December 21, 2015
2015 is drawing to a close and since there aren’t many major races from now until the New Year, we’re putting out our annual end-of-year rankings. Over the final days of the year, we’ll rank the top 10 men and women in the world in every Diamond League distance event (800, 1500/mile, 3000 steeple, 5000) as well as the marathon. We’ll also rank the top five Americans in each event.
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 the World Championships is obviously a major consideration but winning Worlds doesn’t guarantee that an athlete will earn a #1 ranking. 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.
- 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, especially because there was no World Indoors this year.
The men’s 800 has been one of the most exciting events on the track for several years now and that was certainly the case in 2015. Unfortunately, neither 2014 world #1 Nijel Amos nor 2013 world champ Mo Aman qualified for the World Championship final in Beijing, but that also goes to show just how deep the event is right now.
1. David Rudisha • Kenya • 27 years old (on 12/17) • 1:43.58 sb (#8) • World Champion
DL results: 1st New York, 2nd Lausanne, 2nd London, 4th Zurich
The 2015 version of David Rudisha can’t stack up to the 2010-2012 version, the front-running monster that routinely broke world records. His 2013 knee injury, which prevented him from defending his world title that year in Moscow, shelved Rudisha for over a year and though he’s shown glimpses of his former dominant self since returning — a 1:42.98 in Monaco last year, a beautiful 1:43.58 effort in New York in June — we have yet to see Rudisha fully return to his pre-injury form. Perhaps Rudisha will get there in the Olympic year of 2016. Or perhaps those days are gone forever.
For the purposes of this list, that debate is irrelevant. We’re not comparing Rudisha to the Rudisha of old; we’re comparing him to the rest of the world in 2015, and in that respect, he has to be number one. Yes, Rudisha lost four 800s in 2015 — tied for his most ever as a professional — and his 1:43.58 sb was his slowest in a full season since 2008 (his 2013 best was 1:43.78 but he raced just twice that year). But no athlete put together a truly dominant year, as the table below shows.
Top Five 800 Men in the World in 2015 by SB
|Name||SB||2015 defeats at 800 outdoors||World Champs finish|
|Nijel Amos||1:42.66||5||Did not make final|
|Ayanleh Souleiman||1:42.97||1 (only raced 3 times)||Did not compete|
|Boris Berian||1:43.34||4||Did not compete|
Rudisha’s only “bad” race was his fourth place in Zurich on September 3; his other losses came in close DL battles against Amos in Lausanne and London and at the Kenyan World Championship Trials (a race he did not need to win) against Ferguson Rotich Cheruiyot. When you factor in that all his main competitors for the #1 ranking had multiple losses, his performance at the World Championships accumulates more value.
And what a performance it was, as Rudisha reinvented himself to claim his third global gold. Knowing he possessed the best speed in the field, Rudisha was content to grab the lead early and take his foot off the accelerator, leading the field through a slow-as-molasses 54.17 first 400. From there, he gradually increased the pace before sprinting home in 24.36 for the final 200.
Rudisha’s agent, James Templeton, aptly summarized the predicament Rudisha’s foes face.
“Now going into Rio, in the final next year, you’ll be standing on the line [thinking], ‘Is Rudisha going to run 49 or 54?’” Templeton said. “He controls it. He gets to the front and he won’t let them pass. When you try to pass them, he’ll get there [first]. He’ll accelerate wherever he needs to.”
No one knows what we will see out of David Rudisha in 2016. All we know is that it will be special.
2. Adam Kszczot • Poland • 26 years old • 1:43.45 sb (#5) • World silver medalist
DL results: 8th Pre Classic, 4th Rome, 2nd Birmingham, 5th Monaco, 3rd London, 1st Zurich, 1st Brussels (DL final)
Kszczot has been one of the most consistent 800 runners of the 2010s, but it was not until 2015 that he really asserted himself as a threat at a major outdoor championship. In years past, Kszczot has excelled indoors (3rd, 4th and 2nd at last three World Indoors) and against regional competition (Euro indoor champ in 2011 and 2013; Euro outdoor bronze in 2010 and gold in 2014) but had made just one global outdoor final in four attempts entering 2015. That speaks to the difficulty of the event — remember, neither Amos nor Aman made the World Championship final this year — but Kszczot’s silver medal in Beijing is also the result of his growth as a racer over the past two years.
Kszcot’s PR dates to 2011, but he was generally an afterthought in Diamond League races until last year, when he won in Stockholm six days after upsetting Pierre-Ambroise Bosse at Euros (Kszczot did win the London DL meet in 2012, but the field in Stockholm was much stronger). This year, Kszczot started slowly (8th at the Pre Classic in his outdoor opener) but his fitness progressed throughout the summer. He ran 1:43.45 in Monaco in July — his fastest time in almost four years — and after taking a close third behind Amos and Rudisha in London on July 25, he looked to be capable of making some noise at Worlds.
