Shannon Rowbury Runs 3:56.29 To Finally Wipe Mary Decker-Slaney’s 32-Year-Old Mark Off The List Of American Records
July 17, 2015
3:50 is one of those nonsense times, something you’d be laughed out of the bar for even mentioning as possible coming into the year 2015. When Genzebe Dibaba ran 3:54.11 nine days ago in Barcelona — the fastest time in 18 years — it caused a minor riot on the small corner of the Internet devoted to track and field. Surely, that was as good as it gets?
Yet on a night of unbelievable performances in Monaco, Dibaba’s stunning 3:50.07 world record relegated everything else to an afterthought. Sorry Asbel Kiprop, your 3:26 will have to wait. You too, Amel Tuka. July 17, 2015 will forever belong to Genzebe Dibaba.
After dropping the Netherlands’ Sifan Hassan — who bravely followed Dibaba in the early laps — at the bell, Dibaba crushed a 59.79-second final 400 to break the record, collapsing at the finish line in a mix of euphoria and utter shock. In three minutes and 50.07 seconds, Dibaba had astonished the world while redefining what is possible for a female runner.
China’s Qu Yunxia had held the suspicious 1500 world record of 3:50.46 for 21 years, 10 months and 6 days. Since the day Yunxia set it in 1993, the only women who had come within four seconds of that mark were Dibaba (last week) and four of Yunxia’s Chinese countrywomen who ran between 3:50.98 and 3:53.97 in an equally suspicious race in Shanghai four years later (many suspect that Yunxia and her countrywomen achieved their times through the use of performance-enhancing drugs, though the IAAF has not nullified the times). Many observers of the sport thought it would take decades for another woman to run 3:50, if it were to ever happen at all.
Behind Dibaba, the times were predictably fast as Sifan Hassan — the only one to go with Dibaba and rabbit Chanelle Price in the early laps — held on for second in a Dutch national record of 3:56.05 (the fastest non-Dibaba time in nine years). Shannon Rowbury crushed Mary Decker-Slaney’s 32-year-old American record of 3:57.12 in third, running 3:56.29 while Jenny Simpson, who led the chase pack for most of the race, ran the second-fastest time of her career, 3:57.30. In all, eight of the top nine women set PRs.
Dibaba spoke in the days leading up to the meet that she believed she could run faster than the 3:54.11 she clocked in Barcelona, and she wasn’t just blowing smoke. She sprinted out to a 60.3-second first lap behind personal rabbit Chanelle Price and the record attempt was on. Hassan, eschewing her usual slow-start strategy, was the only woman to go with her as the rest of the field settled in behind the second rabbit, Tamara Tverdostup.
By two laps, it seemed as if Dibaba had bitten off more than she could chew as she slowed to 2:04.5 at 800 meters. At that point, Hassan remained on her heels with the second pack 1.5 seconds back. Yet as Price dropped off, Dibaba hit the gas. Hassan continued to follow but began to struggle entering the home stretch for the penultimate time as their lead over the rest of the field ballooned to an enormous margin (it was so big that the rest of the field wasn’t even in the picture on the beIN Sports broadcast).
At the bell (2:50.28) Dibaba had six meters on Hassan and needed a 60.17 or better for the record. Could she possibly have anything left after 1100 meters at breakneck speed?
It quickly became apparent that the answer was yes. Hassan fell off immediately as Dibaba rounded the penultimate turn and with 200 to go (3:19.7), she was all alone. The crowd roared her on as she hit the home stretch; it was going to come down to the wire. No stranger to digging deep after her four indoor world records in the past two years, Dibaba strained to use every remaining ounce of energy and threw herself across the line. She then looked over to the clock, and upon reading “3:50.08” (later corrected to 3:50.07), she fell backwards onto the track in celebration, her eyes widening in a state of disbelief. Dibaba pumped her fists as she rose to her feat, squeals of delight escaping periodically from her lips.
We’d tell you more about the battle for second, but the truth is that Dibaba’s lead was so great on the final lap that the other racers were rarely in the same shot as her.
