2014 LRC Year-End Rankings: Women’s 800: Eunice Sum Is World #1, America’s Ajee Wilson Is World #2

By LetsRun.com
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, 1,500, 3,000 steeple, 5,000) 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

2014 was a year of mediocrity in the women’s 800. While the men’s event is the deepest it’s ever been, the women’s 800 is shallow. Only 10 women broke 1:59, the fewest total in 20 years; Ajee Wilson‘s 1:57.67 was the slowest world-leading time since 1975, the same year Meb Keflezighi was born. The women’s 800 also happens to be the only mid-d/distance event where we can definitively say that the USA is #1 — three of our top 10 are from the U.S. and Americans claimed victories at World Indoors (Chanelle Price), the World Relays and the DL final (Brenda Martinez) and finished with the world’s fastest time (Wilson). Russia figures to improve next year (2011 World/2012 Olympic champ Mariya Savinova didn’t race all year) but the U.S. will also get back Alysia Montano, who won four straight U.S. titles from 2010-2013 before sitting out most of the season due to pregnancy (though she did run 2:32 in the first round at USAs while eight months pregnant).

Sum's win in Rome was one of her four DL victories in 2014. Sum’s win in Rome on June 5 was one of her four DL victories in 2014.

1. Eunice Sum • Kenya • 26 years old • 1:57.92 sb (#3 in World) • Commonwealth Champion • African Champion • Diamond League Champion 

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DL results: 1st Doha, 1st Rome, 1st Oslo, 1st Lausanne, 2nd Monaco, 2nd Birmingham, 3rd Brussels (DL final)
Championship results: 1st Commonwealth Games, 1st African Champs, 1st Continental Cup, 2nd 4 x 800 World Relays

When Sum upset defeated 2011 World/2012 Olympic champion Mariya Savinova on her home turf to win the 2013 World Championship in Moscow, it served as a changing of the guard at the top of the women’s 800. Savinova dominated the event from 2010-2012 (perhaps with the help of drugs) but Sum is clearly on top right now. After a second straight Diamond League title, there’s no doubting that Sum has been the best of the world in each of the past two years. In 2014, Sum won four DL races and claimed major victories at the Commonwealth Games, African Champs and Continental Cup. The only major races she didn’t win were World Indoors (she didn’t run) and the DL final (she had already clinched the DL title).

There was a brief period this summer where it looked like Ajee Wilson might take this spot (she won the DL race in Glasgow and defeated Sum in Monaco in a world-leading time) but Sum responded with wins at the Commonwealth Games and African Champs while Wilson fizzled in her final two DL races, finishing sixth and ninth. Perhaps Wilson can close that gap but as of now, Sum is the favorite for Worlds in 2015.

2. Ajee Wilson • USA • 20 years old • 1:57.67 sb (#1) • U.S. Outdoor Champion • U.S. Indoor Champion

DL results: 3rd Rome, 2nd Oslo, 1st Glasgow, 1st Monaco, 6th Birmingham, 9th Brussels (DL final)
Championship results: 1st USA Indoors, 4th World Indoor semis, 1st USA Outdoors, 2nd Continental Cup, 1st 4 x 800 World Relays

Wilson followed up her first senior World Championship final in 2013 with an even better year in 2014. She ran a world-leading 1:57.67, moving up to sixth on the all-time U.S. list, and won DL races in Glasgow and Monaco. She ran a key leg on the U.S.’s victorious 4×800 at the World Relays, opening a 2.2-second lead that the Americans would not relinquish. She won her first U.S. outdoor title and successfully defended her U.S. indoor title. And she’s still only 20 years old.

Wilson had some hiccups — she didn’t make it out of the prelims at World Indoors and was just sixth and ninth in her last two DL races — but it’s difficult to vault any of the other women on this list above her. She went 2-1 against Marina Arzamasova and 2-2 against Lynsey Sharp, but her sb was .48 faster than Arzamasova’s and 1.13 faster than Sharp’s. Wilson also made it look easy in winning USAs — the world’s most competitive nation in the women’s 800. It’s scary to think how good she could be in 2015 — it might be difficult for Wilson to take a run at Jearl Miles-Clark‘s American record of 1:56.40, but a global medal is well within her range and she is only 20 years old.

