paris DL meet.

World Indoor champion Abeba Aregawi, European champion Sifan Hassan and U.S. champion Jenny Simpson won two Diamond League races each, but in the end it was Simpson that took the DL title with wins in Stockholm on August 21 and Zurich on August 28. Those three enter 2015 as the medal favorites for Beijing, but there’s plenty of young talent to challenge them including 20-year-old Faith Kipyegon (Commonwealth Games champion), 18-year-old Dawit Seyaum (World Junior champion) and 18-year-old Mary Cain (World Junior 3k champion) plus veterans Hellen Obiri (bronze at ’13 Worlds) and Dibaba.

Simpson won her first U.S. outdoor title at 1500 on Sunday (fourth overall) It’s hard to believe, but Simpson hadn’t won a U.S. outdoor title at 1500 until this year, even though she finished 2011 as world champion.

1. Jenny Simpson • USA • 28 years old • 3:57.22 sb (#3) • Diamond League Champion • U.S. Outdoor Champion

DL results: 2nd Shanghai, 4th Pre, 3rd New York, 2nd Paris, 1st Stockholm, 1st Zurich (DL final)
Championship results: 1st USA outdoors

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As late as August 20, it looked like Hassan had the year’s #1 ranking secured, but a pair of wins by Simpson in the final two Diamond League races locked up her first DL title and gave her the slight edge in LRC’s year-end rankings. The #1 spot changed several times throughout the year. Dibaba earned it with a world indoor record 3:55.17 on February 1 but chose to focus on the 3k/5k outdoors. Aregawi seized control after a dominant World Indoor title and DL wins in Shanghai and New York before handing it off to Hassan, who put together a monster stretch in the middle of the summer (DL wins in Paris and Glasgow followed by a European title). Ultimately, it came down to Hassan vs. Simpson, with the nod going to the American by virtue of her 4-1 record and higher average DL finish (2.2 vs. 2.8) and the importance of her end-of-season wins in Stockholm and Zurich (read our Q&A with Simpson after Zurich here).

Here’s what we wrote in our Zurich recap:

More importantly, Simpson, for the first time in her career, now has to be regarded as the best 1500 woman on the planet. Prior to today, Simpson had accomplished an awful lot in her career – 2011 Worlds gold, 2013 World silver, sub-4 clocking – but never had she held the unofficial title of “World’s Best Women’s 1500 runner.”

It seems counterintuitive that Simpson wasn’t regarded as the top 1500 runner on the planet after she won Worlds in 2011, but you’ve got to remember that her win in Daegu came as a total surprise. Simpson was second at USAs that year, fifth in her lone pre-Worlds DL race in Monaco and was 13th in the DL final in Brussels. Her season’s best of 4:03.54 was just 23rd-best in the world. Simpson wasn’t even the top American that year; Morgan Uceny was #1 in the world after winning three DL races (including the final) to become DL champion, beat Simpson to win USAs and was denied a chance to win Worlds when she fell in the final.

After a disappointing 2012 when Simpson finished last in her Olympic semifinal, she enjoyed a great year last year after reuniting with college coaches Mark Wetmore and Heather Burroughs and continued to improve in 2014, dipping under 4:00 for the first time since 2009 with her 3:58.28 at Pre and lowering her pb even further to 3:57.22 in Paris.

Simpson should have two main goals in 2015: reclaiming her world title in Beijing and breaking Mary Slaney‘s American record of 3:57.12. Both are attainable.

