2021 LetsRun.com Women’s World and American Rankings: Mu, Kipyegon, Hassan, & Jepchirchir Post Epic Seasons

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 from 2021.

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 women’s rankings are below; the men’s can be found here.

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

Women’s 800: Athing Mu takes over

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At the beginning of 2021, most knew Athing Mu was a gigantic talent but did anyone (even Mu herself?) know how soon the future would arrive and on what scale? In 2019, as a 16-year-old, she took down Raevyn Rogers to win the US 600-meter title and almost broke the world record; that summer, she finished 5th at the US championships. Then COVID hit and Mu’s 2020 track campaign was wiped out. She returned in 2021 at an entirely new level; practically every race brought a new NCAA or American record. As the season moved on, the questions we were asking ourselves progressed: Can a 19-year-old make the US team? Might a 19-year old-actually win the Olympics? Is there any way this 19-year-old doesn’t win the Olympics?

Because this is running, the question now is what can Mu do for an encore. We’re always looking forward. But with Mu, we should look back as well. Because what she accomplished in 2021 was nothing less than one of the greatest seasons ever by an American middle distance runner, simple as that.

And it was pretty darn good for any middle distance runner ever. Did you know that Mu actually did something this year that David Rudisha never did — go undefeated at 800 for the year and win a global title. Caster Semenya accomplished the feat twice, but not until 2016, seven years after her first global title (she also did it in 2017).

1. Athing Mu, USA
1:55.04 SB (#1); 1st US Olympic Trials, 1st Olympics, 1st Pre

2. Keely Hodgkinson, Great Britain
1:55.88 SB (#2); 1st Euro indoors, 1st Ostrava, 5th Doha, 1st UK trials, 4th Stockholm, 2nd Olympics, 5th Pre, 2nd Brussels, 1st Zurich (DL final)

Hodgkinson had a year that was pretty similar to Mu’s. Like Mu, she also began the year as an 18-year-old with a 2:01 pb (2:01.73) and ended it with a 1:55 pb (1:55.88) and Olympic medal (silver). The biggest difference is she lost six 800s on the year. But she also won European indoors and the DL final.

3. Jemma Reekie, Great Britain
1;56.90 SB (#8); 2nd UK trials, 2nd Monaco, 4th Olympics, 8th Pre, 3rd Brussels, 4th Zurich (DL final)

We know Reekie is bummed to not be an Olympic medallist but the reality is she ran a pb in the biggest race of her life. 1:56.90 just wasn’t good enough for top 3 in Tokyo.

4. Natoya Goule, Jamaica
1:56.44 SB (#4); 2nd Doha, 2nd Stockholm, 4th Monaco, 8th Olympics, 3rd Pre, 1st Brussels, 3rd Zurich (DL final)

5. Raevyn Rogers, USA
1:56.81 SB (#7); 2nd US Olympic Trials, 3rd Olympics, 4th Pre

6. Kate Grace, USA
1:57.20 SB (#10); 7th US Olympic Trials, 1st Oslo, 3rd Stockholm, 3rd Monaco, 2nd Pre, 5th Brussels, 2nd Zurich (DL final)

7. Habitam Alemu, Ethiopia
1:57.56 SB (#11); 4th Doha, 2nd Ethiopian trials, 5th Monaco, 6th Olympics, 4th Brussels, 6th Zurich (DL final)

8. Rose Mary Almanza, Cuba
1:56.28 SB (#3); 1st Stockholm, 9th Monaco, Olympic semis

9. Halimah Nakaayi, Uganda
1:58.03 SB (#15); 2nd Oslo, 7th Monaco, Olympic semis, 6th Pre, 7th Brussels, 5th Zurich (DL final)

10. Laura Muir, Great Britain
1:56.73 SB (#6); 3rd UK trials, 1st Monaco

US Rankings

1. Mu, Texas A&M University/Nike
2. Rogers, Nike
3. Grace, Nike
4. Ajee’ Wilson, adidas
1:58.39 SB (#4); 3rd US Olympic Trials, Olympic semis, 7th Pre
5. Michaela Meyer, University of Virginia
1:58.55 SB (#5); 1st NCAAs, 4th US Olympic Trials

Women’s 1500: Faith Kipyegon the GOAT

Courtesy Diamond League AG

There’s no debate anymore: Faith Kipyegon is the greatest female miler the world has ever seen. Her medal record is remarkable — one world title, two world silvers, and two Olympic titles, the latter in an Olympic record of 3:53.11. And this year, she added the fast times to go with those medals, clocking the three best times of her career (3:51.07, 3:53.11, and 3:53.23), all of which rank among the 10 fastest ever.

