2021 LetsRun.com Men’s World and American Rankings: Kipchoge, Ingebrigtsen, & Cheptegei Lead the Way

By LetsRun.com
January 12, 2022

After a year off in 2020 due to the COVID-impacted season, the LetsRun.com world and US distance rankings are back. In each event, 800 through marathon, we’ve ranked the top 10 in the world and top 5 Americans.

Since these rankings are subjective, we’ll lay out the criteria we’re using for them:

  • An emphasis on performance in big races. How the athlete fared at the Olympics carries a significant amount of weight but winning gold doesn’t guarantee that an athlete will earn a #1 ranking. For U.S. athletes, their performance at the U.S. championships also factors heavily in the rankings.
  • Big meet success with the Diamond League receiving emphasis.
  • Season-best times matter, and if an athlete has a bunch of fast performances, they’re more likely to be ranked highly.
  • Indoor races are considered and can help an athlete’s ranking.
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The men’s rankings are below; the women’s rankings can be found here.

Prior years LetsRun rankings: *2019 *2018 *2017 *2016 *2015 *2014

Men’s 800: Emmanuel Korir rises to the top as Olympic/Diamond League champ

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Let’s face it, the men’s 800 was rather underwhelming this year. The world leader and only man under 1:43 on the year, Nijel Amos, finished 8th in the Olympic final. The reigning world champ, Donavan Brazier, didn’t even make it to Tokyo, failing to make the US team after competing at the Olympic Trials on a broken foot. And the reigning Olympic champion, David Rudisha, isn’t officially retired but hasn’t raced in over four years.

That left a vacuum, and by the end of the year, Kenyans Emmanuel Korir and Ferguson Rotich had just about filled it, going 1-2 in the Olympic and Diamond League finals.

1. Emmanuel Korir, Kenya
1:43.04 SB (#2); 3rd Kenyan trials, 2nd Monaco, 1st Olympics, 3rd Pre, 2nd Lausanne, 1st Zurich (DL final)

Korir was only third at the Kenyan Trials and he only won two races on the year — but they were the two most important races of the year, the Olympic and DL finals. Korir is a multi-faceted 800 man as his winning time at the Olympics (1:45.06) was the slowest in 20 years but he also did put the #2 time in the world in 2021.

2. Ferguson Rotich, Kenya
1:43.57 SB (#6); 2nd Doha, 2nd Kenyan trials, 1st Stockholm, 5th Székesfehérvár, 4th Monaco, 2nd Olympics, 2nd Pre, 3rd Lausanne, 2nd Paris, 1st Brussels, 2nd Zurich (DL final), 5th Nairobi

2nd is the perfect ranking for Rotich who was 2nd at the Kenyan Trials, Olympics, Pre, Paris and the DL final. Along the way, he broke 1:44 four times. Only one other runner in the world broke 1:44 more than once (#7 Wycliffe Kinyamal ran 1:43.91 and 1:43.94).

3. Marco Arop, Canada
1:43.26 SB (#4); 2nd Stockholm, 3rd Monaco, Olympic semis, 1st Pre, 1st Lausanne, 3rd Paris, 4th Zurich (DL final)

Arop had one bad race on the year — unfortunately, it came in the Olympic semis, but he had two wins in the DL this year.

4. Wycliffe Kinyamal, Kenya
1:43.91 SB (#13); 1st Doha, Kenyan trials semis, 2nd Gateshead 2, 1st Paris, 8th Zurich (DL final)

The top 3 rankings were easy for us. Figuring out #4-9 was next to impossible.

Kinyamal and Marco Arop were the only men to win two official DL 800s this year. Kinyamal and Rotich were the only two men to break 1:44 more than once. That being said, Kinyamal failed to make the final at the Kenyan trials, so if you want to move him down to #7 we don’t blame you.

5. Patryk Dobek, Poland
1:43.73 SB (#7); 1st Euro indoors, 5th Ostrava, 6th Monaco, 3rd Olympics, 10th Lausanne, 10th Paris

6. Peter Bol, Australia
1:44.11 SB (#16); 3rd Gateshead 2, 4th Olympics, 9th Lausanne, 4th Paris, 4th Zagreb

No major wins on the year but he was 3-1 on the year against Murphy.

7. Clayton Murphy, USA
1:43.17 SB (#3); 1st US Olympic Trials, 3rd Székesfehérvár, 7th Monaco, 6th Gateshead 2, 9th Olympics, 5th Pre, 5th Lausanne, 9th Paris, 3rd Zurich (DL final)

We initially had him as high as #5 as he was sensational at the US Trials and 3rd in the DL final, but Dobek won a medal and European indoors and Bol was 3-1 against him.

