2015 LRC Year-End Rankings, Women’s 5,000: Almaz Ayana Tops Genzebe Dibaba For #1 Ranking; Molly Huddle Is America’s Best
December 22, 2015 to December 31, 2015
December 28, 2016
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’re ranking 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 5,000 rankings * LRC All 2014 Year-End Rankings * LRC 2015 WC 5,000 Recap Almaz Ayana Does the Unthinkable and Runs Away From Genzebe Dibaba With an 8:19 Final 3k
1. Almaz Ayana • Ethiopia • 24 years old • 14:14.32 sb (#1) • World Champion
DL results: 1st Shanghai, 2nd Paris, 1st Zurich (3k, DL final)
Genzebe Dibaba’s 2015 season will go down as one of the finest in the history of the sport. A 1500 world record. A 1500 world title, closing the final 800 in 1:56.9. A 14:15.41 5,000, the fourth-fastest time ever run. Yet Dibaba lost in 2015, not just once, but, twice. And both times to the same woman: Almaz Ayana, who put together a historic season of her own.
Ayana didn’t just beat Dibaba in Beijing, she destroyed her. After witnessing Dibaba’s ridiculous last 800 in the 1500 final, Ayana knew she couldn’t allow the 5,000 final to come down to a kick, so she took off at 2k and ground the entire field — including the great Dibaba — into submission. She dropped Dibaba, a woman invincible in 2015 to that point (she beat Ayana over 5,000 a month and a half earlier in Paris) with three laps to go and continued to pour it on with a phenomenal 8:19.9 final 3k, which on its own would have been the sixth-fastest 3k in history. Since the women began running the 5,000 at the Olympics/Worlds in 1995, the largest margin of victory in a 5k final was 3.61 seconds. Ayana’s winning margin in Beijing? 17.24!
You can make a strong case that Ayana’s performance was the greatest 5,000-meter race ever run by a woman (we did the same for the men after Kenenisa Bekele‘s victory on the same track seven years ago). Ayana lopped over 11 seconds off the meet record (her time was the 19th-fastest ever in an outdoor race), and her enormous margin of victory was over four times greater than the next-closest in history — plus it came over the fourth-fastest woman in history, who broke the 1500 world record less than two months earlier. And she did it all by herself – no one set the pace for her. To us, that makes it more impressive than a world record.
In addition to her Beijing heroics, Ayana also became the third-fastest woman in history with her 14:14.32 solo effort in Shanghai on May 17 and beat Dibaba again, this time over 3,000 meters in Zurich on September 3. A truly magnificent season.
Anything’s on the table for in the coming years. The world record (14:11.15) is there for the taking, and if Ayana can break that and win a few more world titles (she turned 24 in November), she’ll quickly climb the list of the world’s greatest-ever female distance runners. But the main focus in 2016 will be the Rio Olympics, which could bring a monumental showdown with Dibaba, Dibaba’s sister Tirunesh (current WR holder and ’08 Olympic champion) and/or Meseret Defar (’04 and ’12 Olympic champion). Those are the four fastest women in history over 5,000 meters, and because Ethiopia can only send a maximum three in one event to Rio, one of them won’t even be on the starting line of the 5k in Rio.
Speaking of 2016, will Ayana consider trying the 10,000/5,000 double? The 10,000 was much weaker this year than the 5,000.
2. Genzebe Dibaba • Ethiopia • 24 years old • 14:15.41 sb (#2) • Bronze at Worlds • Diamond League Champion • World Indoor Record (14:18.86)
DL results: 1st Pre Classic, 1st Oslo, 1st Paris, 2nd Zurich (3k, DL final)
It’s easy to forget now, but Dibaba started 2015 as a 5,000 runner. She began the year by setting the world indoor record over the distance in Stockholm. And given her ridiculous 1500 speed (she broke the world record in that event too, running 3:50.07 in Monaco), she was the red-hot favorite for gold in Beijing. But Dibaba wasn’t even close to champ Almaz Ayana — in fact, she faded to third as Senbere Teferi nipped her at the line. Dibaba did reveal after the race that she was suffering from a heel spur in her left foot, but even at full strength she would have struggled to deal with Ayana on that night.
Still, Dibaba’s accomplishments in 2015 — even throwing out her races at 1500 — were ridiculous. Aside from Worlds, Dibaba ran five other 5,000-meter races this year. One came on the roads, where Dibaba missed the world record by two seconds, running 14:48 at the Carlsbad 5000. The other four all ranked among the top 10 fastest 5,000s ever run. Dibaba’s fourth-best 5,000 of the year was still the ninth-fastest in history.
