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

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April 10, 2020

This month, 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 women’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. Sunday, April 12. Seeds are in ().


Race descriptions by Jonathan Gault.

Kastor Region

Matchup #1

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1) Deena Kastor

Notable PBs: 8:42.59 3,000, 14:51.62 5,000 (#7 US), 30:50.32 10,000 (#4 US), 67:34 half marathon (#3 US), 2:19:36 marathon (AR)
Global medals: 3 (2nd 2002 World XC, 2nd 2003 World XC, 3rd 2004 Olympic marathon)
Major marathon wins: 2 (2005 Chicago, 2006 London)
USA outdoor track titles:
5 (all in 10,000)
Global outdoor finals:
6 (11th 1999 World 10,000, 11th 2001 World 10,000, 12th 2003 World 10,000, 3rd 2004 Olympic marathon, 5th 2007 World 10,000, 9th 2013 World marathon)
NCAA titles: 0
Bio: Two-time World XC silver medalist *2005 Chicago Marathon champ *2006 London Marathon champ *Former AR holder in 10,000 and half marathon

Kastor is best known for her marathon exploits, but she excelled across multiple distances and surfaces. On the roads: two major marathon victories, Olympic marathon bronze, and American records in the half (67:34, since broken) and full marathon (2:19:36; that record will turn 14 years old next month). In cross country: two individual silvers at World XC. On the track: an American record at 10,000 (and arguably one at 5,000 as well; when Kastor ran 14:51 in 2000, only doper Regina Jacobs had run faster among Americans) a 5th-place finish at Worlds, and five national titles.

She’s also the only American woman in the last 30 years who can genuinely say she was the best marathoner in the world — she won Chicago and London back to back in 2005/2006, with her 2:19:36 in London holding up as a world leader and earning her the World #1 ranking from Track & Field News.

9) Jan Merrill

Notable PBs: 4:02.61 1500, 8:42.6 3,000, 15:30.6
Global medals: 1 (2nd 1981 World XC)
USA outdoor track titles:
6 (4 in 3,000, 2 in 1500)
USA indoor track titles: 5 (3 in mile, 2 in 2-mile)
Global outdoor finals: 1 (8th 1976 Olympic 1500)
NCAA titles: 0
Bio: Former AR holder in 1500, 3,000, and 5,000 *1981 World XC silver *Former WR holder in 5,000

Though Merrill set an American record of 4:02 in the 1500 in the 1976 Olympic semifinals (she placed 8th in the final), her best work came in the longer distances. She was the first woman to break 15:40 for 5,000 meters, lowering that world record twice more with a best of 15:30.6 in 1980. She was also a talented cross country runner, with four top-7 finishes at World XC, highlighted by a silver-medal performance in 1981.


Matchup #2

2) Shalane Flanagan

Notable PBs: 8:33.25i 3,000 (#7 US), 14:44.80 5,000 (#4 US), 30:22.22 10,000 (#2 US), 67:51 half marathon (#5 US), 2:21:14 marathon (#3 US)
Global medals: 2 (2nd 2008 Olympic 10,000, 3rd 2011 World XC)
Major marathon wins: 1 (2017 New York)
USA outdoor track titles: 5 (3 in 10,000, 2 in 5,000)
USA indoor track titles: 1 (3,000)
Global outdoor finals: 9 (7th 2007 World 5,000, 2nd 2008 Olympic 10,000, 9th 2008 Olympic 5,000, 13th 2009 Worlds 10,000, 7th 2011 Worlds 10,000, 9th 2012 Olympic marathon, 8th 2013 World 10,000, 6th 2015 World 10,000, 6th 2016 Olympic marathon)
NCAA titles: 3
Bio: 2017 NYC Marathon champ *2011 World XC bronze *3 NCAA titles (including 2 in XC) *Former AR holder in 5,000 and 10,000

The remarkably durable Flanagan became a dominant runner in college at North Carolina with back-to-back NCAA cross country titles in 2002 and 2003 and spent the next decade and a half as one of America’s premier distance runners, retiring after finishing 3rd (top American) at the New York City Marathon at age 37 in 2018. In between, she made 10 straight World/Olympic teams, set American records in the 5k and 10k, and collected Olympic silver in ’08 (the US’s first distance medal on the track for 16 years), World XC bronze in 2011, and an NYC Marathon title in 2017.

