American Distance GOAT: Vote in the Men’s Round of 32!

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By LetsRun.com
April 10, 2020

This month, LetsRun.com is determining the greatest American distance runner of all time (overview here). The first round is in the books (recap here), now it’s time to vote in the second round.

Below you’ll find the men’s matchups for the round of 32 of the American Distance GOAT bracket. Voting will be open until the end of the day (midnight ET) on Saturday, April 11. Saturday, April 12. Seeds are in ().

*AMERICAN DISTANCE GOAT OVERVIEW *WOMEN’S ROUND OF 32 MATCHUPS

Race descriptions by Jonathan Gault.

Shorter Region

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.

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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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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

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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.

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

LRC Johnny Gray Talks About Having American 800 Record for 32 Years, Why He Considered Taking Drugs, & His Thoughts on Ajee Wilson

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Lagat Region

Matchup #1

1) Bernard Lagat

Notable PBs (since representing US): 3:29.30 1500 (AR), 3:48.28 mile (#2 US), 7:29.00 3,000 (AR), 12:53.60 5,000 (AR), 27:49.35 10,000, 2:12:10 marathon
Global medals (as an American): 5 outdoors (1st 2007 World 1500, 1st 2007 World 5,000, 3rd 2009 World 1500, 2nd 2009 World 5,000, 2nd 2011 World 5,000), 3 indoors (1st 2010 World Indoor 3,000, 1st 2012 World Indoor 3,000, 2nd 2014 World Indoor 3,000)
USA outdoor track titles: 10 (8 in 5,000, 2 in 1500)
USA indoor track titles: 4 (4 in 3,000)
Global champs finals: 1st 2007 World 1500, 1st 2007 World 5,000, 9th 2008 Olympic 5,000, 3rd 2009 World 1500, 2nd 2009 World 5,000, 2nd 2011 World 5,000, 4th 2012 Olympic 5,000, 6th 2013 World 5,000, 5th 2016 Olympic 5,000
NCAA titles (as an American): 0

The Kenyan-born Lagat, who won three global outdoor medals in the 1500 and became the second-fastest 1500 man in history for his native Kenya (3:26.34), didn’t start representing the US until 2005, when he was already 30 years old. Yet he accomplished more in a US singlet than most athletes do in an entire career. With five individual global medals between Worlds and the Olympics, Lagat is the most decorated US distance runner in history. And that’s not even counting his indoor exploits — he won world titles at 3,000 in ’10 and ’12 and a silver in ’14.

His finest hour as an American? The 2007 Worlds, when he became the first American to win a global 1500 title in 99 years — quickly followed by the US’s first global 5,000 title in 43 years. That 1500-5,000 double in Osaka is on the shortlist — perhaps at the top of the list — of the single greatest accomplishments by any US distance runner and seems unlikely to matched anytime soon.

In addition to his championship accolades, Lagat holds American records in the 1500*, 3,000, and 5,000 meters.

*USATF recognizes Lagat’s 1500 record as 3:27 from 2004, when he first acquired citizenship, but given he competed for Kenya in the Olympics just two weeks later, we’re not giving him credit for that; his 3:29.30 from 2005 is still faster than any American in history.

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8) Steve Prefontaine

Notable PBs: 7:42.6 3,000, 13:21.87 5,000, 27:43.6 10,000
Global medals: 0
USA outdoor track titles: 2 (both in outdoor 3-mile)
Global champs finals: 4th 1972 Olympic 5,000
NCAA titles: 7
More Accolades: Held American records at every distance from 2,000 through 10,000 meters *Former US HS record holder for 2 miles (8:41.5) *3-time NCAA XC champ (1970, 1971, & 1973)

Despite dying in a car accident just four months past his 24th birthday, Prefontaine amassed a legacy as one of the greatest American distance runners of the 1970s. After setting the national high school record for two miles, Pre put together an incredible collegiate career at Oregon; along with Washington State’s Gerry Lindgren, he remains one of just two Americans to claim three NCAA XC titles (including the track, he won seven NCAA titles in all).

