David Graham’s 2017 Marathon World Rankings

by David Graham January 4, 2018 As he’s done the last four years, super site visitor, David Graham, shared his marathon rankings with us. For all 2017 year-end/ranking coverage click here. The official LetsRun.com marathon men’s rankings are here. What a mess! At the end of 2015, as I looked over the year’s results from the marathon, […]

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by David Graham
January 4, 2018

As he’s done the last four years, super site visitor, David Graham, shared his marathon rankings with us. For all 2017 year-end/ranking coverage click here. The official LetsRun.com marathon men’s rankings are here.

What a mess!

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At the end of 2015, as I looked over the year’s results from the marathon, I felt a sense of despair in attempting a men’s marathon ranking.  Yes, Eliud Kipchoge kindly made the top spot easy for me to list, but the rest were clear as mud.  I ended up guessing for spots 2 – 10.

A year later, 2016 seemed oh so much easier.

But 2017 has turned out to be like 2015, with the added insult that now even the number one spot isn’t so clear, for it has a strange twist to it: a marathoner with ‘one marathon that was not a marathon‘…

Inconsistent results among the world’s top marathoners makes ranking difficult, as does trying to figure out the relative weight of running only one marathon vs. two (or three), what value to give to World Championships results, the increasing number of high quality marathons one must take into consideration, or how much weight to put on times.  To give but one example, how does one rank Guye Adola vs. Galen Rupp?  The former came oh-so-close to defeating Kipchoge (and did outperform Wilson Kiprop & Kenenisa Bekele) by running a scorching debut world best of 2:03:46 in rainy conditions.  But that 2nd place finish is the only marathon Adola has on record for 2017, whereas Rupp has two marathon races to his credit, a 2nd place finish in a World Major (Boston) plus a “W” against a good field in Chicago.  Yet Rupp’s best time is almost six minutes slower than Adola’s, 2:03:46 vs. 2:09:20.

Who gets ranked ahead of whom?

Or what about Wilson Kipsang and Geoffrey Kamworor?  The former has a “W” plus a 2nd place to his credit in two Marathon Majors; his marathon best was a full 6 minutes faster than Kamworor’s.  But Kipsang also has a DNF in his results, and in Kamworor’s only marathon of the year, he beat a solid NYC field, which included Kipsang.  Who gets ranked ahead of whom?

I especially had a difficult time knowing where to place Lawrence Cherono, with his 3 marathons – 2 wins and a 2nd – at important races, though not any “world marathon major.”  However, the competition was good at all three…

Without further ado, here are my best guesses for how 2017 might look for the men’s marathon rankings.


1Eliud Kipchoge – 2:03:32 win in Berlin. This was Kipchoge’s only marathon race of the year, and it produced the world’s fastest marathon in 2017 (and 9th fastest in history).  [BTW, this was also Kipchoge’s fastest time in Berlin, his previous efforts yielding a 2:04:05 and 2:04:00.]  He defeated the returning top 2 from 2016 who had run blistering times of 2:03:03 and 2:03:13: Kenenisa Bekele and Wilson Kipsang.  Moreover, Kipchoge’s race beat that amazing sub 2:04 upstart, Guye Adola.  So this one race gives Kipchoge the number one ranking.

Kipchoge’s other marathon distance was not a race but a time trial, which produced an eye-popping 2:00:25 in Monza, Italy.  The Breaking2 documentary makes it seem that this attempt was a failure, since Kipchoge didn’t break 2 hours; I saw it as just the opposite: an amazing triumph, for though he didn’t break two hours, he did run a two-hour-marathon, something I didn’t think was yet possible among humans…Even with the aided pacing and special shoes, I have to take my hat off to the man’s performance.

2Geoffrey Kirui – 2:09:37 win in Boston and 2:08:26 gold medal win at the World Championships in London.  He has two “W’s” at World Marathon Majors for 2017, and as one is the World Championships (supposedly the championship of the whole world, though in practice it doesn’t work out like that), one could make a case for Kirui’s being the #1 marathoner.  I ended up choosing Kipchoge over Kirui because the field at Berlin was the strongest of the year.  (In addition to Bekele, Kipsang, and Adola, Mosinet Geremew, Felix Kandie, and Vincent Kipruto were no slouches, and all three finished in low 2:06‘s in Berlin.)  But if others feel Kirui should get the top spot, they’ll get no protest from me.

3Tamirat Tola – 2:04:11 for the course record win in Dubai (20th best time in history, on a warm day – recall that Haile Gebreselassie’s best time ever on this course was 42 seconds slower: 2:04:53) and 2:09:48 for a silver medal at the World Championships.