8. Elliot Giles, Great Britain
1:44.05 SB (#15); 1:43.63 indoors (#2 all-time), 1st UK trials, 3rd Stockholm, 1st Székesfehérvár, 5th Monaco, Olympic semis, 4th Pre, 5th Paris, 5th Zurich (DL final), 3rd Zagreb

9. Nijel Amos, Botswana
1:42.91 SB (#1); 1st Monaco, 8th Olympics

10. Adrian Ben, Spain
1:44.18 SB (#18); 5th Doha, 4th Stockholm, 5th Olympics, 8th Lausanne, 8th Paris

US Rankings

1. Murphy, Nike
2. Isaiah Jewett, University of Southern California/Nike
1:43.85 SB (#2); 1st NCAAs, 2nd US Olympic Trials, Olympic semis
3. Bryce Hoppel, adidas
1:44.14 SB (#3); 3rd US Olympic Trials, 11th Monaco, 5th Gateshead 2, Olympic semis, 8th Pre
4. Isaiah Harris, Nike
1:44.51 SB (#4); 4th US Olympic Trials, 5th Stockholm, 1st Gateshead 2, 6th Pre, 6th Zurich (DL final)
5. Donavan Brazier, Nike
1:45.00 SB (#7); 1:44.21 indoors (American record, T-#5 all-time), 8th US Olympic Trials

Men’s 1500/mile: Jakob Ingebrigtsen on top of the world at age 21

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After finishing as LetsRun’s World #1 in 2018 and 2019, Timothy Cheruiyot ceded his spot to Jakob Ingebrigtsen in 2021. Okay, “ceded” isn’t the right word. Cheruiyot fought tooth and nail to keep his crown, but Ingebrigtsen seized it from him with a virtuoso 3:28.32 Olympic record in Tokyo — the Norwegian’s first win against his Kenyan rival in 13 attempts. After a beatdown in the Bowerman Mile, it looked as if Ingebrigtsen had seized the title of world’s greatest miler for good. But Cheruiyot, running like the champion he is, closed the season on a high by outsprinting Ingebrigtsen in Zurich to win his fourth straight Diamond League title.

That leaves the event in a fascinating place heading into 2022. Will Ingebrigtsen own the event moving forward, or will Cheruiyot, who was not 100% healthy in 2021, repeat as world champion? Will either attack Hicham El Guerrouj‘s 3:26.00 world record? And what of American star Cole Hocker? It’s going to be fun.

1. Jakob Ingebrigtsen, Norway
3:28.32 SB (#2); 1st Euro indoors, 1st Gateshead 1, 3rd Monaco, 1st Olympics, 1st Pre, 2nd Zurich (DL final)

2. Timothy Cheruiyot, Kenya
3:28.28 SB (#1); 1st Doha, 4th Kenyan trials, 1st Stockholm, 1st Monaco, 2nd Olympics, 3rd Pre, 1st Zurich (DL final)

3. Stewart McSweyn, Australia
3:29.51 SB (#5); 2nd Australian trials, 3rd Gateshead 1, 2nd Doha, 1st Oslo, 4th Monaco, 7th Olympics, 2nd Pre, 1st Brussels, 3rd Zurich (DL final)

4. Josh Kerr, Great Britain
3:29.05 SB (#4); 1st British trials, 3rd Olympics

5. Abel Kipsang, Kenya
3:29.56 SB (#6); 3rd Kenyan trials, 4th Olympics, 7th Pre, 4th Brussels

6. Mohamed Katir, Spain
3:28.76 SB (#3); 2nd Monaco, 7th Brussels, 5th Zurich (DL final)

7. Cole Hocker, USA
3:31.40 SB (#11); 1st NCAA indoors, 1st NCAA outdoors, 1st US Olympic Trials, 6th Olympics

8. Oliver Hoare, Australia
3:32.66 SB (#19); 1st New Balance Indoor Grand Prix in 3:32.35 (#7 all-time indoors), 2nd Gateshead 1, 11th Olympics, 5th Pre, 2nd Brussels, 4th Zurich (DL final)

9. Charles Simotwo, Kenya
3:30.30 SB (#7); 1st Kenyan trials, 4th Oslo, 5th Monaco, Olympic semis, 5th Brussels, 7th Zurich (DL final)

