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.
2015 appeared to be another year where Kenya’s Eunice Sum would dominate from start to finish. In 2013, Sum lost just one 800 en route to her first world title, won 11 of her 14 800s in 2014 (including Commonwealth and African titles) and was undefeated heading into the 2015 World Championships, with a world-leading time of 1:56.99.
Then she arrived in Beijing and the whole world went crazy.
Despite the absence of 2012 Olympic medalists Mariya Savinova and Yekaterina Poistogova (perhaps a precautionary measure by a rapidly unraveling Russian athletics federation), the rest of the globe came to play at the World Champs. Ten (!) women ran pbs in the semifinals, led by a 1:57.52 national record by Canada’s Melissa Bishop, as the final time qualifier was Poland’s Joanna Jozwik at 1:58.35 — a time that would have been the sixth-best in the world that year heading into the competition.
Sum, who was only third in her semi, was third once again in the final as she finished behind the same two runners — Marina Arzamasova of Belarus and Bishop. It was a championship that showed 800-meter running at its finest — fast, unpredictable, and most of all, exciting. We can only hope for more of the same in Rio.
1. Eunice Sum • Kenya • 27 years old • 1:56.99 sb (#1 in World) • Bronze at Worlds • Diamond League Champion
DL results: 1st Shanghai, 1st Pre Classic, 1st Birmingham, 1st Paris, 1st London, 1st Zurich (DL final)
Sum lost precisely one race in 2015 (not counting prelims), and unfortunately for her, it came in the World Championship final in Beijing as her 1:58.18 was only good for third behind Arzamasova and Bishop. Aside from that, Sum rolled through the competition in much the same way she did in 2013 and 2014. Her 1:56.99 in Paris was the world’s first sub-1:57 clocking since June 2013 and her six Diamond League victories powered Sum to her third straight DL title.
2. Marina Arzamasova • Belarus • 28 years old (on 12/17) • 1:57.54 sb (#3) • World Champion
DL results: 7th Shanghai, 8th Pre Classic, 9th Paris, 5th Zurich (DL final)
Arzamasova’s Diamond League season was mediocre, to put it kindly. But the fact is that only two women ran faster on the year than Arzamasova, and she beat both of them in the final in Beijing to earn her first world title. The women directly behind her on the descending order list — Francine Niyonsaba, Rose Mary Almanza, Lynsey Sharp — were equally inconsistent, and none made it to the World Championship final.
3. Melissa Bishop • Canada • 27 years old • 1:57.52 sb (#2) • Silver at Worlds • Pan Am Games Champion
Bishop’s breakout performance at Worlds may have come as a surprise to most of the world, but the 27-year-old Canadian knew that she was much better than her 1:59.52 pb. In July, Bishop defeated U.S. champ Alysia Montaño at the Pan American Games, and though she lost her final pre-Worlds tuneup to Maggie Vessey (running 2:00.43 to Vessey’s 2:00.30), Bishop remained confident that she was in terrific shape.
She was proven correct in Beijing, as she smashed her personal best by two whole seconds in the prelims to set the Canadian record and two days later earned Canada’s first-ever World/Olympic medal in the women’s 800.
4. Lynsey Sharp • Great Britain • 25 years old • 1:57.71 sb (#6) • Semifinals at Worlds
DL results: 7th Pre Classic, 6th New York, 3rd London, 2nd Stockholm, 2nd Zurich (DL final)
Sharp built on her strong 2014 (which saw her lower her pb from 2:00.52 to 1:58.80 and earn silvers at Commonwealths and Europeans) by knocking another second off her personal best and winning her second straight UK title. She saved her best for last, taking second behind Sum at the Diamond League final in Zurich on September 3 and running her personal best in Berlin in her final race of the season on September 6.
Unfortunately for Sharp, she could not capitalize on her fitness in Beijing. Though she ran 1:59.33 in the semis — which would have nabbed a time qualifier two yeas ago — she finished last in her heat and went home devastated. Overall, Sharp had a good season, but she will desperately want to take the next step in 2016 and qualify for her first global final.
5. Selina Büchel • Switzerland • 24 years old • 1:57.95 sb (#8) • Semifinals at Worlds • European Indoor Champion
DL results: 3rd Paris, 1st Lausanne, 8th London, 10th Zurich (DL final)
Here’s where things start getting hairy. None of the women who finished fourth through eighth at Worlds ranked in the top 10 in 2015 by season’s best. So how to balance championship performance with the clock? We’re putting Büchel fifth even though she didn’t make the final at Worlds based on her strong DL runs in Paris and Lausanne, her 1:57.95 sb and her European indoor gold. Büchel didn’t run poorly at Worlds (she was third in her semi in 1:58.63, missing the final by a mere .06); it was just an ultra-competitive year and she ended up as one of the odd women out. Run Worlds 100 times and Büchel probably winds up in the final 40-50% of the time.