LRC Shalane Flanagan Wins 2017 New York City Marathon – 1st American Winner in 40 Years

(photo by Chris Lotsbom for Race Results Weekly)

7) Shannon Rowbury

Notable PBs: 3:56.29 1500 (#2 US), 4:20.34 mile (#4 US), 8:29.93 3,000 (#6 US), 14:38.92 (#2 US)
Global medals: 2 (3rd 2009 Worlds 1500, 3rd 2016 World Indoor 3,000)
USA outdoor track titles: 2 (both in 1500)
USA indoor track titles: 4 (2 in 3,000, 1 in 2-mile, 1 in mile)
Global outdoor finals: 7 (7th 2008 Olympic 1500, 3rd 2009 World 1500, 4th 2012 Olympic 1500, 7th 2013 World 5,000, 7th 2015 World 1500, 4th 2016 Olympic 1500, 9th 2017 World 5,000)
NCAA titles: 1
Bio: 2016 World Indoor bronze *2007 NCAA mile champ *Former AR holder in 1500 & 5,000

Rowbury set American records in the 1500 and 5,000 and remains the second-fastest American ever over both distances. She owns two global medals (2009 World 1500 bronze, 2016 World Indoor 3,000 bronze) and was 4th at the Olympics in both 2012 (one of the women who beat her, Russia’s Tatyana Tomashova, served a two-year ban for manipulating drug test samples) and 2016. One knock: Jenny Simpson dominated Rowbury head-to-head, with a 29-15 career record against her rival.


Matchup #3

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3) Lynn Jennings

Notable PBs: 8:40.45i 3,000, 15:07.92 5,000, 31:19.89 10,000
Global medals: 8 (2nd 1986 World XC, 1st 1990 World XC, 1st 1991 World XC, 1st 1992 World XC, 3rd 1992 Olympic 10,000, 3rd 1993 World Indoor 3,000, 3rd 1993 World XC, 2nd 1995 World Indoor 3k)
USA outdoor track titles: 10 (7 in 10,000, 2 in 3,000, 1 in 5,000)
USA indoor track titles: 5 (3 in 3,000, 1 in 2-mile, 1 in mile)
Global outdoor finals: 7 (6th 1987 World 10,000, 6th 1988 Olympic 10,000, 5th 1991 World 10,000, 3rd 1992 Olympic 10,000, 5th 1993 World 10,000, 12th 1995 World 10,000, 9th 1996 Olympic 5,000)
NCAA titles: 0
Bio: 3-time World XC champ *World XC silver (1986) & bronze (1993) *World Indoor silver (1995) & bronze (1993) *Former AR holder in 10,000

Though her era was not as competitive as Kastor’s and Flanagan’s (the East Africans had yet to fully emerge), Jennings was one of the world’s best distance runners for the first half of the 1990s, earning eight global medals between World XC, World Indoors, and the Olympics. She is the only American woman in the last 45 years to win World XC, a feat she achieved three years in a row, capped with a win in snowy Franklin Park in her home state of Massachusetts in 1992.

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6) Kim Gallagher

Notable PBs: 1:56.91 800 (#4 US), 4:03.29 1500
Global Medals: 2 (2nd 1984 Olympic 800, 3rd 1988 Olympic 800)
USA outdoor track titles: 2 (1 in 800, 1 in 1500)
Global outdoor finals: 2 (2nd 1984 Olympic 800, 3rd 1988 Olympic 800)
NCAA titles: 0
Bio: Held US high school 800m record (2:00.07) for 31 years

Gallagher is the only American woman to win two distance medals at the Olympics, claiming silver in 1984 and bronze in 1988, both in the 800. Her PR of 1:56.91, set in the 1988 Olympic final, was only one-hundredth off of Mary Decker Slaney’s American record at the time. Gallagher died at age 38 in 2002 after battling stomach cancer.