All-time women’s list at 5,000 meters
1. Tirunesh Dibaba, 14:11.15 (2008)
2. Meseret Defar, 14:12.88 (2008)
3. Almaz Ayana, 14:14.32 (2015)
4. Genzebe Dibaba, 14:15.41 (2015)
5. Meseret Defar, 14:16.63 (2007)
6. Genzebe Dibaba, 14:18.86i (2015)
7. Genzebe Dibaba, 14:19.76 (2015)
8. Vivian Cheruiyot, 14:20.87 (2011)
9. Genzebe Dibaba, 14:21.29 (2015)
10. Almaz Ayana, 14:21.97 (2015)
Without a doubt, 2015 was the greatest year ever in the women’s 5,000. It saw a world indoor record, six of the 10 fastest times ever run, and a meet record at the World Championships. Dibaba was a major part of that, and certainly helped push Ayana to greatness. But Ayana smoked her in Beijing and that means that Dibaba’s crazy year is only good for #2 in our rankings.
3. Senbere Teferi • Ethiopia • 20 years old • 14:36.44 sb (#6) • World silver medalist
DL results: 3rd Shanghai, 2nd Oslo, 5th Paris, 3rd Zurich (3k, DL final)
Teferi, the bronze medalist in the 1500 at the 2012 World Junior Championships, broke out on the senior level in a big way this year. She began with a runner-up finish at World XC in March and proceeded to produce pbs in her first four outdoor race, opening up with a 4:01 1500 in Doha on May 15 before running 14:41, 14:38 and 14:36 in her next three races. At Worlds, she battled Kenya’s Viola Kibiwot for the bronze most of the way, but closed extremely well over the final 200, catching Dibaba by surprise to snag the silver medal. It will be tough for Teferi to even make the Ethiopian team next year, considering she might be going up against the four fastest women in history, but if she’s in Rio, she should be in contention for another medal.
4. Viola Kibiwot • Kenya • 32 years old • 14:34.22 sb (#5) • 4th at Worlds
DL results: 2nd Shanghai, 7th Pre Classic, 3rd Oslo, 4th Paris, 8th Zurich (3k, DL final)
Kibiwot battled it out with Teferi all year long, and though Kibiwot had the faster season best and the two were tied head-to-head (3-3), she’s relegated to the fourth spot based on the outcome at Worlds in Beijing. Just look how close the two women were this year:
May 17, Shanghai: 2. Kibiwot, 14:40.32; 3. Teferi, 14:41.98
June 11, Oslo: 2. Teferi, 14:38.57; 3. Kibiwott, 14:40.43
July 4, Paris: 4. Kibiwot, 14:34.22; 5. Teferi, 14:36.44
July 9, Lausanne (1500): 7. Kibiwot, 4:06.40; 8. Teferi, 4:06.81
August 30, Beijing (World Champs): 2. Teferi, 14:44.07; 4. Kibiwott, 14:46.16
They raced once more, in Zurich on September 3 (Teferi prevailed by a comfortable seven seconds) and overall it was a great rivalry. In most Diamond League races, Ayana and/or Dibaba was untouchable, splitting the race in two: one against the clock and one for second place. Teferi and Kibiwot made that battle more interesting as they were able to battle each other on several occasions, with the outcome often coming down to the final lap.
Everyone expected Beijing to play out the same way, but Teferi was able to catch Dibaba off-guard for a medal. But without Kibiwot there to push her for bronze (the two women were over 15 seconds ahead of 5th place), it’s unlikely Teferi would have ever had the chance for silver.
5. Mercy Cherono • Kenya • 24 years old • 14:34.10 sb (#4) • 5th at Worlds
DL results: 3rd Paris, 1st London, 5th Zurich (3k, DL final)
Cherono, the 2013 silver medalist, didn’t sniff a medal at Worlds this year, but that’s more due to the competition than any regression she suffered as an athlete. Cherono ran faster at both 1500 (pb of 4:01.26 compared to 4:05.82) and 5,000 (pb of 14:34.10 compared to 14:40.33) in 2015 than she did two years ago, but the introduction of superstars Ayana and Dibaba, plus the emergence of Teferi dropped her from 2nd to 5th. Additionally, the style of race did not suit Cherono. Though she is a fantastic 3,000 runner (and the Beijing final was essentially a 3k), her biggest strength as a 5k runner is her kick — that’s how she outkicked Ayana (who had a 14:25 pb at the time) for the silver in Moscow two years ago. Cherono would have been much better served in a race won closer to 15:00, as she simply could not hold on to the leaders once Ayana split open the pack.
