American Distance GOAT, Second Round Recap: Pre Goes Down as a Star-Studded Sweet 16 Is Set – Vote Now

April 13, 2020

Editor’s note: has created a 64-athlete bracket to determine who is the Greatest American Distance Runner of All Time. If you missed the intro to the tournament, catch up here.

Either we did a very good job of seeding this tournament, or the history of American distance running is rather top-heavy. Perhaps it’s a combination of both, because after two rounds of voting in our American Distance GOAT bracket, 14 of the top 16 seeds remain (the two interlopers are both #5 seeds, Johnny Gray and Molly Huddle).

In round two, the Cinderella dreams of #12 seed Billy Mills — who upset #5 Alberto Salazar in round one in dominating fashion — struck midnight as #4 Bill Rodgers defeated him, though Mills put up a decent fight, garnering 42.7% of the vote to Rodgers’ 57.2%. The closest matchup of the second round came on the women’s side, as #5 seed Molly Huddle, the US record holder in the 10,000 and half marathon, sprung a minor upset on the #4 seed Shelby Houlihan (52.7% to 47.3%), the US record holder at 1500 and 5000, in a battle of modern stars.

There was an upset scare in the 2nd round for #1 seed where we saw a surprisingly close matchup in the Kastor Region as its namesake and #1 seed Deena Kastor had to fight to hold off #9 seed Jan Merrill. Kastor, who had the most dominant win of anyone in the first round (97.6%), only managed 56.2% against Merrill. Clearly Merrill — the former American record holder in the 1500, 3,000, and 5,000 and the 1981 World XC silver medalist — had a lot of supporters as that matchup garnered far more total votes than any other matchup in the tournament so far. Is Kastor vulnerable for an upset in the Sweet 16? We doubt it as Kastor still received more votes than any woman in the second round. The only way we can make sense of those numbers is to think that the friends and family of Merrill travelled very well and supported her big time.

Biggest blowout honors in round #2 went to #1 Joan Benoit Samuelson, who earned more than 90% of the vote for the second round in a row (92.8% to #9 Francie Larrieu Smith‘s 7.2%). On the men’s side, #3 Jim Ryun (89.3% vs. #11 Ryan Hall) was the biggest victor.

The Sweet 16 is now set, and voting — which runs through Wednesday night (midnight ET) — is now open. Everyone left in the bracket at this point is a total stud, which means there are some tremendous matchups on tap. Here’s a sampling:

Meb and Rupp at the ’16 Olympic Trials

2) Galen Rupp vs. 3) Meb Keflezighi (Shorter Region)
America’s last two Olympic marathon medalists — who got a little prickly at the 2016 Olympic Trials — face off. Personality-wise, the charming Keflezighi and guarded Rupp couldn’t be much different, but their running accomplishments are comparable.

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2) Matthew Centrowitz, Jr. vs. 3) Jim Ryun (Lagat Region)
Two legendary American milers square off. Centrowitz has Olympic gold; Ryun had a world record and Olympic silver. We’d love to see these two in their primes in an actual race; sadly this tournament is the closest we’ll get.

2) Shalane Flanagan vs. 3) Lynn Jennings (Kastor Region)
Two Massachusetts legends who excelled in cross country (two NCAA titles and a World XC bronze for Flanagan, three World XC titles for Jennings) and both own Olympic medals on the track.

2) Jenny Simpson vs. 3) Emma Coburn (Benoit Region)
When Coburn was a freshman at Colorado, she had her room with Simpson on road trips so she could learn from the best. Seems to have worked out pretty well: Simpson and Coburn own a combined seven World/Olympic medals.

***THIRD ROUND VOTING NOW OPEN, CLICK HERE TO VOTE NOW FOR MEN AND WOMEN! Voting closes at the end of Wednesday, April 15 (midnight ET), so get your votes in.

Talk about the Sweet 16 matchups in our world famous fan forum / messageboard. MB: Unreal Sweet 16 American GOAT Matchups: Rupp vs Meb, Centro vs Ryun, Flanagan vs. Jennings and Coburn vs. Simpson.

Updated bracket:


Second round results

Shorter Region

(1) Frank Shorter 86.6%
(8) Evan Jager 13.4%

(2) Galen Rupp 76.9%
(10) Steve Scott 23.1%

(3) Meb Keflezighi 65.8%
(6) Craig Virgin 34.2%

(4) Mal Whitfield 41.0%
(5) Johnny Gray 59.0%

Lagat Region

(1) Bernard Lagat 57.5%
(8) Steve Prefontaine 42.5%

(2) Matthew Centrowitz, Jr. 69.1%
(7) Dave Wottle 30.9%

(3) Jim Ryun 89.4%
(11) Ryan Hall 10.6%

(4) Bill Rodgers 57.2%
(12) Billy Mills 42.8%

Kastor Region

(1) Deena Kastor 56.2%
(9) Jan Merrill 43.8%

(2) Shalane Flanagan 91.8%
(7) Shannon Rowbury 8.2%

(3) Lynn Jennings 81.5%
(6) Kim Gallagher 18.5%

(4) Shelby Houlihan 47.3%
(5) Molly Huddle 52.7%

Benoit Region

(1) Joan Benoit Samuelson 92.8%
(9) Francie Larrieu Smith 7.2%

(2) Jenny Simpson 88.6%
(7) Des Linden 11.4%

(3) Emma Coburn 86.9%
(11) Kara Goucher 13.1%

(4) Ajee’ Wilson 62.2%
(5) Madeline Manning 37.8%

Talk about the Sweet 16 matchups in our world famous fan forum / messageboard. MB: Unreal Sweet 16 American GOAT Matchups: Rupp vs Meb, Centro vs Ryun, Flanagan vs. Jennings and Coburn vs. Simpson.

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