10. Marcin Lewandowski, Poland
3:30.42 SB (#8); 2nd Euro indoors, 1st Ostrava, 2nd Oslo, 6th Monaco, Olympic semis

US rankings

1. Hocker, University of Oregon/Nike
2. Matthew Centrowitz, Nike Bowerman Track Club
3:33.69 SB (#4); 2nd US Olympic Trials, 1st Centro Mile in 3:49.26 (#5 all-time US), Olympic semis, 9th Pre
3. Yared Nuguse, University of Notre Dame
3:34.68 SB (#9); 2nd NCAAs, 3rd US Olympic Trials
4. Craig Engels, Nike
3:33.64 SB (#2); 4th US Olympic Trials, 2nd Pre (International Mile)
5. Henry Wynne, Brooks Beasts
3:34.08 SB (#5); 5th US Olympic Trials, 6th Pre (International Mile)

Men’s 3000/5000: Joshua Cheptegei adds Olympic gold to world record

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After a dream 2020 season that saw him break Kenenisa Bekele‘s longstanding world records at 5,000 and 10,000 meters, Uganda’s Joshua Cheptegei entered 2021 as the favorite to follow in the footsteps of Bekele and Mo Farah and sweep the Olympic 5k/10k titles. Things did not begin smoothly. Hampered by a leg injury, Cheptegei finished a well-beaten 6th at the Florence Diamond League in June, his final pre-Olympic race. In Tokyo, he took silver in the 10,000. Would the world record holder really depart the Olympics without a gold?

No. Cheptegei took the 5,000 title thanks to a forceful, sustained move from 600 meters out to earn a deserved Olympic gold, and followed it up with a 2-mile victory at the Pre Classic over a loaded field led by Olympic 10k champ Selemon Barega. Those two big wins were enough to earn Cheptegei his first LetsRun.com World #1.

1. Joshua Cheptegei, Uganda
7:33.24 (#9)/12:54.69 (#8) SBs; 1st Ostrava, 6th Florence, 1st Olympics, 1st Pre

2. Jakob Ingebrigtsen, Norway
7:33.06 (#8)/12:48.45 (#1) SBs; 1st Euro indoors, 1st Florence, 1st Lausanne

3. Moh Ahmed, Canada
7:42.53 (#49)/12:50.12 (#3) SBs; 3rd Florence, 2nd Olympics, 9th Lausanne

4. Berihu Aregawi, Ethiopia
7:33.39 (#10) SB; 5th Pre, 2nd Lausanne, 1st Zurich (DL final). 12:51 and 12:49 WR on roads.

Aregawi didn’t even run the 5k in the Olympics but he won the DL final and just set the world record on the roads. Based on track exploits alone, he was our #8 but we’re rewarding him for racing until the very last day of the year when he set a 12:49 road WR.

5. Paul Chelimo, USA
7:41.69 (#42)/12:59.05 (#14) SBs; 2nd Ostrava, 1st US Olympic Trials, 3rd Olympics, 3rd Pre

6. Nicholas Kimeli, Kenya
7:31.33 (#6)/12:59.17 (#15) SBs; 2nd Gateshead 1, 1st Kenyan Trials, 3rd Oslo, 4th Olympics, 11th Lausanne, 4th Zurich (DL final), 2nd Nairobi

7. Mohamed Katir, Spain
7:27.64 (#2)/12:50.79 (#4) SBs; 4th Euro indoors, 1st Gateshead 1, 4th Florence, 2nd Spanish champs, 1st Gateshead 2, 8th Olympics

8. Jacob Kiplimo, Uganda
7:41.27 (#39)/12:55.60 (#9) SBs; 1st Lucerne, 5th Olympics, 4th Pre

9. Birhanu Balew, Bahrain
7:33.05 (#7)/12:57.71 (#11) SBs; 7th Florence, 4th Oslo, 6th Olympics, 4th Lausanne, 2nd Zurich (DL final)

10. Jacob Krop, Kenya
7:30.07 (#4)/13:24.74 (#108) SBs; 7th Gateshead 1, 4th Kenyan trials, 2nd Oslo, 4th Gateshead 2, 7th Lausanne, 3rd Zurich (DL final), 1st Nairobi

US rankings

1. Chelimo, Nike/American Distance Project
2. Grant Fisher, Nike Bowerman Track Club
7:37.21 (#1)/13:02.53 (#2) SBs; 2nd US Olympic Trials, 9th Olympics, 6th Pre, 10th Lausanne
3. Woody Kincaid, Nike Bowerman Track Club
7:46.08 (#6)/13:17.20 (#7) SBs; 3rd US Olympic Trials, 14th Olympics, DNF Pre
4. Cooper Teare, University of Oregon/Nike
13:12.27 (#5) SB; 2nd NCAA indoors, 1st NCAA outdoors, 4th US Olympic Trials,
5. Sean McGorty, Nike Bowerman Track Club
7:37.47 (#2)/13:06.45 (#3) SBs

