2015 LRC Year-End Rankings, Women’s 1500: Genzebe Dibaba Reigns Supreme; Rowbury Nips Simpson for US #1

By LetsRun.com
December 22, 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.

LRC 2014 women’s 1500 rankings * LRC All 2014 Year-End Rankings * LRC 2015 WC 1500 Recap Genzebe Dibaba Earns Gold With Ridiculous 1:56.9 Final 800 – Americans Stars Jenny Simpson and Shannon Rowbury Left Way Behind

LRC All 2015 Year-End Rankings

World Rankings

1. Genzebe Dibaba • Ethiopia • 24 years old • 3:50.07 sb (#1 in world, world record) • World Champion

DL results: 1st Monaco

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Genzebe Dibaba was not supposed to break the world record in 2015. Heck, she wasn’t even supposed to run the 1500 until she dropped an absurd 3:54.11 in Barcelona on July 8 — the fastest time in the world in 18 years — which caused her and coach Jama Aden to rethink their plans. Dibaba said she wanted to go faster in Monaco nine days later, and though there were a few whispers of the world record, few people viewed Dibaba as a credible threat to Qu Yunxia‘s 1993 mark of 3:50.46. After all, Dibaba had just run the fastest 1500 for almost two decades and would have to beat that time by almost four seconds. Even accounting for a good rabbit and Monaco’s famously fast track, the math just didn’t add up. And then Dibaba did this:


If you told someone in January 2015 that the 1500 world record would go down in Monaco this year and gave them a chance to bet on it, 99% of track fans would have gone to their nearest bookmaker and put down money on someone — Asbel Kiprop, Silas Kiplagat, Ayanleh Souleiman — to break the men’s world record. The idea of a woman running 3:50 in the year 2015 just did not compute. No non-Chinese woman had even run within two seconds of the record before this year; no one (Chinese included) had run within four seconds of the mark since 1997. It’s always impressive when a world record goes down; what Dibaba did, breaking a record that athletes stopped chasing long ago, is almost unbelievable.

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

Dibaba’s gold medal in Beijing was a formality, but the way she did it once again beggared belief. She ran the last 800 of the 1500 final in 1:56.9; only two women in the world have broken 1:57 in the past two years. Think about a man closing a 1500 in 1:42 and you’ve got an idea of how ridiculous Dibaba’s final two laps were.

And to think that at the start of the year, Dibaba was best-known as an indoor monster that faltered when it came to the outdoor championships. She has left that reputation in the same place as her 1500 competitors this year: in the dust (Well at least in the 1500, once she won that, most assumed she’d easily double back to gold in the 5000 but that didn’t happen).

More: Worlds 1500 Recap Genzebe Dibaba Earns Gold With Ridiculous 1:56.9 Final 800 – Americans Stars Jenny Simpson and Shannon Rowbury Left Way Behind
*Genzebe Dibaba Runs 3:50.07 to Smash 1500m World Record!!!

Kipyegon's 4:16.71 in Brussels on September 11 was the fastest mile in the world since 1996 Kipyegon’s 4:16.71 in Brussels on September 11 was the fastest mile in the world since 1996

2. Faith Kipyegon • Kenya • 21 years old • 4:00.94 sb (#9) • 4:16.71 mile sb (#1) • Silver at Worlds

DL results: 2nd Oslo, 2nd Lausanne, 1st Brussels (DL final)

After Kipyegon won the Kenyan xc champs, she picked up an injury that kept her out of gunning for a World XC title. As a result, she eased into the 2015 track season and didn’t run her first 1500 of the year until June 11. That proved to be the right approach, as the mega-talented Kenyan (she ran 3:56 at age 19) took silver at Worlds, ran the world’s fastest mile in 19 years and finished off her season with a 1:58.02 800.

In any other year, Kipyegon’s 1:57.6 final 800 at Worlds and her 4:16 mile would maker her a slam dunk for the #1 ranking, but in 2015, it’s only good enough for #2. And even that’s not 100% clear-cut. She holds a 2-1 record against Sifan Hassan this year, but Hassan also closed in 1:57.6 at Worlds and also ran 3:56.05 this year for 1500 — the fastest non-Dibaba time since 2006. Considering Kipyegon beat Hassan in the two biggest races of the year, however (Worlds and the DL final), she earns the #2 spot.

