2016 LRC Year-End Rankings, Women’s 1500: Faith Kipyegon Unseats Genzebe Dibaba as World #1; Jenny Simpson Back on Top of U.S. Rankings

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 women’s 1500 rankings * LRC All 2015 Year-End Rankings * LRC 2016 Olympic 1500 Recap Jenny Simpson Wins America’s First Women’s 1500 Olympic Medal As Faith Kipyegon Upsets World Record Holder Genzebe Dibaba

LRC All 2016 Year-End Rankings

World Rankings

Faith Kipyegon‘s victory in Rio avoided what had the potential to become an extremely ugly situation. Less than two months before the Olympics, gold medal favorite Genzebe Dibaba‘s coach, Jama Aden, was arrested in Spain after performance-enhancing drugs were allegedly found at the hotel where he and his athletes were staying. Given that and given Dibaba’s recent performances — including her 3:50.07 world record last year, a run that beggared belief since that the previous record was held by a suspected doper — questions swirled around Dibaba heading into the Games. Had Dibaba won in Rio, it would have left a sour taste in the mouth of some athletes and fans, particularly after what happened four years ago in London, where the women’s 1500 final turned out to be one of the dirtiest races in history. Instead, it was the diminutive Kipyegon who prevailed thanks to a sensational final 800 with Dibaba taking silver and Jenny Simpson earning the United States’ first-ever medal in the event in third.

Of course, it must be pointed out that more than six months have passed since the raid and no doping charges have been brought against Aden nor anyone at the hotel that day (MB: My #1 question heading into the 2017 – More than 6 months have passed since the Aden doping raid, what’s going on?)

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Though the Olympic final was a tactical affair, times were fast in 2016, with nine women dipping under 4:00, led by Brit Laura Muir, who erased double Olympic champ Kelly Holmes‘ national record, finishing the year at 3:55.22. Like Muir, Kipyegon set the Kenyan record on two separate occasions, first in Shanghai on May 14 (3:56.82) and again two weeks later at the Prefontaine Classic (3:56.41). Shannon Rowbury did not lower her American record, but after failing to break 4:00 until age 29, she ran under the barrier for the third year in a row (SB of 3:57.78 in Zurich) and won the Diamond League final. This remains a deep event at the top internationally, with Simpson and Rowbury two of the United States’ top mid-d/distance runners in any event.

1. Faith Kipyegon • Kenya • 22 years old • 3:56.41 sb (#2) • Olympic champion

DL results: 1st Shanghai, 1st Pre Classic, 1st Oslo, 2nd Paris, 7th Zurich (DL final)

Kipyegon stormed out of the gates in 2016 and kept that momentum going all the way through the Olympic final in Rio, where she left no doubt who the planet’s best 1500 runner was, winning by 1.35 seconds. Though she lost her two post-Rio 1500s, she was otherwise undefeated on the year, posting some incredible times in the process: she became just the second woman in history (after Tatyana Kazankina who did it in 1980*) to break 3:57 three times in one year. When you consider that, from 2007 to 2014, there were only four sub-3:57’s, total (one of those by Kipyegon), you begin to understand how difficult that is to do. Her year was so spectacular we can easily overlook her post-Rio slip in form.

When Kipyegon’s on, she’s incredibly tough to beat. She has terrific strength (14:31 5k pb, two-time World XC champion as a junior), which enables her to go out hard and still be able to close quickly. That was evident in Rio, where she absorbed a brutal mid-race move from Dibaba before responding with a move of her own during the final lap (Kipyegon went 58.6-58.6 for her last two laps). But Dibaba, Laura Muir and Sifan Hassan have all shown the ability to run 3:56 or faster as well; Muir showed a potential chink in Kipyegon’s armor by taking it to her, hard, in Paris in August, running away with the race in 3:55. Obviously, we can’t expect Muir to run 3:55 every week, but that run showed that Kipyegon is far from a lock for the world title in 2017, which should make Worlds, and the races leading up to it, that much more exciting.

