American Distance GOAT: Benoit Region, Round of 64

By LetsRun.com
April 8, 2020

This month, LetsRun.com is determining the greatest American distance runner of all time (overview here).

Below you’ll find the matchups for the round of 64 in the Benoit Region of the American Distance GOAT bracket. Voting will be open until the end of the day (midnight ET) on Thursday, April 9.

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You can vote on matchups in the other regions by clicking the links below. Seeds are in ().

*AMERICAN DISTANCE GOAT OVERVIEW *BENOIT REGION *KASTOR REGION *LAGAT REGION *SHORTER REGION

Race descriptions by Jonathan Gault.

Matchup #1

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1) Joan Benoit Samuelson

Notable PBs: 2:21:21 marathon (#4 US)
Global medals: 1 (1984 Olympic marathon gold)
Major marathon wins: 4 (1979 and 1983 Boston Marathons, 1984 Olympics, 1985 Chicago)
USA track titles: 1 (10,000)
Global outdoor finals: 1 (1st 1984 Olympic marathon)
NCAA titles: 0

Bio: Won inaugural Olympic women’s marathon in 1984 *Two-time Boston Marathon champ; her 1983 winning time of 2:22:43 was a world record *6-time Falmouth Road Race champ *1985 Chicago Marathon champ; her 2:21:21 winning time would stand as the American record for almost 18 years

The diminutive Maine native known lovingly as “Joanie” was simultaneously a pioneer of her sport — she won the inaugural Olympic marathon in Los Angeles in 1984 — and ahead of her time. When she ran 2:22:43 at the 1983 Boston Marathon, it was the fastest time by a woman (in any marathon) by almost three minutes. I took 28 years for an American to run faster than Joanie on that course, and 32 until an American ran faster than her time in Chicago in 1985 (2:21:21, which remains the fourth-fastest ever by an American woman, 35 years later). She was twice ranked World #1 in the marathon by Track & Field News.

Her 1984 campaign was remarkable, winning the US Olympic Trials in Olympia, Wash., just 17 days after undergoing knee surgery, and then using a bold move just three miles in to win the Olympic marathon handily, 1:26 ahead of Norway’s Grete Waitz. She remains the only American woman to win Olympic gold in an event longer than 800 meters.

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16) Marla Runyan

Notable PBs: 4:02.95 1500, 8:39.36 3,000, 14:59.20 5,000, 32:11.92 10,000, 2:27:10 marathon
Global medals: 0
USA outdoor track titles: 3 (all in 5,000)
USA indoor track titles 1 (3,000)
Global outdoor finals: 2 (10th 1999 World 1500, 8th 2000 Olympic 1500)
NCAA titles: 0
Bio: 2-time Olympian

Legally blind, Runyan began her competitive athletics career by winning four golds at the 1992 Paralympics in the 100, 200, 400, and long jump. Four years later, she had taken up the multi-events, winning the pentathlon at the 1996 Paralympics and finishing 10th in the heptathlon in the able-bodied Olympic Trials.

Four years later, she was a distance runner, taking 8th at the Olympics in the 1500 before winning three straight US titles at 5,000 from 2001-03. And for fun, she added the marathon in 2002, running 2:27:10 to finish 5th in New York — at the time, the second-fastest debut in US history.

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Matchup #2

2) Jenny Simpson

Notable PBs: 3:57.22 1500 (#4 US), 4:17.30 mile (#3 US), 8:29.58 3,000 (#5 US), 14:56.26 5,000; 9:12.50 steeple (#4 US)
Global medals: 4 (1st 2011 World 1500, 2nd 2013 World 1500, 3rd 2016 Olympic 1500, 2nd 2017 World 1500) 
USA outdoor track titles:
7 (4 in 1500, 2 in steeple, 1 in 5,000)
USA indoor track titles: 4 (2 in 3,000, 1 in 1500, 1 in mile)
Global outdoor finals: 8 (8th 2008 Olympic steeple, 4th 2009 World steeple, 1st 2011 World 1500, 2nd 2013 World 1500, 11th 2015 World 1500, 3rd 2016 Olympic 1500, 2nd 2017 World 1500, 8th 2019 World 1500)
NCAA titles: 4
Bio: Most global outdoor medals (4) of any female American distance runner *Former American record holder in steeple *Collegiate record holder in 1500 (3:59.90), mile (4:25.91i), and 5,000 (15:01.70i) *2014 Diamond League champion (1500)

With four global medals, including a world title in 2011, Simpson is the most decorated American female distance runner in history, and one of the most decorated 1500 runners from any country. Thanks to her strength and a brilliant sense of pace, Simpson almost always measures her race perfectly, allowing her to run down countless foes over the final 100 meters. Though her finest hour came at the 2011 Worlds, where Simpson shockingly walked away with the gold, she was actually in better shape in all three of her subsequent medal runs (but faced tougher competition in each).