More: Faith Kipyegon Archives – LetsRun.com

3. Sifan Hassan • The Netherlands • 22 years old • 3:56.05 sb (#2) • 4:18.20 mile (#2) • Bronze at Worlds • Diamond League Champion • European Indoor Champion

DL results: 2nd Doha, 3rd Pre Classic, 2nd Rome, 1st Birmingham, 1st Lausanne, 2nd Monaco, 2nd Brussels (DL final)

Hassan was inarguably better in 2015 than she was in 2014. She shaved .95 of a second off her pb, won two Diamond League races (same as in ’14), finished higher at the DL final, earned a bronze at Worlds, ran a second-and-a-half pb at 800 (1:58.50), earned European indoor gold and closed out the year by running a 4:18.20 mile, putting her #11 on the all-time list.

And yet the Ethiopian-born Dutchwoman still drops a spot in our rankings thanks to Dibaba’s historic season and a terrific year from Faith Kipyegon. One area where Hassan can still improve is her tactics. Her preferred strategy is to get out slowly and then move toward the front in the middle laps. However, this doesn’t work in every race scenario, as Hassan learned at Worlds when she was caught in 11th place when Dibaba dropped the hammer. Hassan still closed well enough for bronze, but if she had been further up when Dibaba made her move, she may have been able to upgrade to silver (she and Kipyegon both closed in 1:57.6 for the last 800).

Hassan explained to us after Worlds that she didn’t have much experience racing the world’s best (Beijing was her first outdoor World Champs), and that’s true. She had a good 2013 but most of her performances came in low-key meets. She has only been running big races for two years. If Hassan can learn to tailor her strategy to the race better in 2016, she has a great shot at an Olympic medal.

More: Sifan Hassan Archives – LetsRun.com

Seyaum Seyaum at Worlds in Beijing

4. Dawit Seyaum • Ethiopia • 19 years old • 3:59.76 sb (#6) • 4th at Worlds

DL results: 1st Doha, 3rd Rome, 3rd Oslo, 11th Lausanne

After the top three, there is a cluster of four women who are all very close in ability. We’re going with Seyaum for the #4 spot because she was 4th at Worlds and also earned a Diamond League victory. Her 3:59.76 sb was the slowest of the four women in contention, but it still ranked #6 in the world. Head-to-head, she was 2-1 vs. Laura Muir, 1-0 vs. Shannon Rowbury and 1-2 against Jenny Simpson — but most importantly, she finished ahead of all three at Worlds. The big advantage all three of those women have over Seyaum is their season best, but we’re not going to penalize Seyaum for not running in Monaco. Had Seyaum been in that field, we’re confident she could have run in the 3:56-3:58 range.

More: Dawit Seyaum Archives – LetsRun.com

5. Laura Muir • Great Britain • 22 years old • 3:58.66 sb (#5) • 5th at Worlds

DL results: 4th Rome, 1st Oslo, 5th Monaco

The case for Muir over Rowbury (#5) and Simpson (#6) is the same case for Seyaum over those two. She was 1-1 vs. Rowbury (with the win coming at Worlds) and though her 3:58.66 sb was slower than both Rowbury’s and Simpson’s, it was still extremely fast — number two by a Brit all-time, behind only double Olympic champ Kelly Holmes. Plus Muir gets points for an impressive Diamond League victory in Oslo, where she bravely ran away from the field and held everyone off, including eventual World silver medalist Faith Kipyegon — whom neither Simpson nor Rowbury beat in 2015.

In all, this was a terrific breakthrough year for Muir, a veterinary medicine student at the University of Glasgow who didn’t even make it out of the prelims at the European Championships in 2014. And at 22 years old, she’s just getting started.

More: Laua Muir Archives – LetsRun.com

6. Shannon Rowbury • USA • 31 years old • 3:56.29 sb (#3, American record) • 4:22.10 mile (#3) • 7th at Worlds • 2nd at USA Outdoors • U.S. Indoor Champion (mile and two-mile)

DL results: 4th Pre Classic, 3rd Monaco, 3rd Brussels (DL final)

7. Jenny Simpson • USA • 29 years old • 3:57.30 sb (#4) • 4:22.18 mile (#4) • 11th at Worlds • 1st at USA Outdoors

DL results: 1st Pre Classic, 1st Rome, 3rd Lausanne, 4th Monaco, 4th Brussels (DL final)

Rowbury and Simpson. Simpson and Rowbury. The two were inseparable in 2015, and their clashes made for one of the greatest rivalries in U.S. distance running right now.

