The 5 Most Unbelievable (Positive) Stories From The 2015 Track Season (So Far)

August 6, 2015

With a couple of weeks of downtime before the World Championships begin in Beijing on August 22, before we get in to our extensive event previews, we decided the time was right to reflect on what’s transpired on the track in 2015. One of our favorite things to do is to take a look back and think big picture.  Below is a list of things that if we’d told you at the beginning of the year that they’d happen, you’d have laughed at our face and asked us to be committed to an insane asylum.

And that’s the biggest caveat about this list. When Boris Berian ran 1:43.34 in Monaco, it wasn’t much of a surprise at the time considering he had run 1:43.84 a month earlier. But at the start of the year if you said Berian was going to run 1:43.34, it would have been a massive shock. So this list is dedicated to the stuff that would generate the biggest (positive) surprise if we hopped in a time machine and predicted it to the running world on January 1, 2015.

Tomorrow, we’ll put up a similar list but they will be negative surprises.

1. Genzebe Dibaba Runs 3:50.07 for 1500 to Break the World Record

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Genzebe Dibaba Runs 3:50.07 for 1500m Genzebe Dibaba Runs 3:50.07 for 1500m

When Dibaba ran 3:55.17 indoors last year, it registered as a massive shock. Not only did she shear over three seconds off the existing indoor world record, she recorded the fastest time in the world, indoors or out, since October 18, 1997, the suspicious date on which six Chinese women bettered that mark.

Dibaba’s 3:55 appeared to be as good as it would get. Perhaps the Ethiopian could run a second or two faster outdoors, but entering the 2015 outdoor season, all her PBs had come on the indoor track. Dibaba was generating a lot of world record buzz, but it centered around the 5,000, not the 1500, where no one had come within four seconds of Qu Yunxia‘s 3:50.46 world record for almost 18 years.

Even after Dibaba’s shocking 3:54.11 in Barcelona on July 8, the world record still seemed like a pipe dream. 3:54 in itself was a ludicrous time, something only achieved by 10 other women, all of them either Chinese or Eastern European and all of them questionable. Dibaba, however, felt she could go faster, and said as much before her next race, in Monaco on July 17.

“Last week I ran 3:54 and it felt comfortable,” Dibaba told the IAAF at the pre-Monaco press conference. “Tomorrow I’m looking to run faster. I don’t know how much faster, but I’m going to go for it.”

And that’s what she did. With 2014 world indoor champion Chanelle Price serving as her pacer, Dibaba hit 800 in 2:04.5. In her 5,000 record attempts, Dibaba had struggled to keep the pace going once her rabbits dropped out, but this time she drilled a 60.10 for her third lap, putting herself within striking distance. Yet Dibaba still had to run 60.2 or faster for her final 400 — a time only a handful of top 1500 women could manage off a moderate pace — and she had to do it all alone, as the only woman brazen enough to go with her, Sifan Hassan, could no longer handle the pace. With the crowd roaring her on, Dibaba summoned a 59.79 final lap to run an unthinkable 3:50.07 and break what was heretofore considered an unbreakable record.

For all the incredible things that have happened on a track this year, Dibaba’s 3:50.07 stands alone.

2. Craziness In The Men’s 800 – Boris Berian Runs 1:43.34 800 to Become Fifth-Fastest American of All Time – A Man From Bosnia and Herzegovina Is The World Leader

Berian bombed out of USAs but rebounded nicely in Monaco Berian bombed out of USAs but rebounded nicely in Monaco

In January 2015, Berian was 22 years old and a year and a half removed from his last 800-meter race. He owned a personal best of 1:48.89, a solid time for a former D-II runner that suggested untapped potential.

Less than six months later, Berian’s PR stood at 1:43.84, 1.56 seconds faster than anyone else entered in the 800 at USAs had run this year. Berian, who worked at McDonald’s after academic difficulties caused him to leave Adams State, was the favorite to win the United States championship. He didn’t, of course, and his failure to make the final in Eugene was an unlikely story on its own. But less than a month later, Berian bounced back to run 1:43.34 in Monaco and become the fifth-fastest American of all-time, ahead of greats such as Rich KenahKhadevis Robinson and Dave Wottle.

Berian’s progression this year under Carlos Handler at the Big Bear Track Club has been nothing short of amazing, and the scary part is that he’s not close to being done. He’s the same age as the college seniors who just graduated in June. If he can figure out how to make it through the rounds at next year’s Olympic Trials, he’s a threat not just to make the team, but possibly contend for a medal in Rio.

Berian’s 2015 progression (credit:

Date Competition Cnt. Cat. Type Nr. Pl. Result Score
11.04.2015 Tempe Sun Angel Classic USA F F OC 1:46.16 1138
02.05.2015 Palo Alto Payton Jordan Invitational USA E F 1 1. 1:45.30 1164
06.06.2015 Norwalk Jim Bush Invitational USA F F 1 1. 1:45.60 1155
13.06.2015 New York adidas Grand Prix USA GL F 2. 1:43.84 1209
25.06.2015 Eugene USA Ch. USA B H 2 2. 1:48.47 1070
26.06.2015 Eugene USA Ch. USA B SF 2 5. 1:46.28 1135
17.07.2015 Monaco Herculis MON GL F 4. 1:43.34 1225
25.07.2015 London Sainsbury’s Anniversary Games GBR GL F 9. 1:46.13 1139

We began this section focused on Berian as this is an American-based website but the fact that that Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Amel Tuka is the world leader at 800 and has gone has gone from 1:46.12 to 1:42.51 would be viewed as equally unbelievable at the beginning of the year. Seriously, think about it. If at the beginning of the year, we told you a man from Bosnia and Herzegovina, not Amos, Rudisha or Aman, would be the world leader in the 800 heading into Worlds, you wouldn’t have believed us.

