2016 LRC Year-End Rankings, Men’s 800: David Rudisha Is On Top For 2nd Year in a Row; Olympic Bronze Medallist Clayton Murphy Leads the Americans

By LetsRun.com
December 27, 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 800 rankings * LRC All 2015 Year-End Rankings * LRC 2016 Olympic 800 Recap King David’s Reign Continues: David Rudisha Becomes First Man in 52 Years To Repeat As Olympic 800m Champion, American Clayton Murphy Snags Bronze

LRC All 2016 Year-End Rankings

World Rankings

We should all count ourselves lucky to live during the time of David Rudisha. The lanky Kenyan is inarguably the greatest 800-meter runner of all time, and he showed why in Rio, cruising through the semifinals before producing a magnificent 1:42.15 in the final — the world’s fastest time since his epic Olympic run in London four years ago — to become the first man in 52 years to win consecutive Olympic 800 titles. This was also a banner year for Americans. 21-year-old Clayton Murphy earned the first U.S. Olympic medal since Johnny Gray in 1992, while Boris Berian became the first American to win World Indoor gold in 13 years. And then there was Donavan Brazier, the 19-year-old wunderkind who stunningly shattered Jim Ryun‘s NCAA and American junior record with his 1:43.55 NCAA victory as a freshman at Texas A&M, on the very day that Ryun’s mark celebrated its 50th anniversary. Murphy, Berian and Brazier, none of whom is older than 24, should make the U.S. an international power in this event for years to come.

1. David Rudisha • Kenya • 28 years old • 1:42.15 sb (#1) • Olympic champion 

DL results: 5th Shanghai, 4th Stockholm

Article continues below player.

Every year since returning from the knee injury that cost him the majority of the 2013 season, the question about Rudisha has been: can he return to his world record form? It is time to stop asking that question. The 1:40 Rudisha of 2012 was magnificent, and it could be some time before we see someone touch that time again. But every time someone makes reference to the “old Rudisha,” it cheapens the brilliance of the “new” one who, it should be pointed out, has won a world and Olympic title. Let us simply say that both versions are amazing, and it’s a credit to Rudisha’s brilliance that he’s been able to rework his tactics to remain on top of the world.

“Rework” may be putting it mildly. In the past, there wasn’t much to Rudisha’s strategy: go out hard and don’t let anyone pass you. But in Rio, countryman Alfred Kipketer, knowing Rudisha wanted to control the race from the front (he knew this because Rudisha told him beforehand), took off “like a bullet” (Rudisha’s words) and forced Rudisha to choose: go out even harder to keep the lead or sit back and hope Kipketer came back. Rudisha chose the latter and it proved the correct strategy, waiting until the backstretch of the bell lap before exploding to the front and streaking away to another global title.

Of course, one could argue that Rudisha was so much better than the field in that race that he could have used any strategy to win, but we don’t think that is correct. It needs to be remembered that Rudisha lost twice on the DL circuit before the Olympics and was only third at the Kenyan Olympic Trials. And the silver medal was won in 1:42.61 – a time that Rudisha hadn’t run since 2012 London. Rudisha got both his peak and tactics perfectly in Rio and, as a result, he’s now a double Olympic and double World champ.

LRC 2016 Olympic 800 Recap King David’s Reign Continues: David Rudisha Becomes First Man in 52 Years To Repeat As Olympic 800m Champion, American Clayton Murphy Snags Bronze
LRC David Rudisha archives

2. Taoufik Makhloufi • Algeria • 28 years old • 1:42.61 sb (#2) • Olympic silver medalist

DL results: 2nd Rabat, 2nd Paris

Behind Rudisha, it’s very tough sorting out the order of the world’s 800-meter runners this year. Makhloufi never finished lower than second in an 800 in 2016 and broke 1:45 in all five of his finals. But his two victories were relatively low-key races in June and July. Still, Makhloufi was the Olympic silver medallist, had the #2 time on the year and finished a respectable second in both of his Diamond League appearances (the latter in 1:42.98, making him the only man to break 1:43 twice this year). That’s enough to put him #2 on this list.

3. Ferguson Rotich • Kenya • 27 years old • 1:43.43 sb (#8) • 5th at Olympics • Diamond League champion

DL results: 1st Shanghai, 2nd Pre Classic, 1st Stockholm, 3rd London, 4th Paris, 4th Brussels (DL final)

#3 is the hardest spot we had to pick on this list. Rotich, Pierre-Ambroise Bosse and Alfred Kipketer all had two Diamond League victories and all three made the Olympic final. But none ran as fast as Olympic bronze medallist Clayton Murphy, who struggled in his only other international race (7th in the DL final in Brussels). Murphy had a tremendous season and may well have been the world’s third-best runner this year, but we can’t rank him #3 as he didn’t face enough world-class competition this season. Sorry, Clayton.

