American Distance GOAT: Shorter Region, Round of 64

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April 8, 2020

This month, 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 Shorter Region of the American Distance GOAT bracket. Voting will be open until the end of the day (midnight ET) on Thursday, April 9.

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


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Race descriptions by Jonathan Gault.

Matchup #1

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1) Frank Shorter

Notable PBs: 27:45.91 10,000, 2:10:30 marathon
Global medals: 2 (1972 Olympic marathon gold, 1976 Olympic marathon silver)
USA outdoor track titles: 6 (3 in 10,000, 2 in 6-mile, 1 in 3-mile)
USA indoor track titles: 2 (both in 3-mile)
Global champs finals: 5th 1972 Olympic 10,000, 1st 1972 Olympic marathon, 2nd 1976 Olympic marathon
NCAA titles: 1 (1969 NCAA 6-mile champ)
More accolades: Four-time Fukuoka Marathon champ *Former AR holder in 10,000 and marathon

Frank Shorter was even better than you remember.

Everyone knows about the Olympic marathon gold in 1972. That, alone, puts him in rarefied air — since that golden day in Munich, only one American man has won Olympic gold in a distance event.

But did you realize what Shorter did in the days before that gold medal? Here’s a reminder of his 1972 Olympics:

August 31: 27:58 (American record) in 10,000m heats
September 3: 27:51 (American record) for 5th in 10,000m final
September 10: 2:12:20 for 1st in marathon

Four years later, Shorter added a silver in Montreal — though many believe that should be a gold given the East German athlete who beat him was likely doping. He also won Fukuoka — then regarded as the de facto world championships in the marathon — four years in a row from 1971-74. He was ranked World #1 in the marathon by Track & Field News in ’71, ’72, and ’73, and #2 in ’74 and ’76. Only Eliud Kipchoge has been ranked #1 more frequently. Frank Shorter was a god.

16) 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


Matchup #2

2) Galen Rupp

Notable PBs: 3:34.15 1500, 3:50.92i mile, 7:30.16i 3,000 (indoor AR; #2 US overall), 12:58.90 5,000 (#8 US), 26:44.36 10,000 (AR), 59:47 half marathon (#2 US), 2:06:07 marathon (#3 US)
Global medals: 2 (2nd 2012 Olympic 10,000, 3rd 2016 Olympic marathon)
Major marathon wins: 1 (2017 Chicago)
USA outdoor track titles: 9 (8 in 10,000, 1 in 5,000)
Global champs finals: 11th 2007 World 10,000, 13th 2008 Olympic 10,000, 8th 2009 World 10,000, 7th 2011 World 10,000, 9th 2011 World 5,000, 2nd 2012 Olympic 10,000, 7th 2012 Olympic 5,000, 4th 2013 World 10,000, 8th 2013 World 5,000, 5th 2015 World 10,000, 5th 2015 World 5,000, 5th 2016 Olympic 10,000, 3rd 2016 Olympic marathon
NCAA titles: 5 (including 2008 XC)
More accolades: Made 4 Olympic teams

Rupp has excelled over a variety of distances throughout his career, anchoring Oregon’s DMR to victory at NCAAs in 2009 (after winning the 5,000 earlier that night, no less) and running a 3:50 indoor mile in 2013 while also winning the Chicago Marathon and earning Olympic bronze at 26.2 miles.

A fixture in global distance finals throughout the 2010s, Rupp remains the only American, male or female, to medal at the Olympics in both the 10,000 and marathon, and no one has run within 15 seconds of his 26:44 American record for 10,000 meters. He also won eight straight US 10,000 titles from 2009-16; his 2017 win at the Chicago Marathon was the first by an American-born man in a major marathon since 1983.

Though there are a few questions about Rupp’s achievements due to his close association with Alberto Salazar, the infamous Nike Oregon Project coach who was banned for multiple anti-doping violations in 2019, Rupp has never been personally implicated in doping.

LRC 2012 Olympic Men’s 10,000: Mo Farah Gets It Done In Front Of The Home Crowd As Galen Rupp Gets Historic Silver

15) George Young

Notable PBs: 13:29.40 5,000, 8:30.6 steeple
Global medals: 1 (3rd 1968 Olympic steeple)
USA outdoor track titles: 4 (3 in steeple, 1 in 5,000)
USA indoor track titles: 2 (both in 3-mile)
Global champs finals: 5th 1964 Olympic steeple, 3rd 1968 Olympic steeple, 16th 1968 Olympic marathon
More accolades: 4-time Olympian *Former AR holder in steeple

Young made four Olympic teams at three different distances, formerly held the American steeple record and earned Olympic bronze in that event in 1968. He was also the second American under 13:30 in the 5,000 (and would have broken the AR at the 1972 Olympic Trials had Steve Prefontaine not also broken it in that race).


