2016 LRC Year-End Rankings, Men’s 1500/Mile: Olympic Champion Matthew Centrowitz Is Our World #1

By LetsRun.com
December 28, 2016

With few professional events on the running calendar until 2017, LetsRun.com is once again rolling out its year-end rankings of the mid-d and distance events (2014 rankings here; 2015 rankings here). From now until the end of the year, we’ll be ranking the top 10 men and women in the world (plus the top five Americans) in the 800, 1500/mile, 3000 steeplechase, 3,000/5,000 and marathon. We hope you enjoy reading these rankings as much as we enjoyed putting them together.

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 Olympics is obviously a major consideration but winning Olympic gold doesn’t guarantee that an athlete will earn a #1 ranking. For U.S. athletes, their performance at the U.S. Olympic Trials 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, with an emphasis on World Indoors.

LRC 2015 men’s 1500/mile rankings * LRC All 2015 Year-End Rankings * LRC 2016 Olympic 1500 Recap Matthew Centrowitz Goes Wire-To-Wire To Win USA’s First Men’s 1500m Gold In 108 Years

LRC All 2016 Year-End Rankings

World Rankings

2016 was a year fans of American distance running will never forget, and the enduring image of the United States’ Olympic success came on the final night of competition in Rio when Matthew Centrowitz went wire-to-wire to win America’s first 1500-meter gold in 108 years. It was Centrowitz at his brilliant best as the skinny Maryland native displayed his tactical nous and tremendous closing speed to earn a historic victory.

Asbel Kiprop remains the world’s most intimidating miler, but he’s shown himself to be beatable if he gets his tactics wrong, as he did in Rio. Still, he enters 2017 as the three-time defending world champion and will be eager to make it four in London in August.

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1. Matthew Centrowitz • USA • 27 years old • 3:34.09 1500 sb (#21) • 3:50.63 mile sb (#1) • Olympic champion • World Indoor champion • U.S. Olympic Trials champion • U.S. Indoor champion

DL results: None

2. Asbel Kiprop • Kenya • 27 years old • 3:29.33 1500 sb (#1) • 3:51.48 mile sb (#3) • 6th at Olympics • Diamond League champion

DL results: 1st Doha, 1st Pre Classic, 1st Birmingham, 1st Oslo, 6th Monaco, 3rd Brussels (DL final)

Normally we wouldn’t give our #1 ranking to someone who didn’t run a single Diamond League race and whose season best of 3:34.09 ranked just 21st in the world. The LRC braintrust thought long and hard about whether to choose Centrowitz or Kiprop as our #1; eventually, we picked Centrowitz, for reasons we’ll get to in a minute. But first, let’s take a look at their 2016 resumes:

Matthew Centrowitz

  • Olympic champion
  • World Indoor champion
  • Only loss all year at 1500/mile on the track was at Portland Track Festival on June 12 when he was doubling back from the 800
  • Ran the fastest mile in the world, indoors or out (3:50.63, #4 all-time indoors)
  • Set USATF meet record (3:34.09) to win Olympic Trials
  • Wanamaker Mile champion, setting a Millrose Games record (3:50.63)
  • 1-0 against Kiprop on the year (Olympics)

Asbel Kiprop

  • Diamond League champion
  • Four Diamond League victories (Doha, Pre, Birmingham, Oslo)
  • World leader at 1500 (3:29.33, only man under 3:30) and had world’s two fastest times in mile (3:51.48 and 3:51.54)
  • Ran faster than Centrowitz’s 1500 sb (3:34.09) on four occasions
  • Won Kenyan Olympic Trials

Kiprop was dominant on the Diamond League circuit, and normally four DL wins and a world leader would be enough to offset a sixth-place showing at the Olympics. But Centrowitz didn’t just win the Olympics; he won World Indoors too, and though Kiprop was absent, we treat that as a serious victory — both Nick Willis (3rd in Rio) and Ayanleh Souleiman (4th in Rio) were in the field. Ideally, Centrowitz would have run a few Diamond League races (he was entered at Pre but scratched with an injury), but he won the two biggest races of the year and his only loss at the 1500/mile on the track came on a glorified workout day when he was doubling back from the 800. We could easily have ranked Kiprop #1, but at its highest level, the 1500 is about excelling in championship finals, and no one did that better than Centrowitz in 2016. Call us biased Americans, but he’s our #1.