Matchup #4

Phil Bond photo

4) Shelby Houlihan

Notable PBs: 3:54.99 1500 (AR), 8:26.66i 3,000 (#3 US), 14:34.45 5,000 (AR)
Global Medals: 0
USA outdoor track titles: 5 (3 in 5,000, 2 in 1500)
USA indoor track titles: 7 (2 in 1500, 2 in 3,000, 2 in 2-mile, 1 in mile)
Global outdoor finals: 3 (11th 2016 Olympic 5,000, 13th 2017 World 5,000, 4th 2019 World 1500)
NCAA titles: 0
Bio: *AR holder in 1500 and 5000 *2014 NCAA 1500 champ *4th (1500) and 5th (3,000) at 2018 World Indoors

With American records in the 1500 and 5,000, Houlihan’s times are incredible — no American woman is within a second of her at 1500 — but she has yet to capture a global medal. There are a few reasons for that. First, Houlihan is competing in the deepest era ever for women’s 1500m running — she ran 3:54 in last year’s World Championship final and still didn’t medal. Second, there was no Olympic or Worlds in 2018, Houlihan’s breakout year in which she won two Diamond Leagues. Third, she’s still just 27 years old (the second-youngest woman in this bracket) and should have several more years of medal contention.

5) Molly Huddle

Notable PBs: 8:42.99 3,000, 14:42.64 5,000 (#3 US), 30:13.17 10,000 (AR), 67:25 half marathon (AR), 2:26:33 marathon
Global medals: 0
Major marathon wins:
USA outdoor track titles:
8 (5 in 10,000, 3 in 5,000)
Global outdoor finals: 7 (11th 2012 Olympic 5,000, 6th 2013 World 5,000, 4th 2015 World 10,000, 6th 2016 Olympic 10,000, 8th 2017 World 10,000, 12th 2017 World 5,000, 9th 2019 World 10,000)
NCAA titles: 0
Bio: Former AR holder in 5,000 *29 US titles across all surfaces

No American woman has more impressive PRs from 5,000 through the half marathon — Huddle is #3 all-time in the 5,000 (14:42) and owns American records at 10,000 (30:13) and the half (67:25). An incredible road racer, Huddle has also won five straight US titles (and counting) in the 10,000 on the track. The one missing piece on her résumé is a global medal or major marathon win; her closest call came in 2015, when she cost herself World Champs bronze in Beijing by letting up just before the finish line.


Benoit Region

Matchup #1

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1) Joan Benoit Samuelson

Notable PBs: 2:21:21 marathon (#4 US)
Global medals: 1 (1984 Olympic marathon gold)
Major marathon wins: 4 (1979 and 1983 Boston Marathons, 1984 Olympics, 1985 Chicago)
USA track titles: 1 (10,000)
Global outdoor finals: 1 (1st 1984 Olympic marathon)
NCAA titles: 0

Bio: Won inaugural Olympic women’s marathon in 1984 *Two-time Boston Marathon champ; her 1983 winning time of 2:22:43 was a world record *6-time Falmouth Road Race champ *1985 Chicago Marathon champ; her 2:21:21 winning time would stand as the American record for almost 18 years

The diminutive Maine native known lovingly as “Joanie” was simultaneously a pioneer of her sport — she won the inaugural Olympic marathon in Los Angeles in 1984 — and ahead of her time. When she ran 2:22:43 at the 1983 Boston Marathon, it was the fastest time by a woman (in any marathon) by almost three minutes. I took 28 years for an American to run faster than Joanie on that course, and 32 until an American ran faster than her time in Chicago in 1985 (2:21:21, which remains the fourth-fastest ever by an American woman, 35 years later). She was twice ranked World #1 in the marathon by Track & Field News.

Her 1984 campaign was remarkable, winning the US Olympic Trials in Olympia, Wash., just 17 days after undergoing knee surgery, and then using a bold move just three miles in to win the Olympic marathon handily, 1:26 ahead of Norway’s Grete Waitz. She remains the only American woman to win Olympic gold in an event longer than 800 meters.

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9) Francie Larrieu Smith

Notable PBs: 4:05.09 1500, 4:27.52 mile, 15:15.2 5,000, 31:28.92 10,000, 2:27:35 marathon
Global medals: 0
USA outdoor track titles:
10 (6 in 1500, 2 in 3,000, 1 in mile, 1 in 10,000)
USA indoor track titles: 6 (4 in mile, 2 in 2-mile)
Global outdoor finals: 3 (15th 1987 World 10,000, 5th 1988 Olympic 10,000, 12th 1992 Olympic marathon)
NCAA titles: 0
Bio: Former AR holder in 10,000 *Only US female distance runner to make 5 Olympic teams (did not compete in ’80) *Broke indoor mile world record four times

One of the most versatile American distance runners ever, Larrieu Smith won her first of 16 US titles as a 17-year-old in 1970. That title came in the 1500; 22 years later, Larrieu Smith was the flagbearer for the US at the 1992 Olympics, where she finished 12th in the marathon. In all, she set 13 world indoor records and 35 American records across a variety of distances, most notably the mile (her 4:28.5 indoors in 1975 was the fastest ever at the time, indoors or out) and the 10,000 (31:28.92 at age 38 in 1991).


