American Distance GOAT: Vote in the Men’s Sweet 16!

April 13, 2020

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

Below you’ll find the men’s matchups for the round of 16 of the American Distance GOAT bracket. Voting will be open until the end of the day (midnight ET) on Wednesday, April 15. Seeds are 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.


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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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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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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

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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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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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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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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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 on the women’s matchups by clicking the link below.


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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