2015 LRC Year-End Rankings, Men’s Marathon: All Hail Eliud Kipchoge; Meb Keflezighi Leads Americans
December 30, 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 World Marathon Majors (Tokyo, Boston, London, World Champs, Berlin, Chicago, New York). Those seven marathons attract the most talent; sometimes a top-four in a major can be more impressive than winning a smaller marathon. For the purposes of these rankings, we’ll also count Dubai as a major (the $200,000 first-place prize always attracts a deep field).
- Season-best times were given some consideration, but we didn’t penalize a runner for having a slow sb if they ran tougher courses (such as New York).
- These rankings reflect only performances in marathons in 2015. In our track rankings, we were interested in trying to find out who would win in a race if every athlete on the list got together. That’s not as simple in marathoning, where the favorites are more dependent on the course and conditions. Thus, these rankings are more a reflection of what an athlete accomplished in 2015 rather than who would win in a race.
- With that said, head-to-head results will still factor heavily in the ranking criteria if it’s close between two runners.
- While we strive to be objective with our rankings, with only two (occasionally three) data points for each marathoner, it’s inevitable that some subjectivity comes into play in these rankings, more so in the marathon than any other event.
LRC 2014 men’s marathon rankings * LRC All 2014 Year-End Rankings * LRC 2015 WC marathon recap Stars Fizzle as 19-Year-Old Ghirmay Ghebreslassie Wins and a 2:16 Guy Goes For It
LRC WMM Coverage (plus Dubai) 2015 Dubai: Total Unknown Hayle Lemi Berhanu Wins Marathoning’s Richest First-Place Prize * 2015 Tokyo: Negesse and Dibaba Get First Major Marathon Wins, Stephen Kiprotich Shows Olympic Spirit in Second * 2015 Boston: Lelisa Desisa Shows He’s The Boss At 2015 Boston Marathon After Ritz And Meb Make It Interesting *2015 London: London Lives Up To The Hype As Eliud Kipchoge Takes Down Wilson Kipsang In Final Mile To Win In 2:04:42 *2015 Worlds: 2015 Worlds Marathon: Stars Fizzle As 19-Year-Old Ghirmay Ghebrselassie Wins Eritrea’s First Gold, A 2:16 Guy Goes For It, And The Top 10 DON’T KNOW WHERE THE FINISH IS *2015 Berlin: Four Quick Takes on the 2015 BMW Berlin Marathon and Eliud Kipchoge’s Amazing 2:04:00 Win With His Shoe Insoles Falling Out * 2015 Chicago: Dickson Chumba and Florence Kiplagat Win, Americans Luke Puskedra and Elkanah Kibet Impress, Deena Kastor Gets American Master’s Record *2015 New York: Stanley Biwott Blasts 28:35 Final 10K to Capture 2015 TCS NYC Marathon Title
1. Eliud Kipchoge • Kenya • 31 years old
2015 results: 1st London (2:04:42), 1st Berlin (2:04:00)
In last year’s rankings, despite winning two top marathons in fast times, Kipchoge was denied the number one spot by countryman Wilson Kipsang, who earned victories in London and New York, the former in a course-record 2:04:29. With London once again securing “The Greatest Field in History,” Kipchoge and Kipsang squared off in the British capital — along with Dennis Kimetto, fresh off a world record in Berlin — and their showdown did not disappoint. Through 23 miles, all three titans (plus a fourth Kenyan, Stanley Biwott) remained in the lead pack. A 9:14 split for the next two miles dropped Kimetto and Biwott, but Kipsang and Kipchoge were still together entering mile 26. The next six minutes would determine the identity of the world’s top marathoner.
Ultimately it was Kipchoge who blasted away with 800 meters to go, covering mile 26 in 4:33 and earning the victory in the year’s most competitive marathon. Five months later, he left no doubt as to which marathoner owned 2015 as he coasted to an easy 2:04:00 win in Berlin — despite running most of the race with his insoles flapping around outside of his shoes.