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American fans, we hope you are enjoying Centrowitz’s ranking as an American isn’t often ranked #1 in the world in this event. A Kenyan man has been ranked #1 in the 1500 by Track and Field News every year since 2004 (Bernard Lagat for Kenya was #1 in 2004) and African runners have dominated long before that as the last non-African to be ranked #1 was Steve Cram in 1988. The last American to earn a #1 ranking by TFN? Marty Liquori in 1971.

Update: Some on the messageboard aren’t happy Kiprop isn’t #1. Tell us what you think: MB: ‘Year-End Rankings’ Correction – Kiprop #1, Centro #2**

LRC 2016 Olympic 1500 Recap Matthew Centrowitz Goes Wire-To-Wire To Win USA’s First Men’s 1500m Gold In 108 Years
LRC 2016 World Indoors Matthew Centrowitz Caps Perfect Season with First World Title in Men’s 1500
LRC 2016 Olympic Trials Matthew Centrowitz Delivers Again As Ben Blankenship Gets Revenge By Edging Leo Manzano For Final Olympic Spot
LRC 2016 USA Indoors Robby Andrews Gives Him a Run for His Money, But Matthew Centrowitz Remains King of the 1500
LRC 2016 Millrose Matthew Centrowitz Becomes Fourth-Fastest Indoor Miler Ever (3:50.63), Repeats As Wanamaker Mile Champion
LRC Matthew Centrowitz archives
LRC Asbel Kiprop archives

3. Taoufik Makhloufi • Algeria • 28 years old • 3:31.35 1500 sb (#5) • 3:52.24 mile sb (#7) • Olympic silver medallist

DL results: 5th Pre Classic, 3rd Oslo, 3rd Monaco, 4th Brussels (DL final)

Makhloufi has shown over the course of his career that he does his best work when the lights are brightest. In 2012, he entered the Olympic Games as a relative unknown and emerged as a gold medallist. Four years later in Rio, he pulled off a feat that was perhaps even more impressive, becoming the first man since Seb Coe in 1984 to medal in both the 800 and 1500 at the same Olympics. There’s a case to be made that Makhloufi should be #4 on this list (we actually had him there initially before reconsidering), given Manangoi’s 3-1 head-to-head record against Makhloufi and Manangoi’s superior season’s bests, but an Olympic silver medal is a hell of a lot more impressive than an Olympic semifinal spot.

4. Elijah Manangoi • Kenya • 23 years old • 3:31.19 1500 sb (#3) • 3:52.04 mile sb (#5) • Olympic semifinalist

DL results: 2nd Doha, 3rd Pre Classic, 1st Rome, 2nd Oslo, 2nd Monaco, 10th Brussels (DL final)

It should not be forgotten that Manangoi was a medal favorite in Rio before withdrawing prior to the semis with what Kenyan media reported as a hamstring injury. What Manangoi had accomplished up until that point was impressive: he finished in the top three in all five of his Diamond League races, including a win in Rome. Manangoi, the 2015 Worlds silver medallist, has one of the best final 100 meters on Earth and at 23 should be dangerous for years to come.

LRC Rome DL Recap: Almaz Ayana Just Misses the World Record, Caster Semenya and Conseslus Kipruto Continue To Dominate and Elijah Manangoi Breaks His Maiden

5. Nick Willis • New Zealand • 33 years old • 3:34.29 1500 sb (#24) • 3:51.06 mile sb (#2) • Olympic bronze medallist • World Indoor bronze medallist

DL results: 3rd Birmingham, 4th Oslo

Willis had a similar season to Centrowitz, running extremely fast indoors and medalling at both World Indoors and the Olympics, but because he had a few more losses than Centro (a result of running a pair of Diamond League races, plus the adidas Boost Boston Games on tired legs), we moved Manangoi and Makhloufi ahead of him in our rankings. Overall, however, this was a fine year from the Kiwi, who has shown that it’s possible to remain a world-class miler in your 30s. Willis didn’t break 3:30 in the 1500 until age 31 (he did it again last year at age 32) and this year, at 33, earned his second Olympic medal. He’s clearly found a good situation, splitting his time between Michigan and New Zealand under his longtime coach Ron Warhurst, and assuming he can stay healthy (a challenge as one ages, but something that has not been a problem for Willis in recent years), we see no reason why Willis should slow down in 2017.

