2014 LRC Year-End Rankings: Women’s 3000/5000: Genzebe Dibaba Is Queen and Molly Huddle #6

By LetsRun.com
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’ve been 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.

World Rankings*

*because of the breakdown of the Diamond League schedule (four 3ks, two 2 miles, two 5ks), we changed this category to 3000/5000 as opposed to strictly evaluating the 5000. The DL schedule was as follows: May 9, Doha (3k); May 31, Pre Classic (2 mile; runners did not receive Diamond Race points for this race and the field was not as strong as a typical DL field); June 5, Rome (5k); June 14, New York (3k); July 3, Lausanne (3k); July 18, Monaco (5k); August 24, Birmingham (2 mile); September 5, Brussels (3k)

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2014 saw some of the fastest times ever in the women’s 3000. In February in Stockholm, Ethiopia’s Genzebe Dibaba ran 8:16.60 to smash the previous world record by almost seven seconds. Three months later in Doha, Hellen Obiri clocked the fastest outdoor 3k since 1993 (and possibly the fastest outdoor clean 3k ever) with her 8:20.68 effort, leading eight women to times of 8:30 or better.

If this category was divided into the 3000 and the 5000, Mercy Cherono would likely come out on top in the 3000 category (she won five DL meets, all at 3000 or 2 miles) despite Dibaba’s magical indoor season. Dibaba, on the other hand, was a clear #1 at 5000 with a world-leading 14:28.88 sb and won both of the DL 5000s on offer. But as we mentioned earlier, the composition of the DL schedule (and the fact that World Indoors ran only a 3000 and not a 5000) meant that it made more sense to combine to two distances.

Americans continued to make strides at the 5000 in 2014 — Molly Huddle and Shannon Rowbury were both in the top eight of the 2014 list by season’s best — but Huddle was still nine seconds behind the #3 woman, Viola Kibiwot and this was in a year without Tirunesh Dibaba, Meseret Defar or Vivian Cheruiyot. The women’s 5000 is just a difficult event for Americans to medal in (it’s never happened), and it’s no surprise Huddle is moving up to the 10k this year in an effort to replicate the medal efforts of Kara Goucher in 2007 and Shalane Flanagan in 2008.

1. Genzebe Dibaba • Ethiopia • 23 years old • 8:16.60 indoor 3000 sb (WR) • 8:26.21 outdoor 3000 sb (#6) • 14:28.88 5000 sb (#1) • World Indoor Champion (3000) • African Silver 

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DL results: 6th Doha, 1st Rome, 2nd Lausanne, 1st Monaco, 4th Birmingham, 3rd Brussels (DL final)
Championship results: 1st World Indoors (3000), 2nd African Championships, 1st Continental Cup (3000)

Cherono on her way to victory in the 2 mile at the Pre Classic on May 31. Cherono on her way to victory in the 2 mile at the Pre Classic on May 31.

2. Mercy Cherono • Kenya • 23 years old • 8:21.14 3000 sb (#2) • 14:43.11 5000 sb (#7) • Diamond League Champion • Commonwealth Champion • 5th at African Championships

DL results: 2nd Doha, 1st Pre, 4th Rome, 1st New York, 1st Lausanne, 7th Monaco, 1st Birmingham, 1st Brussels (DL final)
Championship results: 1st Commonwealth Games, 5th African Championships

Dibaba was undoubtedly the best in the world at 5000 this year, finishing with the world’s #1 and #4 times on the season and winning both DL 5ks (in Rome and Monaco). She was 3-0 versus Mercy Cherono in 5000s and took silver in the African Championships in the event (in the process defeating Cherono in their biggest head-to-head matchup).

But this isn’t strictly a 5000 ranking, and Cherono was inarguably the best in the world at 3000 outdoors. Cherono won DL 3000s in New York, Lausanne and Brussels and 2 miles in Eugene and Birmingham. She was 4-0 against Dibaba over the 3000/2 mile distance. She added in a 5000 title at the Commonwealth Games as well.

Based on their outdoor performances, Cherono had the better season. It’s Dibaba’s indoor accomplishments that set her apart. She blasted an 8:16.60 indoor world record in Stockholm on February 6 that was easily the fastest time of the year, indoors or out. A month later at World Indoors, she comfortably defeated Hellen Obiri for gold; Obiri would run a blazing 8:20 in Doha on May 9 (#1 outdoor time in the world) before turning her attention to the 1500 for the rest of the season.

