December 27, 2018
As 2018 draws to a close, it’s once again time to publish the fifth annual LetsRun.com world and US rankings. 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.
Since these rankings are obviously subjective, we’ll lay out the criteria we’re using for them:
- An emphasis on performance in big races. Obviously there was no global outdoor championship in 2018, but meets like the Diamond League finals, World Indoors and, in the case of the US rankings, USATF Championships, will factor heavily in the rankings. Performance in regular-season Diamond League meets is also an important factor.
- Season-best times matter, and if an athlete has a bunch of fast performances, they’re more likely to be ranked highly.
- 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.
Men’s 3,000 Steeplechase World Rankings
1. Conseslus Kipruto • Kenya • 24 years old • 8:08.40 sb (#5) • Diamond League champion • Commonwealth champion • African champion • Kenyan champion
DL results: 2nd Pre, 1st Rome (non-DL), 12th Rabat, 3rd Monaco, 1st Birmingham, 1st Zurich (DL final)
One thing you can always count on from Conseslus Kipruto: he will rise to the occasion.
Last year, Kipruto ran only one track session in the six weeks before Worlds due to a nagging ankle injury yet still prevailed in London to become world champion. In last year’s Diamond League final in Brussels, he erased a three-meter deficit over the final barrier to run down Soufiane El Bakkali for the win.
But what Kipruto accomplished in this year’s DL final in Zurich tops them all. Shortly after the first water jump, Kipruto’s left shoe came loose, forcing him to kick it to the side with over five laps remaining. Kipruto hung in the race, but coming off the final water jump, he found himself trailing El Bakkali by three meters. And then he did this:
Almost as good as Kipruto’s finish was the reaction of the athletes preparing to race the other Diamond League final in Brussels:
SCENES IN BRUSSELS!
— SPIKES (@spikesmag) August 30, 2018
Of course Kipruto isn’t on top of our rankings just because of that race. He won every other championship of import that he entered — Commonwealths, African champs, the Continental Cup — as well as two more Diamond Leagues in Rome (non-DL points race) and Birmingham. And as gutsy as he is, Kipruto doesn’t win these races without his otherworldly kick, which he has used to dominate his steeple competitors in much the same way Ezekiel Kemboi owned the event in the late 2000s/early 2010s.
Kipruto will aim to successfully defend his world title in Doha next year, but another big goal will be to break 8:00. Should he stay healthy, it seems inevitable that Kipruto will do that, but we said that before 2017 and 2018 and those years came and went without a sub-8:00. Is 2019 finally the year?
LRC 2018 DL final steeple recap: Conseslus Kipruto Unleashes Furious Kick to Win 2018 Diamond League Steeplechase Final with One Shoe!
2. Soufiane El Bakkali • Morocco • 22 years old • 7:58.15 sb (#1) • African champs silver
DL results: 3rd Rabat, 1st Monaco, 2nd Zurich (DL final)
El Bakkali missed the early portion of the season as he did not debut until the Mediterranean Games on June 27 and didn’t run his first Diamond League until July 13. But after shaking the rust off in Rabat (3rd), he ran a world-leading 7:58 in Monaco — the world’s only sub-8:00 over the last three years — and came just .04 shy of dethroning Kipruto as Diamond League champion. That resume is enough for us to put him at World #2.
3. Evan Jager • USA • 29 years old • 8:01.02 sb (#2) • US champion
DL results: 3rd Pre, 2nd Monaco, 3rd Zurich (DL final)
4. Benjamin Kigen • Kenya • 25 years old • 8:06.19 sb (#3)
DL results: 1st Pre, 2nd Rome (non-DL), 1st Rabat, 4th Monaco, 5th Birmingham, 9th Zurich (DL final)
It was really tough to choose between Jager and Kigen for #3. Jager ran faster (8:01 to 8:06) and had a 2-1 head-to-head record against Kigen, including the DL final, where he finished a convincing 14 seconds in front. Yet Jager didn’t win a single Diamond League and Kigen racked up two victories (including one on Jager’s home turf at Pre) and a 2nd in Rome (though it wasn’t a DL points race). Do you punish Jager for only running three Diamond Leagues or reward him for running well in the three DLs that he did enter?
In the end, we picked Jager as Kigen’s form really tailed off at the end of the year and Jager was clearly superior in their biggest race of the year (the DL final in Zurich). Plus El Bakkali only ran three DLs and we ranked him 2nd, so it’s not a stretch to rank Jager 3rd based off the same number.
Both Jager and Kigen were impressive in 2018. Jager took a brave run at sub-8:00 in Monaco but just didn’t have enough over the final lap, settling for second behind El Bakkali in 8:01.02 — the second-fastest time ever by an American. Jager did not accomplish his lofty goal, but that should not overshadow what he continues to do in the steeplechase, an event traditionally dominated by the Kenyans. It is not normal for an American to consistently run in the low-8:00s — Jager has broken 8:05 in each of the past five years — and challenge for the win in Diamond League races. Even if he never breaks 8:00 in his career, he will go down as the greatest US steepler ever, by some margin.