LRC Nick Willis archives

6. Ronald Kwemoi • Kenya • 21 years old • 3:30.49 1500 sb (#2) • 13th at Olympics

DL results: 1st Monaco

Like his countryman Manangoi, we unfortunately did not get to see what Kwemoi was fully capable of in Rio as he fell in the Olympic final and wound up dead last. But he showed his vast potential by winning one of the fastest, most competitive races of the year in Monaco (and in convincing fashion). Remember, Kwemoi is the same guy who ran 3:28 two years ago (“officially” at age 18) and his coach Renato Canova believes he will be the World #1 in either the 1500 or 5,000 in 2017 depending on what event he focuses on. That’s big talk with Kiprop and Mo Farah still hanging around, but Kwemoi is a big talent. Canova is convinced he’s your 2020 Olympic 5000 champ.

LRC Ronald Kwemoi Upsets Asbel Kiprop In Monaco as History Will Have To Wait For The 100th Sub-3:30 Clocking

7. Abdelaati Iguider • Morocco • 29 years old • 3:31.40 1500 sb (#6) • 3:51.96 mile sb (#4) • 5th at Olympics

DL results: 2nd Pre Classic, 2nd Birmingham, 4th Monaco, 2nd Brussels (DL final)

Iguider has been one of the most consistent milers of the past decade. Check out his championship results at 1500 meters since 2008:

2008 Olympics: 5th
2009 Worlds: 11th
2010 World Indoors: 2nd
2011 Worlds: 5th
2012 World Indoors: 1st
2012 Olympics: 3rd
2013 Worlds: out in semis
2014 World Indoors: 3rd
2015 Worlds: 3rd
2016 Olympics: 5th

That kind of consistency in the 1500 is staggering, and Iguider posted another strong season in 2016, finishing in the top four in all four of his Diamond League appearances and taking fifth in Rio.

8. Timothy Cheruiyot • Kenya • 21 years old • 3:31.34 1500 sb (#4) • 3:53.17 mile sb (#13) • African Champs silver medallist

DL results: 1st Rabat, 2nd London, 1st Brussels (DL final)

If he was born anywhere other than Kenya, Cheruiyot would have been an Olympic finalist in 2016. But Cheruiyot is Kenyan, which meant that he had to watch the Olympics from home after finishing fourth behind three studs — Kiprop, Manangoi and Kwemoi — at the Kenyan Trials in July. Cheruiyot did make the most of his Diamond League appearances, however. He was first and second in Rabat and London (which weren’t official Diamond Race events for the 1500/mile) and, having been able to train through the Olympics, won the DL final in Brussels against a loaded field.

9. Ayanleh Souleiman • Djibouti • 24 years old • 3:31.68 1500 sb (#7) • 4th at Olympics • 9th at World Indoors

Souleiman was not as prolific as in recent years, perhaps a byproduct of the raid that saw his coach Jama Aden arrested after performance-enhancing drugs were found at his hotel in Spain. Souleiman didn’t race on the Diamond League circuit until after the Olympics, and didn’t run any DL 1500/miles at all. As a result, it’s hard to assign him a definitive ranking, but he did run 3:31 in Heusden and finished fourth at the Olympics, which means he belongs in our top 10.

Souleiman also appears to suffer from bad luck (or bad timing) at major championships. This year he led the World Indoor final during the early stages but got dropped badly late in the race and left the track in a wheelchair (his agent said he had been suffering from a cold). At Worlds last year in Beijing, he battled a strained calf and had to drop out in the first round, and he had to withdraw from the Olympics in 2012 after developing a stress fracture.