Matchup #3

3) Meb Keflezighi

Notable PBs: 13:11.77 5,000, 27:13.98 10,000 (#5 US), 2:08:37 marathon (#7 US)
Global medals: 1 (2nd 2004 Olympic marathon)
Major marathon wins: 2 (2009 NYC, 2014 Boston)
USA outdoor track titles: 3 (all in 10,000)
Global champs finals: 12th 2000 Olympic 10,000, 23rd 2001 World 10,000, 16th 2003 World 10,000, 2nd 2004 Olympic marathon, 4th 2012 Olympic marathon, 33rd 2016 Olympic marathon
NCAA titles (as an American): 0 (Meb won four as an Eritrean)
More accolades: 4-time Olympian *Former AR holder in 10,000

Meb owns an Olympic medal in the marathon as well as victories at the NYC and Boston Marathons, a feat unmatched in history by anyone, American or otherwise. All three were iconic moments, the NYC and Boston wins ending lengthy American droughts (36 years in NYC, 30 in Boston) and the Olympic medal awakening America from its marathon slumber of the 1990s and early 2000s. Though his 2:08:37 PB is unimpressive by modern standards, Meb was always a factor in championship-style marathons, earning six podium finishes in World Marathon Majors and remaining competitive well into his 30s (he finished 4th at the ’12 Olympics at 37, won ’14 Boston at 38, and made his fourth Olympic team in ’16 at 40). Oh, and he also won three national titles in the 10,000 and held the American record at that distance for nine years.

LRC The American Drought Is Over: Meb Keflezighi Wins The 2014 Boston Marathon

14) Nick Symmonds

Notable PBs: 1:42.95 800 (#5 US)
Global medals: 1 (2nd 2013 World 800)
USA outdoor track titles: 6 (all in 800)
USA indoor track titles: 2 (both in 800)
Global champs finals: 6th 2009 World 800, 5th 2011 World 800, 5th 2012 Olympic 800, 2nd 2013 World 800
More accolades: Two-time Olympian *7-time NCAA D3 champ

The dominant American 800 runner of his generation, Symmonds used his come-from-behind style to make four straight global 800 finals from 2009 through 2013 — something even the great David Rudisha could not manage — highlighted by a 1:42, 5th-place run in the ’12 Olympic final and a silver medal at Worlds in ’13. Symmonds also won five straight US 800 titles from 2008 through 2012 and added an unlikely fifth at the age of 31 in 2015 after missing the 2014 season with a knee injury.

LRC 2013 Worlds: Nick Symmonds Wins Silver as Mohammed Aman Becomes Ethiopia’s First Ever 800 Gold Medalist


Matchup #4

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4) Mal Whitfield

Notable PBs: 1:47.9 800
Global medals: 2 (1st 1948 Olympic 800, 1st 1952 Olympic 800)
USA outdoor track titles: 6 (3 in 800, 2 in 880y)
USA indoor track titles: 1 (1000y)
Global champs finals: 1st 1948 Olympic 800, 1st 1952 Olympic 800
NCAA titles: 2
More accolades: Former WR holder at 880 yards & 1000m

Whitfield’s 800 PB of 1:47.9 is modest by modern standards, but his achievements are not. Since World War II, he’s the only American, male or female, to win two distance golds at the Olympics, claiming the 800 in London in 1948 and Helsinki in 1952. He was also a two-time NCAA champion at Ohio State.

13) Henry Marsh

Notable PBs: 8:09.17 steeple (#5 US)
Global medals: 0
USA track titles: 9 (all in steeple)
Global champs finals: 10th 1976 Olympics steeple, 8th 1983 World steeple, 4th 1984 Olympic steeple, 6th 1988 Olympic steeple
More accolades: Former AR holder in steeple *Qualified for 4 Olympic teams

Marsh was Jager before there was Jager. He lorded over the steeple in the 1980s, winning a total of nine US titles (including seven in a row) and ranking among the top 10 in the world per Track & Field News every year from 1977 to 1988, including World #1 ranks in 1981, 1982, and 1985. He also held the American record in the steeple for 26 years.

The one missing line on his resume is an Olympic medal. Marsh missed out on one of his prime opportunities at age 26 when the US boycotted the Moscow Games in 1980, and he came just .19 of a second shy of the bronze in 1984, after US teammate Brian Diemer ran him down over the final 100 meters. Four years later, he finished 6th in Seoul.