*Kazankina was handed an 18-month suspension in 1984 for refusing to take a drug test and never raced again

LRC 2016 Olympics Jenny Simpson Wins America’s First Women’s 1500 Olympic Medal As Faith Kipyegon Upsets World Record Holder Genzebe Dibaba *2016 Olympic Women’s 1500 Video
LRC Shanghai Recap: Faith Kipyegon (3:56.82), Muktar Edris (12:59.96) & Hyvin Kiyeng (9:07.42) Get World Leaders; Justin Gatlin (9.94) & Omar McLeod (12.98) Pick Up Big Wins
LRC Faith Kipyegon archives

2. Laura Muir • Great Britain • 23 years old • 3:55.22 sb (#1) • 7th at Olympics • Diamond League champion

DL results: 2nd Oslo, 5th Stockholm, 1st London, 1st Paris, 2nd Zurich (DL final)

Yes, Muir was only seventh at the Olympics, but she was not the seventh-best woman in the field on that night in Rio. Muir, seeing how Dibaba ripped apart the field at Worlds last year in Beijing, ran for gold and went with Dibaba’s hard mid-race move. With 300 meters left, she had nearly 10 meters on Jenny Simpson, but in the end, she couldn’t hold on, and as a result faded from third to seventh over the final 200 meters. However, when it comes to her Olympic performance, Muir has nothing to be ashamed of as there’s not much shame when a woman in fails to handle the surge of a 3:50 performer.  Muir had earned the right to be on the start line, and it was her prerogative to run for the win if that’s how she wanted to play it. We have nothing but respect for her.

Muir broke out last year, running 3:58 and taking fifth at Worlds, but she took the next step in 2016 and became a consistent force on the Diamond League circuit, collecting wins in London and Paris (both in British-record time) and runner-up finishes in Oslo and Zurich. That was enough to earn her the DL title, even though Kipyegon had more wins (3 vs. 2). With a home World Championships next year, the pressure will be on for Muir to come through. The question is, will take the same approach as in Rio and run for the win or will she be content to run for a medal?

Update: What do you think of Muir being #2? Some in the LetsRun.com staff thought she should be #3. Talk about the 1500 rankings on our messageboard. MB: Year-End Rankings’ Correction – Kiprop #1, Centro #2**

LRC 2016 Paris DL Laura Muir Runs 3:55.22, Yes 3:55.22, to Crush British 1500m Record *2016 Olympic Women’s 1500 Video
LRC Laura Muir archives

3. Genzebe Dibaba • Ethiopia • 25 years old • 3:57.31 sb (#4; split from 4:14.30 mile) • Olympic silver medallist

Dibaba loses major points for not running a single Diamond League 1500, but when you factor in all that she accomplished — a silver medal in Rio, a 4:13.31 mile world record indoors and a 4:14.30 mile outdoors (#2 all-time), it’s fair to say she was one of the top three 1500 runners in the world this year, even if she didn’t show it on the DL circuit. Considering how fast she ran and how she only lost one race all year, we won’t disagree with you too much if you think she should be ranked #2.

Dibaba, despite a reported toe injury, entered the Olympics as the favorite, but did not run tactically smart, a stumbling block for her in recent years. Perhaps Kipyegon would have won gold in any circumstance, but Dibaba made several questionable moves, first closing her semifinal in 57.6 despite being assured of qualification and then dropping a 56.7 between 800 and 1200 in the final. Had she rationed her energy more sensibly in those two races, she might have left Rio with gold instead of silver (of course Kipyegon went with Dibaba’s mid-race surge in the final in Rio, running much of the surge on the outside so Kipyegon’s race wasn’t a whole lot easier from a tactical standpoint).

The problem may be that most of Dibaba’s wins on the circuit are time-trial efforts or record attempts. She’s used to dropping the field and not having to worry about making tactical decisions. Last year in Beijing, it wasn’t a problem for her as she was in way better shape than everyone else. But this year she wasn’t and as a result Kipyegon managed to take her down.