Big question moving forward: will Souleiman stay with Aden given the growing suspicion around his coach?

10. Ryan Gregson • Australia • 26 years old • 3:32.13 sb (#9) • 3:52.59 mile sb (#7) • 9th at Olympics

DL results: 12th Doha, 3rd Rabat, 3rd Rome, 6th Birmingham, 5th Oslo, 7th Monaco, 11th Brussels (DL final)

For Gregson, this was the year he’d hoped for after bursting onto the scene with a 3:31 1500 as a 20-year-old in 2010. Rio was his fifth trip to a global outdoor championship, but he’d never before made it out of the semifinals. He accomplished that goal this time around, taking ninth at the Olympics, and though he couldn’t better his 3:31 pb from 2010, he broke 3:35 for the first time since 2012, clocking four of his six fastest 1500s ever, led by a 3:32 in Monaco.

In the past, injuries had plagued Gregson and preventing him from reaching his full potential. In 2016, he showed what he was capable of, and if he can build on this and stay healthy in 2017, he could find himself in medal contention at Worlds.

Honorable mention: David Bustos, Spain (#52 in world with 3:36.14 sb; 7th at Olympics, European silver medallist)

U.S. Rankings

Centro wasn’t the only American to run well in 2016. Ben Blankenship capped his journey from excavation worker to Olympic finalist, while Robby Andrews came up just short of a medal at World Indoors and almost made it three Americans in the Olympic final. Kenya remains the unquestioned #1 when it comes to times (the four fastest men in 2016 were all Kenyan), but the U.S. has become a major force in championship 1500s. And with Centrowitz, Blankenship and Andrews all in their primes — and Clayton Murphy possibly moving up to the 1500 at some point — the U.S. should remain a factor at Worlds in 2017.

1. Matthew Centrowitz (see above)

2. Robby Andrews • adidas • 25 years old • 3:34.88 sb (#3 in US) • Olympic semifinalist • 4th at World Indoors • U.S. Olympic Trials runner-up • U.S. Indoor runner-up

DL results: 17th Brussels (DL final)

Nobody came close to beating Matthew Centrowitz in a 1500 in 2016 than Robby Andrews (we’re not counting that race at the Portland Track Festival where Centro was doubling back). At U.S. Indoors, Andrews actually passed Centro on the final lap before Centrowitz passed back in the final straight to secure the victory. Andrews followed that up a week later with a fourth-place showing at World Indoors, his highest finish in a global championship.

Andrews was undoubtedly a better runner in 2016 than 2015. His 3:34.88 sb was his best time in four years, only a hair off his personal best (3:34.78) set back in 2012. He made hist first Olympic team with ease, and looked strong when racing in Rio.

With that said, Andrews’ greatest weakness — his penchant for hanging in the back of the pack and waiting until the last minute to make his move — came back to bite him in his two biggest races. At World Indoors, Andrews was in ninth place with 300 to go, and though he had one of the best closes in the field, he narrowly missed out on a medal. Had he been just a little further up, he may have wound up with a medal — the Czech Republic’s Jakub Holuša came from way back to take silver in that race, but even he was a few strides ahead of Andrews at the bell. Then, in Rio, Andrews looked as if he had enough in the tank to make the Olympic final but he was poorly positioned in his semi, causing him to run on the inside of the track to make a pass, a maneuver for which he was later disqualified.

We’re not arguing that Andrews should completely overhaul his tactics. There’s value in being able to relax and watch the race unfold in front of you, and Andrews clearly feels most comfortable at the back. But if he is to make the next step in his career, from world-class runner to Olympic/World medallist, Andrews needs to do a better job of positioning himself late in races and, if he doesn’t do that, at least accepting the position he’s in and hoping things open up (instead of getting DQ’d).