Pre famously just missed a medal in the 5,000 in the 1972 Olympics at the age of 21 and would have been among the favorites in 1976 had he lived until then. As it was, he still managed to set 15 American records and inspire a cult following that survives to this day.

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Matchup #2

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2) Matthew Centrowitz, Jr.

Notable PBs: 1:44.62 800, 3:30.40 1500 (#3 US), 3:50.53 mile (#10 US), 7:40.74i 3,000, 13:00.39 5,000 (#10 US)
Global Medals: 3 outdoors (3rd 2011 World 1500, 2nd 2013 World 1500, 1st 2016 Olympic 1500), 1 indoors (1st 2016 World Indoor 1500)
USA outdoor track titles: 5 (all in 1500)
USA indoor track titles: 2 (1 in mile, 1 in 1500)
Global champs finals: 3rd 2011 World 15004th 2012 Olympic 1500, 2nd 2013 World 1500, 8th 2015 World 1500, 1st 2016 Olympic 1500, 8th 2019 World 1500
NCAA titles: 1 (2011 NCAA 1500 champ)

Centrowitz doesn’t own any American records, and he’s never won a Diamond League points event. But his championship record speaks for itself, and it’s why we crowned him US Distance Runner of the Decade in our Best of 2010s awards: bronze at 2011 Worlds and silver in 2013 (both times behind Asbel Kiprop, who was later busted for doping), gold at 2016 World Indoors and, most famously, gold at the 2016 Olympics.

One of the greatest tacticians in the history of US distance running, Centrowitz has an innate ability to put himself in the perfect position and stay out of trouble until the racing begins in earnest. Many runners would panic when thrust into the lead of the Olympic final; Centrowitz turned it to his advantage in one of the most brilliant tactical runs in Olympic history, closing with a phenomenal 50.6 last 400. Times are sexy, but the best of the best race for medals. In that respect, Centrowitz has been the US’s best ever over 1500.

LRC Matthew Centrowitz Goes Wire-To-Wire To Win USA’s First Men’s 1500m Gold In 108 Years

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7) Dave Wottle

Notable PBs: 1:44.3 800, 3:36.2 1500, 3:53.3 mile
Global medals: 1 (1st 1972 Olympic 800)
USA track titles: 1 (1972 outdoor 800)
Global champs finals: 1st 1972 Olympic 800
NCAA titles: 4
More Accolades: Former WR holder in 800

Wottle is known for the most famous negative split in the history of 800-meter running, and while his 1972 Olympic title is (deservedly) his crowning achievement, Wottle also gets credit for breaking the 800 world record earlier that summer (also with a negative split) and winning four NCAA titles at Bowling Green.

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Matchup #3

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3) Jim Ryun

Notable PBs: 1:44.3 800, 3:33.1 1500, 3:51.1 mile
Global medals: 1 (2nd 1968 Olympic 1500)
USA outdoor track titles: 3 (all in outdoor mile)
Global champs finals: 2nd 1968 Olympic 1500
NCAA titles: 4 (1967 outdoor mile champion; indoor mile champion in 1967, 1968, and 1969)
More accolades: Former WR holder in the half mile & mile *First US high schooler to break 4:00 in mile; held US HS record for 37 years *3-time Olympian

Ryun was the greatest US distance phenom ever. He made his first Olympic team at age 17 in 1964. In 1965, as an 18-year-old high school senior, Ryun ran an American record of 3:55.3 in the mile and finished the year ranked #4 in the world by Track & Field News. The next year, he ran world records in the mile (3:51.3) and half mile (1:44.9), garnering T&F News #1 ranks in both events and Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year honors. In 1967, at 20, Ryun retained his world #1 ranking at 1500/mile and lowered his mile WR to 3:51.1 — the last time an American held the mile WR.

