Race of the Decade, 1st Round Recap: Kenenisa Bekele’s 2019 Berlin Win Defeats Yuki Kawauchi’s 2018 Boston Win In Controversial Fashion, Plus Des Linden Takes Down Shalane Flanagan

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By LetsRun.com
December 13, 2019

The first round of December Madness — LetsRun.com’s 64-race battle for Race Of The Decade — is in the books and some of the action was spectacular. As is the case in NCAA tournament first rounds, the favorites took care of business most of the time, but there were eight upsets. The powerhouse #1 seeds had little trouble as three of the four garnered at least 92% of the vote in their opening-round matchups. In particular, our #1 overall seed — David Rudisha‘s world record in the 2012 Olympic 800m final — garnered the highest percentage of any first-round matchup, at 95.9%. Wayde van Niekerk‘s world record in the 2016 Olympic 400m final was just behind, at 95.8%.

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The one “outlier” among #1 seeds was the 2010 Chicago Marathon men’s race between Sammy Wanjiru and Tsegaye Kebede for $500,000. That race featured a feisty challenge from the 2018 Foot Locker XC girls’ race between Katelynne Hart and Sydney Masciarelli, but in the end, Chicago won with more than 80% of the vote.

There was one instant classic that featured a controversial finish. The 7-10 matchup in the Kipchoge Region — the region featuring road and XC races — is a battle that track and field fans will be talking about for decades. Before things tipped off, fans were salivating about this matchup as it featured two shock performances from two very popular performers.

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Pre-tournament, many said nothing looked better on paper than the GOAT — Kenenisa Bekele with his 2:01:41 at 2019 Berlin (#7 seed) — versus the people’s champ in Yuki Kawauchi with his shock 2018 Boston Marathon win (#10 seed) — and the battle more than lived up to the hype. In the end, the #7 seed Bekele (technically the 2019 Berlin Marathon men’s race) held on and defeated the #10 seed in Kawauchi (the 2018 Boston Marathon men’s race) by a single vote. However, Kawauchi fans are crying foul because if you look at the scoreboard right now, it shows Kawauchi getting the win. However, that was because of a clock malfunction. Votes after midnight Eastern Time on Thursday were not supposed to be tallied and a ton of Kawauchi rolled in votes after midnight, not a surprise given the time difference between the US and Asia.

Kawauchi fans protested the fact that LetsRun gave the win to Bekele — saying given the fact that the contest started in the middle of the night in Japan that they should have had two days of daylight to vote just like everyone else — but LetsRun.com denied the protest saying, “What do we always say? Life’s not fair. Just as it’s not fair that the Kalenjin tribe member is way better at running than you or I, it’s not fair that this contest started in the middle of the night in Japan. Deal with it.”

Fans of the 2018 Boston Marathon did get a little revenge though, with the #9 seed upsetting the #8 seed in the Kipchoge region. Pre-tournament, there was no more hyped 8-9 matchup than this one — the 2017 New York City Marathon women’s race featuring Shalane Flanagan‘s win seeded at #8 versus the 2018 Boston Marathon women’s race featuring Des Linden’s win at #9.

In the end, Linden shocked herself by pulling off yet another upset, 53.5% to 46.5%, as just before action started she tweeted that she wasn’t feeling good about the matchup.

It’s worth noting that in every single region, the number 9 seed upset the number 8 seed. And while the Linden-Flanagan matchup was the closest in terms of score, the biggest rout in the 8-9 matchups came in the Bolt Region — the region featuring sprint races — where the #9 seed the 2019 NCAA men’s 110 hurdles featuring Grant Holloway‘s 12.98 CR routed the 2013 World Championships women’s 400, which was decided by just .004, garnering more than 70% of the vote.

In the Kipchoge Region, the 8-9 matchup was interesting as it featured two races by Conseslus Kipruto. In the end, the fans viewed that Kipruto’s 2019 Worlds win by .01 was a better race than his 2018 Diamond League final win where he ran most of the race with one shoe, 56.0% to 44.0%.. In the other 9-8 upset, in the Lagat Region, fans gave the 2015 USATF men’s 1500 final a comfortable victory over this year’s NCAA men’s steeplechase race, which was noteworthy as it featured a fall by the leader on each of the last two barriers, 58.8% to 41.2%.

While it would be pretty much impossible to top the drama of Kawauchi vs Bekele in round 1, one other matchup came pretty close and also is already being described as an “instant classic” — the 6-11 matchup in the Rudisha Region. There, the #6 seed, the 2016 Olympic women’s 10,000 featuring Almaz Ayana‘s world record, was beaten by the 2015 Paris Diamond League mens steeplechase featuring Evan Jager’s fall and Tim Hutchings‘ fantastic play-by-play, 50.5% to 49.5%, the second-tightest score of the first round. Ayana’s WR was the only WR to get upset in the first round.