It’s hard to be upset with a year in which you PR at the 1500 and 5,000, but we’re sure Cherono entered 2015 with dreams of upgrading her silver to a gold and instead came home from Beijing with no medal at all. That was the reality of the event in 2015: a terrific distance runner like Cherono wasn’t even close to medalling at Worlds. And with Defar and/or Tirunesh Dibaba set to return in 2016, it’s not getting any easier.
6. Faith Kipyegon • Kenya • 21 years old • 14:31.95 sb (#3) • Silver at Worlds (1500)
DL results: 2nd Pre Classic, 7th Paris
Kipyegon transitioned back to her primary distance of 1500 meters by the end of the season, but what she accomplished in her two 5,000s of 2015 (14:31.95 for 2nd in Eugene, 14:44.51 for 7th in Paris) was enough to place her on this list. If the 5,000 was deeper globally (Kenyan and Ethiopian-born athletes comprise 18 of the top 20 athletes on the ’15 world list) two 5,000s probably would not have been enough to get Kipyegon ranked in this event. But given that even the top 5,000 athletes don’t run many 5,000s anyway and the top-heavy nature of the event in 2015, #6 is a fair ranking for Kipyegon.
7. Gelete Burka • Ethiopia • 29 years old • 14:40.50 sb (#7) • Silver at Worlds (10k)
DL results: 9th Shanghai, 4th Oslo, 6th Paris
8. Alemitu Haroye • Ethiopia • 20 years old • 14:43.28 sb (#8) • 7th at Worlds (10k)
DL results: 4th Shanghai, 5th Pre Classic, 8th Paris
Burka ran the 10,000 at Worlds but given the drop-off in the 5k in Beijing after the top four places, we’re betting that either of them could have finished fifth or sixth had they run it. Both broke 14:45 twice on the DL circuit this year, putting them #7 and #8 on the 2015 performance list. Burka edges Haroye for the #7 spot in the LRC rankings as she ran faster on the year (they were 1-1 head-to-head over 5,000, with Burka beating Haroye in the 10k at Worlds).
9. Irine Cheptai • Kenya • 23 years old • 14:53.32 sb (#11) • 7th at Worlds
DL results: 6th Shanghai, 6th Pre Classic, 5th Oslo, 10th Zurich (3k, DL final)
Cheptai didn’t have any one performance that amazed in 2015, but she put together a solid season (three top-fives at DL events), capped off with a 7th-place showing at Worlds — matching her 7th at World XC in March. She was also just .40 of a second behind Kibiwot at the Kenyan World Championship Trials in August and actually beat Kibiwot at the Pre Classic, making her a good choice for the #2 Kenyan on the year (even though countrywoman Janet Kisa finished one spot ahead of her at Worlds).
10. Molly Huddle • USA • 31 years old • 14:57.23 sb (#14) • 14:50 road sb • 4th at Worlds (10k)
DL result: 2nd London
We were tempted to go with Sally Kipyego here (both she and Huddle ran just two 5ks on the track, and Kipyego’s SB of 14:47 was 10 seconds faster than Huddle’s) but once you factor in Huddle’s work on the roads, she is the pick. Huddle shined in her one DL 5,000, dominating the race for the first two miles before Mercy Cherono kicked by her on the last lap. In that race, Huddle beat Janet Kisa — the eventual 6th placer at Worlds — by over 13 seconds. So if you’re wondering why Huddle’s on our list and Kisa’s not, there’s your answer.
Huddle’s front-running style was also on display on the roads as she crushed a 14:50 5K in Boston on April 18 to set the American record. That was just two seconds slower than Genzebe Dibaba covered the same distance a few weeks earlier and just four seconds off the road world record. She also added a comfortable victory at the U.S. Road 5k Champs in September — her fifth in six years.
Had Huddle focused solely on the 5,000 this year, she would almost certainly have ranked higher on this list (we had her sixth last year) but she ran the 10,000 at Worlds, a decision which clearly proved to be the correct one for Huddle even though it ended in heartbreak.
Huddle’s days as a 5,000 runner may be numbered. After her near-miss in the 10,000 in Beijing — and the dominance of Ayana and Dibaba — it would take a miracle for Huddle to medal at 5,000 in Rio. Barring injury, she’s not beating the top two women on this list, and Teferi, Kibiwot and Cherono all have much better speed than Huddle plus significantly faster 5,000 pbs. And of course, Meseret Defar and Tirunesh Dibaba also could be in the mix in 2016.