4Lawrence Cherono – 2:06:21 for 2nd in Rotterdam, 2:05:09 for the course record win in Amsterdam over a strong field (2:05:43 for 5th place; Amsterdam was the first marathon outside of Dubai to have 5 finishers inside of 2:06), plus another win in a course record at the Honolulu Marathon in 2:08:26.  This last result should not be downplayed: over the decades, despite many fine marathoners running the course, none had ever been able to average under 5:00/mile in Hawaii’s heat.  The closest anyone had come was Jimmy Muindi, who in 2004 ran a 2:11:12.  Last year, Cherono took a whopping 93 seconds off of the course record with his 2:09:39.  (Wilson Chebet’s 2:10:50 was also under the old CR, and also was sub 5:00/mile.)  This year, Cherono took a hunk off of his own CR, slashing 73 seconds off to average 4:54/mile.  He beat a decent field to do so (which included Wilson Chebet, with a 2:09:54 in the warm, humid conditions, Vincent Yator’s 2:10:37 – also under Jimmy Miundi’s best, Festus Talam, and Dennis Kimetto.)

5Wilson Kipsang – 2:03:58 for the course record win in TokyoDNF in Berlin, and 2:10:56 for 2nd place in New York City.  The Tokyo race was the 16th best time in history and yet another sub 2:04 for Kipsang. (He now has 4 of them, more than anyone else in history.)  A sub 2:04 “W” at a World Major is enough to get anyone in the top 10, regardless of what happens the rest of the year.  The question is: where in that top 10 does he belong?  Somewhere from 4th and 7th, sure, but it’s hard to pinpoint it further.

6Galen Rupp – 2:09:58 for 2nd in Boston and 2:09:20 for the win in Chicago.  Great year for Rupp, especially Chicago, as he won over a strong field in an impressive final 8k. (Tola’s win at the equally competitive Dubai field – which included Bekele – in a time 5 minutes faster than Rupp’s 2:09, plus a silver medal in championship racing at the World Champs vs. 2nd at Boston, put Tola ahead of Rupp in the rankings.  Like Rupp, Kipsang has a “W” and a 2nd at two world majors to his credit, but Kipsang’s fastest time of the year is more than five minutes faster than Rupp’s, so Kipsang gets the nod over Rupp as well.)

7Guye Adola – 2:03:46 for 2nd in Berlin (13th best time in history)  For a novice marathoner, Adola looked amazingly relaxed up through 38 K in that race.  His time was 30 seconds faster than the old previous debut best of 2:04:16 by Dennis Kimetto.  I’ve no doubt that if Rupp had run Berlin, Adola would have finished well ahead of him, but I gave the ranking nod to Rupp for two marathons – one a “W” – vs. Adola’s one marathon.  The same holds true for why Kipsang gets ranked ahead of Adola, despite Adola finishing Berlin, where Kipsang was DNF.

8. Daniel Wanjiru – 2:05:48 win in London (beating Bekele) and 2:12:16 for 8th place World Championships (London).  A win at the competitive London marathon is almost a guarantee of a top 10 spot.  He didn’t do as well a few months later, but still, a top 10 at the World Champs means a top 10 in the rankings is not unreasonable.

9Shura Kitata – 2:07:30 win in Rome and a 2:05:50 win in Frankfurt.  Two “W’s,” one a sub 2:06, gets him a top 10 spot.

10Geoffrey Kamworor – 2:10:53 win in New York City.  Not a blazing fast time, but he did defeat a quality NYC field (Kipsang, Berhanu, Ghebreslassie, Desisa, Abraham).  With the exception of Adola’s remarkable Berlin race and Kipchoge (who for marathons ran “1+” or “2*” or however we are to notate it…), I gave more weight to those who ran more than one marathon for the year, thus Wanjiru and Kitata outrank Kamworor, as does Kipsang, even though Kamworor beat Kipsang (by only 3 seconds) in New York City.


Honorable Mention

Marius Kimutai – 2:06:04 win in Rotterdam plus a 2:08:33 victory on a windy day in Ljubljana.  Two “W’s” in the marathon almost got him a top 10 spot.

Amos Kipruto – 2:05:54 win in Seoul and 2:05:43 for 5th in Amsterdam. Putting Kipchoge’s Monza performance aside, Kipruto was the only person in the world to twice run sub 2:06 in 2017

Festus Talam – 2:07:10 for 4th at Rotterdam, 2:06:13 win in Eindhoven, and a 2:17:25 for 4th at Honolulu

Sondre Moen – 2:10:07 for 3rd in Hannover and a surprising 2:05:48 European Record to win Fukuoka

Sammy Kitwara – 2:05:15 win at Valencia (beating Evans Chebet’s 2:05:30).  He also had either a DNS or DNF at Boston (not sure which).

