American Distance GOAT Play-In Game: Alan Webb vs. Chris Solinsky vs. Jim Walmsley

April 6, 2020

We are holding a 64-person tournament to determine the greatest American distance runner of all time (overview here).

Before we launch into the full bracket, we’re holding a special play-in game. It was just too tough to narrow every American distance runner down to 64 athletes, so we’re going to let you decide which man gets the final spot in the field: Alan WebbChris Solinsky, or Jim Walmsley. Voting will be open until the end of the day (midnight ET) on Tuesday, April 7, with the winner advancing to become the #16 seed in the Shorter Region. Scroll down to vote.

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Athlete bios by Jonathan Gault.

Alan Webb

Notable PBs: 1:43.84 800, 3:30.54 1500 (#4 US), 3:46.91 mile (AR), 13:10.86 5,000, 27:34.72 10,000
USA track titles: 4 (3 outdoor 1500, 1 indoor mile)
Global champs finals: 9th 2005 Worlds 1500, 8th 2007 Worlds 1500
*High school mile record holder (3:53.43)

Webb never earned the global medal many envisioned him capable of — he made only one Olympic team and no World/Olympic teams after age 24 — but the highs were dizzyingly high. After bursting onto the scene with 3:53 mile in 2001 to break Jim Ryun‘s high school record, Webb destroyed the field at the 2004 Olympic Trials, winning the 1500 by over two seconds, but went out in the first round at the Olympics in Athens.

His greatest campaign was 2007, when he dusted eventual 2007 world champ Bernard Lagat on multiple occasions (including the USA final), ran 3:30 to win the Paris Golden League event, and broke Steve Scott‘s 25-year-old American mile record with a 3:46.91 in Brasschaat, Belgium. But Webb could only manage 8th at Worlds that year and would never again approach that form.

LRC The Summer of Webb: An Inside Look at Alan Webb’s Magical 2007 Season

Chris Solinsky

Notable PBs: 3:35.89 1500, 7:34.32 3,000 (#7 US), 12:55.53 5,000 (#2 US), 26:59.60 10,000 (#2 US)
USA track titles: 0
Global champs finals: 12th 2009 Worlds 5,000
*First non-African under 27:00 (his 26:59 10k pb was an AR at the time) *5 NCAA titles *2002 Foot Locker champ

Solinsky is a fascinating case. He was a stud in high school and college, and he is the second-fastest American ever at both 5,000 (12:55.53, fastest American-born ever) and 10,000 (26:59.60). Yet he never won a US title, never made an Olympics, and finished 12th in his only global final. He made a second Worlds team in 2011 after an epic battle against Lagat at USAs but had to withdraw due to injury, which essentially ended his elite career at age 26 (he’d return the following year but was never the same).

Solinsky had some bad luck, in that his prime overlapped with Lagat and Solinsky’s best year (2010) had no Worlds or Olympics. But what a year it was! In addition to his 26:59, Solinsky broke 12:57 three times — more than any other American during their entire career. He capped that season with a 3rd-place finish in the Diamond League final, ahead of Mo Farah and 10+ seconds ahead of Rupp and Eliud Kipchoge.

LRC Chris Solinsky Retires And We Rank The Five Best Moments Of His Career – Sub-27:00, A Dominant Foot Locker Title And The Epic 2011 USA 5,000

Jim Walmsley

Notable PBs: 4:50:08 50 miles (5:48/mile; world best); 14:09:28 Western States 100-mile (CR), 2:15:05 marathon
*Four-time Ultrarunning Magazine Ultrarunner of the Year *Two-time Western States champ (with the two fastest times in event history) *2019 World Long Distance Mountain Running champ *Course records at JFK and Lake Sonoma 50-milers

We wanted to include at least one male and one female ultrarunner in the bracket. While Ann Trason was an easy pick on the women’s side, the men’s side was trickier. We’re sure there are those who will call for Scott Jurek or Stu Mittleman or someone else, but Walmsley is quite clearly the US’s best ultrarunner right now. And given how dramatically he’s changed the ultra game in events such as Western States (where he took the course record from 14:46 to 14:30 and eventually 14:09), he’s at the very least in the conversation for the US ultra GOAT.

Comparing him against track and marathon runners is tough, however. Unlike the track, where the top athletes all run mostly the same races and peak for the same things (USAs, Worlds, Olympics), the world’s top ultrarunners are spread across disciplines and events. So it’s hard to compare Walmsley against his peers, which in turn makes it hard to compare him against guys like Webb and Solinsky. His CR at Western States is already legendary, and his 4:50:08 set a world record for 50 miles last year, but how can those performances possibly stack up to 3:46 and 26:59?

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You can check out the entire bracket below:

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