Huddle seems destined to run the 10,000 in Rio and make her marathon debut next fall (likely in New York). From there, the question is whether she’ll follow the Shalane Flanagan gameplan (transition to the marathon as a primary event but still run a track season during championship years) or switch to the roads — where Huddle excels — full-time.
1. Molly Huddle (see above)
2. Nicole Tully • NJ*NY Track Club/Hoka One One • 29 years old • 15:05.58 sb (#2 in US) • U.S. Outdoor Champion • 13th at Worlds • 4th at USA Indoors (2-mile)
Tully was undoubtedly the most unlikely U.S. champion in any distance event this year. At the start of 2015, Tully (formerly Nicole Schappert) was a little-known 1500-meter runner. A Villanova grad, she qualified for NCAAs on the track once (2010 indoors, though she did qualify in two events) and hadn’t accomplished much since a strong 2012 season saw her make the final of the Olympic Trials (she was 10th) and run her pb of 4:06.87. She ran the 1500 at USAs in 2013 and 2014, but went out in the first round each time.
The first inkling that Tully — who works balances a full-time job in marketing for Canon Solutions with her running career — might be capable of something special this year came in Boston on February 7, when she gave Brenda Martinez all she could handle on the anchor leg of the distance medley relay. Tully’s New York All Star team ultimately came up .22 of a second short of the win and the world record, but her gutsy run made track fans take notice. A month later, she was 4th at USA Indoors in the 2-mile, another strong performance.
Tully’s indoor season proved to be a mere appetizer for what was to come. At the Payton Jordan Invitational on May 2, she ran a U.S.-leading 15:05.58 in her debut track 5k. It was only after that race, less than two months before USAs, that Tully began 5k-specific training; before then, she had been focusing more on the 1500/3k. She entered USAs as the top seed and won the darn thing, beating out Marielle Hall and Abbey D’Agostino in an intense three-way kick, and after running a 1500 pb in Heusden on July 18, became the sole American to make the 5,000 final at Worlds, placing 13th. An astounding season for someone running the event for the first time.
Tully sees three main reasons for her late-bloomer status. First and foremost, Tully was fully healthy this year for the first time as a professional. In years past, she had been bothered by injuries and had to have neuromas removed from her feet in January 2013 and July 2014. This year, Tully cross-trained the equivalent of 20 miles per week in the pool to lessen the impact on her feet and prevent injury. Her mileage on land remained similar to years past — topping out at around 55 miles per week — with the only difference a longer long run (13 miles, up from 10 or 11). Second, Tully realized that she was more suited for the 5,000 than the 1500. She may not have the top-end speed to hack it with the Jenny Simpsons or Shannon Rowburys of the world in the 1500, but in the 5,000 her wheels are her biggest asset. “For me, the 5k is about making it to the last 1k,” Tully told LetsRun.com earlier this month. “I’ve always had good closing speed.” Third, Tully timed her peak perfectly in 2015. “I think Gags (coach Frank Gagliano) did a really good job with our training so that when I lined up at USAs, I was perfectly peaked for that to be the best race of the season.”
Tully was helped at USAs by the fact that neither Huddle nor Rowbury — the top two finishers in 2014 — chose to run the 5,000 this year, but it’s never easy to win a U.S. title. Of the 10 mid-d/distance champions at USA outdoors, Tully was one of two to have never won an outdoor title before. The only other first-time champ was Ryan Hill, but he was the indoor 2-mile champ in February and was 10th at Worlds in the 5k two years ago.
Men’s champs (U.S. outdoor titles in parentheses)
800: Nick Symmonds (6)
1500: Matthew Centrowitz (3)
3,000 steeple: Evan Jager (4)
5,000: Ryan Hill (1)
10,000: Galen Rupp (8 — 7 in 10k, 1 in 5k)
800: Alysia Montaño (6)
1500: Jenny Simpson (5 — 3 in steeple, 2 in 1500)
3,000 steeple: Emma Coburn (4)
5,000: Nicole Tully (1)
10,000: Molly Huddle (3 — 2 in 5k, 1 in 10k)
3. Marielle Hall • Nike • 23 years old • 15:06.45 sb (#4 in US) • 2nd at USA Outdoors • Semifinals at Worlds • 14th at USA Indoors (2-mile)
DL results: 9th Pre Classic, 4th London, 9th Stockholm (3k)
Hall built on her breakout 2014, moving up one spot at USAs to second and lowering her pb from 15:12 to 15:06. Hall also gained some Diamond League experience, running in the Pre Classic (9th in 5k in 15:23), London (4th in 5k 15:19) and Stockholm (9th in 3k in 9:07). Unfortunately, Hall was dropped in each DL race (understandable against Dibaba/Huddle in Eugene/London) and the same thing happened at Worlds, as she was just 10th in her heat. Obviously, the next step is to make a World Championship/Olympic final, and Hall is on the right path. As she gets stronger and more experienced, it will be easier for her to stay in the mix in international races. She’ll never be good enough to challenge the Ayanas or Dibabas of the world — few women in history have been — but Hall definitely has a shot to make it to the Olympic final in 2016 with a little improvement.