2. Sifan Hassan • Netherlands • 21 years old • 3:57.00 sb (#1) • European Champion

DL results: 3rd Shanghai, 5th Pre, 1st Paris, 1st Glasgow, 3rd Stockholm, 4th Zurich (DL final)
Championship results: 1st European Championships, 1st Continental Cup

The Ethiopian-born Hassan emerged from relative anonymity to become one of the world’s best 1500 runners in 2014. Prior to this year, she had a modest pb of 4:03.73 (#19 in the world last year), but she ran faster than that in all seven of her non-championship races in 2014, including a world-leading 3:57.00 in Paris on July 5. From mid-June to mid-August, Hassan was unbeatable, but her failure to finish higher than third in the final two DL meets denied her the chance to win the DL title and cost her the #1 spot in our rankings. It would have been very interesting to see what would have happened if there was a Worlds this year as the middle of August (the women’s 1500 final was on August 15 last year) saw the end of Hassan’s peak overlap with the start of Simpson’s.

Hassan’s commanding victory over Aregawi at Europeans broke the Swede’s stranglehold on the event (Aregawi’s last loss in a major championship before that came at the 2012 Olympics) and with Hassan just 21 and Aregawi 24, the pair should be battling for continental supremacy for some time. It will be interesting to see how well Hassan, who likes to run toward the back before exploding with a big last lap, will fare in 2015 and beyond, as he’s still only 21 years old. Her future is bright.

Aregawi Qualified with Ease (Click for Photo Gallery) Aregawi took gold in Sopot on March 8

3. Abeba Aregawi • Sweden • 24 years old • 3:57.57 sb (#4) • World Indoor Champion • European Silver

DL results: 1st Shanghai, 2nd Pre, 1st New York, 10th Paris, 2nd Glasgow, 10th Stockholm, 8th Zurich (DL final)
Championship results: 1st World Indoors, 2nd European Championships

In May, it looked as if Aregawi’s 2014 season could play out just as her dominant 6.51-second win at World Indoors did two months earlier — Aregawi gaps the field early and crushes all competition to cement her status as the world’s best. She entered the Prefontaine Classic having won 14 straight 1500s, a streak that dated back to 2012, and a second straight perfect season seemed a distinct possibility. Aregawi finished second in Eugene (behind only Hellen Obiri‘s then-world-leading 3:57.05) but rebounded to defeat Simpson and others in New York two weeks later.

Then the wheels fell off. Aregawi was 10th in Paris on July 5 — her lowest finish in any race since a 15th in Monaco in 2011 — and though she came back to take second at the Glasgow DL meet and the European Championships, she was 10th and eighth in the final two DL races. Still, Aregawi ran well enough at the beginning of the season to edge Obiri (who also faded toward the end of the year) for the #3 spot (Aregawi’s big win at World Indoors also helped her case here).

Which Aregawi will we see in 2015? She’s still only 24, so she’ll likely be a medal threat at Worlds once again, but her end-of-season slide wasn’t limited to just one race — three finishes of eighth or lower for the defending world champ is cause for concern. What seems to have happened is that Aregawi peaked too early. She was in tremendous shape at World Indoors and ran her three fastest times in February and May (indoors in Stockholm on February 6, in Shanghai on May 18 and at Pre on May 31). But Aregawi followed a similar pattern in 2013 (10-second win at European Indoors in March, ran her two fastest 1500s of the year — by far — on February 21 indoors in Stockholm and May 10 outdoors in Doha) and ended the year as the undefeated world champion. What really happened? It’s unclear. We’re not arguing that Aregawi is done by any means but her performance bears monitoring in 2015.

4. Hellen Obiri • Kenya • 25 years old • 3:57.05 sb (#2) • African Champion • 6th at Commonwealth Games

DL results: 1st Pre, 3rd Paris, 8th Glasgow, 9th Zurich (DL final)
Championship results: 6th Commonwealth Games, 1st African Championships, 4th Continental Cup

Obiri, like Aregawi, looked impressive early in the season, especially if you include her performances at 3k (we’re not for the purposes of these rankings, but she ran a blazing 8:20 to win in Doha on May 9 and took second at World Indoors). Obiri won Pre in a world-leading 3:57.05 on the heels of a world-record-setting performance in the 4×1500 at the World Relays. However, also like Aregawi, Obiri faded over the second half of the season. She did manage to beat Faith Kipyegon and Dawit Seyaum at the African Championships, but she was just sixth at the Commonwealth Games and finished eighth and ninth in her final two DL races. Obiri, the defending bronze medallist at Worlds, can beat anyone at her best. The question, looking ahead, is whether she can time her peak correctly for Worlds in 2015?