3. Marina Arzamasova • Belarus • 27 years old (on 12/17) • 1:58.15 sb (#4) • European Champion • World Indoor Bronze

DL results: 7th Rome, 7th Lausanne, 4th Brussels
Championship results: 3rd World Indoors, 1st Europeans, 3rd Continental Cup

Arzamasova had a pedestrian Diamond League season — 7th, 7th and 4th in three races — but she finished the year as the fourth-fastest in the world with World Indoor bronze and European gold. Running well in championship races gives you a boost in our rankings, and Arzamasova certainly benefited from that as her best race of the year came in the Euro Champs final, running 1:58.15 to take down Sharp.

Her third at World Indoors looks less impressive when you consider that the two women who beat her failed to run faster than 1:59.75 on the year. But then you remember that Wilson didn’t even make the final and Arzamasova’s bronze doesn’t look so bad. Sharp ran better than Arzamasova in DL races (she won Birmingham and was 2nd in the final in Brussels) but Arzamasova had a faster pb and was 2-2 versus Sharp on the season, plus one of her wins over Sharp came at the European Championships. Sharp had a fine season, but it’s hard to argue it was a better than Arzamasova’s. Arzamasova beat her win it mattered most at Europeans and also deserves to be rewarded for running World Indoors – the only world championship on the year.

4. Lynsey Sharp • Great Britain • 24 years old • 1:58.80 sb (#9) • Commonwealth Silver • Euro Champs Silver

DL results: 5th Lausanne, 6th Glasgow, 1st Birmingham, 2nd Brussels (DL final)
Championship results: 2nd Commonwealths, 2nd Euro Champs, 5th Continental Cup

Nothing could keep Sharp down in 2014. She competed with an open wound on her leg due to an infection that knocked out most of her 2013 season, and the night before the Commonwealth Games, Sharp was throwing up and on an IV until 5:30 in the morning. You wouldn’t have been able to tell based on her performances. The 24-year-old Scot dipped under 2:00 for the first time in her life on July 3 in Lausanne and followed that up with silvers at the Commonwealth Games and European Championships, the latter in another pb of 1:58.80. By the end of the Diamond League season, Sharp was clearly among the very best in the world, as she won the penultimate event in Birmingham before taking second in the final in Brussels.

martinez Martinez won the DL final in Brussels on September 5.

5. Brenda Martinez • USA • 27 years old • 1:58.84 sb (#10)

DL results: 5th Rome, 10th Oslo, 3rd Birmingham, 1st Brussels (DL final)
Championship results: 5th USA Outdoors, 1st 4 x 800 at World Relays

Uneven is the best word to describe Martinez in 2014. Coming off a bronze medal at Worlds in 2013, many expected Martinez to be the top American in the event in 2014 with Alysia Montaño sidelined due to pregnancy. Her season started out that way, as she won her first 800 of the year at Oxy and followed that up with a sizzling 1:58.7 anchor leg to clinch gold for the USA at the World Relays. But she was just 10th in Oslo on June 11 in 2:02.27 and could only manage 5th at USAs.

The month-plus Diamond League break for the Commonwealth Games/continental championships clearly served Martinez well as she looked like a different runner after the DL resumed on August 21. She made a strong bid for the win in Birmingham on August 24 and even though she came up short, she still ran 1:59.56. Two weeks later in Brussels, Martinez ran her best race of the season, edging Sharp and Sum by .10 to take the DL final in 1:58.84. Overall, this wasn’t a very consistent season for Martinez, but her run at the World Relays and end-of-season performances make it difficult to drop her any lower than fifth.