The one thing missing from Ryun’s resume was Olympic gold. He finished second in 1968, and though he was over a second clear of bronze medalist Bodo Tummler, Ryun was soundly beaten by Kenya’s Kip Keino in the altitude of Mexico City, 3:34.91 to 3:37.89. Four years later, Ryun had another shot in Munich but fell during his qualifying heat and failed to advance to the semifinals.

11) Ryan Hall

Notable PBs: 13:16.03 5,000, 59:43 half (AR), 2:04:58 marathon (#1 US)
Global medals: 0
USA track titles: None
Global champs finals: 10th 2008 Olympic marathon
NCAA titles: 1 (2005 outdoor 5000)
More accolades: Fastest American marathoner of all time *2:08:24 debut at 2007 London was an American debut record at the time *6 top-5 finishes in World Marathon Majors

Hall made a bold decision to move to the roads at age 24, and it paid immediate dividends as he crushed the US half marathon record in his debut in Houston in 2007, followed three months later by his stellar 2:08:24 marathon debut in London. Thus began one of the most electrifying five-year runs in the history of American marathoning, Hall duking it out with the top Africans in the biggest races. Though Hall never won a major, he managed six top-5 finishes and some truly incredible runs, such as his 2:06:17 at 2008 London and his 2:04:58 at a wind-aided 2011 Boston — the fastest marathon ever run by an American.

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Matchup #4

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4) Bill Rodgers

Notable PBs: 28:04.42 10,000, 2:09:27 marathon
Global medals: 1 (3rd 1975 World XC)
Major marathon wins: 8 (Boston ’75, ’78, ’79, ’80, NYC  ’76, ’77, ’78, ’79)
USA track titles: none
Global champs finals: 40th 1976 Olympic marathon
More Accolades: 1977 Fukuoka Marathon champ

Rodgers was one of the world’s premier marathoners in the 1970s — he won Boston and NYC four times each and was ranked #1 in the world by Track & Field News in 1975, 1977, and 1979. Of those years, 1977 may have been the most impressive as he won NYC on October 23 in 2:11:28 and bounced back to win Fukuoka — the unofficial marathon world champs — just six weeks later. His PR of 2:09:27, set in Boston in 1979 — the fourth-fastest time in world history when he ran it — compares favorably with the top American times of today, even 40+ years later. An ace road racer at a variety of distances, Rodgers also won bronze at World XC in 1975.

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12) Billy Mills

Notable PBs: 13:41.3 5,000, 28:17.6 10,000
Global medals: 1 (1st 1964 Olympic 10,000)
USA outdoor track titles: 1 (10,000)
USA indoor track titles:  1 (3-mile)
Global champs finals: 1st 1964 Olympic 10,000, 14th 1964 Olympic marathon
More accolades: Former AR holder in 10,000 *Former 6-mile WR holder

Mills is only American to win the Olympic 10,000-meter title and one of just three American men to earn a global medals in the event, which has been around for 109 years. In the last lap, Mills went from first to third to first and took down the world record holder Ron Clarke in the process.

One thing that is often not mentioned about Mills 10,000 win is that he ran very fast to win Olympic gold. He won in an Olympic record of 28:24 (28:32 was the previous OR) in a time when the WR was 28:15 (although Ron Clarke would lower his WR to 27:39 the next year). In looking at data at alltime-athletics.com, it appears that Mills 10,000 in Tokyo was the 4th fastest 10,000 ever run at the time.

Mills followed that up with a 6-mile world record of 27:11.6 at the US champs the following year (that’s 28:09 10,000 pace – he tied in that race with Gerry Lindgren, who was also credited with the record).

If you have never seen the last lap of Mills win, it’s an all-time classic watch.

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You can vote on the men’s matchups by clicking the link below.

*AMERICAN DISTANCE GOAT OVERVIEW *MEN’S ROUND OF 32 MATCHUPS


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