It’s certainly odd that Cherono, not Dibaba, dominated at the shorter stuff this year (Dibaba has pbs of 3:55.17 and 8:16.60; Cherono’s are 4:02.31 and 8:21.14) considering how well Dibaba performed indoors, but Dibaba’s superiority in the 5000 coupled with her indoor season give her the edge in a tight race for the world #1 ranking.

3. Almaz Ayana • Ethiopia • 23 years old • 8:24.58 3000 sb (#5) • 14:29.19 5000 sb (#2) • African Champion

DL results: 5th Doha, 2nd Rome, 5th Lausanne, 2nd Monaco, 9th Brussels (DL final)
Championship results: 1st African Championships, 1st Continental Cup (5000)

Ayana, the 2013 World bronze medallist at 5k, is clearly a 5k specialist. Her 14:29.19 from Monaco was the world’s second-fastest time in 2014 and she won three of her five 5ks on the year, the only losses coming to Dibaba in Rome and Monaco (Ayana was second in both races). The biggest of those wins was undoubtedly her triumph at the African Championships, where Ayana beat a great field that included both Dibaba and Cherono. Actually, “beat” isn’t the best word to use to describe that win. At the African champs, she crushed Dibaba and Cherono, winning by nearly 10 seconds (15:32.72 to 15:42.16).

She loses some points for her comparative weakness in the 3k (fifth, fifth and ninth in her three DL races); Viola Kibiwot ran better overall when you factor in both events. But Ayana beat Kibiwot in both 5ks in which they raced each other, and the gold medal from Africans is a feather in her cap that Kibiwot just can’t match. Ayana, like the top two women on this list, is only 23, so watch for some great battles over the next Worlds-Olympics-Worlds cycle, especially if Tirunesh Dibaba, Meseret Defar and/or Vivian Cheruiyot get back in the mix at the global championships.

Obiri (left) on the podium after her silver at World Indoors with fellow medallists Genzebe Dibaba and Maryam Yusuf Jamal. Obiri (left) on the podium after her silver at World Indoors in the 3000 with fellow medallists Genzebe Dibaba and Maryam Yusuf Jamal.

4. Hellen Obiri • Kenya • 25 years old • 8:20.68 3000 sb (#1) • World Indoor Silver (3000)

DL results: 1st Doha
Championship results: 2nd World Indoors (3k)

Obiri only ran three 3000s this year and zero 5000s. But her 3000s were so good that we had to put her at #4 on this list. Here they are:

February 6, Stockholm (indoors) — 8:29.99 for second. Obiri became just the ninth woman to break 8:30 indoors but was overshadowed by Dibaba’s indoor WR.

March 9, Sopot World Champs (indoors) — 8:57.72 for second. Obiri ran another fine race to take second at World Indoors but was once again overshadowed by Dibaba.

May 9, Doha (outdoors) — 8:20.68 for first. Obiri’s blazing season-opener was the fastest outdoor time ever not run by a Chinese woman in September 1993. All six of the performances ahead of her are extremely dubious, so this could well be the fastest clean time ever run.

We obviously can’t put Obiri ahead of Dibaba, but her combination of fast times and global silver (even if it all came in one event) creates such a strong resume that we simply can’t drop her any lower.

5. Viola Kibiwot • Kenya • 31 years old • 8:24.41 3000 sb (#4) • 14:33.73 5000 sb (#3)

DL results: 4th Doha, 2nd Pre, 3rd Rome, 3rd Lausanne, 3rd Monaco, 2nd Birmingham, 6th Brussels (DL final)
Championship results: none

Kibiwot was consistently good in 2014, racking up six top-four finishes on the DL circuit. Her sixth in the final in Brussels was slightly disappointing (even if that race did contain a few 1500 women stepping up such as Sifan Hassan and Jenny Simpson) and she didn’t have a single race that really stood out despite running the world’s fourth-fastest 3000 and third-fastest 5000. She’s still in the top five in the world, and there’s a case to be made that Kibiwot should rank higher than that. But with no DL wins and no performances at major championships on which to hang her hat, Kibiwot got jumped by the likes of Ayana and Obiri.

Huddle barely held off Rowbury over the final meters at USAs Huddle edged Rowbury in a thrilling 5k final at USAs on June 27 in Sacramento.