Matchup #5

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5) Johnny Gray

Notable PBs: 1:12.81 600 (world best), 1:42.60 800 (#2 US)
Global medals: 1 (3rd 1992 Olympic 800)
USA track titles: 6 (all in 800)
USA indoor titles: 1 (1000y)
Global champs finals: 7th 1984 Olympic 800, 5th 1988 Olympic 800, 6th 1991 World 800, 3rd 1992 Olympic 800, 7th 1996 Olympic 800
More accolades: Held American 800 record for 35 years *4-time Olympic finalist

Gray’s longevity in the 800 meters was unparalleled, making four straight Olympic finals, his final one at the age of 36 in 1996. That’s particularly impressive when you consider that for six Olympics — from 1988 through 2008 — only one other American (Mark Everett in 1992) made it to an Olympic final. Another crazy Gray stat: he ran sub-1:46’s a staggering 16 years apart, first as a 23-year-old in 1983 and again as a 39-year-old in 1999 (with plenty in between). His peak was high as well — his 1:42.60 American record stood for over 34 years until it was broken by Donavan Brazier in 2019 (Gray’s indoor AR of 1:45.00 lasted almost 27) and he earned Olympic bronze in 1992. Gray was ranked in the top 5 in the world by Track & Field News six times, with a best rank of 2nd in ’85, ’88, and ’93.

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12) Sydney Maree

Notable PBs: 3:29.77 (#2 US), 3:48.83 mile (#4 US), 7:38.26 3,000 (#6 US), 13:01.15 5,000
Global medals: 0
USA outdoor track titles: 3 (2 in 5,000, 1 in 1500)
USA indoor track titles1 (mile)
Global champs finals: 11th 1987 World 5,000, 5th 1988 Olympic 5,000
NCAA titles: 1
More accolades: 1981 NCAA 1500 champ *Former AR holder in 1500, mile, 3,000, and 5,000 *Former WR holder in 1500

Maree didn’t become an American citizen until 1984, but the IAAF allowed him to represent the US beginning in 1981 (Maree is a native of South Africa, which was banned from international competition due to its policy of apartheid; Maree renounced his South African citizenship when he married his American wife in 1980). That means everything he accomplished from 1981 is fair game — and it’s quite a lot. He broke the 1500 world record with his 3:31.24 in 1983 — the last American to do so — and was the third man ever under 3:30 (his 3:29 pb remains #2 all-time in the US). His 13:01.15 5,000 in Oslo in 1985 made him the #3 man in history at the time — he finished just .75 behind Morocco’s Said Aouita in that race — and took over 10 seconds off the American record.


Matchup #6

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6) Craig Virgin

Notable PBs: 13:19.1 5,000, 27:29.16 10,000
Global medals: 2 (1st 1980 World XC, 1st 1981 World XC)
USA outdoor track titles: 3 (all in 10,000)
Global champs finals: none
NCAA titles: 1 (1975 XC)
More accolades: *Former AR holder in 10,000 *Made 3 Olympic teams

Virgin occupies a special place in American history as the first and only American man to win the World Cross Country title. And he did it not once, but twice, going back-to-back in 1980 and 1981. Virgin, who also won the 1975 NCAA XC title, was a two-time Olympian, but was robbed of his greatest chance at glory in 1980 when President Jimmy Carter forced the US team to boycott that summer’s Olympics. In addition to his World XC title that year, Virgin also ran an American record of 27:29 for 10,000 — at the time, the second-fastest time in history.

LRC Craig Virgin Recalls His Epic Victory at the World Cross Country Championships, 40 Years Later

Phil Bond photo

11) Paul Chelimo

Notable PBs: 7:31.57 3,000 (#5 US), 12:57.55 5,000 (#4 US)
Global medals: 2 (2nd 2016 Olympic 5,000, 3rd 2017 World 5,000)
USA outdoor track titles: 2 (both in 5,000)
USA indoor track titles: 4 (2 in 3,000, 1 in 2-mile, 1 in 1500)
Global champs finals: 2nd 2016 Olympic 5,000, 3rd 2017 World 5,000, 7th 2019 World 5,000
NCAA titles: 0

Chelimo and Bernard Lagat are the only Americans with multiple World/Olympic medals in the 5,000; Chelimo is also one of just three American men — Matthew Centrowitz and Evan Jager are the others — to earn Olympic and World Championship medals in the distance events (Lagat earned two Olympic medals, but both came while he was representing Kenya). He’s won several US titles by breaking the field from the front, but he’s shown in global finals that his kick is among the best in the world.