In last year’s rankings, we pointed out how Kipsang had just completed one of the great three-marathon stretches of all time. Well right now, Kipchoge is en route to one of the greatest marathon careers of all time. Check out these stats:
Career marathon starts: 6
Career marathon wins: 5
WMM wins: 3
Average time: 2:04:34
Only 13 other men have run 2:04:34 once in a marathon. So Kipchoge’s average marathon would make him the 14th-fastest man of all time. And the only reason Kipchoge isn’t undefeated in the marathon is because Kipsang ran a world record in Berlin in 2013, a race in which Kipchoge ran 2:04:05 (the 12th-fastest marathon ever) for second.
Kipchoge cannot possibly produce at this level for the rest of his career. The brutal nature of the marathon means that athletes seldom stay at the top of the world ranks for very long. So much has to go right to win one marathon, and that makes winning two a year for several years in a row is a Herculean task. At 31, Kipchoge isn’t old by marathon standards, but he has been racing at the highest level for 13 years now (remember, he beat Hicham El Guerrouj and Kenenisa Bekele to win 5,000 gold at Worlds in 2003). Eventually, his body will begin to break down.
But Kipchoge hasn’t shown any signs of slowing. He’s coming off a PR and enters 2016 as the favorite for Olympic gold — the one title that has so far eluded him (he has a silver from 2008 and a bronze from 2004, both in the 5,000). What he’s accomplished during his first three years as a marathoner already puts him in the discussion of the finest 26.2-mile men in history. If he can add Olympic gold, he could be on his way to GOAT status at the ultimate distance.
More: 2015 London: London Lives Up To The Hype As Eliud Kipchoge Takes Down Wilson Kipsang In Final Mile To Win In 2:04:42 * 2015 Berlin: Four Quick Takes on the 2015 BMW Berlin Marathon and Eliud Kipchoge’s Amazing 2:04:00 Win With His Shoe Insoles Falling Out
*Eliud Kipchoge Archives – LetsRun.com
2. Stanley Biwott • Kenya • 29 years old
2015 results: 4th London (2:06:41), 1st New York (2:10:34)
After Kipchoge at #1, there are a number of different ways you could shape this list. No one else stood out as having a phenomenal year (though many runners had good years), so that made placing runners in order a tough task, especially given the small sample size. So consider the rest of this list our best guess at making sense of a challenging year.
Our reasoning for Biwott at #2: he won the year’s second-most competitive marathon, New York (maybe third, behind Worlds, but most of the big guns were non-factors there), with a ridiculous 28:35 final 10k and ran 2:06:41 to take 4th in the year’s most competitive marathon in London. Normally a win and a fourth wouldn’t be good enough for the #2 spot, but considering his 4th came to the top three guys on the planet at that point in time (Kimetto and Kipsang have since slipped), it’s not a bad race at all. Head-to-head against the other competitors for this spot, Biwott was 1-1 against Kipsang, and 1-0 against Lelisa Desisa and Yemane Tsegay (he didn’t race World Champ Ghirmay Ghebreslassie).
3. Ghirmay Ghebreslassie • Eritrea • 20 years old
2015 results: 2nd Hamburg (2:07:47), 1st World Champs (2:12:27)
Ghirmay Ghebreslassie was just another guy when he boarded his flight to Beijing for the World Championships. He’d run very respectable times of 2:09:08 and 2:07:47 in his first two marathons, but in a field that contained Kipsang, Kimetto, Desisa and reigning World/Olympic champ Stephen Kiprotich of Uganda, he was an afterthought. A few days later, he was the shock world champion and suddenly in the conversation as one of the world’s top marathoners.
That’s what one outstanding performance can do for you, and for the rest of his life, Ghebreslassie will be able to say that he got on the line with the world record holder, the reigning champs in Berlin, New York, Dubai and Boston plus the World/Olympic champion and beat them all. The sweltering conditions in Beijing may have done in Kipsang and Kimetto (both early DNFs) but no one lucks into a World Championship, making Ghebreslassie’s victory one of the most impressive of the year. Had he won Hamburg, he’d be a no-brainer choice for the #2 spot, but as it stands his defeat there to Lucas Rotich (who was only 8th in Chicago in October) is enough to move him down to #3.