Paul Longyangata – 2:06:10 win in Paris

Alphonce Simbu – 2:09:32 win in Mumbai, 2:09:10 for 5th at London, and 2:09:50 for bronze medal at the World Championships

Norbert Kigen – 2:06:07 for 4th in Seoul and 2:05:13 (6th fastest time in the world for 2017) for 2nd in Amsterdam

Mule Wasihun – 2:06:46 for 2nd at Dubai and a 2:05:39 for 4th at Amsterdam

Abel Kirui – 2:07:45 for 4th at London and 2:09:48 for 2nd at Chicago


Special Masters’ Notes

44 year old Kenneth Mungara finished only 5 seconds behind the Gold Coast winner (15 years his junior), running 2:09:04.  He followed this up with a 2:09:37 2nd place finish in Milano.  Among the masters marathon runners, he continues to be the best…ever.  His results are impressive.

42 year old Meb Keflezighi bowed out of a long and successful running career with a 2:17:00 at Boston and a 2:15:29 in New York City.



Question #1: Why can Zersenay Tadese not get the hang of the marathon?  He is 5-time World Half-Marathon champ and the World Record holder in the event.  For 10 years, 2006 – 2015, he failed to break 60 minutes only in 2013. Yet once again in the marathon this year, he could only come up with a 2:12:19 for 8th place in Chicago.  Sadly, that is the 3rd fastest marathon time of his career.  I find it discouraging that he ran even splits (66:10/66:09) – if he had gone out fast and blown up, we could still hope for him to go out some day and nail the marathon.  But even splits means… You know, in the Breaking2 documentary, the scientists were awed by how Tadese could run mile after mile on the treadmill and not build up much lactate.  But that has not yet translated into a fast marathon.  He did manage a nearly four minute best for the distance when he ran 2:06:51 in the Monza time trial, but marathon success remains elusive for this great athlete…

Question #2: What are Dathan Ritzenhein‘s goals?  He turns 35 later this month, so his days of running track PR’s are over, his days of making World Cross teams, World track, or Olympic track teams are over, his days of running road PR’s for distances of 10K through the 1/2 marathon are gone…which leaves the marathon, where he, like Tadese, has struggled.  I’d love to see him finally realize his potential in the marathon, but mysteriously, a guy who can crank out the miles like Tadese can’t quite make it happen in the marathon (though his 2:07:47 PR is certainly closer to his talent level than is Tadese’s 2:10:41 PR).  Would Ritz like to try to join the sub 4 mile club?  (He ran 3:42.99 for 1500 meters back in 2002.)  What does he want to accomplish at this point in his career?

Or perhaps time is irrelevant to his goals: could he get a win in a marathon?  He plans on running Boston this next Spring…

I would love to see both Tadese and Ritzenhein finally have a marathon where everything clicks.  To keep doing all that training and then see things fall apart on race day time after time must be discouraging.

Question #3: Will Kenenisa Bekele improve or has he peaked in the marathon?  Before 2016, his marathon PR was a 2:05:04 from his debut in Paris in 2014.  In Berlin 2016, he took 2 full minutes off of that time with his 2:03:03.  But since then, he has a record of DNF (Dubai), 2:05:57 for 2nd in London, and another DNF (Berlin).  Was that 2:03 a “one off” race, an anomaly, to which he can never again aspire?  Or was he finally realizing his talent, providing a hint of better things to come?

(Bekele’s marathon record: 2:05:042:05:51, DNF, 2:06:362:03:03, DNF, 2:05:57, DNF)

Question #4: Is Dennis Kimetto done as a marathon threat? He is 33 (about to turn 34) and here are his recent marathons: 2014 Berlin 2:02:57 WR, 2015 London 2:05:50 for 3rd, 2015 World Champs – DNF, 2015 Fukuoka – DNF, 2016 London – 2:11:44 for 9th, 2017 Boston – DNS, 2017 Chicago – DNF, 2017 Honolulu – DNF.

Question #5: Recognizing how Fukuoka functioned as a de facto yearly marathon world championships in the 1960s, & 70s, but given the institution of new important autumn marathons since the 60s (especially Chicago, Frankfurt, Amsterdam and New York), is it now unrealistic to attempt to contest a Marathon World Championships race every December?  Moreover, would such a race even be desirable (remembering how most elite marathoners already skip the official IAAF World Championships every two years)?

Question #6: In 2018, will Eliud Kipchoge finally get the World Record in the marathon?

Looking forward to another competitive marathoning year in 2018,

David Graham

December 13, 2017

More 2017 Year End Coverage/Rankings here

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