Behind Kipyegon, Sifan Hassan was brilliant once again, earning bronze in Tokyo despite running two other events, while Great Britain’s Laura Muir finally captured a richly-deserved global outdoor medal by taking silver at the Olympics. In the US, with Jenny Simpson turning 35 and American record holder Shelby Houlihan banned until 2025, Elle Purrier St. Pierre took over as queen of the event and will be tough to beat in 2022.

1. Faith Kipyegon, Kenya
3:51.07 SB (#1); 2nd Florence, 1st Kenyan trials, 1st Monaco, 1st Olympics, 1st Pre, 1st Zurich (DL final)

Can someone please set her up for a WR attempt in 2022?

2. Sifan Hassan, Netherlands
3:53.60 SB (#2); 1st Florence, 2nd Monaco, 3rd Olympics, 1st Brussels, 2nd Zurich (DL final)

As amazing as her year was, we give her extra bonus points for continuing to race after tripling at the Olympics. She wasn’t afraid to try to beat Kipyegon again in the DL final.

3. Laura Muir, Great Britain
3:54.50 SB (#4); 1st Gateshead 1, 3rd Florence, 2nd Olympics, 12th Pre

After finishing seventh, fourth, and fifth in the last three global finals, Muir nabbed a much-deserved silver with a 3:54.50 pb in the Olympic final.

4. Freweyni Hailu, Ethiopia
3:56.28 SB (#5); 1st Ostrava, 1st Ethiopian trials, 3rd Monaco, 4th Olympics, 1st Lausanne

5. Linden Hall, Australia
3:59.01 SB (#10); 1st Australian champs, 6th Olympics, 2nd Pre, 2nd Lausanne, 3rd Brussels, 6th Zurich (DL final)

6th in the world is pretty stellar for someone who was only 8th at NCAAs in her final year at Florida State in 2015 (she had a career best NCAA finish of 3rd).

6. Gudaf Tsegay, Ethiopia
3:54.01 SB (#3); 3:53.09 indoor world record, 1st Chorzow

7. Gabriela DeBues-Stafford, Canada
3:58.28 SB (#7); 4th Florence, 5th Olympics, 6th Pre

8. Elle Purrier St. Pierre, USA
3:58.03 SB (#6); 1st US Olympic Trials, 10th Olympics

9. Josette Norris, USA
3:59.72 SB (#13); 3rd Pre, 3rd Lausanne, 6th Brussels, 3rd Zurich (DL final)

10. Marta Perez, Spain
4:00.12 SB (#15); 4th Gateshead 2, 9th Olympics, 4th Lausanne, 4th Brussels, 4th Zurich (DL final)

US rankings

1. Purrier St. Pierre, New Balance Boston
2. Norris, Reebok Boston Track Club
3. Cory McGee, New Balance/Team Boss
4:00.67 SB (#3); 2nd US Olympic Trials, 11th Monaco, 12th Olympics
4. Shannon Osika, Nike
4:00.73 SB (#4); 4th US Olympic Trials, 2nd Stockholm, 5th Pre
5. Kate Grace, Nike/Team Boss
4:01.33 SB (#6); 1st Gateshead 2, 1st Berlin

Women’s 3000/5000: The Sifan Hassan Show

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Sifan Hassan, it’s true, didn’t race many 3ks or 5ks this year — just one 3k (indoors) and four 5ks, one of which was an Olympic prelim. But is there any doubt that she was the best in the world? On the morning of August 2, as the bell rang in her Olympic 1500m prelim, Hassan, running third from the back, tripped over Kenya’s Edina Jebitok, slamming hard into the Olympic Stadium track. Rather than pack it in, Hassan picked herself up, closed her last lap in 61.1 seconds — including the fall — and won the heat in 4:05.17. For most athletes, that would be a day in itself. For Hassan, it was how she spent the morning of the day she won her first Olympic gold medal; 12 hours later, she used a 57.36 last lap to destroy Hellen Obiri and win the 5k. Eighteen days after that, thoroughly exhausted by her Olympic triple, Hassan went to the Pre Classic and beat Olympic 6th-placer Senbere Teferi by 15 seconds to win the 5k there.