Dibaba cruised to World Indoor gold at 3000. Dibaba cruised to World Indoor gold at 3000.

5. Genzebe Dibaba • Ethiopia • 23 years old • 4:01.00 outdoor sb (#12) • 3:55.17 indoor sb (indoor WR)

DL results: 2nd Stockholm
Championship results: none

Dibaba ran just two 1500s this season (only one outdoors) and yet she still earns the #5 spot based almost entirely due to her ridiculous 3:55.17 indoor world record in Karlsruhe, Germany, on February 1. It’s hard to describe how good that performance was; we believe the official term is “crazy fast.” It was 1.83 seconds faster than anyone else ran in 2014 and broke the indoor world record by the comically large margin of 3.11 seconds (and that record was held by convicted doper Yelena Soboleva; it was an additional .12 seconds back to the next-fastest time, run by Aregawi). The time would rank just 12th on the all-time outdoor list, but every mark ahead of hers was run by either an Eastern European in the 1980s or a Chinese woman in the 1990s, casting a great deal of suspicion on the validity of those performances. If Dibaba is clean, her performance might be the fastest legitimate 1500 of all time.

Her lack of races at the distance hurts here, but what she did accomplish in 2014 (the indoor WR, a second in Stockholm and a road mile win at the London Anniversary Games) was impressive enough to earn her the #5 ranking.

Dibaba has the potential to be a generational talent but she’s also frustrating. First, six years into her career it’s still unclear what her best event is. Her 3:55 1500 pb would normally mean that isn’t even a question, but she was just eighth in the 1500 at Worlds last year and didn’t even make the final in the 1500 at the Olympics in 2012 (though you can make the argument she peaked way too early in both of those seasons). She also won the two Diamond League 5000s this year (including a world-leading 14:28 in Monaco) but somehow went 0-for-3 in DL 3000s despite posting world-leading times at 1500 and 5000. In the past, we’ve called for Dibaba to consider focusing on the 1500 exclusively (again, she’s run 3:55!) but more than anything we’d just like to see Dibaba realize her vast potential at Worlds rather than running incredibly fast times early in the year.

6. Faith Kipyegon • Kenya • 20 years old • 3:58.01 sb (#5) • Commonwealth Champion • 5th at African Championships

DL results: 3rd Pre, 4th Paris
Championship results: 1st Commonwealth Games, 5th African Championships

Kipyegon, like many of the women in the bottom half of this list, didn’t run many DL events (just two) but she performed well in both (3:58.01 for third at Pre; 3:59.21 for fourth in Paris) and supported those performances with a victory at the Commonwealth Games on July 29. She was fifth on the world list by sb and though she was just fifth at the African Championships, her CG victory came over a quality field containing Obiri and Laura Weightman. Kipyegon is one of several young runners that could break through to the next tier with a strong season in 2015.

Jenny Simpson and Shannon Rowbury in Paris Simpson and Rowbury (shown here in Paris on July 5) give the U.S. one of the world’s best 1-2 punches in the 1500.

7. Shannon Rowbury • USA • 30 years old • 3:59.49 sb (#6) 

DL results: 4th New York, 5th Paris, 4th Stockholm, 2nd Zurich (DL final)
Championship results: 2nd Continental Cup

After running the 5000 at Worlds last year, the 3000 at USA indoors and the 5000 at USA outdoors, it looked like the 2009 World Championship bronze medallist’s days at the 1500 might be limited as she adapted to new coach Alberto Salazar. After she lost to Molly Huddle by .15 seconds at USA outdoors in the 5000m, we asked Rowbury whether she was going to move to the 5000 full-time next year.