Matchup #2

2) Jenny Simpson

Notable PBs: 3:57.22 1500 (#4 US), 4:17.30 mile (#3 US), 8:29.58 3,000 (#5 US), 14:56.26 5,000; 9:12.50 steeple (#4 US)
Global medals: 4 (1st 2011 World 1500, 2nd 2013 World 1500, 3rd 2016 Olympic 1500, 2nd 2017 World 1500) 
USA outdoor track titles:
7 (4 in 1500, 2 in steeple, 1 in 5,000)
USA indoor track titles: 4 (2 in 3,000, 1 in 1500, 1 in mile)
Global outdoor finals: 8 (8th 2008 Olympic steeple, 4th 2009 World steeple, 1st 2011 World 1500, 2nd 2013 World 1500, 11th 2015 World 1500, 3rd 2016 Olympic 1500, 2nd 2017 World 1500, 8th 2019 World 1500)
NCAA titles: 4
Bio: Most global outdoor medals (4) of any female American distance runner *Former American record holder in steeple *Collegiate record holder in 1500 (3:59.90), mile (4:25.91i), and 5,000 (15:01.70i) *2014 Diamond League champion (1500)

With four global medals, including a world title in 2011, Simpson is the most decorated American female distance runner in history, and one of the most decorated 1500 runners from any country. Thanks to her strength and a brilliant sense of pace, Simpson almost always measures her race perfectly, allowing her to run down countless foes over the final 100 meters. Though her finest hour came at the 2011 Worlds, where Simpson shockingly walked away with the gold, she was actually in better shape in all three of her subsequent medal runs (but faced tougher competition in each).

Simpson’s dominant collegiate career at the University of Colorado and her steeplechase exploits (she finished 4th at Worlds in 2009 in an American record) should also be appreciated, but Simpson’s greatest trait is her consistency. She first broke 4:00 for the 1500 as a 22-year-old college senior in June 2009; over a decade later, at age 33, she ran 3:58 in the World Championship final, with few dips in between.

LRC Daegu 2011: Jenny Simpson Pulls Shocker, Wins World 1,500m Title

7) Des Linden

Notable PBs: 8:51.08i 3,000, 15:08.64 5,000, 31:37.14 10,000, 2:22:38 marathon (#7 US)
Global medals: 0
Major marathon wins: 1 (2018 Boston)
USA track titles: 0
Global outdoor finals: 2 (10th 2009 World marathon, 7th 2016 Olympic marathon)
NCAA titles: 0
Bio: 2018 Boston Marathon champ *Runner-up at 2010 Chicago and 2011 Boston *9 top-5 finishes at World Marathon Majors *2 Olympic marathon teams

Linden doesn’t have the track accolades of most of the women on this list (though did you remember she made a World Indoor team at 3,000 meters in 2010?), but she has put together a stellar marathon career. Obviously her 2018 Boston win stands out as the highlight, but Linden’s greatest trait was her consistency. Everyone has bad days in the marathon, but in 20 career starts (and counting), Linden never has, aside from her DNF at the 2012 Olympics (when she was very clearly injured). She was just two seconds shy of a second Boston title in 2011 and 11 seconds away from a third Olympic team in 2020 (which would have been a record for a US female marathoner). Instead, she’ll have to settle for an impressive nine top-5 finishes in majors and two Olympic berths.