For a truly great rivalry to exist, the following three conditions have to be met:

  1. The two rivals compete often. A big check on this one: Simpson and Rowbury raced seven times this year, with Simpson coming out on top, 4-3 (3-3 in 1500/miles).
  2. The two rivals are among the best in their sport. Check here as well. Both own World Championship medals (a bronze in ’09 for Rowbury, a gold in ’11 and silver in ’13 for Simpson), their 1500 SBs ranked third and fourth in the world this year and both made the final at Worlds.
  3. The two are evenly matched. This was the portion that was missing from the Simpson-Rowbury rivalry prior to this year’s race in Monaco, Simpson owned a 10-race winning streak against Rowbury, dating back to September 2013 (and even that defeat came with an asterisk as Simpson was one of six runners to fall in a massive pileup at the bell).
Simpson and Rowbury went 1-2 in last year's DL final and led early at Worlds; how will they fare in Brussels? The Simpson-Rowbury rivalry reached a new level in 2015

Rowbury’s stunning 3:56.29 American record in Monaco — a record Simpson also coveted — checked the final box, elevating the Rowbury-Simpson rivalry from good to great. From there, they traded wins the rest of the season — Rowbury prevailing at Worlds and the DL final in Brussels, Simpson coming through in Zurich (3000) and the 5th Avenue Mile — making for some truly compelling races. Last year, the two tumbled to the ground together after Simpson beat Rowbury by .01 of a second in the DL final in Zurich. This year’s DL final in Brussels brought more drama, as Rowbury prevailed by .08: just look at the intensity on their faces during the final meters of that battle.

“I think [the rivalry] is good for the two of us because we push each other for sure,” Simpson said. “I think it’s good for the sport. It’s good to have people in the US that are pushing each other and elevating the sport…Having two sub-4:00 people racing each other consistently is a challenge for sure. It’s a reminder that every day I have to work hard because no win is going to be easy.”

Simpson admitted that it’s fun to get a win over Rowbury — as she did at USAs and the 5th Avenue Mile — but not solely because of the rivalry.

“When you line up and you know you have a formidable opponent, whether it’s Dibaba or Hassan or Shannon or a number of people, it feels good to win,” Simpson said. “At this level, you don’t get to win very often. Shannon beat me a couple of times but I won 5th Avenue…It doesn’t matter who it is, it’s always fun to win.”

So why Rowbury over Simpson? A few reasons stood out that gave the edge to Rowbury:

  • Simpson’s indoor season consisted of one race: a 9:18.35 American record in the 2-mile at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix on February 7. Again, since this is a 1500/mile ranking, that performance doesn’t factor in. Rowbury, meanwhile, put together a terrific indoor campaign, running a 4:22.66 indoor mile (#5 performer all-time — and on a flat track to boot), winning the Wanamaker Mile and taking the victory at USA Indoors. In a battle as close as this one, every edge counts and Rowbury’s indoor season helps set her apart.
  • Likewise, Rowbury’s anchor leg in the U.S.’s world-record-setting DMR at the World Relays is another nice feather in her cap. Simpson likely could have accomplished the same thing, but we deal in facts, and the fact is that it’s Rowbury’s name on the record.
  • The two are level head-to-head (Simpson’s 3000 win doesn’t factor in for the purposes of these rankings), which means we have to look at the important meets. Simpson beat Rowbury at USAs, but Rowbury beat Simpson at Worlds and the Diamond League final. Advantage: Rowbury.
  • Rowbury broke Mary Slaney’s 32-year old American record. Advantage: Rowbury.
  • When it comes down to it, Rowbury got the American record and was the top American at Worlds. With those two accomplishments, it’s impossible to justify ranking another American above her.

There is an argument to be made for Simpson, however. Simpson ran the final lap-and-a-half at Worlds with one shoe (it started to come off at the 700-meter mark), which didn’t help her chances against Rowbury. And you can also argue that in the purest race between the two — the USA final, where they were clearly the two top dogs and didn’t have to account for someone like Dibaba — Simpson came out on top. But based solely on what happened on the track in 2015, we have to go with Rowbury.