Hassan faded over the final lap (around 65.5 for her) but still had a big enough cushion to hold on for second in 3:56.05, which would have been historically significant on its own (apart from Dibaba, only two women have run that fast in the last 18 years) while Rowbury, who was level with Simpson with 100 to go, kicked well at the end to crush the American record. Simpson, who was thrust into the position of leading the second pack after Tverdostup dropped out at 800, ran bravely but the “front-running” took its toll on her as Rowbury pulled away convincingly in the final stretch.
1500 Metres - Women - Results 1 Dibaba , Genzebe ETH 3:50.07 WR 2 Hassan , Sifan NED 3:56.05 NR 3 Rowbury , Shannon USA 3:56.29 AR 4 Simpson , Jennifer USA 3:57.30 SB 5 Muir , Laura GBR 3:58.66 PB 6 Koster , Maureen NED 3:59.79 PB 7 Sado , Besu ETH 4:00.65 PB 8 Shchagina , Anna RUS 4:01.46 PB 9 Ennaoui , Sofia POL 4:04.26 PB 10 Moser , Treniere USA 4:04.55 11 Gallagher , Kerri USA 4:06.07 12 Weightman , Laura GBR 4:06.36 13 Embaye , Axumawit ETH 4:09.12 14 Brown , Sarah USA 4:09.17 Price , Chanelle USA DNF Tverdostup , Tamara UKR DNF
Splits 60.31 (Price), 2:04.52 (Price), 3:04.62 (Dibaba)
Dibaba’s world-record splits (approximate hand-timed)
31.5 (300 to 500)
32.1 (63.6) (500 to 700)
31.9 (700 to 900)
30.0 (61.9) (900 to 1100)
29.5 (1100 to 1300)
30.4 (59.9) (1300 to 1500)
Quick Take #1: A special moment in track and field
World records are always special, but they bring particular joy when the existing mark was considered unbreakable, such as when Usain Bolt broke Michael Johnson’s 200 world record in Beijing. For so long, 3:50.46 loomed as a mythical time, set in a far-off land in an era before serious drug-testing. Dibaba fearlessly attacked it anyway, and the result was a legendary performance that could endure for many years to come … or until the 24-year-old Dibaba feels like breaking it again.
Quick Take #2: Not bad for a 5,000 runner
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Dibaba’s world record is that 1500 has not been her primary event this year. At the pre-meet press conference, Dibaba told the IAAF:
“I haven’t yet made a final decision about whether to double up in Beijing,” she said. “I’ll speak to my coach after the race tomorrow and then we’ll decide what to do. If I had to pick one event, I would focus on the 5000m. My preparation has been geared more for that event, so physically and mentally I’m ready to run that event.”
She also said that she hasn’t been doing as much speed work as in years past.
“I already have natural speed which I don’t need to work on, so in training I’ve been working more on my endurance.”
Tonight’s race was evidence that Dibaba is several tiers above the rest of the field in the women’s 1500 right now, and she was very straightforward about her plans for Beijing saying she will definitely double now.
“One thing is clear, I will double at World Championships,” Dibaba said after the race. “And let’s try for 5,000 world record after Beijing.”
The double is very doable, with the 1500 taking place on days 1, 2 and 4 and the 5,000 on days 6 and 9.
Quick Take #3: An uncomfortable topic
Considering that many believe the previous world record holder was doped and that no non-Chinese runner had run even 3:54 since 1988, it would be foolish to totally dismiss the possibility that Dibaba herself could be dirty.
But Dibaba has never been linked to doping. 3:50 is a ridiculous time, but so are all world records. And if you’re looking for someone to break a ridiculous world record, Dibaba is exactly the kind of runner you would draw up. Consider:
- She’s the sister of three-time Olympic champion and 5,000 world record holder Tirunesh Dibaba, arguably the greatest female distance runner of all time
- Dibaba already owned world indoor records at every distance from 1500 through 5,000
- She has a PR of 14:15 for 5,000 meters. Most men with 14:15 PRs can also run 3:50 for 1500. Three other women have run 14:15 or better for 5,000, but Dibaba is the only one who has seriously run the 1500. Tirunesh Dibaba and Almaz Ayana have never run competitive 1500s, per All-Athletics.com. 14:12 woman Meseret Defar has run five 1500s according to All-Athletics, but three of them came in 2000 when Defar was just 16 years old.