4. Lelisa Desisa • Ethiopia • 25 years old
2015 results: 2nd Dubai (2:05:52), 1st Boston (2:09:17), 7th World Champs (2:14:53), 3rd New York (2:12:10)
After a tremendous three-marathon year in 2013 (1st Duba, 1st Boston, 2nd Worlds), Desisa went for four this year and was almost as impressive (2nd Dubai, 1st Boston, 7th Worlds, 3rd New York). Combine any two of those results and it’s a solid year for most marathoners. To run all four — and run them well — in a 10-month span is incredible. We imagine if we called Desisa up in Ethiopia and told him he had to race a marathon tomorrow, he’d probably be able to give us a 2:10 performance – he’s almost always ready to go.
His prodigious amount of racing makes it hard to rank him, however. A win in Boston, runner-up in Dubai and third in New York probably is better than a 1st at Worlds and 2nd in Warsaw, which is what Ghirmay Ghebreslassie did this year. But Desisa had four marathons this year and at Worlds, Desisa was beaten by Ghebreslassie. Do we punish Desisa for that loss? Reward him for his other good races? Is it fair to expect people to race three or four marathons a year?
Like Kipchoge, Desisa made his marathon debut in 2013 and took to the event immediately. Desisa has generally opted for more challenging courses such as Boston and New York — plus two World Championship marathons — so his times aren’t as impressive as Kipchoge’s. But he still owns a strong 2:04:45 pb from his debut in Dubai and now has two Boston victories.
John Hancock has already announced that Desisa will go for a hat trick in Boston next year, and given his affinity for the World Championships, expect to see Desisa in Rio as well. Whether he decides to tack on another marathon at the start or end of the year is still up in the air, but expect Desisa to be a factor wherever he shows up in 2016.
5. Berhanu Lemi • Ethiopia • 21 years old
2015 results: 1st Dubai (2:05:28), 1st Warsaw (2:07:57), 15th World Champs (2:17:36)
In what is becoming a tradition, Lemi (aka Hayle Lemi) became the most recent young Ethiopian to get his big break by winning the Dubai Marathon, following in the footsteps of Ayele Abshero (2012), Lelisa Desisa (2013) and Tsegaye Mekonnen (2014). His 2:05:28 carried him past Desisa, Kenenisa Bekele (who dropped out at 31k) and a host of other 2:0x guys. Lemi followed that up with a 2:07:57 victory in Warsaw three months later, cementing his spot among the top three marathoners of 2015. Lemi raced once more, struggling to a 15th-place showing at the World Champs in August, but given that several other top runners struggled, we won’t hold that performance against him too much. Just 21 years old, Lemi will be one to watch in the years to come.
6. Yemane Tsegay • Ethiopia • 30 years old
2015 results: 2nd Boston (2:09:48), 2nd World Champs (2:13:07), 5th New York (2:13:24)
Tsegay’s 2015 season was similar to our #7 pick Wilson Kipsang’s and you can make a case that the Kenyan deserves the #6 spot over the Ethiopian. In fact, until a last minute change, we had Kipsang at #6. Both finished runner-up at a prestigious spring marathon (Boston for Tsegay, London for Kipsang), both ran Worlds (Tsegay took the silver medal while Kipsang was a DNF) and bother were top five in New York (Kipsang beat Tsegay head-to-head as he was 4th and Tsegay was 5th) . Judging solely on their places, Tsegay appears to be the clear winner: they were 1-1 head-to-head but Tsegay had the benefit of a silver at Worlds Judging solely on their places, Tsegay appears to be the clear winner: they were 1-1 head-to-head but Tsegay had the benefit of a silver at Worlds where Kipsang was a DNF.
But Kipsang ran a much faster sb of 2:04:47 (making him the second-fastest marathoner of 2015). And if you’re telling us to pick one guy to win a race based on their 2015 performances, we’re taking Kipsang. Kipsang was closer to Kipchoge in London (5 seconds) than Tsegay was to Desisa in Boston (31 seconds); that London race is much closer to a “win” than Tsegay’s run in Boston, both in terms of margin of defeat and the quality of the field. We have little doubt that Kipsang’s runner-up performance in London would have won every other marathon this year except for Berlin.
So we could justify intellectually, using advanced metrics, that Kipsang should be #6 but in the end we just don’t want to go there. In baseball, in 2012, nerds pointed out that Miguel Cabrera only had the fourth best WAR (wins above replacment) figure in the American league but he rightly won the MVP award as he won the freaking triple crown. Rankings need to make some sense to the average fan and two seconds at majors and a top five in a third crushes a 2nd, 4th and DNF. Plus we don’t want to punish Tsegay simply as his seasonal best wasn’t that fast considering none of his three races presented good opportunities to run fast.