Kszczot certainly left an impression in Beijing. Despite being boxed in for much of the race, Kszczot ran an outstanding final 100 to move up to second. Even better was his post-race interview, where he explained why he was able to wait that long before making his move:
“The toughest thing in the slow races is to have the big cojones….If you have big balls, you can keep calm, do what you do and run.”
Kszczot capitalized on his late-season fitness to win three of his four post-Beijing races (including Zurich and the DL final in Brussels) and that stretch is enough to earn him the #2 ranking.
3. Amel Tuka • Bosnia & Herzegovina • 24 years old • 1:42.51 sb (#1) • World bronze medalist
DL results: 1st Monaco, 3rd Brussels (DL final)
Tuka’s meteoric rise in 2015 was one of the stories of the season, and as we head into the 2016 season, it’s still hard to believe that the fastest 800 runner in the world this year was a 24-year-old who entered the year with a 1:46.12 pb.
Tuka began the year by winning three of four second/third-tier European races, but his life changed during a three-week span in July. First, he shaved almost two seconds off his pb by running 1:44.19 in Velenje, Slovenia, on July 1. Ten days later, he bettered that with a 1:43.84 in Madrid. But it was his world-leading 1:42.51 victory in Monaco on July 17 that stamped him as a legitimate World Championship contender as he took on the best 800 men in the world (minus Rudisha) with a ridiculous final 200 that saw him stretch out to lane 4 to pass the field down the home stretch. In Beijing, he proved that performance was no fluke (as if you could fluke your way to 1:42) by earning a bronze medal. He finished his season with a third-place showing at the Diamond League final in Brussels.
Given the cynicism that surrounds the sport, it’s important for Tuka to have strong seasons in 2016 and 2017 as huge improvements in this day and age do lead to suspicions.
4. Nijel Amos • Botswana • 21 years old • 1:42.66 sb (#2) • Diamond League champion
DL results: 2nd Pre Classic, 2nd Rome, 1st Birmingham, 1st Lausanne, 2nd Monaco, 1st London, 2nd Brussels (DL final)
There’s a case to be made that Amos should be number one on this list, just as he was last year: 2014 LRC Year-End Rankings: Men’s 800: Nijel Amos and Duane Solomon get the #1 rankings. He ran three of the six fastest times in the world this year and owned superior head-to-head records against the top two men on our list, David Rudisha (2-1) and Adam Kszczot (6-1) (he was 1-1 vs. Amel Tuka). He also picked up three DL wins (technically, London was not a DL 800 but it was a DL-quality field), enough to earn his second consecutive DL title.
Unfortunately, Amos has a rather large blotch on his record: he failed to make the World Championship final in Beijing. Amos finished either first or second in 11 of his 12 races in 2015. His only third came on August 23 in his WC semifinal the Bird’s Nest. The margin was tiny (Qatar’s Musaeb Abdulrahman Balla edged him by a mere three-hundredths of a second to grab the final auto spot) but the fact that Rudisha, who kept the pace slow at the front before kicking away to win their semi, was able to so thoroughly impose his will on Amos on the biggest stage shows why Rudisha is ranked #1 and Amos #4.
Amos is one of the event’s brightest stars, and at 21, his best years may still be ahead of him.
More: Mens 800 Semis: Amos and Aman go home early, David Rudisha most certainly stays and the amazing year of Clayton Murphy comes to an end
*MB: Shock: Nijel Amos OUT of 800m Final (didn’t qualify) as is Mo Aman (DQd)
5. Ayanleh Souleiman • Djibouti • 23 years old • 1:42.97 sb (#3)
DL results: 1st Doha, 3rd Monaco
Souleiman only ran three 800s this year, but all three were high-quality races. He won the DL opener in Doha on May 15 in a then-world-leading 1:43.78 and set another world leader on July 8 in Barcelona by running a pb of 1:43.08. Nine days later, Souleiman lowered that pb to 1:42.97, taking third in Monaco behind Tuka and Amos. That made Souleiman just the third man in history (after Seb Coe and Steve Cram) to break 1:43 in the 800 and 3:30 in the 1500.
The knock against Souleiman is that he didn’t run any 800s after that race in Monaco, including Worlds, where an injury caused him to DNF his 1500 prelim and withdraw from the competition. If the men behind him had run more consistently this year, we would have slotted Souleiman down a few spots, but considering his only losses came to the #3 and #4 men on this list, fifth seems about right.