The fact of the matter is that in Ethiopia, runners are raised to run the 5k/10k, not the 800/1500 (read this recent story on Mo Aman for more). Dibaba has committed to tackling the 1500 and the results have been phenomenal.
Overall, given today’s much stricter and better drug testing and the fact that there haven’t been any allegations specific to Dibaba, we’re happy to see her name on top of the record books.
Quick Take #4: Shannon Rowbury Picks the Perfect Time to End a 10 Race Losing Streak to Jenny Simpson and Leaves With the AR
It was difficult to tell from the broadcast, given the attention (rightfully) lavished on Dibaba, but Shannon Rowbury submitted a historic performance of her own, taking down a record that had been on the books even longer than Yunxia’s WR. The 30-year-old Rowbury, who had never broken 4:00 prior to switching to coach Alberto Salazar at the end of 2013, PR’d by over three seconds tonight to run 3:56.29 and destroy Decker’s 3:57.12 from 1983.
Shannon Rowbury had lost to Jenny Simpson ten straight times but she leaves tonight as the American record holder. She couldn’t have asked for a better race to do it in. Simpson served as her de facto rabbit for 1400 meters before Rowbury gapped her on the final straightaway. Simpson managed 3:57.30 in fourth and deserves credit for keeping the pace in the second pack honest as the next five women behind her in the results PR’d.
The all-time U.S. list now reads as follows:
- Shannon Rowbury 3:56.29 2015
- Mary Decker-Slaney 3:57.12 1983
- Jenny Simpson 3:57.22 2014
Rowbury knew coming in, if she beat Simpson she’d have a good chance at the American record. The problem as noted above was she had lost to Simpson in 10 straight races with her last head to head win coming in September of 2013.
After the race Rowbury said, “Gosh! It’s amazing! I knew the race was going to be very fast with Dibaba and that I needed to pass the more people I could. I knew I also had to beat Jenny Simpson if I wanted to break the NR so I had to be patient, to prepare and I tried to relax. I next need to see how I compete against these girls again as they will be there in beijing. The race will be tactical, so you never know how it will end!”
She also spoke to Flotrack below:
Quick Take #5: What is Jenny Simpson’s mindset right now?
Two weeks ago, Simpson was flying high, riding an unbeaten 2015 at 1500 and an undefeated streak on the DL circuit that dated back to August 2014. Then she lost to Hassan and Faith Kipyegon last week in Lausanne and tonight she was only fourth — and only the second American — in Monaco.
We wrote last week after Lausanne that Simpson’s gold-medal chances took a hit, but that she was still in a good position. Simpson fans should be very worried about her chances at gold now that Dibaba is destroying world records, but Simpson still has reason to be positive. Her 3:57.30 is a very fast time and in line with what she was running at this time last year. Furthermore, Simpson has timed her peak well in previous years (world champ in 2011, silver in 2013 and DL champ last year), something Dibaba has struggled with in the past.
The women’s 1500 is going to be a dogfight and Dibaba stands out as the obvious favorite (if she runs it). But Simpson is still in great shape and has the best championship pedigree of any of the top contenders, save Abeba Aregawi (who hasn’t been her usual self in 2015). In a championship race where Simpson isn’t forced into the lead, she’s still a serious medal contender.
Quick Take #6: How deep was tonight’s race?
One of the best ways to take stock of a race is to see how many all-time marks for place are set in it. Obviously Dibaba’s 3:50.07 was the fastest winning time ever. But the race also set records for fastest second- and third-place finishers if you exclude the two questionable Chinese races from 1993 and 1997. In all, six women broke 4:00, which had only happened on six previous occasions (including the two Chinese races).