That being said, it certainly was disappointing that Jager only raced three times all year in Europe in an “off year.” If we were Jager and had his pbs of 8:00.45 and 13:02.40, we’d certainly be racing more often, particularly in an off year to try to break the 8:00 and 13:00 barriers. Yes, we know an ankle injury kept Jager out of the Continental Cup but in 2014 he only had three European distance races as well. Jager’s consistency over the last few years has been amazing but we’d like to see him try to change things up in 2019. If racing more often backfires, no big loss, you can go back to your old system for 2020.
With Worlds in the steeple not starting until October 1st, we really hope he decides to just go for it big-time starting at the Pre Classic on June 30th — run Pre, then Monaco on July 12th and then USAs at the end of the month. Then there are still 9.5 weeks until Worlds. Another alternative would be to get in shape early and go for a fast one at very first Diamond League meet in Doha on May 3rd. Then rip it again at the USATF Distance Classic two weeks later or heck, set up a sub-8 attempt in Portland. Then he could go back to a base phase to get ready for Worlds as they don’t start for another 19.5 weeks (admittedly USAs are 10 weeks after the USATF Distance Classic and he’d need Nike’s permission to skip the Pre Classic at the end of June).
Benjamin Kigen was not widely known prior to 2018. Though he did finish 4th in Monaco and 6th in the DL final in 2017, no one expected him to stun Jager and Kipruto by running away with the DL opener in Eugene in May. He showed that result was no fluke by winning again in Rabat in July, and though he fell apart at the end of the season, he will be a name to watch in the Doha medal hunt next year.
LRC 2018 USAs steeple recap: Houlihan, Chelimo, & Jager (7 Straight) Grow Their Legends With Convincing Wins at USAs
5. Chala Beyo • Ethiopia • 22 years old • 8:07.27 sb (#4)
DL results: 1st Doha (non-DL), 3rd Rome (non-DL), 2nd Rabat, DNF Monaco, 2nd Birmingham, 4th Zurich (DL final)
Beyo, the 2016 African champion, was Ethiopia’s top steepler in 2018, winning in Doha and finishing in the top four in all five DL races that he finished (including the non-DL events in Doha and Rome). Though he still has some work to do to catch up to the triumvirate of Kipruto-El Bakkali-Jager (he was 2.63 seconds behind Jager at the DL final), he has consistently improved over the last three years (from 8:24 in 2015 to 8:17 in 2016, 8:13 in 2017, and 8:07 in 2018) and will be a force to be reckoned with moving forward.
6. Nicholas Bett • Kenya • 22 years old • 8:13.18 sb (#10)
DL results: 5th Pre, 8th Rabat, DNF Monaco, 3rd Birmingham, 5th Zurich (DL final)
Not to be confused with the hurdler of the same name who tragically died in a car accident in August, Bett cracks our world rankings for the first time, coming in at #6. Bett has been running well for a few years now — he has finished in the top five at the DL final three years straight — but 2018 was his most consistent season yet as he also notched top-fives in Eugene and Birmingham.
7. Abraham Kibiwott • Kenya • 22 years old • 8:10.62 sb (#6) • Commonwealth silver
DL results: 6th Rabat, 6th Monaco, 6th Birmingham, 6th Zurich (DL final)
Kibiwott began the year by earning silver at the Commonwealth Games behind Kipruto in 8:10.62 — tied for the third-fastest run of his life. Unfortunately, he would not get any faster in 2018, running a top time of 8:14 on the DL circuit, but his consistency — 6th place in all four DL events he entered, including the final in Zurich — showed that he was clearly one of the top 10 steeplers in the world this year.
8. Hillary Bor • USA • 29 years old • 8:12.20 sb (#7) • US runner-up
DL results: 7th Pre, 4th Rabat, 5th Monaco, 8th Birmingham, 7th Zurich (DL final)
Bor enjoyed another strong season, coming just .38 shy of his pb set last year with his 8:12.20 sb in Rabat. For the second time in three years, he finished as the runner-up at USAs behind Jager, and finished a respectable 7th in the Diamond League final in Zurich. It was close between Bor and Kibiwott for the #7 spot as the two men were 2-2 against each other head-to-head, but Kibiwott had the faster sb and prevailed in their biggest matchup (Zurich), which was enough to give Kibiwott the nod.