One person Hassan didn’t beat in the 5k is Francine Niyonsaba, who came on strong at the end of the year to win two Diamond Leagues and the Diamond League final. Niyonsaba was DQ’d from the Olympic semis — we’re still not quite sure why — and didn’t get to test her mettle against Hassan in the 5k final (Hassan did beat her handily in the 10k, though). That is the matchup we’ll be watching closely at Oregon 2022 — assuming Hassan, master of all distances, even runs the 5k at Worlds.

1. Sifan Hassan, Netherlands
8:30.54 (#8)/14:27.89 (#8) SBs; 1st Olympics, 1st Pre (5k)

2. Francine Niyonsaba, Burundi
8:19.08 (#1)/14:25.34 (#4) SBs; DQ Olympics, 1st Pre (2 mile), 1st Brussels, 1st Zurich (DL final)

While we at LetsRun.com don’t believe that humans who enjoyed the benefits of having testes during puberty should be competing in elite women’s athletics, you have to impressed by Niyonsaba’s grit and determination. A lifetime 800 runner, she moved up to the 5000 this year and was pretty darn amazing at it.

3. Hellen Obiri, Kenya
8:33.98 (#12)/14:26.23 (#5) SBs; 2nd Kenyan trials, 1st Oslo, 2nd Olympics, 3rd Pre (2 mile), 3rd Brussels, 2nd Zurich (DL final)

4. Gudaf Tsegay, Ethiopia
14:13.32 SB (#1); 1st Ethiopian trials, 3rd Olympics

5. Ejgayehu Taye, Ethiopia
8:19.52 (#2)/14:14.09 (#2) SBs; 2nd Ethiopian trials, 5th Olympics, 2nd Brussels, 3rd Zurich (DL final)

6. Senbere Teferi, Ethiopia
8:48.73 (#33)/14:15.24 (#3) SBs; 3rd Ethiopian trials, 6th Olympics, 2nd Pre (5k)

7. Margaret Kipkemboi, Kenya
8:21.53 (#3)/14:27.12 (#7) SBs; 2nd Doha, 4th Kenyan trials, 3rd Oslo, 3rd Paris, 4th Brussels, 4th Zurich (DL final)

8. Fantu Worku, Ethiopia
8:30.76 (#9)/14:26.80 (#6) SBs; 4th Ethiopian trials, 2nd Oslo, 3rd Pre (5k), 5th Paris, 6th Zurich (DL final)

9. Lilian Rengeruk, Kenya
8:28.96 (#6)/14:30.32 (#10) SBs; 3rd Doha, 1st Kenyan trials, 12th Olympics, 5th Brussels, 7th Zurich (DL final)

10. Beatrice Chebet, Kenya
8:27.49 (#4)/14:34.55 (#12) SBs; 1st Doha, 5th Kenyan trials, 5th Oslo, DNF Pre, 11th Paris, 11th Brussels, 9th Zurich (DL final)

US rankings

1. Elise Cranny, Nike Bowerman Track Club
8:30.30 (#1)/14:55.98 (#8) SBs; 1st US Olympic Trials, 13th Olympics, 6th Pre (2 mile), 4th Paris, 10th Zurich (DL final)
2. Alicia Monson, On Athletics Club
8:40.08 (#2)/14:42.56 (#1) SBs; 5th Pre (5k), 9th Paris, 9th Brussels
3. Karissa Schweizer, Nike Bowerman Track Club
8:40.25 (#4)/14:51.34 (#3) SBs; 2nd US Olympic Trials, 11th Olympics
4. Josette Norris, Reebok Boston Track Club
14:51.32 SB (#2); 8th US Olympic Trials; ran 14:51 twice
5. Rachel Schneider, HOKA ONE ONE
8:53.02 (#8)/14:52.04 (#4) SBs; 3rd US Olympic Trials, Olympic semis, 10th Pre (5k)

