American Distance GOAT: Vote in the Men’s Semifinals!

April 16, 2020

This month, is determining the greatest American distance runner of all time (overview here). The first three rounds are in the books (recap here), and only 8 athletes remain – 4 men and 4 women.

Below you’ll find the remaining men’s matchups in our American Distance GOAT bracket. Voting will be open until the end of the day (midnight ET) on Sunday, April 19. Seeds are in ().


Bios by Jonathan Gault.

Shorter Region Final

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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

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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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Galen Rupp back to back at the Trials

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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Lagat Region Final

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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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.

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You can vote for the women’s matchups below:


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