December 13, 2019
(Editor’s note: We are determining the RACE OF THE DECADE. If you didn’t participate in the first round, you can find an overview of what is going on here.)
The first round of December Madness – LetsRun.com’s 64-Race Battle for Race Of The Decade – is in the books and the action in the opening round was spectacular. The matchup between the GOAT – Kenenisa Bekele and his win in Berlin in 2019 – and the People’s Champ in Yuki Kawauchi and his 2018 Boston win – is a battle that track and field fans will be talking about for decades as it featured a controversial finish and was decided by a single vote. In the other instant classic, Des Linden‘s win at the 2018 Boston Marathon knocked off Shalane Flanagan and her win in 2017 New York.
You can read a recap of the first round here: Race of the Decade, First 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 in Instant Classic
Below you’ll find the 16 matchups for all four regions (4 in each region) in the round of 32 in our Race of the Decade bracket. Voting for the 2nd round will be open until the end of the day (midnight ET) on Sunday, December 15. Seeds are in ().
There are some great matchups. Which was a better race – Kenenisa Bekele’s Great North Run win in 2013 or his 2:01:41 2019 Berlin Marathon shocker? Which was better – the 2019 world’s women’s 400 or the 2016 Olympic women’s 400? How does this year’s historic women’s 1500 final at World’s compare to the 2016 Olympics men’s 1500 final? Or what about Mo Farah and Galen Rupp going 1-2 in the Olympics versus Emma Coburn and Courtney Frerichs going 1-2 at Worlds?
Seeds are in ().
Race descriptions by Jonathan Gault.
Rudisha Region, Matchup #1
(1) 2012 Olympics, men’s 800 meters
David Rudisha’s finest hour, which featured two Americans breaking 1:43 and poor Andrew Osagie running 1:43.77 and finishing last, is best described by 17 letters: WR, WJR, PB, PB, PB, NR, SB, PB.
(9) 2019 World Championships, men’s 3,000-meter steeplechase
For the first time since 1987, it looked as if a non-Kenyan-born athlete was going to win a global steeple gold at the 2019 World Championships in Doha. After lying dormant for years, Ethiopia had finally emerged as a steeple power, and Kenya’s best hope, reigning world/Olympic champ Conseslus Kipruto, had been hobbled by injuries — he had finished just two races in 2019 entering the meet. Yet Kipruto, with the weight of a nation on his shoulders, simply refused to lose, outkicking Ethiopia’s Lamecha Girma by .01 to ensure the title remained in Kenyan hands.
Rudisha Region, Matchup #2
(4) 2016 Olympics, men’s 1500 meters
If you’re an American, you remember where you were when you watched this one. In a tactical masterclass, Matthew Centrowitz won the United States’ first Olympic 1500 gold in 108 years by leading almost wire-to-wire.
Halfway through the race, the tension began building as one question — Can he hold on? — permeated the mind of everyone watching. Yes, he could.
One moment that you may have overlooked from this race: Centrowitz actually lost the lead briefly to Ayanleh Souleiman with 500 meters to go. Centrowitz’s inside pass 50 meters later — which set him up perfectly for the blazing 50.6 final lap — is one of the most underrated tactical moves in Olympic history.
(5) 2019 World Championships, women’s 1500 meters
Two months later, the results still don’t make any sense. Shelby Houlihan ran 3:54, destroyed the American record, and finished fourth. Led by Sifan Hassan’s sublime 3:51, five women broke 3:56, six broke 3:57, and nine broke 4:00 in the deepest non-Chinese race of all time.
Rudisha Region, Matchup #3
(3) 2017 World Championships, men’s 5,000 meters
For almost six years, Mo Farah had been unbeatable. Starting with the 5,000 meters at the 2011 Worlds, Farah had won 10 straight global track finals, including the 10,000 a week earlier at the 2017 Worlds in his home city of London. Farah, who prior to the meet had announced 2017 would be his final year on the track (spoiler alert: it wasn’t) was trying to go out as a champion, but Ethiopia’s Muktar Edris had other plans, upsetting him at London Stadium and turning Farah’s own Mobot against him in celebration.