That leaves the other three, and though Rotich had the slowest SB, he was the Diamond League champion, had a winning record against Bosse (3-2) and was tied with Kipketer (3-3). We broke the tie based on Olympic finish, and since Rotich (5th) beat Kipketer (7th) in Rio, he narrowly earned our #3 spot. But the margin between third and sixth on our list is tiny.

LRC A Diamond League Debacle: David Rudisha Beaten By Four Men, Nick Symmonds Runs 1:48 In “A Farce” Of An 800 In Shanghai
LRC Full Stockholm DL Recap: Upsets Galore – David Rudisha And Many Favorites Get Beaten As Ibrahim Jeilan, Ferguson Rotich And Angelika Cichocka Pull Off Stunners

4. Alfred Kipketer • Kenya • 20 years old • 1:42.87 sb (#3) • 7th at Olympics

DL results: 3rd Shanghai, 1st Monaco, 1st Paris, 5th Brussels (DL final)

Kipketer has steadily climbed up the ranks of the sport, going from World Youth champ in 2013 to World Junior champ in 2014 to World Championship finalist last year to Olympic finalist this year. This year marked a particularly big breakthrough for the young Kenyan, and while he still has to work on his tactics (see the Olympic final), he has shown signs of progress in that area, particularly in his win in Monaco in July. Kipketer has gobs of talent (remember, he won the Kenyan Olympic Trials), and if he can learn to fully harness it, world and Olympic medals lie in his future.

He very well could have won a medal this year, but in Rio this year, he brashly ran for gold and it cost him a shot at a medal. Right after the Olympics, he showed he was in fantastic shape as he ran a near full-second pb of 1:42.87 to win the Paris DL meet.

5. Pierre-Ambroise Bosse • France • 24 years old • 1:43.41 sb (#7) • 4th at Olympics • 5th at Euro Champs

DL results: 1st Rabat, 2nd Stockholm, 1st London, 6th Paris, 6th Brussels (DL final)

Bosse finished in the top five at a global championship for the second year in a row and earned his first two career Diamond League victories, in Rabat and London. However, consistency remains a problem for the Frenchman as he was only sixth in the final two DL races of the year and bombed at the European Champs for the second time in a row, finishing just fifth after taking eighth two years ago in Zurich. That was enough to put him behind Rotich and Kipketer on this list.

LRC Rabat Recap: Almaz Ayana’s World Record Attempt Comes Up Just Short (14:16.31), Caster Semenya Wins Again (1:56.64), Another WL for Conseslus Kipruto (8:02.77), and Pierre-Ambroise Bosse (1:44.51) Gets His First Career DL Win

6. Clayton Murphy • USA • 21 years old • 1:42.93 sb (#4) • Olympic bronze medallist • U.S. champion • NCAA Indoor champion

DL results: 7th Brussels (DL final)

Murphy rose to the top of the American 800-meter ranks faster than anyone could have possibly imagined in 2016. Four years ago, Murphy had just finished his junior year in high school with a PR of 1:56. In 2014, he ran 1:50 at the University of Akron, a solid time for a freshman at a mid-major but nothing that suggested the two years to come. Last year, Murphy slashed more than four seconds off his personal best to place fourth at USAs and advance to the semifinals at Worlds after USATF left Nick Symmonds off the team. This year, as a 21-year-old, Murphy went even further, winning seven consecutive 800s (including an NCAA indoor and U.S. outdoor title) before taking a bronze medal in Rio with a time of 1:42.93, making him the third-fastest American ever.

There’s so much to like about Murphy. His strong, smooth form (thumbs always pointed up) is a joy to behold for viewers and makes him one of the world’s most dangerous men in the final 100 meters — just ask Boris Berian, whom Murphy ran down for the U.S. title, or Bosse, whom Murphy ran down for Olympic bronze. Murphy also possesses the confidence and poise of a veteran and, perhaps most impressively, is a fantastic tactical runner, rare for an athlete so young. Yes, he got bumped around in his prelim and almost went home in the first round of the Olympics, but his semifinal and final runs in Rio were tactical masterclasses, running the shortest distance possible in both races and only moving outside to pass when he absolutely had to.

The scariest thing is, Murphy may not be done improving. He’s only 21 years old and the Olympics was the only truly fast race he’s ever been in. Johnny Gray‘s 1:42.60 American record is in serious jeopardy if Murphy gets in the right race, and Murphy’s combination of talent and tactical prowess should make him a medal contender in global championships for years to come. We can’t wait to see what the Ohioan does for his next act.

One warning for American fans, however. Don’t assume that because Murphy won a medal in the 800 at age 21 that he’s bound to eventually win gold. If official birthdays are to believed (and they shouldn’t always be when it comes to many African-born runners), then it needs to be remembered that Kipketer just turned 20 yesterday and is 22 months younger than Murphy and Kipketer has a better PB.