7. Wilson Kipsang • Kenya • 33 years old
2015 results: 2nd London (2:04:47), DNF World Champs, 4th New York (2:12:45)
Kipsang remains a formidable international marathoner, but he’s no longer the clear-cut #1 in the world after failing to win a marathon for the first year since he took up the event in 2010. Kipsang’s runner-up performance in London would have been good enough to win at almost any other marathon this year, and he was only five seconds behind Kipchoge at the finish. In Kipchoge’s five other marathons, only twice has anyone finished within a minute of him: in Chicago last year (Sammy Kitwara and Dickson Chumba finished 17 and 21 seconds behind, respectively) and in Berlin in 2013, when Kipsang himself beat Kipchoge by 42 seconds.
Kipsang’s DNF at Worlds really cost him the #6 spot, but he rebounded to finish a respectable 4th in New York. The question that Kipsang now faces is whether he can return to his 2013-14 form or whether 2015 was the beginning of the end. We think it’s too soon to write off someone as talented as Kipsang (his 2nd in London counts nearly the same as a win at any other race given the quality of the field) and he’ll definitely be in the hunt for another Olympic medal — assuming he gets named to the Kenyan team. To do that, he’ll need to run well in his spring marathon, which, if history is a guide, will come in London (he’s raced there in each of the past four years).
8. Wilson Erupe • Kenya • 29 years old 2015 results: 1st Seoul (2:06:11), 1st Gyeongju (2:07:01) We can’t fault a 100% record, especially when those wins are accompanied by times of 2:06:11 and 2:07:01. Obviously, the competition in Seoul and Gyeongju isn’t comparable to that of a major like Boston or New York. But Seoul’s field was no joke (five other men broke 2:10; a sixth, Eliud Kiptanui, ran 2:05:21 in Berlin six months later) and 2012 Dubai champ Ayele Abshero (2:04:23 pb , top-4s in London in ’13 and ’14) was among the men Erupe beat in Gyeongju.
Update: Actually we can fault his 100% record. We got a text reminding us that the guy is a at best former EPO cheat. EPO doesn’t accidentally get in your system. Anyone convicted of a serious doping offense where there is zero possibility of contamination deserves a lifetime ban in our book so he’s no longer in our rankings. He was 2:09 marathoner in 2011, who ran 2:05 in 2012 and then got busted for EPO in 2013.
The only good news about Erupe is both his races were in Korea this year as that seems to be the only place that will let him run. We’re shocked the Seoul Marathon which he won in 2012 wanted him back this year. We 100% won’t pay any attention to Erupe’s record unless he gets into the Abbott World Marathon Majors Special Testing pool. Not a lot of people realize this but in March the anti-doping movement took a huge step forward as the AWMM realized that out-of-competition testing in much of Africa, particularly Kenya, leaves a lot to be desired so they started paying for their own out-of-competition tests on approximately 150 athletes. We urge the AWMM to add Erupe to their testing protocol. Erupe isn’t eligible for competition in a AWMM race but he still should be subject to heightened testing as a former doper. He’s fast enough that he could show up and contend in Dubai, which might get him on the Kenyan Olympic team.
9. 8. Dickson Chumba • Kenya • 29 years old
2015 results: 3rd Tokyo (2:06:34), 1st Chicago (2:09:25)
After winning Tokyo and placing 3rd in Chicago in 2014, Chumba flip-flopped his results this year, taking 3rd in Tokyo in February before claiming his second major title in Chicago in October. Certainly a very good year, but considering Tokyo and Chicago were two of the weaker World Marathon Majors events, he ranks behind Kipsang and Tsegay, who ran well at more competitive races (despite no victories).
Chumba’s 2:09:25 winning time in Chicago was the second-slowest in the past 20 years (only the 2007 race, which featured temps in the upper 80s, was slower) and though a chunk of that is due to the lack of pacemakers, the course is not slow. In addition, the 2015 Chicago field was simply not that strong. But it was still a major victory, and that gets him on our list.