3. Nicole Tully Wins USA 5,000

Below is a list of this year’s U.S. champs in the mid-d/distance events:

Event Winner Previous U.S. outdoor teams made
Men’s 800 Nick Symmonds 6
Men’s 1500 Matthew Centrowitz 3
Men’s 3,000 steeple Evan Jager 3
Men’s 5,000 Ryan Hill 1
Men’s 10,000 Galen Rupp 6
Women’s 800 Alysia Montaño 4
Women’s 1500 Jenny Simpson 6
Women’s 3,000 steeple Emma Coburn 2
Women’s 5,000 Nicole Tully 0
Women’s 10,000 Molly Huddle 3
Tully was spent after her epic victory at USAs Tully was spent after her epic victory at USAs

Nine of the ten names on that list had made a U.S. team in the past. Eight of them had won multiple U.S. titles. And then there’s Nicole Tully, who holds a full-time job in Canon’s marketing department and who before May 2, 2015, had never run a 5,000 on the track. Yes, Tullycaught a break in that Molly Huddle and Shannon Rowbury both decided to not run the 5000, but she forever will be the 2015 US champion at 5000.

Tully, a 2010 Villanova grad, ran 4:06.87 for 1500 in 2012 but hadn’t come within three seconds of that over the next two years as she went out in the 1500 prelims at USAs in 2013 and 2014. She started 2015 off with a bang, almost anchoring her team to a world record in the DMR on February 7 in Boston before she was run down by Brenda Martinez. She followed that up with a fourth-place finish in the 2-mile at USA indoors before running a U.S.-leading 15:05.58 in her first foray into the 5,000 at Payton Jordan in May. After big names Molly Huddle and Shannon Rowbury scratched, the 5,000 at USAs was wide open and Tully took advantage, prevailing in a three-way kick over Marielle Hall and Abbey D’Agostino to win her first national title. 2015 has been an incredible season for a woman who was Villanova’s 5th scorer at NCAA XC as a senior, and Tully has the chance to accomplish even more at this month’s World Championships in Beijing.

Ben True Leads the US and has a DL win at 5000 True outkicked Olympic medalists Nick Willis and Thomas Longosiwa to earn the win in New York in June

4. Two Americans Win Diamond League 3k/5ks and Their Names Are Ben True and Katie Mackey

It seems inconceivable that two Americans who were second (True) and sixth (Mackey) at USAs could somehow win Diamond League distance races, but that’s exactly what has happened in 2015. Though the victories by True (in New York on June 13) and Mackey (in Stockholm on July 30) weren’t against particularly strong Diamond League fields, they were both proof of just how far American distance running has come in 10 years. In 2005, neither the men’s nor women’s 5,000 final at Worlds featured a single American. In fact, you had to go back to 1999 to find the last time a woman made a global 5,000 final, a barren span that encompassed three World Championships and two Olympic Games.

Kenya and Ethiopia may still rule the distance events, but the U.S. is a clear #3 right now on the global stage.

5. Evan Jager Runs 8:00.45 American Record in 3,000 Steeplechase — Despite Falling on Final Barrier

Jager couldn't get under 8:00 in Paris but his future (and present) is very, very bright Jager couldn’t get under 8:00 in Paris but his future (and present) is very, very bright

Seeing “2. Evan Jager, 8:00.45 AR” in the results from the Meeting Areva in Paris on July 4 was not a massive surprise in and of itself. Jager already owned the American record at 8:04.71 as well as the #2, #3, #4, #5 and #6 times in U.S. history. Yet there was nothing normal about Jager’s performance at the Stade de France, a race in which he pushed the pace against the world’s best steepler, Jairus Birech, for much of the final kilometer before tripping as he tried to land off the final barrier.

Jager’s final time was impressive, but his performance resonated more for the fearlessness he showed in attacking Birech and the knowledge that, with a clean final hurdle, Jager wouldn’t just have broken 8:00 but smashed it. Jager seemed set to run 7:56 or 7:57, a few ticks behind Saif Saaeed Shaheen‘s 7:53.63 world record.

Before Jager adopted the event in 2012, no American had run faster than 8:08.82. His run in Paris redefined what was possible for an American in the event, and though he ultimately fell short of victory, it earned him the respect of Birech and every track fan who previously ceded the gold medal to a Kenyan.

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Honorable Mentions

There have been too many surprises this year to count and it was incredibly tough to narrow this list down to just five performances. So we’ve put together some honorable mentions in the “truth is stranger than fiction” category of results below. Did we forget something? Let us know on our messageboard: MB: Truth Is Indeed Stranger Than Fiction – The 5 Most Unbelievable Stories in Track and Field (So Far) in 2015.

It’s highly unlikely at the beginning of the year that you’d believe any of the following would happen:

If you enjoyed this article, you’ll also enjoy looking through the annual “Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction” section on’s April Fool’s pages. 2015 *2014 *2013 *2012 *2011 *2010 *2009

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