“We’ll see,” Rowbury said. “That’s definitely a possibility. But if I can do well in Paris or Glasgow or in the 1500 this summer then maybe that will change things. I still really love the 1500, but the 5k’s growing on me.”

Rowbury ran very well in Paris (pb of 3:59.49, her first time under 4:00) and though she didn’t run Glasgow, she took second in the DL final in Zurich, very nearly beating Simpson (she lost by .01 as both runners crashed to the ground at the finish line), which suggests that the 1500 will be her main event in 2015. Rowbury will have less domestic competition in the 5000 (Huddle will likely run the 10,000 at USAs) but it makes the most sense for her to stay in the 1500. Rowbury proved in Zurich that she’s still capable of contending for a medal in the 1500 at a global championship; she’d need to get a lot better to contend for a medal in the 5000.

8. Dawit Seyaum • Ethiopia • 18 years old • 3:59.53 sb (#7) • World Junior Champion • African Silver

DL results: 2nd New York
Championship results: 1st World Juniors, 3rd Continental Cup

It’s a shame Mary Cain didn’t run the 1500 at World Juniors because Seyaum, not Cain, could well be the best 18-year-old in the world (Seyaum is 85 days younger than Cain). Seyaum delivered several world-class performances in 2014, beginning with her 3:59.53 opener in Marrakesh on June 8 and following it up by defeating Simpson at the New York Diamond League stop less than a week later. Seyaum closed in a quick 30.2 for the final 200 to comfortably win World Junior gold in July and proved that she’s the real deal with a second-place finish at the African Championships on August 12.

Seyaum raced just once on the DL circuit in 2014 and we’d love to see her more frequently next year, particularly if she gets a chance to race against Cain (who ran DL meets at Pre and in New York but ran the 800 against weak fields in both).

9. Laura Weightman • Great Britain • 23 years old • 4:00.17 sb (#10) • Commonwealth Silver • European Bronze

DL results: 8th Pre, 8th Paris, 4th Glasgow, 14th Stockholm
Championship results: 2nd Commonwealth Games, 3rd European Championships

Weightman wasn’t brilliant on the circuit, her best showing a fourth in Glasgow on July 11, but she came through when it counted, taking second at the Commonwealth Games and third at the European Championships two and a half weeks later. Weightman’s currently not the kind of runner that will be chasing Diamond League wins (her 4:00.17 in Paris was a pb but only got her eighth in the race; her next-fastest time is 4:02.72), but she has the potential to follow in the footsteps of countrywoman Hannah England, who finished fourth and second at the last two World Championships despite a 4:01.89 pb.

10. Viola Kibiwot • Kenya • 31 years old (on 12/22) • 4:00.46 sb (#11) 

DL results: 4th Shanghai, 5th Stockholm, 3rd Zurich (DL final)
Championship results: none

You can make the case for a few women in this spot but Kibiwot, with three top-fives on the DL circuit (including an impressive third at the final in Zurich) and the 11th-fastest sb on the year, is the most deserving candidate. Kibiwot didn’t run any major championships in 2014, which hurts her candidacy, but the two other medallists from World Indoors (Ethiopia’s Axumawit Embaye and Canada’s Nicole Sifuentes) didn’t do much outdoors. Neither did Great Britain’s Laura Muir or Bahrain’s Mimi Belete, the two women not on this list with a faster sb than Kibiwot.

Honorable mention: Mimi Belete, Brenda Martinez, Meraf Bahta, Axumawit Embaye, Treniere Moser

U.S. Rankings

The U.S. remains one of the world’s premier nations in the women’s 1500. Jenny Simpson earned the #1 spot in our world rankings and Shannon Rowbury was seventh; they went 1-2 in the DL final in Zurich. The U.S. has qualified at least two women to the final of the last four global outdoor championships, bringing back medals in 2009, 2011 and 2013. 2015 figures to be even better if Mary Cain, the World Junior champion at 3000, runs more Diamond League races (she didn’t race outside of the U.S. ’14).