6. Molly Huddle • USA • 30 years old • 14:42.64 5000 sb (#6, American Record) • U.S. Outdoor Champion

DL results: 6th Monaco, 7th in Rome (non DL)
Championship results: 1st USAs

7. Shannon Rowbury • USA • 30 years old • 8:29.93 3000 sb (#10) • 14:48.68 5000 sb (#8) • 2nd at USA Indoors (3000) • 8th at World Indoors (3000) • 2nd at USA Outdoors

DL results: 4th Pre, 8th Monaco, 5th Brussels (DL final)
Championship results: 2nd USA indoors (3k), 8th World Indoors (3k), 2nd USA outdoors

8. Janet Kisa • Kenya • 22 years old • 8:32.66 3000 sb (#13) • 14:52.59 5000 sb (#9) • Commonwealth Silver • African Bronze

DL results: 5th Rome, 6th Lausanne, 9th Monaco, 8th Brussels (DL final)
Championship results: 2nd Commonwealth Games, 3rd African Championships, 4th Continental Cup (3000)

9. Sally Kipyego • Kenya • 29 years old • 8:34.18 3000 sb (#14) • 14:37.18 5000 sb (#4) 

DL results: 5th Pre, 4th New York, 4th Monaco, 10th Brussels (DL final)
Championship results: none

Kipyego, the 2012 Olympic silver medallist at 10,000, ran three decent races on the Diamond League circuit, including a 14:37.18 in Monaco that put her #4 on the world list for 2014. She wasn’t back to her 2011-2012 form, but it was progress after she missed almost all of 2013 with a fracture in her heel.

10. Irene Jelagat • Kenya • 26 years old • 8:28.51 3000 sb (#7) • 15:01.73 5000 sb (#16) • 4th at World Indoors (3000)

DL results: 7th Doha, 9th Rome, 4th Lausanne, 3rd Birmingham, 11th Brussels (DL final)
Championship results: none

There was a dropoff from #5 to #6 in our rankings and a few contenders for spot #6 as 6-10 were very close. The logic for Huddle & Rowbury at #6/#7 and Kisa, Kipeygo, & Jelagat at #8/#9/#10 was a liberal use of the transitive property:

  • There were five main contenders for the sixth spot — Huddle, Rowbury, and Kenyans Janet Kisa, Sally Kipyego, and Irene Jelagat. Kisa was 2-1 against Jelagat with a faster 5000 sb and medals at the Commonwealth Games and African Championships. Jelagat was fourth at World Indoors, but Kisa was slightly better overall.
  • We then looked at Rowbury vs. Kisa (because Huddle ran just one DL race, defeating Kisa in Monaco). Rowbury was 2-0 vs. Kisa, defeating her in the 5k in Monaco and the 3k in Brussels. Rowbury also posted faster sbs than Kisa at both 3000 and 5000. If we were to rank Kisa over Rowbury, it would have been due to her medals at the Commonwealth Games and African Championships — two events that, as an American, Rowbury isn’t eligible to run. Rowbury > Kisa.
  • Huddle was 2-0 vs. Rowbury, with a win at the U.S. Championships on June 27 and an American record on July 18 in Monaco (Rowbury moved up to #4 all-time). Huddle also ran a world leader indoors (15:13) and won the BAA 5k and US 5k on the roads. Clearly Huddle had a better year than Rowbury.
  • Then there is Sally Kipyego who ran the 4th fastest time of the year at 5k 14:37.18 and finished 5th, 4th, 4th, and 10th (DL final) in her Diamond League events. The knock against Kipyego was Rowbury was 2-1 vs Kipyego on the year so it’s hard to move Kipyego above Rowbury. Kisa gets rewarded for running Commonwealths and the African champs, but we do think Kipyego’s season was better than Jelegat’s so Kipyego gets #9 and Jelagat #10.
  • Ideally, all five would have raced each other more frequently, but there was only one race — Monaco — in which five women toed the line together (and since Jelagat was rabbiting that one, she didn’t finish). The order in that race was Kipyego, Huddle, Rowbury, and Kisa which is different from our rankings of Huddle, Rowbury, Kisa, Kipyego and Jelagat. Four of them raced at the important DL final and the order was Rowbury, Kisa, Kipyego, Jelagat which is how our rankings stacked up with Huddle ahead of all of them.

Honorable mention: Alemitu Haroye

U.S. Rankings

2014 was a year of progress in the women’s 5000. The top eight women on the 2014 U.S. list all PR’ed this year, by an average of 25.17 seconds:

Athlete Pre-2014 PB Current PB Difference
Molly Huddle 14:44.76 14:42.64 2.12 seconds
Shannon Rowbury 15:00.51 14:48.68 11.83 seconds
Katie Mackey 15:23.65 15:04.74 18.91 seconds
Laura Thweatt 15:36.85 15:04.98 31.87 seconds
Kim Conley 15:09.57 15:08.61 0.96 seconds
Aisling Cuffe 16:15.53 15:11.13 1 minute, 4.40 seconds
Marielle Hall 16:22.83 15:12.79 1 minute, 10.04 seconds
Jessica Tebo 15:19.43 15:18.17 1.26 seconds

The top end of the women’s 5000 crop in the U.S. is the strongest it’s ever been. Huddle set the American record in Monaco and yet she almost didn’t even win the national championship (when she initially set the record in 2010, she was only second at USAs that year). Rowbury’s 14:48.68 (#4 all-time U.S.) in Monaco meant for that only the second time, the U.S. had two runners under 14:50 in the same year.