As we mentioned in the introduction to this section, questions remain about Dibaba and her coach Jama Aden. Dibaba said in Rio that she was “crystal clean” and because she hasn’t tested positive, she will continue to be able to compete in 2017.

LRC Everything You Need to Know About The Jama Aden Doping Raid That Took Place With Three Dibaba Sisters Being Present
LRC Genzebe Dibaba Addresses Drug Allegations About Her Coach Jama Aden: “I Am Crystal Clean From Doping”
LRC Jama Aden-Coached Athletes Genzebe Dibaba (4:13.31 Mile), Ayanleh Souleiman (2:14.20 1k) And Abdalelah Haroun (59.83 500*) All Set World Records In Stockholm
LRC Genzebe Dibaba archives

4. Sifan Hassan • The Netherlands • 23 years old • 3:57.13 sb (#2) • 5th at Olympics • World Indoor champion • European silver medallist

DL results: 2nd London, 3rd Paris, 3rd Zurich (DL final)

2016 began with much promise for Hassan as she won her first global title at World Indoors in Portland. But a hamstring injury cost her much of the spring, and she didn’t debut outdoors until July 8. She returned to take fifth at the Olympics and finished in the top three in her three Diamond League appearances. Those are fine results, but one cannot help but wonder how Hassan would have fared in Rio had she not missed a couple months earlier this year.

Hassan will be working with Alberto Salazar in 2017, and though the precise details of their arrangement is unclear, one would have to assume she’ll be training a lot with Rowbury, who beat Hassan by one place in Rio. It will be very interesting to see how Hassan responds to Salazar’s training and how her addition affects Rowbury, if at all.

LRC 2016 World Indoors Sifan Hassan Holds off Dawit Seyaum to Earn First Global Gold in 4:04.96 and Lead Ethiopian-Born 1-2-3-4 Sweep
LRC Sifan Hassan archives
MB: Ethiopian runner Sifan Hassan joins the shady coach Alberto Salazar

5. Jenny Simpson • USA • 30 years old • 3:58.19 sb (#7) • Olympic bronze medallist • U.S. champion

DL results: 6th Shanghai, 4th Pre Classic, 6th Paris, 4th Zurich (DL final) *2016 Olympic Women’s 1500 Video

6. Shannon Rowbury • USA • 32 years old • 3:57.78 sb (#5) • 4th at Olympics • U.S. Olympic Trials runner-up

DL results: 10th Pre Classic, 4th Paris, 1st Zurich (DL final)

Once again, it was difficult to separate the two star Americans in 2016, but Simpson clearly had a better year than Rowbury, winning her third straight U.S. title and first Olympic medal. Simpson also won the head-to-head series, 3-2, with wins in the two biggest races for Americans (Olympic Trials and Olympics, yes internationals are going to say the DL finale is bigger than the Olympic Trials but it’s not for an American in an Olympic year). Here’s how the two matched up in 2016:

Date Meet Simpson Rowbury
May 28 Pre Classic 4th, 4:01.57 10th, 4:04.65
July 10 U.S. Olympic Trials 1st, 4:04.74 2nd, 4:05.39
August 16 Olympic Games 3rd, 4:10.53 4th, 4:11.05
August 27 Meeting de Paris 6th, 3:58.19 4th, 3:58.00
September 1 Weltklasse Zurich 4th, 3:58.54 1st, 3:57.78

As you can see, Rowbury excelled in the faster Diamond League races while Simpson remained superior in championship events.

Going into the Olympics, there were doubts about whether Simpson, who looked overmatched against the top African competition in Shanghai and at Pre, would have the requisite closing speed to earn a medal in Rio. But Simpson looked good in the rounds, and unlike Dibaba, husbanded her energy in the semifinals. That proved to be the correct decision, and while the women in front of her were running out of gas on the bell lap in the final, Simpson was hitting her stride, going from sixth to third over the final 300 meters and running her last two laps in 1:58.9 — a second and a half faster than her open 800 PR.