It also helps that Hall has a rival pushing her. Abbey D’Agostino, like Hall a 2014 college graduate, is in a near-identical situation and has a very similar skill set. Hall got the better of D’Agostino in all three of their matchups this season (Payton Jordan, USAs and the semifinals at Worlds), but D’Agostino ran a faster SB (15:03) and had the more decorated collegiate career (7 NCAA titles to Hall’s one). Both women are just 23 years old and figure to be near the top of the 5,000 ranks for some time, especially if Huddle is moving up in distance. Watching them chase sub-15:00 next season on the road to Rio — only 14 Americans have ever done it — will be exciting.
4. Abbey D’Agostino • New Balance • 23 years old • 15:03.85 sb (#2 in US) • 3rd at USA Outdoors • Semifinals at Worlds
D’Agostino’s 2015 season did not always go according to plan, but overall it was a year of growth for the Dartmouth grad. She lowered her 5,000 pb by eight seconds, lowered her 1500 pb by almost four seconds and qualified for her first U.S. team by taking third at USAs. We’re sure D’Agostino and coach Mark Coogan would have taken that if we offered it to them at the start of the year.
It was especially impressive given that there were significant doubts surrounding D’Agostino’s health as late as mid-May. A sacroiliac joint injury prevented her from running USA XC in February and she ultimately missed eight weeks of training, keeping her from running again until late-March. That meant D’Agostino had a month to prepare for Payton Jordan, and when she ran 15:42 there — the 9th American in the race — it was fair to wonder if she would be able to put it together in time for USAs. But the talent that carried her to seven NCAA titles quickly emerged, and a month later D’Agostino looked like her old self in running 15:23 from the front at the Adrian Martinez Classic on June 4. A string of pbs followed (including her third place at USAs), though the heat and a nagging injury contributed to a disappointing last-place finish in her heat at Worlds.
If D’Agostino can put together a full year of healthy training in 2016, she should challenge the 15:00 barrier and will have a great shot at her first Olympic team after missing out in devastating fashion in 2012. Even if her training is limited, however, D’Agostino showed this year that she can get into shape fast and still be in contention to make a team.
5. Emily Infeld • Bowerman Track Club/Nike • 25 years old • 15:07.18 sb (#5 in US) • 4th at USA Outdoors • Bronze at Worlds (10k)
DL result: 11th Zurich (3k, DL final)
Infeld’s 2015 season will be remembered for her accomplishments at 10,000 meters but she wasn’t too shabby in the 5,000, either. Infeld ranked #5 on the U.S. list with her 15:07.18 at USAs, a time that was just .01 off what she ran two weeks earlier to win the Portland Track Festival. She was close to making Worlds in 5,000 in addition to the 10,000, as she was just .59 of a second back of D’Agostino at USAs. With eight days between the 10,000 and 5,000 finals at next year’s Olympic Trials (compared to three at USAs this year), Infeld certainly has a shot to make both teams should she attempt the double in 2016.
Honorable mention: Shalane Flanagan (Bowerman Track Club/Nike), Katie Mackey (Brooks Beasts)
Before we end this article, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention Katie Mackey‘s Diamond League 3,000 victory in Stockholm. It wasn’t a 5,000 (though the 3k/5k count as the same discipline in the Diamond League standings) and the field was weak by DL standards (the Kenyan Trials were that weekend) but it counted as an official Diamond League race and Mackey deserves recognition for not just showing up, but winning. She joined Lauren Fleshman (2011 London 5k), Shannon Rowbury (2013 London 3k) and Ben True (2015 New York 5k) as the only Americans to win a Diamond League 3k/5k race.
However, she missed out on our top 5 due to the fact she was 6th at USAs and only 15:16 on the year.
LRC 2014 women’s 5,000 rankings * LRC All 2014 Year-End Rankings * LRC 2015 WC 5,000 Recap Almaz Ayana Does the Unthinkable and Runs Away From Genzebe Dibaba With an 8:19 Final 3k