(11) 2015 Paris Diamond League, men’s steeplechase
Despite a brilliant 8:00.45 American record, the question for Evan Jager at Paris 2015 will always be, What if? 7:56 or 7:57 was in play on a day where everything went right for the American — except the final barrier.
Click here to be taken to last lap of video below.
Rudisha Region, Matchup #4
(2) 2017 World Championships, women’s 3,000-meter steeplechase
Entering the 2017 Worlds, no American, male or female, had ever medalled in the steeplechase at the World Championships. That changed, dramatically, in London. Pre-race favorite Beatrice Chepkoech forgot to hurdle the first water barrier and, as she tried to catch up following her mistake, fell on another barrier.
Somehow, Chepkoech fought her way back to the lead by the bell, but she had nothing left. With Olympic champ/world record holder Ruth Jebet struggling, that left the door open for Americans Emma Coburn and Courtney Frerichs, who blew through it by running huge PRs (five seconds for Coburn, fifteen for Frerichs) to go 1-2 in one of the biggest upsets in World Championship history.
(10) 2012 Olympics, men’s 10,000-meter final
The greatest race in the history of the Nike Oregon Project saw training partners Mo Farah and Galen Rupp go 1-2 in the Olympic final in London, a sentence that would have sounded incomprehensible just two years earlier.
Click here to be taken to last 500 of video below.
Lagat Region, Matchup #1
(1) 2010 Payton Jordan Invitational, men’s 10,000 meters
What was billed as an American record attempt for Galen Rupp instead ended with a stunning American record for Chris Solinsky, igniting the Alberto Salazar–Jerry Schumacher rivalry in the process. Solinsky was the first non-African-born man to break 27:00 for 10,000; at 6-1 and roughly 165 lbs, Solinsky was also the tallest and heaviest man to break 27.
(9) 2015 USATF Outdoor Championships, men’s 1500
Behind Matthew Centrowitz’s dominant win up front, the battle for the final two spots to Worlds was as close as it comes. Robby Andrews (stop us if you’ve heard this before) made up a huge deficit over the final 150 to grab second, with Leo Manzano third and Ben Blankenship fourth. Just .03 separated the trio.
Lagat Region, Matchup #2
(4) 2012 Olympic Trials, women’s 5,000 meters
Julia Lucas didn’t need to go to the lead with three laps to go. With the Olympic standard in her pocket, she didn’t need to push the pace. She did it anyway, building a comfortable lead, only to see it all come crashing down over the final 200. Kim Conley — 4.4 seconds behind Lucas with 200 to go — nipped Lucas at the line for third. And because Lucas had kept pushing the pace, Conley dipped under the Olympic standard as well, by just .21 of a second. Conley went to the Olympics. Lucas went home devastated.
LRC The Women’s 5,000 Final – The Olympic Trials At Its Absolute Best
LRC An Oral History Of The 2012 Olympic Trials Women’s 5,000, Part I: The Road To The Trials
LRC An Oral History of the 2012 Olympic Trials Women’s 5,000, Part II: The Race
LRC An Oral History of the 2012 Olympic Trials Women’s 5,000, Part III: The Aftermath
(12) 2014 USATF Outdoor Championships, women’s 5,000 meters
This matchup pitting American record holder Molly Huddle against Shannon Rowbury, who would go on to break Huddle’s record in 2016, did not disappoint. Despite Rowbury’s 1500 prowess, it was Huddle who came from behind to win over the final 100. Between this race, 2012 USA XC, the 2015 Worlds 10k, and the 2016 NYC Half, Huddle was involved in several fantastic finishes this decade.
Lagat Region, Matchup #3
(3) 2014 NCAA Outdoor Championships, men’s 5,000 meters
Edward Cheserek burst onto the scene with a shocking NCAA XC title in the fall of 2013, and since then looked invincible, sweeping the NCAA indoor 3k and 5k titles and closing in 24.8 (!) for his final 200 to win the outdoor 10k title. But Lawi Lalang, his predecessor as king of the NCAA, had one last great race in him, running his final 1600 in 4:09 to win in 13:18.36 to Cheserek’s 13:18.71 in a dazzling finish that threatened to blow the roof off of Hayward Field.