9. Leonard Bett • Kenya • 18 years old • 8:16.97 sb (t-#14) • World U20 silver
DL results: 4th Birmingham, 8th Zurich (DL final)
10. Amos Kirui • Kenya • 20 years old • 8:12.24 sb (#8) • Commonwealth bronze • 2nd at Kenyan Champs
DL results: 4th Pre, 4th Rome, 10th Rabat, 12th Birmingham, 12th Zurich (DL final)
The final three spots in our rankings came down to three men: Bett, Hughes, and Amos Kirui of Kenya. The 18-year-old Bett didn’t race as much on the DL circuit as the other two — just twice, compared to four for Hughes and five for Kirui — but he beat both men handily in both of those races. Check out the results:
Birmingham (August 18)
4. Bett 8:16.97
7. Hughes 8:23.67
12. Kirui 8:40.54
Zurich (August 30)
8. Bett 8:27.18
11. Hughes 8:36.69
12. Kirui 8:38.96
Add in a silver at the World U20 champs (gold medalist Takele Nigate of Ethiopia, who beat Bett by .04, raced just once outside of the World U20s, so he doesn’t make these rankings) and Bett was our pick for #9 despite owning the slowest season’s best of the trio.
Hughes vs. Kirui is more of a debate. While Hughes beat Kirui in the DL final (granted, both men massively underperformed in that race) and was 3-1 against Kirui head-to-head, we are giving the nod to Kirui as he beat Hughes at the Commonwealth Games (Kirui earned bronze, Hughes was 4th) and his season’s best was slightly faster (8:12.24 vs. 8:12.33). Mainly, in deciding between the two, we asked ourselves whose season would you rather have — Hughes or Kirui? We chose Kirui as he medalled at Commonwealths, was 2nd at the Kenyan champs, and was 4th at Pre, Rome and the African Champs whereas Hughes, the Canadian champ, didn’t medal at Commonwealths and never finished higher than 5th at a DL (although he was 2nd at the Continental Cup).
Yes Hughes was 3-1 head to head over Kirui, but two of Hughes victories came in races where both men ran well over 8:20 at the end of August — clearly the 20-year-old Kirui was shot after a long season. If you want to put Hughes at #10, however, we totally understand.
1. Evan Jager (see above)
2. Hillary Bor (see above)
3. Andy Bayer • Nike • 28 years old • 8:24.66 sb • 3rd at USAs • NACAC champion
DL results: 9th Pre, 13th Rome (non-DL), 15th Rabat
After finishing as the odd man out at USAs in 2015, 2016, and 2017 — he was 4th every time — Bayer finally cracked the top three in 2018. Unfortunately for Bayer there was no Olympic/World Championship team for him to make, forcing Bayer to settle for the NACAC team — one that does not carry quite the same level of prestige (but don’t tell that to fellow steepler Jordan Mann). Bayer will still have his hands full making the US team in 2019 — he was 2+ seconds behind Jager and Bor, and though he beat Stanley Kebenei (5th at Worlds last year), Kebenei was not 100% healthy this season. But all Bayer can do is keep putting himself in the mix, which he has done ever since taking up the steeple as his primary event in 2014.
4. Stanley Kebenei • Nike/American Distance Project • 29 years old • 8:28.39 sb • 4th at USAs
DL result: 14th Monaco
Kebenei went from 4th in the world in our 2017 rankings to 4th in the US this year, largely because he was not completely healthy (he dropped out of the Pre Classic and only raced one steeple outside of USAs). But he still managed to break 8:30 twice this year (his semi and final at USAs). You could make the case for Jordan Mann in this spot, but Mann’s best race of the year came at USAs, and Kebenei beat him there. So we’re going with Kebenei at #4.
5. Jordan Mann • Ocean State Athletic Club • 25 years old • 8:28.55 sb • 5th at USAs
DL results: none
No one had more fun at USAs this year than Jordan Mann. Mann entered the meet riding a string of PRs — he had gone from 8:36 to 8:35 at Payton Jordan to 8:34 at Oxy — and left Des Moines with two more PRs, clocking 8:33 in the semis (after which he exited the track loudly proclaiming “we eatin’ chicken tonight!” and 8:28 in the final to finish 5th in the country.
After that race, Mann clamored for the media to speak with him in the mixed zone and proceeded to give our favorite interview of 2018. In the span of eight minutes and thirty-six seconds — just longer than it took him to finish seven-and-a-half laps over barriers at USAs — Mann proclaimed his love for anime, his thrill at getting to represent the US (“All those big boys are like, ‘Aw, down year, no World Championships, no Olympics.’ I was like, NACAC year, let’s go! Time for me to get the US kit”), his journey from a 9:34 high school two-miler to 5th at USAs, his life as a black Jew in Providence, and even shared a hilarious impression of his coach Ray Treacy. It’s an absolute must-watch.
Just don’t think of Mann as a sound bite. He is a fine runner too, and based on his 2018 season, he deserves his spot in these rankings.