LRC 2016 Olympics: Paul Chelimo Proves Everyone Wrong (Including Once Again to Win the U.S.’s First Olympic 5,000 Medal in 52 Years


Matchup #7

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7) Bob Schul

Notable PBs: 8:26.4 2-mile, 13:38.0 5,000
Global medals: 1 (1st 1964 Olympic 5,000)
USA outdoor track titles: 2 (1 in 3-mile, 1 in 5,000)
USA indoor track titles: 1 (3-mile)
Global champs finals: 1st 1964 Olympic 5,000
More accolades: Former WR holder in 2-mile *Former AR holder in 5,000

It’s hard to believe, but back in 1964, the United States swept the 5,000 and 10,000 meters at the Olympic Games. Four days after Billy Mills‘ famous 10,000 gold, Schul won the 5,000, with Bill Dellinger taking the bronze. Almost 60 years later, Schul remains the only American to win 5,000 gold.

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10) Steve Scott

Notable PBs: 1:45.05 800, 3:31.76 1500 (#9 US), 3:47.69 mile (#2 US), 7:36.69 3,000
Global medals: 1 (2nd 1983 World 1500)
USA outdoor track titles: 6 (all in 1500)
USA indoor track titles: 4 (all in mile)
Global champs finals: 2nd 1983 World 1500, 10th 1984 Olympic 1500, 12th 1987 World 1500, 5th 1988 Olympic 1500
NCAA titles: 1
More accolades: Former AR holder in mile *136 sub-4:00 miles *Qualified for 3 Olympic teams *1978 NCAA 1500 champ

For 10 straight years (1977-86) and 11 in all, Track & Field News ranked Scott among the world’s top 10 1500/mile men, a testament to the longevity that enabled him to run a staggering 136 sub-4:00 miles — the most of any runner in history. His peaks were quite high as well: World Championship silver in 1983 and an American mile record of 3:47.69 — at the time, the second-fastest performance in history — that would last over 25 years.


Matchup #8

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8) Evan Jager

Notable PBs: 3:32.97 1500, 3:53.33 mile, 7:35.16 3,000 (#10 US), 13:02.40 5,000, 8:00.45 steeple (AR)
Global medals: 2 (2nd 2016 Olympic steeple, 3rd 2017 World steeple)
USA track titles: 7 (all in steeple)
Global champs finals: 6th 2012 Olympic steeple, 5th 2013 World steeple, 6th 2015 World steeple, 2nd 2016 Olympic steeple, 3rd 2017 World steeple
More accolades: Won 2017 Monaco DL

Few Americans have so thoroughly dominated an event as Jager in the steeple. Jager won his steeple debut in April 2012, then fell in his second steeple at Oxy and lost to three Americans. Since that day — May 18, 2012 — Jager has been beaten by an American just once in 28 steeple races (Dan Hulingot him in the ’15 World Championship final). He’s also gone on to win medals at the Olympics (silver in ’16, the first by a male American steepler since 1984) and Worlds (bronze in ’17, the first ever by a US steepler at Worlds) and break the American record three times. When Jager took up the steeple in ’12, it seemed impossible for an American to break up the Kenyan stranglehold on the event. And though he hasn’t won gold (yet), Jager has penetrated that grip further than anyone could have imagined. He’s the greatest male American steepler of all time.

LRC 2016 Olympics: Evan Jager Wins Silver, Kenya’s Dominance In The Steeplechase Continues As Conseslus Kipruto Wins Gold, Ezekiel Kemboi Wins Bronze and Retires

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9) Dathan Ritzenhein

Notable PBs: 7:39.03 3,000, 12:56.27 5,000 (#3 US), 27:22.28 10,000 (#9 US), 60:00 half marathon (#4 US), 2:07:47 marathon (#4 US)
Global medals: 1 (3rd 2009 World Half)
USA track titles: none
Global champs finals: 9th 2007 World 10,000, 9th 2008 Olympic marathon, 6th 2009 World 10,000, 13th 2012 Olympic 10,000, 10th 2013 World 10,000
NCAA titles: 1 (2003 NCAA XC champ)
More accolades: Former AR holder in 5,000 *2001 World XC bronze (junior race) *2-time Foot Locker champ

Ritz never won a US title on the track, though he did manage some pretty special accomplishments on the oval, including three top-10 finishes in global champs and an American record over 5,000 meters, running 12:56 in 2009 to take down Bob Kennedy‘s record set on the same track in Zurich 13 years earlier.

But Ritz’s best accomplishments came on other surfaces. He was the greatest high school cross country runner ever, with two Foot Locker titles (including a decimation of Alan Webb and Ryan Hall at 2000 Foot Lockers) and a bronze in the junior race at World XC in 2001 (the last American male individual medal at World XC) before winning the 2003 NCAA XC title at Colorado. On the roads, Ritz owns a marathon PR of 2:07:47 (#4 ever by an American, #3 on a record-eligible course) and remains the only American (male or female) to medal at the World Half Marathon champs thanks to his bronze in 2009.

LRC Zurich 2009: Dathan Ritzenhein Breaks Bob Kennedy’s 5000m American Record


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


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