(6) 2011 NCAA Outdoor Championships, men’s 800 meters
The quintessential Robby Andrews race. Running in dead last for the first 600 meters, Andrews passed the entire field over the last 200 to win in incredible comeback fashion.
Lagat Region, Matchup #4
(2) 2016 Olympic Trials, men’s 5,000 meters
Daddy can still kick. After missing the US World Championship team for the first time the previous year, 41-year-old Bernard Lagat dropped out of the 10,000 on day 1 of the 2016 Olympic Trials, the sun seemingly setting on his career. Eight days later, he responded with one of his greatest victories.
(10) 2016 Penn Relays, high school boys’ distance medley relay Championship of America
Usually handing your 4:06 miler a nine-second lead on the anchor leg of a high school DMR is a safe bet. Not when Drew Hunter is involved. Hunter led his Loudoun Valley (Va.) team to an epic victory, his 4:00.73 anchor leg barely enough to edge out La Salle (R.I.) anchor Jack Salisbury by one-thousandth of a second.
Kipchoge Region, Matchup #1
(1) 2010 Chicago Marathon, men’s race
Counted out after injuries, a DNF in London earlier in the year, and a nasty stomach flu in his buildup, the late, great Sammy Wanjiru was dropped no less than three times over the final miles by Ethiopian Tsegaye Kebede but rallied back to win a slugfest. The stakes were high as well: the winner between Wanjiru and Kebede, who had won London earlier in the year, earned $500,000 as the World Marathon Majors champion.
Sadly, this would be the last race of Wanjiru’s career; within eight months, he would be dead at the age of 24.
(9) 2018 Boston Marathon, women’s race
Just five months after Shalane Flanagan’s NYC win, Des Linden joined her as a World Marathon Major champion, overcoming horrific conditions (she ran the entire race in a jacket) to win by over four minutes and become the first US women’s champ in Boston since 1985.
Kipchoge Region, Matchup #2
(4) 2016 World Half Marathon Championships, men’s race
Despite falling at the start and getting trampled by the mass racers behind him — he was on the ground for seven seconds — Geoffrey Kamworor regained his footing to blast a 59:10 on a wet, windy day in Cardiff and retain his world title. Kamworor destroyed a quality field, winning by 26 seconds — all of which came in the final mile — over Bedan Karoki, who had been undefeated in half marathons to that point. World 5k/10k champ Mo Farah was a further 23 seconds back in 3rd.
(5) 2018 Berlin Marathon, men’s race
By September 2018, Eliud Kipchoge was already widely acknowledged as the greatest marathoner of all time. But whether due to weather, faulty equipment, or other factors, the world record had eluded him. Kipchoge put that right by crushing the 2:02 barrier and taking 78 seconds off Dennis Kimetto’s world record with a 2:01:39 in Berlin.
Kipchoge Region, Matchup #3
(3) 2014 Boston Marathon, men’s race
One year after a tragic finish-line bombing resulted in the deaths of four people, a 38-year-old American named Meb Keflezighi took off eight miles into the 2014 Boston Marathon and earned a historic victory. Running with the names of the victims on his bib, Meb ran a personal best of 2:08:37 to become the first American champion at Boston in 31 years.
How unlikely was Meb’s win? Before the race, we pegged the odds of an American victory at somewhere between 1 in 27 and 1 in 19,813.
(6) 2019 Chicago Marathon, women’s race
After running the second half of the 2019 London Marathon in 66:42, it was clear that Brigid Kosgei was capable of running a lot faster than the 2:18:20 she recorded that day. In Chicago, she showed just how fast, crushing Paula Radcliffe’s 2:15:25 world record with an otherworldly 2:14:04 that redefined what women were capable of over 26.2 miles.