6. Nataliya Lupu • Ukraine • 28 years old • 1:58.57 sb (#14) • 6th at Worlds • Bronze at European Indoors
DL results: 8th Paris
Lupu, who was banned for nine months after testing positive for the stimulant methylhexaneamine at World Indoors last year, ran just one Diamond League race and it wasn’t all that impressive (she was 8th in Paris on July 4, running 2:00.54 in a race that was won in 1:56) but she ran the second- and third-best times of her career in Beijing to finish sixth in the final there. She also earned a bronze at European indoors and picked up wins at the DecaNations and the Military World Games (the latter over world champ Arzamasova).
7. Joanna Jozwik • Poland • 24 years old • 1:58.35 sb (#11) • 7th at Worlds • 4th at European Indoors
DL results: 3rd Birmingham, 7th Zurich (DL final)
Jozwik made a big jump in 2014, going from 2:02.39 to 1:59.63, and she chopped another 1.38 seconds off this year, snagging the final time qualifier in the World Champs semifinals and placing 7th in the final. The rest of Jozwik’s season was unremarkable, but she was consistent, which is more than can be said for most female 800 runners this year. She ran between 2:00.09 and 2:00.74 five times in the span of a month early in the summer and beat several quality runners in the DL final (Brenda Martinez, Chanelle Price, Büchel). That, and her 7th at Worlds, is enough for the #6 spot on our list.
8. Renelle Lamote • France • 22 years old (on 12/26) • 1:58.86 sb (T-#18) • 8th at Worlds • Semifinals at Euro Indoors • Euro U-23 Champion
DL results: 1st Stockholm, 6th Zurich (DL final)
Lamote entered 2015 never having run under 2:00, but she broke that barrier five times on the year, with her best race coming at the right time: a 1:58.86 pb to earn a spot in the World Championship final. Lamote was last in the final two days later (still running 1:59.70) but she should be proud of her performance in Beijing since it was incredibly difficult to even make the final this year.
Lamote earns bonus points for winning a Diamond League race (in Stockholm on July 30, taking down Sharp, Brenda Martinez and Worlds 4th placer Rababe Arafi, among others) and a decent performance in the DL final in Zurich.
9. Fabienne Kohlmann • Germany • 26 years old • 1:58.34 sb (#10) • Semifinals at Worlds • Bronze at World University Games
DL results: 3rd Zurich (DL final)
Kohlmann took a little while to get going in 2015, but her season took off with a big pb (1:59.54) to take bronze at the World University Games in July. She lowered that pb further in her next race (1:58.37 in Bellinzona on July 21) before earning her second German title five days later. Her 1:59.42 in the semis at Worlds was not enough to advance, but she finished an impressive third at the Diamond League final in Zurich and finished the year with another pb in Berlin, defeating world champ Marina Arzamasova in the process.
10. Alysia Montaño • USA • 29 years old • 1:59.15 sb (#25) • U.S. Outdoor Champion • U.S. Indoor Champion (600) • Silver at Pan Am Games
DL results: 10th Pre Classic
If everything worked out smoothly, Montaño would have been higher on this list, and she would not be the only American in the world’s top 10. Alas, Ajee Wilson, our world #2 last year, was hobbled heading into USAs and didn’t race past June; Montaño, whose track record at major championships would be nearly impeccable if one could simply remove all of the drug cheat/intersex athletes she’s lost to over the years, looked to be in a good spot heading into Beijing, but a fall in her prelim meant that she didn’t even make it out of the heats.
Still, Montaño’s heroics at the World Relays (1:58.9 solo anchor split to deliver gold to the U.S.) and win at the U.S. trials (the most competitive national championship in the world in the women’s 800) count for something, which means we can’t leave her out of our top 10. She also beat 1:57 Cuban Rose Mary Almanza to take Pan Am silver (behind Worlds silver medalist Melissa Bishop), another feather in her cap.
Had Montaño stayed on her feet in Beijing, she may have been able to climb into our top five, but given that she never broke 1:59 (her sb was just 25th on the world list) and ran poorly in her only Diamond League race (10th at Pre), it’s hard to make the case for her to be better than 10th. We can only judge her based on what she accomplished on the track this year, not what might have been.
Despite dominating the 4×800 at the World Relays in each of the past two years, the U.S. failed to send a single woman to the World Championship final. That’s not due to a dearth of quality 800 runners. Five women ran 1:59.15 or faster, with two women (Ajee Wilson and Molly Ludlow) dipping under 1:59. If Wilson stayed healthy and Montaño stayed on her feet, it’s not hard to envision a scenario in which both of them make the final in Beijing.