When we talked to Simpson earlier this month, she said she said she was pleased with her consistency in 2015, but was obviously frustrated by losing her shoe in Beijing.

“I was in the shape of my life and I was really ready for the big moment and they just didn’t come together this year,” Simpson said. “Ultimately, the run in Beijing was a heartbreaker for me. I put other priorities aside and put them all lower down the priority list for the sake of doing well in Beijing, so it was a real disappointment to not be able to race to my fitness there.”

As she looks ahead to 2016 — Simpson says she’s “leaning against” doing World Indoors but has not ruled it out — Simpson does so with no regrets. In the aftermath of Beijing, Simpson looked for someone or something to blame for her run in the World Championship final. Finally, in a quiet moment, she turned to her husband, Jason, and said: “That (the shoe coming off) happened for no reason.”

“There was no lesson to learn, nothing to get out of it, there was nothing bad in my life that this prevented from happening,” Simpson said. “It just happened for no reason.” And once she realized that, she was able to move on from the heartbreak of Worlds with her focus clearly on Rio.

P.S. Please don’t complain that Rowbury set her American record by sitting on Simpson. Yes, Simpson leading the second pack in Monaco helped Rowbury, and it’s possible that Rowbury wouldn’t have gotten the AR without her. But it’s silly to discredit an incredible performance by Rowbury because of how she accomplished it. Simpson knew the risks of her strategy going in and deserves credit for a brave, gutsy run of 3:57.30, the fifth-fastest 1500 ever run by an American woman. But the beauty of track and field is its simplicity. The results page tells you exactly who was better in any given race, and on that day, Rowbury was better than Simpson.

More: MB: Shannon Rowbury Fires back at Jenny Simpson – LetsRun.com
*MB: Not going to lie: Bummed Rowbury beat Simpson to AR.
*Shannon Rowbury Archives – LetsRun.com
*Jenny Simpson Archives – LetsRun.com

8. Mercy Cherono • Kenya • 24 years old • 4:01.26 sb (#4) • 4:22.67 mile (#5)

DL results: 2nd Pre Classic, 4th Lausanne, 5th Brussels (DL final)

Cherono ran the 5,000 at Worlds (she was 5th), but she was also very strong in the 1500 this year, as her 4:01.26 ranked her #10 on the 2015 list. She was an impressive 2nd at Pre (ahead of Hassan and Rowbury) and took 5th in the Diamond League final in Brussels. She had the option of running the 1500 at Worlds (she was 2nd at the Kenyan Trials) but elected to run the longer distance. Cherono’s sweet spot is the 3,000, so it will be interesting if she chooses to run that event at World Indoors in March.

More: Mercy Cherono Archives – LetsRun.com

Aregawi never quite regained her form of 2013 after battling a hamstring/back injury this year Aregawi never quite regained her form of 2013 after battling a hamstring/back injury this year

9. Abeba Aregawi • Sweden • 25 years old • 4:01.97 sb (#15) • 4:23.07 mile (#6) • 6th at Worlds

DL results: 7th Doha, 2nd Birmingham, 4th Oslo, 6th Brussels (DL final)

The 2013 world champ took a step back in the second half of 2014 and that slide continued early in 2015 as she struggled to a 7th place finish in the DL opener in Doha. Aregawi pulled it together by Worlds to take 6th in Beijing, but even the 2013 version of Aregawi would have had a hard time medaling given the talent at the top of the event right now.

At Worlds, a member of the Swedish federation informed us that Aregawi had been battling an upper-hamstring/lower-back injury this year, and that certainly helps to explain some of her results. All-Athletics has 1500 results for Aregawi dating back to 2010, and in that span, her 4:01.97 in ’15 was her slowest season best on record. If she can return to full health next year, she probably won’t be able to battle Dibaba, but she’ll be a serious threat to everyone else.

