Shalane Flanagan Retires: Is She The US’s GOAT (Greatest of All Time)? Plus The 5 Great Moments In Her Career

By Robert Johnson
Octoer 21, 2019

Today, American distance star Shalane Flanagan announced on Instagram that she’s retiring from professional running and has accepted a job as a coach with the Bowerman Track Club.

Flanagan had quite the career. Below we recap her top 5 career highlights and then discuss if she’s the US GOAT — Greatest of All Time.

1) Shalane Flanagan Wins the 2017 New York City Marathon

Shalane Flanagan began her marathon career with a promising second-place showing at the 2010 New York City Marathon, when she finished just 20 seconds behind Edna Kiplagat (and 21 seconds ahead of Mary Keitany, by the way). Fast forward seven years, and it was looking like Flanagan would never win a major. Since her debut, she had never finished higher than third in any other major (that came when she ran her 2:21:14 pb in Berlin in 2014 in a 2:20:18 race).

However, everything broke right in 2017 as heavy favorite Keitany had an off day while on her period and Flanagan got the win thanks to a sensational final five miles of 5:09, 5:08, 5:11, 5:04 and 5:12. When it was all over, Flanagan was the first American NYC Marathon champion in 40 years in 2:26:53 to Keitany’s 2:27:54.

2) Shalane Flanagan Wins Olympic 10,000 Silver in 2008

Article continues below player.
Shalane Flanagan after getting a bronze medal and AR at the 2008 Bejing Olympics. Photo by

2007 was a breakout year for Flanagan as a pro as it marked the first time she showed she could be competitive at the world level. While Flanagan made both the 2004 Olympics and 2005 Worlds in the 5000, she failed to make the final both years and had a 5000 PB north of 15:00 heading into 2007 (15:05.08). That all changed quickly as she opened her 2007 track campaign with a 14:44.80 American record at Mt. SAC in April. She followed that up with a 14:51 win at USAs in June before getting 5th at the Rome Diamond League and 7th at Worlds.[spp-featured-image]

Flanagan was even better in 2008. She showed good fitness in the winter by winning the US XC title in San Diego. When she first stepped on the track in Stanford in May, she destroyed Deena Kastor‘s American 10,000m record of 30:50.32 by running 30:34.49After winning the Olympic Trials 10,000, she then moved on to the Olympics where she ran the race of her life to win Olympic silver by running 30:22.22, still #2 all-time in the US (Flanagan initially was awarded bronze but was upgraded after Turkey’s Elvan Abeylegesse was stripped of her silver for doping).

3) Shalane Flanagan Wins World XC Bronze in 2011

Throughout her career, Flanagan excelled at cross country, winning two NCAA titles (2002 and 2003) and six USA titles (2004 short course, 2005 short course, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2013), but her biggest success at the global level came in 2011. Only 7th entering the final lap, Flanagan saved her best for last and moved up to third to grab the bronze in Punta Umbria, Spain.

4) Shalane Flanagan Wins the 2002 and 2003 NCAA Cross Country Crowns

As a collegian, Flanagan won three NCAA titles with the most significant being the two NCAA cross country titles she won in 2002 over Yale’s Kate O’Neill and 2003 over Providence’s Kim Smith. Flanagan never won an NCAA outdoor title on the track, but she did win the 2003 NCAA indoor title in the 3000.

5) Shalane Flanagan Makes 4 Olympic Teams

Flanagan will be remembered for having a long career, where she excelled at a large variety of distances and surfaces whether it was track, road or cross country. Thus we decided to list this career-long achievement as one of her top accomplishments.

Flanagan made the Olympics every time she tried out for them — 2004, 2008, 2012 and 2016. Here is how she did in each of those years.

2004 – 5000 (3rd at USAs, heats of Olympics)
2008 – 10,000 (1st at USAs, 2nd at Olympics). 5000 (3rd USAs, 9th Olympics)
2012 – Marathon (1st USAs, 9th Olympics). Also 3rd in 10,000 Trials but didn’t run Olympics in that event.
2016 – Marathon – 3rd Olympic Trials, 6th Olympics

Is Flanagan the American GOAT?

While Flanagan may not have been the greatest track runner in US history (Jenny Simpson has won four global medals), or greatest cross country runner in US history (Lynn Jennings won three world titles in a row from 1990 to 1992) or greatest marathoner in US history (Joan Benoit Samuelson won Olympic gold plus Boston and Chicago and has a PB just seven seconds slower than Flanagan), one could make the argument that Flanagan is the US women’s GOAT — greatest of all time — as an overall distance runner.

Flanagan retires having won 1 Olympic medal, 1 World XC medal, 1 Abbott World Marathon Major, 3 NCAA titles (2 XC, 1 indoor track), 5 USA Outdoor track titles (2005 5000, 2007 5000, 2008 10,000, 2011 10,000, 2013 10,000), and 6 USA XC crowns (2004 short course, 2005 short course, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2013). She retires as the 4th-fastest US woman ever at 3000 (8:33.25) and 5000 (14:44.80), 2nd-fastest ever at 10,000 (30:22.22), 5th-fastest ever at the half marathon in all conditions (67:51), and 3rd-fastest all-time at the marathon (2:21:14). That’s a great career.

If we analyzed US women’s distance careers and scored them like a decathlon, Flanagan is the #1 of all time. However, if I could have anyone’s career, I’d choose to have Joan Benoit’s career over Flanagan’s as it includes the historic first Olympic women’s marathon gold plus an American record that stood for more than 20 years.

Also, not in the stats above is Flanagan’s role in helping establish the Bowerman Track Club as a dominant club for US women. Prior to 2009, Flanagan was coached by John Cook, who led her to Olympic silver in the 10,000m. They parted ways in early 2009, and Flanagan didn’t know where she would go. Eventually, she decided to join Jerry Schumacher‘s Bowerman Track Club as its first female member. A decade later, the Bowerman Club is the strongest female club in America and has won world medals at the steeple, 10k, and marathon, and has Flanagan’s New York City win. It is fitting that Flanagan retired to take a coaching job with her Bowerman club.

Talk about Flanagan’s career on our messageboard. MB: Shalane announces she is RETIRED!

More. From the LRC Archives: 2008: Shalane Flanagan Talks About Her 30:34.49 American Record
2011: Flanagan wins World XC bronze
2017: Flanagan wins the 2017 NYC Marathon

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