1. Jenny Simpson (see above)

2. Shannon Rowbury (see above)

Mary Cain Wins World Junior Gold (click for photo gallery) Mary Cain won World Junior gold at 3000 in Eugene on July 24

3. Mary Cain • Nike Oregon Project • 18 years old • 4:06.34 sb (#10 in U.S.) • U.S. Indoor Champion • 2nd at USA Outdoors

Championship results: 1st USA indoors, 2nd USA outdoors

Cain raced an abbreviated outdoor season, but her performances at national championships and a Millrose Games victory in the mile make her the choice for #3 even though her sb was just 10th in the U.S. Cain began very strongly indoors, running a world-leading 4:24.11 mile on January 24 in Boston (the fastest mile in the world this year, indoors our out) and following that up with wins at Millrose and USA indoors. Cain looked set to threaten for a medal at World Indoors but a calf injury meant that she could not make the trip to Poland.

Outdoors, she didn’t run any 1500s/miles until USAs and a couple of mediocre 800s (2:02.31 at Pre, 2:01.67 at the adidas Grand Prix in New York) had people doubting whether Cain could repeat her outdoor success from 2013, where she was second at USAs and 10th at Worlds. At USAs in Sacramento, she showed she was just fine, thank you very much, as she finished a clear second behind Simpson. That was her last 1500/mile until the Fifth Avenue Mile on September 13 (she was 10th), though we should note she was World Junior champion at 3000 (we didn’t factor that into our rankings).

Martinez had a better year in terms of times (she ran faster than Cain’s sb on three separate occasions) but Cain only ran the 1500 once this year (at USAs) and never attacked a fast time. Martinez — who ran the 800 at USA outdoors and didn’t run USA indoors — didn’t have a signature 1500 performance that screamed she was better than Cain (perhaps 4:01.36 in the DL final in Zurich?). Maybe Martinez would have beaten Cain in a 1500, maybe not. But these are U.S. rankings and Cain was the U.S. champ indoors and the U.S. runner-up outdoors. Those two achievements trump what Martinez did on the European circuit.

4. Brenda Martinez • New Balance • 27 years old • 4:01.36 sb (#3 in U.S.) 

DL results: 7th Pre, 8th New York, 8th Stockholm, 6th Zurich (DL final)

The battle for this spot came down to Martinez and Treniere Moser, and any way you slice it Martinez comes out on top. She had a much better sb (4:01.36 to 4:04.18) and beat Moser four of the five times they raced (3-1 in outdoor 1500s, 1-0 at Fifth Avenue Mile). Moser also elected to run the 5000 instead of the 1500 at USA outdoors. Martinez wasn’t as strong over 1500 as she was in 2013 (two top-threes at DL events and a 4:00.94 pb) but she did enough to finish ahead of Moser.

Moser Looked Great (Click for Photo Gallery) Moser was fourth at World Indoors.

5. Treniere Moser • Nike Oregon Project • 33 years old • 4:04.18 sb (#4 in U.S.) • 2nd at USA Indoors • 4th at World Indoors

DL results: 8th Shanghai, 10th Pre, 6th New York, 5th Glasgow
Championship results: 2nd USA indoors, 4th World Indoors

It seems odd to put Moser at #5 after she was fourth at World Indoors, but it’s pretty much inarguable that the four women ahead of her deserve to be there. Simpson and Rowbury were among the very best in the world this year and clearly had better years than Moser, and Cain ran better in championship races and head to head (Cain beat her at Millrose and USA indoors; Moser won their only other encounter at the Fifth Avenue Mile). And we just explained why Moser can’t rank above Martinez (1-4 record vs. Martinez and much slower sb). Still, the fact that Moser can finish fourth at World Indoors and not be among the four best 1500 runners in the nation speaks to the quality of Americans in the event right now.

Honorable mention: Morgan Uceny, Gabriele Grunewald, Katie Mackey, Sarah Brown, Heather Kampf

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