LRC Unbelievable: Clayton Murphy Goes From 1:56 800m Runner to Olympic Bronze Medallist Talking World Record in Four Years
LRC King David’s Reign Continues: David Rudisha Becomes First Man in 52 Years To Repeat As Olympic 800m Champion, American Clayton Murphy Snags Bronze
LRC Clayton Murphy Wins Men’s 800 At 2016 US Olympic Trials as Boris Berian and Charles Jock Punch Their Tickets To Rio
LRC NCAA 800 Finals: Favorites Deliver As Clayton Murphy Has To Fight For It; Raevyn Rogers Was Utterly Dominant

Berian won World Indoors in a Nike singlet (but New Balance spikes) © Getty Images for IAAF Berian won World Indoors on home soil in March © Getty Images for IAAF

7. Boris Berian • USA • 24 years old • 1:44.20 sb (#17) • 8th at Olympics • World Indoor champion • U.S. Indoor champion • 2nd at U.S. Olympic Trials

DL results: 1st Pre Classic, DNF Paris

Berian flashed massive potential in 2015, running 1:43.34 to become the fifth-fastest American ever (Murphy has since bumped him down to #6), but he didn’t get the chance to make it onto the biggest stage as he flamed out in the semifinals of USAs. One year stronger, and with the experience of 2015 in his back pocket, Berian was spectacular in 2016, boldly front-running his way to a world title indoors, defeating a strong field at the Prefontaine Classic and making it all the way to the Olympic final in Rio. Though Murphy is the undisputed U.S. #1 (he beat Berian all three times they raced this year), Berian was a no-brainer choice for U.S. #2 as Murphy was the only American he lost to all year.

With the Nike lawsuit, Berian certainly had an interesting year, but with a World Indoor title and an Olympic berth as well, the good memories should outnumber the bad when he looks back on 2016.

LRC 2016 USA Indoors USA Distance Recap: Favorites Boris Berian, Ajee Wilson & Brenda Martinez Cruise to U.S. Titles
LRC Boris Berian’s Gutsy Run Gets 800m Gold At World Indoors 2016; Bronze for Erik Sowinski
LRC Nike v. Boris Berian – The Lawsuit

8. Adam Kszczot • Poland • 27 years old • 1:43.76 sb (#12) • Olympic semifinalist • European champion

DL results: 4th Pre Classic, 3rd Stockholm, 2nd Monaco, 8th Paris, 1st Brussels (DL final)

Kszczot had a pair of big wins at the European Championships and the Diamond League final in Brussels, but he failed to advance to the Olympic final in Rio. To be fair to Kszczot, he was in a tough spot: his semi included two of the three eventual medallists (Rudisha and Murphy) and Kszczot placed third after foolishly making a big move to the front with more than 200 meters remaining. But Kszczot’s Olympic disappointment will likely linger in his mind for some time; not only was it the second consecutive Olympics where he finished third in his heat, but he let up at the line and finished just .05 out of the final time qualifier; there’s no telling what would have happened had he run all the way through. A medal was a real possibility.

Kszczot’s indoor season was exceptional, as he was the world leader (1:45.63) and won all five of his races, with each time among the world’s top 12. He would have given Boris Berian a very strong run for his money in Portland had he elected to run World Indoors.

When he’s on, Kszczot’s last 200 is one of the best in the game (witness his romp at the European Champs here) but he can leave it too late on occasion. Still, he remains among the world’s very best and someone no one wants to see in their rearview mirror.

9. Marcin Lewandowski • Poland • 29 years old • 1:43.73 sb (#11) • 6th at Olympics • European silver medallist

DL results: 4th Rabat, 3rd Monaco, 7th Paris

Lewandowski must be wondering how many global finals he has to make before he earns a medal. He’s made three World Championship finals (’09, ’11, ’13) and finished eighth, fourth and fourth, and this year finished sixth in his first Olympic final. It’s very similar to Nick Symmonds a few years ago. Symmonds made two World Championship finals (’09,  ’11) and an Olympic final (’12) before finally earning World Championship silver in Moscow in ’13 at age 29. Lewandowski (who will be 30 by the time of 2017 Worlds) is at a similar point in his career. Unfortunately for him, the 800 is stacked with young talent, but if he catches a few breaks (for instance, Makhloufi running only the 1500 at Worlds and/or one of the studs suffers a key injury), 2017 could finally be his year.

10. Nicholas Kipkoech • Kenya • 24 years old • 1:43.37 sb (#6)

DL results: 2nd Doha, 8th Monaco, 10th Paris

This was a tough call between Kipkoech and countryman Jonathan Kitilit. Kitilit had a faster SB (1:43.05 to 1:43.37) but Kipkoech won more head to head (5-4) and beat Kitilit in their most important race (the Kenyan Olympic Trials where Kitilit was 4th, 1.05 ahead of Kitilit who was 6th).