Ludlow also raised a valid point after going out in the semis at Worlds when she noted that it’s so difficult to make the U.S. team at 800 that they have to be near peak fitness simply to qualify for Worlds. Unlike top athletes from most other nations, who can focus solely on peaking for Worlds, Americans have to come ready to race hard at USAs. That wouldn’t be as big a deal if USAs was close to Worlds, but there was a gap of over eight weeks between the two events this year (a dumb, dumb decision by USATF). It’s very hard to hold your top level fitness for that long.
The competition in Beijing showed that there’s plenty of talent in the 800 outside the U.S. right now. But with the ascending Wilson (hopefully healthy in 2016), championship veterans in Montaño and Martinez and new talents such as Raevyn Rogers (who won NCAAs as a freshman, running 1:59.71 at age 18), the United States is still in a very good place in this event.
1. Alysia Montaño (see above)
2. Ajee Wilson • adidas • 21 years old • 1:57.87 sb (#1 in US) • 3rd at USA Outdoors • 6th at USA Indoors in 600 (fell during race)
DL results: 2nd Pre Classic, 1st New York
Wilson, the 2014 U.S. champion, looked set for a monster year in mid-June. By that point, she had already helped the U.S. set a world record in the DMR at the World Relays and had run 1:57.87 (to take 2nd to Sum at the Pre Classic) and 1:58.83 (to win the NY DL meet). But by USAs, Wilson had developed a stress reaction in her left tibia, and after losing her shoe in the 800 final, she almost missed out on making the World Championship squad, holding off Ludlow by just .04.
Unfortunately for Wilson, that was it. Her stress reaction did not improve and after not racing at all in July, she announced in August that she was done for the year.
Wilson’s DL runs in Eugene and New York — and the dazzling times that accompanied them — are enough to put her in the #2 spot, but we can’t promote her over Montaño, who won both USA indoors (at 600) and outdoors, even though tragedy befell Wilson in both races (Wilson faceplanted in the 600 final in March).
The good news: Wilson is still only 21 years old but is battle-tested (World Junior gold in 2012, World Championship finalist in 2013, #2 time in the world in 2014). A medal in Rio should be the goal in 2016.
3. Brenda Martinez • New Balance • 28 years old • 1:59.06 sb (#3 in US) • 2nd at USA Outdoors • Semifinals at Worlds
DL results: 3rd Pre Classic, 5th New York, 9th London, 3rd Stockholm, 8th Zurich (DL final)
Martinez wasn’t bad in 2015, but by her lofty standards, she wasn’t real good either. After a promising start to the season, she ran out of gas by Worlds. That may be due in part to the gap between USAs and Worlds as well as nagging peroneal hip issues that bothered Martinez during the season. Her 1:59.06 at Pre was an impressive race (losing only to Sum and Wilson), as was her 2nd at USAs and 3rd in Stockholm. But going home early in Beijing was never part of the plan, and she was only eighth at the DL final in 2:02.00. She gets the nod over Ludlow for this spot based on her head-to-head record (3-2), which included a victory over Ludlow at USAs.
4. Molly Ludlow • Saucony • 28 years old • 1:58.68 sb (#2 in US) • 4th at USA Outdoors
DL results: 4th Shanghai, 4th New York, 4th Paris, 2nd Lausanne, 4th London, 8th Stockholm
2015 was an unqualified success for Ludlow. After barely missing out on the Olympics in 2012 (she was 4th at the Trials), it looked like Ludlow would be the hard-luck loser again in 2015, but after Wilson’s injury, Ludlow got to go to Worlds after all. Not the way Ludlow wanted to make the team, we’re sure, but considering she’d make every other country’s team in the 800, you can’t say she didn’t deserve it.
In addition to making her first Worlds appearance, Ludlow helped the U.S. women claim gold in the 4×800 at the World Relays, ran the second- and fourth-fastest times by an American this year (the former a 1:58.68 in Paris which eased the sting of her 4th at USAs) and broke 2:00 six times, confirming her status as a top-level international 800 runner.
Should Ludlow make it to Rio in 2016, she’s certainly a threat to make the final. But she also completed the best year of her career in 2015 and still only ranked fourth in the U.S. It’s going to be incredibly tough to make the U.S. team in 2016, so Ludlow, like everyone else, will have to be in great form at the Olympic Trials next July.
5. Chanelle Price • Nike • 25 years old • 1:59.10 sb (#4 in US) • 5th at USA Outdoors • 3rd at USA Indoors
DL results: 6th Pre Classic, 3rd New York, 5th Paris, 5th London, 5th Stockholm, 9th Zurich (DL final)
Continuing the theme we established in Ludlow’s section: the U.S. is really deep in the women’s 800 right now. Price, who in case you forgot, is the reigning World Indoor champion, was only 5th at USAs, despite being in the shape of her life (she PR’d in the races both immediately before and after USAs). Unlike 2014, when she had to shut down her season after the first round of USAs, Price was healthy this year and the result was by far the best and most consistent outdoor season of her career. Here’s to more of the same in 2016.