More: Abeba Aregawi Archives – LetsRun.com

10. Maureen Koster • Netherlands • 22 years old • 3:59.79 (#8) • Semis at Worlds 

DL results: 6th Rome, 4th Birmingham, 6th Monaco

The final spot came down to a battle between Poland’s Angelika Cichocka and Koster. We went with  Koster as she ran much faster on the year (3:59.79 versus 4:03.06) and had a winning record against Cichocka on the year (2 to 1). Yes, Cichocka made the final at Worlds and Koster did not but Koster won the the Netherlands national title whereas Cichocka was the runer-up in Poland. Cichocka did win a silver at Euroean indoors (Koster got a bronze but in the 3000) but in the end the huge gap in their seasonal bests and head to head record pushed us towards Koster.

Angelika Cichocka • Poland • 27 years old • 4:03.06 sb (#19) • 8th at Worlds • Silver at Euro Indoors

More: *Angelika Cichocka Archives – LetsRun.com

U.S. Rankings

1. Shannon Rowbury (see above)

2. Jenny Simpson (see above)

Gallagher emerged from relative obscurity to qualify for the semifinals at Worlds Gallagher emerged from relative obscurity to qualify for the semifinals at Worlds

3. Kerri Gallagher • Nike • 26 years old • 4:03.56 sb (#5 in US) • Semifinals at Worlds • 3rd at USA Outdoors

DL results: 11th Monaco

In April of 2011, Gallagher accepted a job as a financial planner at Morgan Stanley. Yet just three months later, Gallagher decided to quit that job in order to concentrate on making the 2012 Olympic team. At the time, it seemed a rash decision. Gallagher had some talent, but she had finished dead last in the 1500 final at ECACs that spring and didn’t even make it out of the first round at the NCAA East Preliminary Round in Indiana.

Gallagher, who is coached by Matt Centrowitz,  didn’t even compete at the 2012 Olympic Trials. But her 5th place finish in the 1500 at USAs in 2013 showed that she could hack it at the national level. This year, Gallagher’s gamble from four years ago finally paid off as she took third at USAs and made it all the way to the semifinals of the World Championships in Beijing.

It was a truly phenomenal season for the 26-year-old, who entered 2015 with a modest 4:09.64 pb. But Gallagher bettered that mark in the first round of USAs (4:08.70) and then smashed it (and in the process earned the WC standard) by running 4:03.56 in Lignano, Italy, on July 7. Now she has a chance to fulfill her Olympic goal, but with Simpson and Rowbury likely taking two of the spots, Gallagher will have her work cut out for her.

More: Kerri Gallagher Archives – LetsRun.com

4. Lauren Johnson • Oregon Track Club Elite/Nike • 28 years old • 4:04.17 sb (#7 in US) • Semifinals at Worlds • 4th at USA Outdoors

DL results: 12th London

Like Gallagher, Johnson wasn’t on anyone’s radar to make the 2015 World Championship team, but a huge performance at USAs and a string of PRs resulted in a massive breakthrough for the OTC athlete. Johnson shaved over six seconds off her 1500 pb in 2015 and wound up as the first athlete out of the final in Beijing.

More: Lauren Johnson Archives – LetsRun.com

5. Katie Mackey • Brooks Beasts • 28 years old • 4:03.81 sb (#6 in US) • 2nd at USA Indoors

DL results: 8th Pre Classic, 3rd London

This race came down to Mackey, Treniere Moser and Sarah Brown. Initially, we were going to place Moser here based on her 6th place finish at USAs and 3-1 record against Brown (including a win at USAs). But then we realized that Mackey was 2-0 vs. Moser on the year and ran a faster time than her. Throw in a runner-up finish to Rowbury at USA Indoors, and that swung the decision in Mackey’s favor.

This wasn’t an easy call. Mackey didn’t run USAs in the 1500 (she chose the 5,000 instead, finished 6th) and was only 1-1 against Brown with a slower SB. But she ran enough strong 1500s in 2015 to earn this spot, and her performance at USA Indoors puts her over the top.

Honorable mention: Treniere Moser (Nike Oregon Project), Sarah Brown (New Balance)

More: Katie Mackey Archives – LetsRun.com

LRC 2014 women’s 1500 rankings * LRC All 2014 Year-End Rankings * LRC 2015 WC 1500 Recap Genzebe Dibaba Earns Gold With Ridiculous 1:56.9 Final 800 – Americans Stars Jenny Simpson and Shannon Rowbury Left Way Behind

LRC All 2015 Year-End Rankings

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