It will be interesting to see where Chumba races in 2016. Obviously, he can return to Tokyo and Chicago and expect to do well, but if he wants to find out how good he really is, he needs to run Boston, London, the Olympics or New York.
10. 9. Bernard Kipyego • Kenya • 29 years old
2015 results: 4th Boston (2:10:47), 1st Amsterdam (2:06:19)
You can make a case for several guys in this spot, but we’re going with Kipyego. He was 4th in Boston and beat a good field to win Amsterdam for the second year in a row (6th place was 2:09:14). Combine Kipyego’s solid time in Amsterdam (a race he won by 59 seconds) with his solid showing in Boston (the guys who went 1-2 are both ahead of him on this list) and Kipyego has strong credentials. The only other guy who beat him in Boston was Wilson Chebet, but Kipyego beat Chebet handily in Amsterdam and thus we give him the edge.
Honorable mention: 10. Endeshaw Negesse (1st Tokyo 2:06:00, 4th Shanghai 2:10:51) Yes he won a major and ran faster than Kipyego on the year but a fourth in Shanghai is a much worse showing than fourth in Boston.
Master of the Year
Kenneth Mungara • Kenya • 42 years old
2015 results: 1st Milan (2:08:44), 1st Gold Coast (2:08:42), 5th Honolulu (2:18:36)
Mungara didn’t run fast enough to rank among our top 10, but he had such an amazing year that we decided to create a separate category and honor him as Master of the Year. Mungara wasn’t the only master to run well in 2015 — Meb Keflezighi was 7th in New York after turning 40 in May — but he was easily tops among 40+ men this year, as he twice broke the masters world record.
First, he shaved two seconds off the time of Mexico’s Andres Espinosa to run 2:08:44 in Milan on April 12. Less than three months later, he lowered that time by another two seconds with a 2:08:42 at Australia’s Gold Coast Marathon. In both cases, Mungara won the race. Though he couldn’t go three-for-three in Honolulu on December 13 (he “only” ran 2:18 on the tough course), his year still goes down as the most impressive ever by a masters marathoner.
1. Meb Keflezighi • Skechers • 40 years old
2015 results: 8th Boston (2:12:42), 7th New York (2:13:32)
As the only American to finish in the top 10 at two World Marathon Majors this year, we’re ranking Meb number one for the second consecutive year. Keflezighi was only the second American in Boston (Dathan Ritzenhein beat him) but 8th in 2:12:42 wasn’t a bad performance given Meb had to stop to throw up five times over the final miles of the race. Throw in another solid run in New York (7th) and that’s enough for Meb to edge Ritz for the #1 ranking.
Meb’s been good for so long that it’s easy to overlook what he accomplished this year. So as a reminder of just how good he is, please realize that he ran the fourth-fastest time by an American this year on a hilly Boston course during a race in which he had to stop five separate times. Only five Americans ran faster than his #2 time, a 2:13:32 in a tactical race on a hilly New York course. Of course, you could use that as an argument that American marathoning isn’t particularly deep at the moment (which is true) but for Meb to do what he did in 2015 during a year in which he turned 40 was very impressive.
2. Dathan Ritzenhein • Nike • 33 years old (on 12/30)
2015 results: 7th Boston (2:11:20)
3. Luke Puskedra • Nike • 25 years old
2015 results: 6th Grandma’s Marathon (2:15:27), 5th Chicago (2:10:24)
Yes, Ritz ran slower and placed lower in Boston than Luke Puskedra did in Chicago, but considering Boston is a slower course than Chicago and Boston boasted a stronger field (Ritz beat Meb, among others), he wins out over fellow former Nike Oregon Project athlete Puskedra. Essentially, we asked ourselves the following question: Which was more likely, Puskedra running 2:11:20 in Boston or Ritz running 2:10:24 in Chicago? We think most people would agree that Ritz has a better shot to run 2:10:24 in Chicago.
Puskedra did run a second marathon this year, but his 2:15:27 at Grandma’s in June wasn’t anything to write home about and we it didn’t factor into his comparison with Ritzenhein. But the fact that a 2:15:27 is now considered ho-hum for Puskedra is a testament to how much progress he made in 2015. No one really knew what to expect from Puskedra in Chicago, but the unrabbitted race played into his hands. Had the lead group gone out at 2:04/2:05 pace, Puskedra could easily have been caught in no man’s land. Instead, he was able to simply hang with the leaders and race, leading to his massive 5+ minute pb.