Men’s 10,000: Ethiopia back on top at last

From 1993 through 2011, Ethiopia claimed 13 of the 14 men’s 10,000-meter titles on offer at the World Championships or Olympics. Then, a drought: from 2012 through 2019, they claimed exactly zero. With Haile Gebrselassie and Kenenisa Bekele long gone from the track, it was time for a new generation to step up, and that’s exactly what Selemon Barega did by claiming the Olympic 10,000 crown in Tokyo in July.

Holding on to the title might be even harder. Every year, a new star seems to emerge: Joshua Cheptegei, Jacob Kiplimo, and now Berihu Aregawi, the 20-year-old Ethiopian who finished 4th at the Olympics and ran a 5k road world record of 12:49 in December.

1. Selemon Barega, Ethiopia
26:49.51 SB (#2); 1st Addis Ababa, 1st Ethiopian trials, 1st Olympics

2. Jacob Kiplimo, Uganda
26:33.93 (#1); 1st Ostrava, 3rd Olympics

3. Joshua Cheptegei, Uganda
27:43.63, 2nd Olympics

4. Berihu Aregawi Ethiopia
26:50.37 SB (#4); 1st Ethiopian nationals, 3rd Ethiopian trials, 4th Olympics

5. Rodgers Kwemoi, Kenya
27:05.51A SB (#9), 1st Kobe, 1st Japanese nationals, 1st Gifu, 2nd Kenyan trials, 7th Olympics

6. Grant Fisher United States
27:11.29 SB (#13), 2nd The Ten, 2nd US Olympic Trials, 5th Olympics

7. Yomif Kejelcha, Ethiopia
26:49.73 SB (#3); 4th Ethiopian nationals, 2nd Ethiopian trials, 8th Olympics

8. Geoffrey Kamworor, Kenya
27:01.06A SB (#7); 1st Kenyan trials

9. Moh Ahmed, Canada
27:47.76 SB; 6th Olympics

10. Rhonex Kipruto, Kenya
26:43 SB (road), 27:11.01 track SB (#12); 1st Maia, 9th Olympics, world leader on roads

US rankings

1. Fisher, Nike Bowerman Track Club
2. Woody Kincaid, Nike Bowerman Track Club
27:12.78 SB (#2); 3rd The Ten, 1st US Olympic Trials, 14th Olympics
3. Joe Klecker, On Athletics Club
27:23.44 SB (#5); 3rd Track Meet, 3rd US Olympic Trials, 16th Olympics
4. Ben True, Asics
27:14.95 SB (#3); 4th The Ten, 4th US Olympic Trials
5. Conner Mantz, Brigham Young University/Nike
27:41.16 SB (#6); 4th Track Meet, 2nd NCAAs, 5th US Olympic Trials

Men’s 3000 steeplechase: With his rivals injured, Soufiane El Bakkali is #1

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Just three finishers from the 2016 Olympic steeple final returned to the final in 2021. Defending champion Conseslus Kipruto? Injured. Silver medalist Evan Jager? Injured. Bronze medalist Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad? Hasn’t finished a steeple in three years. That left Morocco’s two-time World Championship medalist Soufiane El Bakkali as the top returner from Rio, and he backed it up by winning Olympic gold in Tokyo — the first non-Kenyan winner since 1980 (an Olympics at which Kenya did not compete). But with many of the event’s biggest stars sidelined, on their way out, or both, the steeple hardly dazzled in 2021. Outside of the abbreviated 2020 season, the world lead of 8:07.12 by Kenya’s Benjamin Kigen was the slowest world leader since 1994.

1. Soufiane El Bakkali, Morocco
8:08.43 SB (#4); 1st Florence, 1st Olympics, DNF Paris, 2nd Zurich (DL final), 1st Nairobi

2. Benjamin Kigen, Kenya
8:07.12 SB (#1); 3rd Kenyan trials, 7th Monaco, 3rd Olympics, 1st Paris, 1st Zurich (DL final), 6th Nairobi

3. Lamecha Girma, Ethiopia
8:07.75 SB (#2); 1st Monaco, 2nd Olympics

4. Abraham Kibiwot, Kenya
8:07.81 SB (#3); 7th Gateshead 1, 2nd Kenyan trials, 10th Olympics, 2nd Paris, 3rd Zurich (DL final), 2nd Nairobi