Kipchoge Region, Matchup #4
(2) 2013 Great North Run, men’s race
Kenenisa Bekele, left off of Ethiopia’s World Championship team for the first time in his senior career, bounced back to prevail in a battle of legends against Haile Gebrselassie and Mo Farah. Early in the race, Bekele feigned fatigue, dropping back and allowing Geb and Farah to increase the pace, only to storm back and hold off Farah — who had run 3:28 for 1500 that summer — over the final meters. A legendary race between three legends of the sport.
(7) 2019 Berlin Marathon, men’s race
Written off (again) as a marathoner, Kenenisa Bekele erased a 13-second deficit at 35 kilometers to win his second Berlin Marathon title and come just two seconds shy of Eliud Kipchoge’s 2:01:39 world record.
Bolt Region, Matchup #1
(1) 2016 Olympics, men’s 400 meters
43.03 from lane 8. Need we say more?
(9) 2019 NCAA Outdoor Championships, men’s 110-meter hurdles
This race was the reason why Grant Holloway returned for his junior year at the University of Florida. Holloway didn’t just win his third straight NCAA title, but he ran 12.98 to break Renaldo Nehemiah’s 40-year-old collegiate record and become the first collegian under 13.00. He had to run that fast because runner-up Daniel Roberts of Kentucky, who had battled Holloway all year and even beat him at SECs, ran 13.00 for second to match Nehemiah’s mark.
Bolt Region, Matchup #2
(4) 2019 World Championships, women’s 400 meters
Shaunae Miller-Uibo entered the 2019 Worlds riding a 2+ year unbeaten streak and ran a huge personal best of 48.37 (#6 time) in the 400-meter final in Doha. But it wasn’t enough, as Salwa Eid Naser earned gold with 48.14 — the fastest time in the world in 34 years.
(5) 2016 Olympics, women’s 400 meters
Shaunae Miller-Uibo running out of gas combined with a late charge from Allyson Felix led to one of the great finishes in Olympic history. Ultimately, Miller-Uibo’s dive — more of a collapse from exhaustion than a strategic maneuver — gave her the Olympic title. Barely.
Bolt Region, Matchup #3
(3) 2018 NCAA Outdoor Championships, women’s 4×400-meter relay
The last race at the old Hayward Field was one to remember. USC needed a win to clinch the NCAA team title, but with 200 meters to go, that looked to be impossible: anchor Kendall Ellis was 25 meters back, in part because of a botched final handoff. But Ellis, who had been outkicked by Oregon’s Raevyn Rogers a year earlier, rallied back over the final 100, nipping Purdue’s Jahneya Mitchell at the line in an all-time great finish.
(6) 2019 Zurich Diamond League final, men’s 400-meter hurdles
This was the male equivalent of the Muhammad-McLaughlin race at the 2019 Worlds. Norway’s Karsten Warholm ran 46.92 (#2 all-time) to hold off USA’s Rai Benjamin (46.98, T-#3 all-time) as two men broke 47 in the same race for the first time.
Bolt Region, Matchup #4
(2) 2019 World Championships, women’s 400-meter hurdles
Dalilah Muhammad, the Olympic champion and world record holder, added world champion to her resume by outleaning 20-year-old Sydney McLaughlin at the 2019 Worlds in Doha. Muhammad’s 52.16 broke her own world record; McLaughlin’s 52.23 was the #3 time ever run.
(7) 2015 Worlds, men’s 100 meters
For the first time in eight years, Usain Bolt was not the favorite in a global sprint final. With a season’s best of just 9.87 and a near-defeat to Zharnel Hughes over 200 meters in New York, Bolt looked vulnerable. Justin Gatlin, meanwhile, had ripped off a string of 9.7s during the Diamond League season.
The semifinals — in which Gatlin ran 9.77 and Bolt ran 9.96 after nearly falling at the start — only confirmed Gatlin’s status as a favorite. Yet Bolt, like all great champions, summoned his best when it mattered the most, while Gatlin, unable to shake the competition for the first time all season, broke form and faltered late. Bolt won, 9.79 to 9.80, to hand Gatlin his first loss in almost two years. “One Love” played on the Bird’s Nest speakers during his victory lap.