It’s crazy how fast things can change in this sport. At the start of the year, Puskedra had given up the sport. After a dispiriting 2:28:54 36th-place finish in his debut last fall in a harsh day in New York, he had put on 23 pounds and was searching for a non-running job. But a move back to Eugene and a reunion with college coach Andy Powell rekindled Puskedra’s love of the sport and 12 months later he’s one of the favorites for the 2016 Olympic team — among Americans, only Meb and Ritz have run faster since the last Olympic Trials. A berth on Team USA would serve as the culmination of a sweet redemption story for Puskedra, but with a cadre of 2:11/2:12 types and debutants in Diego Estrada, Sam Chelanga (and Galen Rupp?), earning one of those spots won’t be easy.
4. Elkanah Kibet • U.S. Army • 32 years old
2015 results: 7th Chicago (2:11:31)
Kibet, like Puskedra, is not a name most fans would have expected to see in these rankings at the start of the year, but his 2:11:31 in Chicago (the third-fastest marathon by an American in 2015) earned him the #4 spot. Kibet ran bravely in Chicago chasing 2:10 (he led a good chunk of the first nine miles of the race on his own before the pack reeled him in) and even at age 32, he has the potential for improvement. He worked full-time in the Army this year (Kibet was generally in an office four days a week with military training on Wednesdays) and still managed to balance 110-120 miles per week in the fall (he was at 70-80 for most of the summer). On December 1, Kibet moved to Colorado Springs to join the Army’s World Class Athlete Program (WCAP), which means he’ll be able to dedicate himself solely to training and recovery between now and the Olympic Trials.
If you can run 2:11 on any course, you’re a contender for the Trials. It will likely take around a 2:09/2:10 effort to make the team and if Kibet can improve from Chicago — not a stretch given his limited marathon background — he could find himself on the plane to Rio.
For more on Kibet, be sure to check out our profile on him from October: For The Love Of Running: How Elkanah Kibet Went From A Deployment In Iraq To 2:11:31 At The Chicago Marathon In Less Than A Year
5. Jared Ward • Saucony • 27 years old
2015 results: 3rd Los Angeles (2:12:56)
Ward was the U.S. Marathon champion, clocking an impressive 2:12:56 (a 1:04 pb) on a hot day in Los Angeles (he was 3rd overall in the LA Marathon, which doubled as the U.S. Championships). Ward, who earned his master’s in statistics from BYU earlier this year, has steadily improved in the marathon over the past three years. He debuted in Chicago in 2013, finishing 19th in 2:16:18 — just a month before he took 36th at the NCAA XC Championships — then took second at the U.S. Champs last fall in 2:14:00 before his 2:12 in LA in March. Ward also added U.S. titles at 20 and 25k this year, so he’ll be full of confidence heading into the Trials.
Both Matt Llano (2:12:28 in Berlin) and Aaron Braun (2:12:54 in Houston) ran faster than Ward did this year, but Ward was the U.S. champ and didn’t run much slower than either of them despite tough race conditions. Ward also beat Llano head-to-head in Los Angeles.
Honorable mention: Matt Llano (6th Los Angeles 2:16:13, 13th Berlin 2:12:28), Aaron Braun (7th Houston 2:12:54)
Want more marathon rankings? LetsRun.com super visitor David Graham has produced his own list (with commentary) once again this year: LRC David Graham: My Thoughts On The Men’s Marathon For 2015. That list was invaluable in helping us come up with our own rankings.
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- Dathan Ritzenhein ,
- Lelisa Desisa ,
- Wilson Kipsang ,
- Meb Keflezighi ,
- Eliud Kipchoge ,
- Stanley Biwott ,
- Jared Ward ,
- Luke Puskedra ,
- Bernard Kipyego ,
- Dickson Chumba ,
- Yemane Tsegay ,
- Kenneth Mungara ,
- LRC Year-End Rankings ,
- Ghirmay Ghebreslassie ,
- Elkanah Kibet ,
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- Berhanu Lemi ,
- Wilson Erupe