5. Getnet Wale, Ethiopia
8:09.47 SB (#6); 1st Ostrava, 4th Olympics, 4th Paris, 5th Zurich (DL final), 1st Zagreb

6. Leonard Bett, Kenya
8:10.21 SB (#8); 2nd Gateshead 1, 1st Kenyan trials, Olympic semis, 3rd Paris, 4th Zurich (DL final)

7. Tadese Takele, Ethiopia
8:09.37 SB (#5); 1st Ethiopian trials, 2nd Florence, 8th Monaco, Olympic semis, 2nd World U20s, 6th Zurich (DL final)

8. Yemane Haileselassie, Eritrea
8:13.63 SB (#18); 8th Florence, 5th Olympics, 6th Paris

9. Matt Hughes, Canada
8:13.56 SB (#15); 11th Gateshead 1, 6th Olympics, 5th Paris, 5th Zagreb

10. Ryuji Miura, Japan
8:09.92 SB (#7); 1st Japanese trials, 7th Olympics

US rankings

1. Hillary Bor, HOKA ONE ONE/American Distance Project
8:14.69 SB (#1); 1st Gateshead 1, 1st US Olympic Trials, 5th Monaco, Olympic semis, 9th Paris, 7th Zurich (DL final)
2. Benard Keter, US Army WCAP
8:17.31 SB (#2); 2nd US Olympic Trials, 9th Monaco, 11th Olympics
3. Mason Ferlic, adidas/Very Nice Track Club
8:18.49 SB (#4); 3rd US Olympic Trials, Olympic semis
4. Isaac Updike, Empire Elite
8:17.74 SB (#3); 5th US Olympic Trials
5. Daniel Michalski, Nike
8:20.96 SB (#7); 4th US Olympic Trials

Men’s marathon: Who else?

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It seems silly in retrospect, but entering 2021, there were questions about whether Eliud Kipchoge could repeat as Olympic marathon champion. He was 36, officially (though probably a year or two older) and coming off his first marathon defeat since 2013. Was his 8th-place showing at the 2020 London Marathon really just a case of a badly blocked ear or the first hint of a decline? Twelve months later, it certainly looks like the former as the marathon GOAT won his second Olympic gold in Sapporo by 80 seconds — the largest margin of victory in an Olympic marathon since Frank Shorter in 1972.

The real question is, who’s next after Kipchoge? You’d have to say Lawrence Cherono, whose track record over the last four years includes wins in Amsterdam, Boston, Chicago, and Valencia. But Cherono was also only fourth in the Olympics this year. Kipchoge isn’t just the best marathoner in the world; he’s also the most consistent. And that’s why, once again in the marathon, it’s Kipchoge and everyone else.

1. Eliud Kipchoge, Kenya
1st NN Mission Marathon (2:04:30 — #14 in world), 1st Olympics (2:08:38)

2. Bashir Abdi, Belgium
3rd Olympics (2:10:00), 1st Rotterdam (2:03:36 — #2 in world)

3. Lawrence Cherono, Kenya
4th Olympics (2:10:02), 1st Valencia (2:05:12 — #27 in world)

4. Benson Kipruto, Kenya
1st Prague (2:10:16), 1st Boston (2:09:51)

5. Sisay Lemma, Ethiopia
DNF Olympics, 1st London (2:04:01 — #5 in world)

6. Titus Ekiru, Kenya
1st Milan (2:02:57 — #1 in world), DNF London, 1st Abu Dhabi (2:06:13)

7. Seifu Tura, Ethiopia
4th Milan (2:04:29 — #13 in world), 1st Chicago (2:06:12)

8. Tamirat Tola, Ethiopia
1st Amsterdam (2:03:30 — #3 in world)

9. Abdi Nageeye, Netherlands
2nd Olympics (2:09:58), 5th New York (2:11:39)

10. Albert Korir, Kenya
10th Eldoret (2:13:53), 1st New York (2:08:22)

US rankings

1. Galen Rupp, Nike
8th Olympics (2:11:41), 2nd Chicago (2:06:35 — #1 in US)
2. Elkanah Kibet, US Army WCAP
4th New York (2:11:15 — #2 in US)
3. Colin Bennie, Reebok Boston Track Club
7th Boston (2:11:26 — #4 in US)
4. CJ Albertson, Brooks
2nd Grandma’s (2:14:29), 10th Boston (2:11:44 — #5 in US), 8th CIM (2:14:45)
5. Ben True, Asics
7th New York (2:12:53 — #6 in US)

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