Honorable mention: Jonathan Kitilit, Kenya (#5 in world with 1:43.05 sb)

U.S. Rankings

It’s a new era in the men’s 800 in America. The Olympic heroes of 2012, Nick Symmonds (33 on December 30) and Duane Solomon (32 on December 28) are getting old while a new crop of stars — Clayton Murphy, Boris Berian, Donavan Brazier and Craig Engels, none older than 24 — comes of age. In total, the U.S. took home three global medals this year (Murphy’s Olympic bronze, Berian’s World Indoor gold and Erik Sowinski‘s World Indoor bronze), a testament to not just the quality at the very top of the event but the depth behind it (Sowinski didn’t even make the Olympic team).

1. Clayton Murphy (see above)

2. Boris Berian (see above)

3. Erik Sowinski • Nike • 27 years old • 1:45.35 sb (#5 in US) • World Indoor bronze medallist • 5th at U.S. Olympic Trials • U.S. Indoor runner-up

DL results: 8th Shanghai, 7th London

Sowinski was super consistent all year long: aside from a 1:48.11 in his semi at World Indoors, his other 17 races (indoors + out) were all between 1:45.35 and 1:47.70. The bronze medal at World Indoors was terrific, especially considering he needed a wildcard from the IAAF to even get into the meet, and his outdoor season was very solid, capped by a win at the TrackTown Summer Series on July 29 over some good domestic competition.

We feel bad for Sowinski as he had a great shot to make the Olympic team but was hurt by USATF’s moronic decision to run a nine-person Olympic Trials final as a waterfall start. Of course, everyone had to deal with the waterfall start, but of the six men on the inside at the start, Sowinski was the furthest from the rail, starting in lane 5.

More: Erik Sowinski Archives – LetsRun.com

4. Donavan Brazier • Texas A&M/Nike • 19 years old • 1:43.55 sb (#3 in US) • NCAA champion 

Brazier on a better day at Hayward Brazier after his collegiate record at NCAAs

Yes, we know Brazier didn’t even make it to the semis at the Olympic Trials, but that doesn’t change the fact that he was one of only two Americans to break 1:44 this year and produced one of the most breathtaking performances of 2016: his 1:43.55 collegiate record at NCAAs in June. Brazier also ran 1:45.93 indoors (tied for third-fastest in the world this year) and 1:46.08 indoors (eighth-fastest in the world this year). Brazier took a little while to get going outdoors (he was only third at SECs, behind a Canadian and a Puerto Rican), but his NCAA run was so good that we had to fit him onto this list somewhere.

LRC Not a Misprint: True Freshman Donavan Brazier Runs 1:43.55 To Win NCAA 800m In One Of The Greatest American Junior Performances Ever
LRC His 1:45.93 Opener Is Just the Tip of the Iceberg for 800 Phenom Donavan Brazier
More: Donavan Brazier Archives – LetsRun.com

5. Shaquille Walker • BYU/Brooks Beasts • 23 years old • 1:44.99 sb (#4 in US) • 3rd at NCAA outdoors • 3rd at NCAA Indoors

There’s not an easy pick for fifth in the U.S. this year. Charles Jock, the third Olympian in Rio, had one great race all year and it happened to be in the Olympic Trials final. Craig Engels, fourth at the Trials, was a 1500 runner who barely ran the 800 this year outdoors and was only seventh at SECs indoors in the 800. None of the other U.S. finalists — Isaiah HarrisHarun AbdaBrandon JohnsonCas Loxsom — ran faster than 1:45.76 this year. So we’re going with Walker. Yes, Walker didn’t make the Olympic Trials final, but he was the second American at NCAA indoors (behind only Murphy) and NCAA outdoors (behind only Brazier) and his second-fastest time of the year (1:45.17) is faster than the best time of anyone not named Murphy, Brazier or Berian.

More: Shaquille Walker Archives – LetsRun.com

Talk about these rankings on our world famous fan forum / messageboard. MB: Clayton Murphy wins Olympic bronze, yet we rank him #6 in the World for 2016 – Find out why here

LRC 2015 men’s 800 rankings * LRC All 2015 Year-End Rankings * LRC 2016 Olympic 800 Recap King David’s Reign Continues: David Rudisha Becomes First Man in 52 Years To Repeat As Olympic 800m Champion, American Clayton Murphy Snags Bronze

LRC All 2016 Year-End Rankings

Want More? Join The Supporters Club Today
Support independent journalism and get:
  • Exclusive Access to VIP Supporters Club Content
  • Bonus Podcasts Every Friday
  • Free LetsRun.com Shirt (Annual Subscribers)
  • Exclusive Discounts
  • Enhanced Message Boards