If one is looking for a seed outside of the top eight that might be able to make it to the Sweet 16 or further, how about the #10 seed in the Rudisha Region, the 2012 Olympic men’s 10,000 featuring Mo Farah and Galen Rupp going 1-2 over the Bekele brothers? That race dominated its round one matchup over the #7 seed, Mo Farah’s 2017 Diamond League win in the 5000, which he achieved over Muktar Edris after losing to Edris at Worlds, 71.3% to 28.7%.

It was vindication for the pundits who criticized the selection committee for underseeding the Rupp-Farah race.

“How in the world LetsRun.com could seed a race that resulted in Farah’s first Olympic gold and as well as an Olympic silver for an American at #10 is beyond my comprehension,” said one high ranking track and field official.

The biggest upset of the day came in the Lagat Region, where the #12 seed, the 2014 USATF Outdoor women’s 5000, featuring a tight battle between Molly Huddle and Shannon Rowbury, knocked off the #5 seed, the 2016 US Olympic Trials women’s 800 — which featured a fall from Alysia Montaño — 52.3% to 47.7%.

Updated brackets and final first-round results below.

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First-round results

Rudisha Region

(1) 2012 Olympic men’s 800 95.9%
(16) 2012 Paris DL men’s 5,000 4.1%

(2) 2017 Worlds women’s steeplechase 87.8%
(15) 2016 Euro men’s 5,000 12.2%

(3) 2017 Worlds men’s 5,000 61.6%
(14) 2014 Zurich DL women’s 1500 38.4%

(4) 2016 Olympic men’s 1500 75.5%
(13) 2012 Olympic women’s 5,000 24.5%

(5) 2019 Worlds women’s 1500 70.9%
(12) 2019 Worlds women’s 10,000 29.1%

(6) 2016 Olympic women’s 10,000 49.5%
(11) 2015 Paris DL men’s steeplechase 50.5%

(7) 2017 Zurich DL men’s 5,000 28.7%
(10) 2012 Olympic men’s 10,000 71.3%

(8) 2018 Zurich DL men’s steeplechase 44.0%
(9) 2019 Worlds men’s steeplechase 56.0%

Kipchoge Region

(1) 2010 Chicago Marathon, men’s race 80.1%
(16) 2018 Foot Lockers, girls’ race 19.9%

(2) 2013 Great North Run, men’s race 75.8%
(15) 2013 NCAA XC, men’s race 24.2%

(3) 2014 Boston Marathon, men’s race 69.4%
(14) 2011 Boston Marathon, men’s race 30.6%

(4) 2016 World Half, men’s race 59.9%
(13) 2011 Foot Lockers, boys’ race 41.1%

(5) 2018 Berlin Marathon, men’s race 81.1%
(12) 2013 World XC, men’s race 18.9%

(6) 2019 Chicago Marathon, women’s race 62.0%
(11) 2015 London Marathon, women’s race 38.0%

(7) 2019 Berlin Marathon, men’s race 50.1%
(10) 2018 Boston Marathon, men’s race 49.9%

(8) 2017 NYC Marathon, women’s race 46.5%
(9) 2018 Boston Marathon, women’s race 53.5%

Lagat Region

(1) 2010 Payton Jordan men’s 10,000 92.4%
(16) 2019 NCAA women’s 1500 7.6%

(2) 2016 Olympic Trials men’s 5,000 62.1%
(15) 2010 NCAA men’s 1500 37.9%

(3) 2014 NCAA men’s 5,000 62.1%
(14) 2016 NCAA men’s DMR 37.9%

(4) 2012 Olympic Trials women’s 5,000 58.8%
(13) 2015 World Relays men’s DMR 41.2%

(5) 2016 Olympic Trials, women’s 800 47.7%
(12) 2014 USA women’s 5,000 52.3%

(6) 2011 NCAA men’s 800 66.8%
(11) 2010 NCAA indoor men’s 800 33.2%

(7) 2011 USA men’s 5,000 48.7%
(10) 2016 Penn Relays boys’ DMR 51.2%

(8) 2019 NCAA men’s steeplechase 41.2%
(9) 2015 USA men’s 1500 58.8%

Bolt Region

(1) 2016 Olympic men’s 400 95.8%
(16) 2012 Olympic men’s 4×400 4.2%

(2) 2019 Worlds women’s 400 hurdles 87.6%
(15) 2017 NCAA indoor men’s 4×400 12.4%

(3) 2018 NCAA women’s 4×400 83.8%
(14) 2014 NCAA indoor women’s 4×400 16.2%

(4) 2019 Worlds women’s 400 68.7%
(13) 2015 Worlds women’s 200 31.3%

(5) 2016 Olympic women’s 400 85.9%
(12) 2014 Euro women’s 4×400 14.1%

(6) 2019 Zurich DL men’s 400 hurdles 88.8%
(11) 2013 Worlds men’s 400 hurdles 11.2%

(7) 2015 Worlds men’s 100 72.7%
(10) 2017 NCAA women’s 4×400 27.3%

(8) 2013 Worlds women’s 400 23.4%
(9) 2019 NCAA men’s 110 hurdles 76.6%


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