Simpson’s dominant collegiate career at the University of Colorado and her steeplechase exploits (she finished 4th at Worlds in 2009 in an American record) should also be appreciated, but Simpson’s greatest trait is her consistency. She first broke 4:00 for the 1500 as a 22-year-old college senior in June 2009; over a decade later, at age 33, she ran 3:58 in the World Championship final, with few dips in between.

LRC Daegu 2011: Jenny Simpson Pulls Shocker, Wins World 1,500m Title

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15) Suzy Favor Hamilton

Notable PBs: 1:58.10 800, 3:57.40 1500 (#5 US), 8:46.16 3,000, 15:06.58 5,000
Global medals: 0
USA outdoor track titles: 4 (all in 1500)
USA indoor track titles: 3 (2 in mile, 1 in 1500)
Global outdoor finals: 1 (12th 2000 Olympic 1500)
NCAA titles: 9
Bio: 9-time NCAA champ *3-time Olympian

Favor Hamilton was one of the US’s premier 800/1500 talents of the 1990s, piling up a record nine NCAA titles at the University of Wisconsin and becoming the second-fastest American ever (at the time) over 1500 meters with her 3:57 in Oslo in 2000.

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Matchup #3

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3) Emma Coburn

Notable PBs: 8:41.16i 3,000, 9:02.35 steeple (#2 US)
Global medals: 3 (3rd 2016 Olympic steeple, 1st 2017 World steeple, 2nd 2019 World steeple)
USA track titles: 8 (all in steeple)
Global outdoor finals: 6 (8th 2011 World steeple, 8th 2012 Olympic steeple, 5th 2015 World steeple, 3rd 2016 Olympic steeple, 1st 2017 World steeple, 2nd 2019 World steeple)
NCAA titles: 3
Bio:
3-time NCAA champ *3-time global medallist in steeple *Former AR holder in steeple

Coburn is, undoubtedly, the greatest female steepler in US history. Her 2017 world title made her just the third American woman (after Mary Decker Slaney and Jenny Simpson) to win a world title in a distance event on the track, and she’s backed that up with medals at the 2016 Olympics and 2019 Worlds (it’s worth noting that one of the women who beat her in 2016, Ruth Jebet, has subsequently been banned for doping). LetsRun.com has ranked her in the top four in the world in five of the last six years, an incredible run of consistency.

Domestically, Coburn has dominated. She has won eight of the last nine US steeple titles (missing only in 2013, when she was injured) and owns a 15-1 record against her greatest rival, American record holder Courtney Frerichs.

The one knock on Coburn is that her success is almost completely limited to the steeple. She did win an NCAA mile title at Colorado, but when she ran the flat 3,000 at USA Indoors in 2018 (coming off her steeple world title), she finished 3rd and failed to make the team.

LRC 2017 Worlds: Americans Emma Coburn and Courtney Frerichs Pull Off Incomprehensible Upset and Go 1-2 in Women’s Steeple

14) Courtney Frerichs

Notable PBs: 8:47.31i 3,000, 15:02.91i 5,000, 9:00.85 steeple (AR)
Global medals: 1 (2nd 2017 World steeple)
USA track titles: 0
Global outdoor finals: 3 (11th 2016 Olympic steeple, 2nd 2017 World steeple, 6th 2019 World steeple)
NCAA titles: 1
Bio: 2016 NCAA steeple champ *Collegiate record holder in steeple *American record holder in steeple

Though Emma Coburn has undoubtedly been the best US steepler of her era (and of all time), Frerichs still has quite a résumé. She ran faster than Coburn both in college and as a pro (Frerichs owns the collegiate and American steeple records) and earned a silver medal at the 2017 Worlds. Still only 27, Frerichs has the opportunity to add more hardware in years to come.

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Matchup #4

4) Ajee’ Wilson

Notable PBs: 1:55.61 800 (AR)
Global medals: 4 (2nd 2016 World Indoor 800, 3rd 2017 World 800, 2nd 2018 World Indoor 800, 3rd 2019 World 800)
USA outdoor track titles: 4 (all in 800)
USA indoor track titles: 7 (5 in 800, 1 in 1000, 1 in 600)
Global outdoor champs finals: 5th 2013 World 800, 3rd 2017 World 800, 3rd 2019 World 800
NCAA titles: 0
Bio: 2-time World Indoor silver (2016, 2018) *2019 Diamond League champ *2012 World U20 champ *2011 World U18 champ

With four global medals and American records indoors and out, there’s a strong case to be made that Wilson is the US’s greatest-ever female 800 runner already at the age of 25. Her medal haul might have been even more impressive had CAS not suspended World Athletics’ hyperandrogenism guidelines in 2015, allowing DSD XY women such as Caster Semenya and Francine Niyonsaba to compete for three years of Wilson’s prime.