Rowbury closed well in Rio too, coming home in 1:59.3 (open 800 PR: 1:59.97), but it was not quite enough to overcome her American rival. Both women are in their 30s now, but, barring a major breakthrough, there doesn’t appear to be anyone else who will challenge them domestically in 2017. So expect more sparks in Sacramento and London in one of the best rivalries in U.S. track and field.

LRC 2016 Olympic Trials Women’s 1500m: Jenny Simpson Wins, Rowbury 2nd, and Brenda Martinez Makes it to Rio
LRC Shannon Rowbury Wins 2016 Diamond League 1500 Finale at Weltklasse Zürich Meeting
LRC Jenny Simpson archives
LRC Shannon Rowbury archives

7. Dawit Seyaum • Ethiopia • 20 years old • 3:58.09 sb (#5) • 8th at Olympics • World Indoor silver medallist

DL results: 3rd Shanghai, 2nd Pre Classic, 8th Stockholm, 5th Paris, 5th Zurich (DL final)

Seyaum, the 2014 world junior champ, put together another solid year, earning silver at World Indoors and making her first Olympic final. She was also a force on the Diamond League circuit, finishing in the top five on four occasions. Perhaps Seyaum’s most impressive achievement was how consistently fast she ran: she was the first woman since 2009 to break 4:00 four times in one year.

8. Meraf Bahta • Sweden • 27 years old • 4:02.62 sb (#15) • 6th at Olympics

DL results: 2nd Stockholm, 3rd Oslo, 3rd London, 12th Paris, 8th Zurich (DL final)

The Eritrean-born Bahta didn’t run crazy fast, but three top-three finishes on the DL circuit and a sixth-place finish at the Olympics is a very solid season. You could make a case for Ethiopia’s Besu Sado (whose three fastest times in ’16 were better than Bahta’s SB) in this spot, but the two women were 2-2 against each this year and Bahta beat Sado at the Olympics. That’s the tiebreaker for us.

9. Besu Sado • Ethiopia • 20 years old • 3:59.47 sb (#8) • 9th at Olympics

DL results: 4th Shanghai, 4th Stockholm, 7th Paris, 6th Zurich (DL final)

Sado was often a step behind Seyaum this year so it’s fitting that she’s a couple spots back of her in our rankings. Sado clocked 4:00 or faster three times this year, ran solidly on the Diamond League and made it to the Olympic final in Rio. Only 20 years old officially, she should continue to improve in 2017.

10. Gudaf Tsegay • Ethiopia • 19 years old • 4:00.18 sb (#10) • World Indoor bronze medallist

DL results: 5th Shanghai, 3rd Pre Classic, 3rd Stockholm, 13th Paris, 9th Zurich (DL final)

If you want proof as to why Ethiopia is the world’s best nation when it comes to the women’s 1500, look no further than Tsegay. In the first six months of 2016, Tsegay earned World Indoor bronze and was 2-0 head-to-head against Jenny Simpson. Yet Tsegay couldn’t even make it onto the Ethiopian Olympic 1500 team; she had to drop down and run the 800 in Rio. In total, half of LRC’s top 10 were born in Ethiopia (the four Ethiopians plus Hassan).

U.S. Rankings

Simpson and Rowbury continued to rule the U.S. in this event, and the recent retirement of Morgan Uceny puts into context just how impressive Simpson and Rowbury’s careers have been. Uceny, who is six months younger than Rowbury and 17 months older than Simpson, was one of the world’s best from 2010 to 2012 but struggled to maintain that form. Meanwhile, Rowbury has been one of best in the world since beginning her professional career in 2008; so has Simpson since switching to the 1500 full-time in 2011. Both Simpson and Rowbury have made every single U.S. outdoor team since 2008 (not always in the 1500), a streak we expect to continue in 2017.