LRC Des Linden Wins The 2018 Boston Marathon, Ends The American Women’s 33-Year Winless Streak


Matchup #3

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3) Emma Coburn

Notable PBs: 8:41.16i 3,000, 9:02.35 steeple (#2 US)
Global medals: 3 (3rd 2016 Olympic steeple, 1st 2017 World steeple, 2nd 2019 World steeple)
USA track titles: 8 (all in steeple)
Global outdoor finals: 6 (8th 2011 World steeple, 8th 2012 Olympic steeple, 5th 2015 World steeple, 3rd 2016 Olympic steeple, 1st 2017 World steeple, 2nd 2019 World steeple)
NCAA titles: 3
3-time NCAA champ *3-time global medallist in steeple *Former AR holder in steeple

Coburn is, undoubtedly, the greatest female steepler in US history. Her 2017 world title made her just the third American woman (after Mary Decker Slaney and Jenny Simpson) to win a world title in a distance event on the track, and she’s backed that up with medals at the 2016 Olympics and 2019 Worlds (it’s worth noting that one of the women who beat her in 2016, Ruth Jebet, has subsequently been banned for doping). has ranked her in the top four in the world in five of the last six years, an incredible run of consistency.

Domestically, Coburn has dominated. She has won eight of the last nine US steeple titles (missing only in 2013, when she was injured) and owns a 15-1 record against her greatest rival, American record holder Courtney Frerichs.

The one knock on Coburn is that her success is almost completely limited to the steeple. She did win an NCAA mile title at Colorado, but when she ran the flat 3,000 at USA Indoors in 2018 (coming off her steeple world title), she finished 3rd and failed to make the team.

LRC 2017 Worlds: Americans Emma Coburn and Courtney Frerichs Pull Off Incomprehensible Upset and Go 1-2 in Women’s Steeple

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11) Kara Goucher

Notable PBs: 8:34.99 3,000 (#8 US), 14:55.02 5,000, 30:55.16 10,000 (#5 US), 66:57 half marathon (aided course), 2:24:52 marathon
Global medals: 1 (2nd 2007 World 10,000)
USA outdoor track titles:
2 (both in 5,000)
Global outdoor finals: 6 (2nd 2007 World 10,000, 8th 2008 Olympic 10,000, 8th 2008 Olympic 5,000, 9th 2009 World marathon, 13th 2011 World 10,000, 10th 2012 Olympic marathon)
NCAA titles: 3
Bio: 3-time NCAA champ (including 2000 XC) *2-time Olympian

After a college career that saw her win three NCAA titles at Colorado, Goucher proved adept across multiple surfaces as a pro. Her silver in the 10,000 at the 2007 Worlds was a breakthrough — the first by a US woman at Worlds in the long distance track events — that helped resurrect US women’s distance running. The next year, she moved up to the marathon, running the fastest US debut ever at the time (2:25:53 on a tough New York course), notching three top-5 finishes in majors, and finishing 10th at the 2012 Olympics.


Matchup #4

4) Ajee’ Wilson

Notable PBs: 1:55.61 800 (AR)
Global medals: 4 (2nd 2016 World Indoor 800, 3rd 2017 World 800, 2nd 2018 World Indoor 800, 3rd 2019 World 800)
USA outdoor track titles: 4 (all in 800)
USA indoor track titles: 7 (5 in 800, 1 in 1000, 1 in 600)
Global outdoor champs finals: 5th 2013 World 800, 3rd 2017 World 800, 3rd 2019 World 800
NCAA titles: 0
Bio: 2-time World Indoor silver (2016, 2018) *2019 Diamond League champ *2012 World U20 champ *2011 World U18 champ

With four global medals and American records indoors and out, there’s a strong case to be made that Wilson is the US’s greatest-ever female 800 runner already at the age of 25. Her medal haul might have been even more impressive had CAS not suspended World Athletics’ hyperandrogenism guidelines in 2015, allowing DSD XY women such as Caster Semenya and Francine Niyonsaba to compete for three years of Wilson’s prime.

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5) Madeline Manning

Notable PBs: 1:57.90 800
Global medals: 1 (1st 1968 Olympic 800)
USA outdoor track titles: 6 (all in 800)
USA indoor track title: 4 (all in 880y)
Global outdoor finals: 1 (1st 1968 Olympic 800)
NCAA titles: 0
Bio: Former AR holder in 800 *Former world indoor record holder in 800 *Made 4 Olympic teams (did not compete in ’80) *First American to break 1:58

Manning was the first US woman to win Olympic gold in a distance event, setting an Olympic record of 2:00.9 in the 800 at the 1968 Games in Mexico City. Fifty-two years later, she remains the only American woman to win Olympic gold in a distance event on the track. She held the American record at 800 meters for 16 years; her PR of 1:57.9, set in 1976, made her the first American woman under 1:58. She also set three world indoor records, including a 2:02.0 in 1969.


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