6. Ferguson Rotich Cheruiyot • Kenya • 26 years old • 1:43.60 sb (#9) • 4th at Worlds
DL results: 2nd Doha, 5th Rome, 3rd Lausanne, 7th Monaco, 9th Zurich
Rotich, like most of the people on the list from this point on, was inconsistent in 2015. One of his best races came at Worlds, when he narrowly missed a medal after Tuka overtook him for bronze in the final 40 meters. Perhaps the highlight was his 1:43.60 victory at the Kenyan World Championship Trials, when he upset Rudisha in Nairobi.
Head-to-head, Rotich was 3-3 against Aman and 5-0 against Pierre-Ambroise Bosse, two of his biggest competitors for this spot. Considering he beat Bosse in the WC final and Aman didn’t even make the final (due to a DQ), the edge goes to Rotich for the #6 spot in our rankings.
7. Mo Aman • Ethiopia • 21 years old • 1:43.56 sb (#6)
DL results: 9th Doha, 1st Pre Classic, 1st Rome, 8th Lausanne, 8th Monaco, 3rd Zurich, 4th Brussels (DL final)
Aman’s first year under the Oregon Track Club’s Mark Rowland was a rocky one as he battled a hamstring injury. From 2012 to 2014, Aman ran 43 800s and finished first or second in 39 of them (91%). In 2015, Aman ran nine 800s (not counting his semi at Worlds, where he was DQ’d) and finished first or second in just three of them (33%). Aman still showed he was capable of the same highs as in years past — he won at Pre and in Rome and would have made the final at Worlds without the DQ — but he struggled in several high-profile races, including Lausanne (8th) and Monaco (8th). His 1:43.56 sb was also his slowest since 2010 — when he was 16 years old.
Still, Aman has reason to be optimistic. He was actually looking pretty good in his semi at Worlds, and even after losing ground when he ran into the Netherlands’ Thijmen Kupers, he was still able to recover and grab a spot in the final (we argued at the time that Aman didn’t need to be DQ’d but admitted what he did was a foul). And ideally, he’ll be more comfortable in his second year under Rowland than he was in his first now that coach and athlete are more familiar with one another.
More: Mens 800 Semis: Amos and Aman go home early, David Rudisha most certainly stays and the amazing year of Clayton Murphy comes to an end
*MB: Shock: Nijel Amos OUT of 800m Final (didn’t qualify) as is Mo Aman (DQd)
8. Pierre-Ambroise Bosse • France • 23 years old • 1:43.88 (#12) • 5th at Worlds
DL results: 4th Doha, 7th Rome, 3rd New York, 7th Lausanne, 10th Monaco, 6th London, 9th Brussels (DL final)
In 2014, Bosse ran fast times on the Diamond League circuit but choked as the favorite at the European Championships, going from first to last in the final 200. This year, Bosse did not place as highly on the DL circuit but did a much better job at the major championship, taking fifth at Worlds, a two-spot improvement from two years ago.
9. Musaeb Abdulrahman Balla • Qatar • 26 years old • 1:43.82 sb (#11) • 6th at Worlds
DL results: 8th Doha, 6th Zurich
There are two spots remaining in our top 10 and Balla has a strong case for one of them. The five men who beat him at Worlds are already on this list, as are seven of the 10 men who ran a faster sb (of the men who ran faster, Boris Berian and Robert Biwott didn’t run at Worlds while Marcin Lewandowski didn’t make the final). When in doubt, we like to reward championship performance and that’s why Balla earns the #9 spot. How many other guys could have held off Nijel Amos for a berth in the World Championship final?
10. Nader Belhanbel • Morocco • 21 years old • 1:44.64 sb (#24) • 7th at Worlds
DL results: 8th Zurich, 5th Brussels (DL final)
Belhanbel laid low until the end of the season but came on strong, taking 7th at Worlds and 5th at the Diamond League final in Brussels, the two most important races of the year. Marcin Lewandowski and Alfred Kipketer both received strong consideration for this spot, but a few things set Belhanbel apart. Head-to-head, he had the best record as he was 3-0 against Kipketer and 1-1 against Lewandowski — including the WC semis, where he beat out Lewandowski for a spot in the final (Lewandowski was 2-1 vs. Kipketer). Plus he placed the highest at Worlds out of the three, which makes up for his modest season best.