The biggest question is who will join them in London in 2017? Will Amanda Eccleston rebound from her near-misses in 2016 to make her first U.S. team? Will rising star Alexa Efraimson make the jump to world-class 1500 runner? What about Kerri Gallagher, who missed much of 2016? And what will Mary Cain do now that she’s no longer working with Alberto Salazar and the Nike Oregon Project? It should be an exciting year on the track.

1. Jenny Simpson (see above)

2. Shannon Rowbury (see above)

3. Brenda Martinez • New Balance • 29 years old • 4:03.57 sb (#4 in US) • Olympic semifinalist • 3rd at U.S. Olympic Trials • 5th at World Indoors • U.S. Indoor champion

The 1500 meters was not the event Martinez planned on running in Rio. But you have to play the hand you’re dealt, and when Martinez was denied a spot in the 800 after being thrown off when Alysia Montaño went down, her only option was to come back and try to make the team in the 1500 meters. Showing grace, poise and resilience, Martinez prevailed a pulsating battle to the line with Amanda Eccleston for the third and final Olympic spot, earning the right to do this:

But Martinez did more than just come through when it counted at the Trials. She was the U.S. Indoor champ at 1500 (her first career national title), finished fifth at World Indoors (the first non-Ethiopian-born athlete) and her 4:03 sb was fifth in the U.S. Martinez has said that the 800 will remain her focus in 2017 before she moves up to the 1500 full-time in 2018.

LRC 2016 U.S. Indoors USA Distance Recap: Favorites Boris Berian, Ajee Wilson & Brenda Martinez Cruise to U.S. Titles
LRC Brenda Martinez archives

4. Amanda Eccleston • Brooks • 26 years old • 4:03.25 sb (#3 in US) • 4th at U.S. Olympic Trials • 3rd at US Indoors

It’s hard not to feel sorry for Eccleston. First, at U.S. Indoors, she missed out on her first U.S. team by one place, finishing .45 behind Cory McGee. But that was only a prelude to a more heartbreaking moment at the Olympic Trials, where Eccleston was just .03 away from making it to Rio.

Though Eccleston came up just short in those two races, 2016 represented a massive breakthrough for the graduate of DII Hillsdale (Mich.) College. A shin injury limited her to just 25 miles per week for most of 2015, but, finally healthy this year, she sliced almost five seconds off her 1500 pb, going from 4:08.08 to 4:03.25, and made a similar leap in the mile, going from 4:29.06 to 4:25.64. If Eccleston can carry that sort of form over to 2017, she has a real shot to make the Worlds team, particularly if Martinez elects to run the 800.

LRC Amanda Eccleston archives

5. Morgan Uceny • adidas • 31 years old • 4:03.94 sb (#6 in US) • 5th at U.S. Olympic Trials

DL results: 10th London

We shared our thoughts on Uceny when she retired on December 14; if you haven’t read them, you can do so here: LRC Morgan Uceny Was No Quitter – The Former World #1 Calls It A Career. Though Uceny’s season, like Eccleston’s, resulted in heartbreak at the Olympic Trials (she was third with 50 meters to go), it was nice to see her bounce back and put together one more strong year after struggling in 2015. With 100 meters to go at the US Trials, she was in the hunt for an Olympic spot and twice this year she broke 4:04 – a feat she hadn’t accomplished since 2012.

LRC US Olympian Morgan Uceny Announces Her Retirement From The Sport
LRC Morgan Uceny archives

Talk about the 1500 rankings on our messageboard. MB: Year-End Rankings’ Correction – Kiprop #1, Centro #2**

LRC 2015 women’s 1500 rankings * LRC All 2015 Year-End Rankings * LRC 2016 Olympic 1500 Recap Jenny Simpson Wins America’s First Women’s 1500 Olympic Medal As Faith Kipyegon Upsets World Record Holder Genzebe Dibaba

LRC All 2016 Year-End Rankings

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