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13) Hazel Clark

Notable PBs: 1:57.99 800
Global medals: 0
USA outdoor track titles: 5 (all in 800)
USA indoor track titles: 2 (both in 800)
Global outdoor finals: 2 (7th 2000 Olympic 800, 8th 2005 World 800)
NCAA titles: 3
Bio: 3-time NCAA champ *3-time Olympian

Clark put together an impressive run of success during the 2000s, making seven of eight US outdoor teams in the decade, including three Olympic squads. Though she could make just two global finals during that span, seven US titles (five outdoors) is still quite a feat.

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Matchup #5

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5) Madeline Manning

Notable PBs: 1:57.90 800
Global medals: 1 (1st 1968 Olympic 800)
USA outdoor track titles: 6 (all in 800)
USA indoor track title: 4 (all in 880y)
Global outdoor finals: 1 (1st 1968 Olympic 800)
NCAA titles: 0
Bio: Former AR holder in 800 *Former world indoor record holder in 800 *Made 4 Olympic teams (did not compete in ’80) *First American to break 1:58

Manning was the first US woman to win Olympic gold in a distance event, setting an Olympic record of 2:00.9 in the 800 at the 1968 Games in Mexico City. Fifty-two years later, she remains the only American woman to win Olympic gold in a distance event on the track. She held the American record at 800 meters for 16 years; her PR of 1:57.9, set in 1976, made her the first American woman under 1:58. She also set three world indoor records, including a 2:02.0 in 1969.

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12) PattiSue Plumer

Notable PBs: 4:03.42 1500, 8:40.98 3,000, 15:00.00 5,000
Global medals: 1 (3rd 1985 World Indoor Games 3,000)
USA outdoor track titles: 6 (2 in 5,000, 2 in 3,000, 1 in 1500, 1 in 3,000)
Global outdoor finals: 4 (13th 1988 Olympic 3,000, 12th 1991 World 1500, 5th 1992 Olympic 3,000, 10th 1992 Olympic 1500)
NCAA titles: 0
Bio: Former AR holder in 5,000 *Bronze at 1985 World Indoor Games *2-time NCAA champ *2-time Olympian

A two-time NCAA champ at Stanford, Plumer ran 15:00.00 in Stockholm in 1989 to break Mary Decker Slaney’s American record at that distance. A two-time Olympian, her best finish was 5th in the 3,000 at the 1992 Games in Barcelona.

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Matchup #6

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6) Alysia Montaño

Notable PBs: 1:57.34 800 (#6 US)
Globa medals: 2 (3rd 2011 World 800, 2nd 2013 World 800)
USA outdoor track titles: 6 (all in 800)
USA indoor track title: 1 (600)
Global outdoor finals: 3 (3rd 2011 World 800, 4th 2012 Olympic 800, 3rd 2013 World 800)
NCAA titles: 2
Bio: 2010 World Indoor bronze *2-time NCAA champ *American indoor record (600)

Few athletes had more glory stolen from them by dopers or intersex women than the front-running Montaño, who earned bronze medals at the 2011 and 2013 Worlds but didn’t get to stand on the podium on either occasion. Not only that, but Montaño was denied an Olympic medal in 2012 when Russian doper Ekaterina Poistogova‘s result was allowed to stand in that race despite WADA calling for Poistogova to be banned for life. Plus two of the women ahead of her we believe to have been intersex.

If it wasn’t for intersex women or dopers, Montaño’s career resume might read as follows: 2011 World silver medallist, 2012 Olympic champion, 2013 World silver medallist. Despite facing an unlevel playing field, Montaño was one of the world’s top 800 women in the early 2010s and collected six US outdoor titles at that distance.

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11) Kara Goucher

Notable PBs: 8:34.99 3,000 (#8 US), 14:55.02 5,000, 30:55.16 10,000 (#5 US), 66:57 half marathon (aided course), 2:24:52 marathon
Global medals: 1 (2nd 2007 World 10,000)
USA outdoor track titles:
2 (both in 5,000)
Global outdoor finals: 6 (2nd 2007 World 10,000, 8th 2008 Olympic 10,000, 8th 2008 Olympic 5,000, 9th 2009 World marathon, 13th 2011 World 10,000, 10th 2012 Olympic marathon)
NCAA titles: 3
Bio: 3-time NCAA champ (including 2000 XC) *2-time Olympian

After a college career that saw her win three NCAA titles at Colorado, Goucher proved adept across multiple surfaces as a pro. Her silver in the 10,000 at the 2007 Worlds was a breakthrough — the first by a US woman at Worlds in the long distance track events — that helped resurrect US women’s distance running. The next year, she moved up to the marathon, running the fastest US debut ever at the time (2:25:53 on a tough New York course), notching three top-5 finishes in majors, and finishing 10th at the 2012 Olympics.