Honorable mention: Marcin Lewandowski (#10 in world with 1:43.72 sb, Euro indoor champ), Alfred Kipketer (#14 in world with 1:44.09 sb, 8th Worlds, 3rd Doha DL), Robert Biwott (#6 in world with 1:43.56 sb, 6th Brussels DL final)
The good news for U.S. distance fans? The men’s 800 has never been deeper. Seventeen Americans broke 1:46 in 2015, the most in history and an increase of 10 from 2014. As recently as 2009, the U.S. had just two men under 1:46 on the year, so the improvement in the event is definitely a positive sign. Another reason to be excited? The emergence of a new generation of young talents. 20-year-old Clayton Murphy won gold at the Pan American Games and made it all the way to the World Championship semifinals. 22-year-old Boris Berian ran over a second faster than any other American in 2015 — his 1:43.34 in Monaco was the fastest 800 by a U.S. runner since September 2013. Cas Loxsom, 24 and Erik Sowinski, 25, have been on the U.S. scene for a few years now, but both broke through to make their first U.S. team.
The flip side is that the U.S. took another step back at the very top. After going 2-6 in the 800 at Worlds in 2013 and 4-5 at the Olympics in 2012, the U.S. failed to put a man in the final at a global championship for the first time since 2008. Of course, it didn’t help that the U.S. champion, Nick Symmonds, did not run in Beijing after a feud over USATF’s uniform requirements.
The 800 projects to be one of the most intriguing events at the 2016 Olympic Trials. Will Symmonds (who turns 32 on December 30) and Duane Solomon (who turns 31 on December 28) return to the top of the event (one of those two men has won every U.S. outdoor title since 2008) or will someone from the new guard assume the mantle of the U.S.’s top 800 runner? We can’t wait to find out.
1. Boris Berian • Nike • 23 years old (on 12/19) • 1:43.34 sb (#1 in US)
DL results: 2nd New York, 4th Monaco, 9th London
What to make of Boris Berian? His 2015 season was undoubtedly one of the most interesting by an American runner in recent memory, as he went from a 1:48.89 pb at the start of the season to twice running in the 1:43s (his 1:43.34 in Monaco puts him #5 on the all-time U.S. list). Yet for all his progress, Berian didn’t even make the final at USAs.
So why is Berian #1? For starters, he ran significantly faster than any other American in 2015. His sb of 1:43.34 was over a second faster than the no. 2 athlete on the U.S. list, Symmonds (1:44.53), the first time that had happened since 2006. And Berian’s second-best time, 1:43.84, which he achieved by closing the gap on David Rudisha at the end of the adidas Grand Prix in New York, is still comfortably faster than what any other American ran this year.
So Berian ran really fast. That being said, we were having reservations about ranking him #1 since he failed to make the final at USAs, but then Berian got a ringing endorsement from an 800 expert.
“I think it would be crazy to put me ahead of Boris because Boris had such an incredible season,” Symmonds said to LetsRun.com on December 8.
We aren’t arguing with that.
Berian’s lack of experience in championships haunted him when he went home early in Eugene, and it’s a skill he’ll need to develop if he is to ascend to the level Symmonds and Solomon occupied for the past few years. But given that Berian significantly outperformed everyone else outside of USAs (his only other loss to an American came to Sowinski in London on July 25), he’s our choice for the #1 spot.
2. Nick Symmonds • Brooks Beasts • 31 years old • 1:44.53 sb (#2 in US) • U.S. Outdoor Champion
Symmonds is not a clear-cut choice for the #2 ranking, but when it’s close we lean on championship performance and there was no doubt who the best US 800 runner was when Symmonds won his sixth U.S. title in Eugene on June 28. It’s hard to judge Symmonds’ 2015 season. Apart from USAs, where he was brilliant, Symmonds ran just three 800s, and one of them (Hoka One One Middle Distance Classic) doesn’t really count because Symmonds was forced to slow way down because of a fall, ruining his race. That leaves us with his 1:46.37 for 5th at the Ponce Grand Prix on May 23 (where he lost to Americans Charles Jock and Harun Abda) and his 1:47.53 for 5th in Edmonton on July 12, where he lost to three more Americans (Solomon, Sowinski and Mark Wieczorek). Symmonds could have done well at Worlds, but we’ll never know. He chose not to sign USATF’s Statement of Conditions, USATF called his bluff and that was that. No Beijing for Symmonds.
Overall Symmonds told us he feels that his 2015 season played out “absolutely perfectly” and that he has no regrets about his decision to not fold to USATF’s demands. He cited the increased revenue sharing between USATF and its athletes and the Athletes Advisory Committee’s approval of changes to the Statement of Conditions that better define and clarify the requirements for where and when Team USA gear must be worn by athletes at international competitions as two significant steps forward since his much-publicized stand.