Unfortunately, Huddle’s 14:42.64 AR was only good enough for sixth on the 2014 world list, more than 13 seconds behind Dibaba’s world-leading 14:28.88. And that explains why Huddle (and possibly Kim Conley) will run the 10,000 at Worlds next year and why it makes sense for Rowbury to move down to the 1500. As we said in the intro to the World Rankings, no American woman has ever medalled at 5000 at Worlds or the Olympics. With young talents Marielle Hall, Abbey D’AgostinoAisling Cuffe and Sarah Disanza on the rise, perhaps that will change. Or perhaps they too will realize their best medal chances lie in a different event.

1. Molly Huddle (see above)

2. Shannon Rowbury (see above)

3. Kim Conley • NorCal Distance/New Balance • 28 years old • 8:44.11 3000 sb (#3 in U.S.) • 15:08.61 5000 sb (#5 in U.S.) 

DL results: 11th Rome, 5th New York, 13th Monaco
Championship results: none (ran 10k at USAs)

Conley’s big breakthrough came in the 10,000, where she won her first U.S. title, but the 28-year-old was still a factor in the shorter distances, as her 8:44.11 3k sb ranked third among U.S. athletes, behind only Rowbury and Jenny Simpson (who we excluded from this list as she ran the 1500 almost exclusively). Conley added an 8:48 3k indoors that stood up as the U.S. leader and lowered her 5k pb for the seventh consecutive year, getting down to 15:08.61 in Rome. Those times and her fifth in the New York DL 3k gave her the edge for the #3 ranking.

One Thing is Certain Gabe Grunewald Crossed the Line First The DQ That Wasn’t: Grunewald was initially judged to have interfered with Jordan Hasay at USA Indoors but was later reinstated as champion.

4. Gabriele Grunewald • Team USA Minnesota/Brooks • 28 years old • 8:52.39 3000 sb (#5 in U.S.) • 15:33.64 5000 sb (#23 in U.S.) • U.S. Indoor Champion (3000) • 10th at World Indoors (3000)

DL results: 11th Birmingham
Championship results: 1st USA indoors (3k), 10th World Indoors (3k), 6th Continental Cup (3k)

Grunewald ran primarily the 1500 outdoors, but her win at USA indoors in the 3000m — where she defeated a field including Rowbury, Jordan Hasay and Laura Thweatt — was impressive enough to land her at #4. Katie Mackey and Thweatt both ran 15:04 at Stanford in May, good for third and fourth on the U.S. list this year, but neither broke 9:00 for a 3k this year and tended to focus on other events outdoors. Grunewald did too, for the most part, but she dipped under 9:00 four times on the year (twice outdoors) and ended with the U.S.’s fifth-fastest time at the distance. Factor in her U.S. indoor title and she’s ahead of Mackey, Thweatt and the rest of the contenders for #4.

5. Marielle Hall • University of Texas/Nike • 22 years old • 8:54.48 3000 sb (#6 in U.S.) • 15:12.79 5000 sb (#7 in U.S.) • NCAA Outdoor Champion • 3rd at USA Outdoors

Championship results: 1st NCAA outdoors, 3rd USA outdoors

Hall was close to Grunewald for the #4 spot, but she had a slower 3k sb and lacked a U.S. title to round out her resume. Still, the 22-year-old Nike signee had a tremendous year, dropping her pb from 16:22 to 15:12 (her best in 2013 was 17:09) and winning the NCAA 5000 title in her final collegiate race, taking down the seemingly-unbeatable Abbey D’Agostino in the process. Hall ran a short summer season after graduating from Texas (she PR’ed in the 3k, running an 8:54 in Ireland) before taking some time off. Looking ahead to 2015, Hall, D’Agostino and Aisling Cuffe (who has eligibility at Stanford through the 2016 indoor season) form a trio of young runners looking to run in the low-15:00 range and make their first U.S. senior teams (all three are in the top 10 on the all-time collegiate outdoor list at 5000).

Honorable mention: Katie Mackey, Laura Thweatt, Aisling Cuffe

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