6. Winnie Nanyondo • Uganda • 21 years old • 1:58.63 sb (#6) • Commonwealth Bronze

DL results: 3rd Monaco, 10th Brussels (DL final)
Championship results: 3rd Commonwealth Games

This was a breakthrough year for Nanyondo, who lowered her pb from 2:02.38 to 1:58.63 and took bronze at the Commonwealth Games. In fact, of her six finals in 2014, she ran slower than 2:02.38 just once — the DL final in Brussels. She also had a nice win in Ostrava on June 17, running 1:59.27 to defeat Arzamasova and American Molly Beckwith-Ludlow. It was tight between Nanyondo and Janeth Jepkosgei for the sixth spot in our rankings — they were 1-1 against each other in 2014 and Nanyondo ran a faster time (but only by .07 seconds). Ultimately, we went with Nanyondo because she ran better at the Commonwealth Games (Nanyondo was 3rd, Jepkosgei didn’t even make the final) and had a better best performance in a DL race (third in Monaco ahead of Jepkosgei). Nanyondo lost some ground for running just two DL races, but Jepkosgei ran seven DL races and never matched Nanyondo’s third in Monaco.

7. Janeth Jepkosgei • Kenya • 31 years old (on 12/13) • 1:58.70 sb (T-#7) • African Champs Silver

DL results: 4th Doha, 9th Rome, 4th Oslo, 6th Lausanne, 4th Monaco, 5th Birmingham, 5th Brussels (DL final)
Championship results: 7th Commonwealth semis, 2nd African Champs, Silver at World Relays

Jepkosgei isn’t the same runner that won Worlds in 2007, as she failed to win a single race for the second consecutive year. Still, she produced solid performances in six of her seven DL races (a 9th in Rome was the exception), finished with the T-7th-fasted time on the year and took second behind Sum at the African Championships. She also broke 2:00 at the World Relays where she helped Kenya to silver.

8. Yekaterina Poistogova • Russia • 23 years old • 1:58.55 sb (#5) 

DL results: 2nd Lausanne, 5th Monaco
Championship results: 4th Euro Champs

Poistogova, like Nanyondo, is one of several women on this list we’d like to have seen more of on the DL circuit, but Russian runners rarely feature in Diamond League events (Mariya Savinova ran a combined total of three DL races prior to the global championships in 2011, 2012 and 2013 and didn’t race at all this season). Poistogova’s 1:58.55 in Sochi on May 30 made her the fifth-fastest woman in the world this year, and she ran well — if not spectacularly — in her three big races (Lausanne DL, Monaco DL, Euro Champs).

800m Medals. Full 800m photo gallery here: http://www.letsrun.com/photos/2014/sopot/day3/index.php Price shocked the world to win gold in Sopot on March 9. Full 800m photo gallery here.

9. Chanelle Price • USA • 24 years old • 1:59.75 sb (#22) • World Indoor Champion

DL results: 2nd Doha
Championship results: 1st World Indoors, 2nd USA Indoors

Where to put Price on this list? On the one hand, she was World Indoor champion, which makes it hard to argue that she wasn’t among the 10 best in the world in the event this year. On the other, the field she beat at World Indoors wasn’t particularly strong (of the other finalists, only Arzamasova ran faster than 1:59.93 on the year) and she raced just three times outdoors — a second in Doha (where she broke 2:00 for the first time), a win in the non-DL 800 at Pre and a second-place finish in her prelim at USAs. However, she scratched from her semi at USAs due to injury and didn’t race for the remainder of the year.

If the event was deeper in 2014, Price probably wouldn’t make our top 10, but there aren’t many women behind her with incredible resumes. She broke 2:00 on the year and won the one global championship on the year. She belongs in the top 10 for sure.

10. Sahily Diago Mesa • Cuba • 19 years old • 1:57.74 sb (#2) • World Junior Silver

DL results: 2nd Rome
Championship results: 2nd World Juniors, 6th Continental Cup

Like Price, Diago raced just once on the DL circuit, finishing 2nd in Rome, but with two of the world’s fastest four times in 2014, it’s hard to leave her out of the top 10. Diago was second at World Juniors, but that performance isn’t as bad as it seems since her loss came to Margaret Wambui, who ran 2:00 in the final even though she ran splits of 56-64. Wambui only ran four races in 2014 — the Kenyan junior trials and then three races at World Juniors, and likely would have been in our top ten if she ran a full DL season.

Diago’s two fastest times (1:57.74 and 1:58.14), while impressive, came at small races in Cuba in May so we penalized her slightly for that as there certainly is some doubt in our mind as how totally legitimate they are. But her second in Rome showed that she was the real deal — we just wish she ran more than one DL race.