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Matchup #7

7) Des Linden

Notable PBs: 8:51.08i 3,000, 15:08.64 5,000, 31:37.14 10,000, 2:22:38 marathon (#7 US)
Global medals: 0
Major marathon wins: 1 (2018 Boston)
USA track titles: 0
Global outdoor finals: 2 (10th 2009 World marathon, 7th 2016 Olympic marathon)
NCAA titles: 0
Bio: 2018 Boston Marathon champ *Runner-up at 2010 Chicago and 2011 Boston *9 top-5 finishes at World Marathon Majors *2 Olympic marathon teams

Linden doesn’t have the track accolades of most of the women on this list (though did you remember she made a World Indoor team at 3,000 meters in 2010?), but she has put together a stellar marathon career. Obviously her 2018 Boston win stands out as the highlight, but Linden’s greatest trait was her consistency. Everyone has bad days in the marathon, but in 20 career starts (and counting), Linden never has, aside from her DNF at the 2012 Olympics (when she was very clearly injured). She was just two seconds shy of a second Boston title in 2011 and 11 seconds away from a third Olympic team in 2020 (which would have been a record for a US female marathoner). Instead, she’ll have to settle for an impressive nine top-5 finishes in majors and two Olympic berths.

LRC Des Linden Wins The 2018 Boston Marathon, Ends The American Women’s 33-Year Winless Streak

10) Patti Catalano

Notable PBs: 2:27:52 marathon
Global medals: 0
USA track titles: 
none
Global outdoor finals: none
NCAA titles: 0
Bio: 4-time Honolulu Marathon champ *Held world bests at five miles, 10K, 20K, half marathon, and 30K *Runner-up at 1980 NYC Marathon *Runner-up at 1981 Boston Marathon *Set AR in marathon three times

A dominant road runner in the 1970s and 1980s, Catalano was the first American woman under 2:30 in the marathon, clocking 2:29:33 at the 1980 NYC Marathon (the #2 time in history when she ran it). She would improve that mark in Boston the next year (2:27:52) before Joan Benoit took over. Catalano also set numerous world bests at distances from five miles to 30K.

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Matchup #8

8) Doris Brown Heritage

Notable PBs: 2:01.9 800, 4:14.4 1500
Global medals: 5 (5-time International XC champ)
USA outdoor track titles: 5 (2 in 1500, 1 in 2-mile, 1 in mile, 1 in 800)
USA indoor track titles: 4 (all in mile)
Global outdoor finals: 1 (5th 1968 Olympic 800)
NCAA titles: 0
Bio: 5-time International XC champ *Set world records in 3,000 & 2-mile *First woman to break 5:00 mile indoors

The International Cross Country Championships, the predecessor to the World Cross Country Champs, officially added a women’s race in 1967, and Brown Heritage won that one — and the next four. Given her cross country success, Brown Heritage would have been a serious factor at 5,000 meters, but the Olympics didn’t offer any distances for women longer than 800 meters until 1972. Undeterred, Brown Heritage ran the 800 and made the team in 1968, ultimately taking 5th at the Games in Mexico City.

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9) Francie Larrieu Smith

Notable PBs: 4:05.09 1500, 4:27.52 mile, 15:15.2 5,000, 31:28.92 10,000, 2:27:35 marathon
Global medals: 0
USA outdoor track titles:
10 (6 in 1500, 2 in 3,000, 1 in mile, 1 in 10,000)
USA indoor track titles: 6 (4 in mile, 2 in 2-mile)
Global outdoor finals: 3 (15th 1987 World 10,000, 5th 1988 Olympic 10,000, 12th 1992 Olympic marathon)
NCAA titles: 0
Bio: Former AR holder in 10,000 *Only US female distance runner to make 5 Olympic teams (did not compete in ’80) *Broke indoor mile world record four times

One of the most versatile American distance runners ever, Larrieu Smith won her first of 16 US titles as a 17-year-old in 1970. That title came in the 1500; 22 years later, Larrieu Smith was the flagbearer for the US at the 1992 Olympics, where she finished 12th in the marathon. In all, she set 13 world indoor records and 35 American records across a variety of distances, most notably the mile (her 4:28.5 indoors in 1975 was the fastest ever at the time, indoors or out) and the 10,000 (31:28.92 at age 38 in 1991).

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You can vote on matchups in the other regions by clicking the links below.

*AMERICAN DISTANCE GOAT OVERVIEW *BENOIT REGION *KASTOR REGION *LAGAT REGION *SHORTER REGION

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