LRC Robby Andrews archives

3. Ben Blankenship • Nike Oregon Track Club Elite • 28 years old • 3:34.26 sb (#2 in US) • 8th at Olympics • 3rd at U.S. Olympic Trials • 3rd at U.S. Indoors

DL results: 7th Pre Classic, 9th Brussels (DL final)

After coming agonizingly close to making his first U.S. team last year, Blankenship took a very businesslike approach to the 2016 season that culminated with an eighth-place finish at the Olympics. The Minnesota native never panicked on the biggest stages. At the Olympic Trials, Blankenship found himself in the same situation as a year ago, with veteran Leo Manzano pulling up on his shoulder and threatening to pass for the final spot on Team USA. But Blankenship held off the 2012 Olympic silver medallist to make the team, and did his country proud in Rio, running a smart race in his semifinal to advance to the final. Blankenship may not have the savage kick of Centrowitz or Manzano, but he’s strong and showed in 2016 that he can run with anyone in the world.

LRC Ben Blankenship archives

4. Colby Alexander • Hoka One One/NJ*NY Track Club • 25 years old • 3:34.88 sb (#3 in US) • 7th at U.S. Olympic Trials • 6th at U.S. Indoors

5. Johnny Gregorek • Asics/NJ*NY Track Club • 25 years old • 3:36.04 sb (#8 in US) • 6th at U.S. Olympic Trials • 5th at U.S. Indoors

Current NJ*NY TC (and former Oregon) teammates Gregorek and Alexander raced against each other a lot in 2016. Twelve times, to be precise. Their full head-to-head record:

Date Meet Distance Gregorek Alexander
March 12 USA Indoors 1500 5th, 3:47.28 6th, 3:47.81
May 20 Oxy 1500 5th, 3:38.81 2nd, 3:38.44
June 4 Furman Elite 1500 2nd, 3:37.36 1st, 3:37.32
June 18 Princeton Qualifier 1500 3rd, 3:37.46 1st, 3:36.26
July 10 U.S. Olympic Trials 1500 6th, 3:38.76 7th, 3:38.90
July 17 Padua 1500 3rd, 3:37.58 4th, 3:37.68
July 22 Morton Games mile 1st, 3:55.57 3rd, 3:55.93
July 29 TrackTown Summer Series 1500 6th, 3:36.04 1st, 3:34.88
August 4 Sir Walter Miler mile 3rd, 3:55.27 2nd, 3:54.94
August 20 Falmouth Mile mile 4th, 4:00.60 2nd, 3:58.15
August 31 Hoka One One LI Mile mile 13th, 4:09.25 4th, 3:56.11
September 3 5th Avenue Mile mile 18th, 4:01.4 3rd, 3:50.3

As you can see, Alexander collected eight wins to Gregorek’s four. That being said, we almost put Gregorek ahead of Alexander. Why? Well, the two men were even until August, when Gregorek started to slow down, but more importantly, Gregorek beat Alexander in the two races where it mattered most: the Olympic Trials and U.S. Indoors.

But in the end, we put Alexander #4 as he in addition to having the superior seasonal best time and head-to-head record, he also won three races on the year (compared to Gregorek’s 1). Alexander’s 3:34.88 victory in Eugene over a strong field at the TrackTown Summer Series on July 29 was one of the more impressive runs by an American in 2016. Both men are still developing, and with a deep stable of milers to push them under NJ*NY coach Frank Gagliano, they could be even better in 2017.

LRC Johnny Gregorek archives
LRC Colby Alexander archives

Honorable mention: Clayton Murphy (3:36.23 sb, #11 in U.S.; NCAA champion), Leo Manzano (3:36.62 sb, #13 in U.S.; 4th at U.S. Olympic Trials). If Murphy moves to the 1500, he instantly moves into our top 3.

What do you think of these rankings? One fan already disagrees. Talk about them on the messageboard: MB: ‘Year-End Rankings’ Correction – Kiprop #1, Centro #2**.

LRC 2015 men’s 1500/mile rankings * LRC All 2015 Year-End Rankings * LRC 2016 Olympic 1500 Recap Matthew Centrowitz Goes Wire-To-Wire To Win USA’s First Men’s 1500m Gold In 108 Years

LRC All 2016 Year-End Rankings

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