“I don’t take credit for it, I just believe that my voice and the voice of Lauren Fleshman and that of Dwight Phillips and everybody that came together took it to the point where they had no choice but to increase revenue sharing,” Symmonds said.
Running-wise, Symmonds feels that he was about 90% fit at USAs and that he could have run under 1:44 had he raced in August. Symmonds said that he felt the slow final at Worlds (Rudisha was the only man to break 1:46) suited him far better than a fast race such as the 2012 Olympics and that he is still “pissed off” that he wasn’t able to show what he was capable of in Beijing.
“Realistically could I have beaten Rudisha?” Symmonds said. “I’m not totally sure. I think he’s the only person in the world that I haven’t ever beat at some point (Symmonds is 0-11 lifetime vs. Rudisha), but I absolutely believe I could have been in there for a silver or a bronze.”
Unfortunately, because USATF wouldn’t let him run Worlds, those are all hypotheticals, though. For these rankings, all we can do is judge Symmonds on what he accomplished on the track, and the facts are that he ran one great race and several mediocre ones. Still, that one great race came at the right time – at USAs. If another U.S. runner had capitalized on Symmonds’ absence by making the final in Beijing, they would have a case for the #2 spot, but as it is, Symmonds’ USAs performance is enough.
More: Nick Symmonds Is Back, Wins 6th U.S. Title As Erik Sowinski And Cas Loxsom Punch Their Tickets To Beijing
*Sad: USATF Kicks Nick Symmonds Off Team USA For Worlds Instead of Defining What an “Official” Team Function Is
3. Erik Sowinski • Nike • 26 years old (on 12/21) • 1:44.58 sb (#4 in US) • Semifinals at Worlds • 2nd at USA Outdoors • 4th at USA Indoors in 600
DL results: 6th Birmingham, 8th London
2015 marked the first year since high school (or perhaps earlier?) that Sowinski did not PR in the 800, but we assume he’s okay with trading a few tenths of a second for his first outdoor World Championship appearance. Sowinski began the season by helping the U.S. to 4×800 gold at the World Relays, recorded his highest finish ever at USA outdoors (2nd in 1:44.84, his #2 time ever) and advanced to the semifinals at Worlds.
4. Cas Loxsom • Brooks Beasts • 24 years old • 1:44.92 sb (#5 in US) • 3rd at USA Outdoors • U.S. Indoor 600 Champion • American Record in Indoor 600 (1:15.33)
DL results: 10th London
Loxsom, like Sowinski, was part of the U.S. 4×800 team that won gold in the Bahamas, and after knocking on the door of 1:44 for several years, he broke that barrier with his 1:44.92 run in the semis at USAs. Two days later, Loxsom took 3rd in the USA final to make his first U.S. senior team. He also enjoyed plenty of success indoors, twice breaking the American record at 600, the second time during the USA indoor final where Loxsom won his first U.S. title.
As it did last year, Loxsom’s season tailed off toward the end (perhaps related to his indoor success?) as he didn’t break 1:47 after USAs and went out in the first round at Worlds, but a PR and 3rd at USAs still made 2015 a success.
5. Clayton Murphy • University of Akron • 20 years old • 1:45.59 sb (#12 in US) • Semifinals at Worlds • 4th at USA Outdoors • Pan Am Games Champion • 2nd at NACACs • 3rd at NCAA Outdoors • 3rd at NCAA Indoors
You could make the case that Murphy should have Loxsom’s #4 spot as he ran far better than Loxsom after USAs, winning Pan Am gold, NACAC silver and making the semifinals at Worlds. But Loxsom ran faster on the year and beat Murphy at USAs (their only head-to-head meeting), so we’ll put Murphy at #5. Had Symmonds not been kicked off the Worlds team, Murphy wouldn’t have even been at Worlds.
Like Berian, Murphy came from nowhere to establish himself as one of the nation’s premier 800 runners. As a freshman at Akron in 2013-14, Murphy was more of a 1500/5k guy. He ran the 800 occasionally, but never broke 1:50. He finished 6th in the Mid-American Conference Championships. As a sophomore, Murphy stepped down to the two-lap race, and though he said after NCAAs his plan was to move back to the 1500 in 2016, his success since then will likely cause him to reconsider. Murphy PR’d in the 800 a grand total of seven times on the year, the last a 1:45.59 (his third PR in four days) to take 4th at USAs. When Symmonds wasn’t named to Team USA, Murphy took his spot and acquitted himself well in Beijing, advancing to the semifinals — not bad for a guy wrapping up his sophomore year in college.
With his 2015 cross country season in the books (he was 4th at MACs and 20th at the Great Lakes Regional), Murphy’s focus is back on the track, where the sky is the limit for him in 2016.