Honorable mention: Margaret Wambui (World Junior champ), Laura Roesler (NCAA indoor/outdoor champ, 2nd at USAs, 1:59.04 sb), Tigist Assefa (3rd Lausanne, 4th African Champs, 1:59.24 sb)

U.S. Rankings

As we mentioned above, no nation is more competitive at the women’s 800 than the U.S. Four of the 15 fastest women this year were from the U.S., including #1 (no other nation had more than two runners in the top 15) and Americans won several big races (World Relays 4×800 gold, World Indoor gold for Price and DL wins for Wilson and Martinez). With Wilson (20 years old), Price (24) and Roesler (23 on December 19), the U.S. is well-positioned to maintain its dominance in 2015. They even have an outside shot at achieving something the U.S. has never done — winning two medals in the same distance event at Worlds.

1. Ajee Wilson (see above)

2. Brenda Martinez (see above)

3. Chanelle Price (see above)

Roesler made it look easy at NCAA Indoors in March. Roesler made it look easy at NCAA Indoors on March 15.

4. Laura Roesler • University of Oregon/Nike • 23 years old (on 12/19) • 1:59.04 sb (#3 in US) • 2nd at USA Outdoors • NCAA Indoor/Outdoor Champion

DL results: 7th Monaco
Championship results: 1st NCAA Indoors, 1st NCAA Outdoors, 2nd USA Outdoors

Roesler was a cut above everyone else in the NCAA and she ended the year as one of the best in the U.S. over the two-lap distance. The Oregon star, who is now based in San Antonio with coach Rose Monday, was almost unbeatable against collegiate competition (her only loss in the 800 was a DNF at the MPSF Championships indoors). Roesler then took second at USAs behind Wilson in 1:59.04, a time that would have stood as a collegiate record had she run it a month earlier (she sported an Oregon singlet in the race, but Track & Field News doesn’t list it as the NCAA record as it came after she graduated).

Roesler acquitted herself well in two European races (a win in Linz, Austria, and a 1:59.44 for seventh in Monaco) before calling it quits. She may have been able to leapfrog Price with a few more solid DL showings, but it’s hard to put Roesler ahead of the World Indoor champ even if Roesler was second at USAs. The soon-to-be 23-year-old has a bright future in the event and will look to run in the 1:58s or faster and make her first senior world team in 2015.

5. Molly Beckwith-Ludow • Saucony • 27 years old • 1:59.30 sb (#4 in US) • 3rd at USA Outdoors • 3rd at USA Indoors

DL results: 5th Doha, 6th Oslo, 4th Lausanne, 6th Monaco
Championship results: 3rd USA Indoors, 3rd USA Outdoors

After finishing an agonizing fourth at the 2012 Olympic Trials and after missing all of 2013 due to injury, Beckwith-Ludlow deserves a ton of props for getting back to her old self in 2014, taking third at USAs both indoors and out and running a season best of 1:59.30 in Lausanne on July 3. Beckwith-Ludlow didn’t bust any huge races like the women above her on this list, but none can match her consistency. Check out this string of races (not counting USA prelims):

May 9: 2:00.55, Doha DL (5th)
May 23: 2:00.60, American Track League-Austin (1st)
June 3: 2:00.99, Bellinzona (SUI) (1st)
June 8: 2:00.91, Marrakesh (2nd)
June 11: 2:00.79, Oslo DL (6th)
June 17: 1:59.77, Ostrava (3rd)
June 29: 1:59.35, USAs (Sacramento) (3rd)
July 3: 1:59.30, Lausanne DL (4th)
July 18: 1:59.32, Monaco DL (6th)

The only other outdoor 800s Beckwith-Ludlow ran this year were her season opener in Bloomington on May 2 (2:02.82) and her season finale in Madrid (2:01.14, a day after her race in Monaco). Roesler ran better when it mattered at USAs and Wilson, Martinez and Price all won big races, so Beckwith-Ludlow comes in at #5.

The good news for Beckwith-Ludlow is she doesn’t need to get much better next year to claim a spot on Team USA. The bad news is this event is totally stacked with young talent.

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