Women’s 10,000: Two all-time talents batter the world record

2021 was one of the finest years in the history of the 10,000 meters. More accurately, June 6-8, 2021, was one of the finest years in the history of the 10,000 meters. In the span of 55 hours, Fanny Blankers-Koen Stadium in Hengelo saw two world records: first at the FBK Games by home favorite Sifan Hassan, whose 29:06.82 slashed over 10 seconds off Almaz Ayana‘s previous best of 29:17.45, and then at the Ethiopian Olympic trials by Letesenbet Gidey, who took a further five seconds off Hassan’s mark with her 29:01.03. Both were following the Wavelight pacing system installed on the rail of the track, and you get the sense that if the magic lights had been set to 28:59, either athlete could have broken the 29:00 barrier (that’s what 2022 is for!).

Only one could be Olympic champion, however, and in Tokyo, it wasn’t close. Despite already having five races in her legs, Hassan took down Gidey and the rest of the world to win the gold and cement her status as World #1 in 2021.

1. Sifan Hassan, Netherlands
29:06.82 WR SB (#2); 1st Hengelo, 1st Olympics

2. Letsenbet Gidey, Ethiopia
29:01.03 WR SB (#1); 1st Hengelo, 3rd Olympics

3. Kalkidan Gezahegne, Bahrain
29:50.77 SB (#4); 2nd Maia, 2nd Olympics, 29:38 road WR

4. Hellen Obiri, Kenya
30:24.27 SB (#8); 1st Nairobi, 1st Kenyan trials, 4th Olympics

5. Gudaf Tsegay, Ethiopia
29:39.42 SB (#3); 1st Maia

6. Francine Niyonsaba, Burundi
30:41.93 SB (#11); 6th Ethiopian trials, 5th Olympics

7. Irene Cheptai, Kenya
30:44.00 SB (#12); 4th Stockholm, 2nd Kenyan trials, 6th Olympics

8. Tsige Gebreselama, Ethiopia
30:06.01 SB (#5); 1st Ethiopian nationals, 2nd Ethiopian trials, DNF Olympics

9. Tsehay Gemechu, Ethiopia
30:19.29 SB (#6); 2nd Addis Ababa, 3rd Ethiopian trials, DQ Olympics

10. Yalemzerf Yehualaw, Ethiopia 
30:20.77 SB (#7); 1st Addis Ababa, 4th Ethiopian trials

US rankings

1. Emily Sisson, New Balance
31:03.82 SB (#3); 2nd The Ten, 1st US Olympic Trials, 10th Olympics
2. Karissa Schweizer, Nike Bowerman Track Club
30:37.99 SB (#2); 2nd US Olympic Trials, 12th Olympics
3. Alicia Monson, On Athletics Club
31:18.55 SB (#5); 3rd US Olympic Trials, 13th Olympics
4. Elise Cranny, Nike Bowerman Track Club
30:47.32 SB (#1); 1st The Ten, 4th US Olympic Trials
5. Rachel Schneider, HOKA ONE ONE
31:42.92 SB (#12); 5th US Olympic Trials

Women’s 3000 steeplechase: The best steepler in the world wasn’t allowed to run the Olympics

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Norah Jeruto in 2021 will go down alongside 800m man Wilson Kipketer in 1996 and steeple ace Saif Saaeed Shaheen in 2004 as athletes who were undoubtedly the best in the world in their events yet were denied Olympic glory because they were in the midst of transferring their allegiance between countries. Kipketer and Shaheen are legends of the sport but paid a high price for changing nationalities; they never stood atop the Olympic podium. The only silver lining for Jeruto — a Kazakh citizen, but not yet recognized that way by World Athletics — is that she (possibly) has another chance two years from now in Paris. For now, she’ll have to settle for being the best in the world, and, thanks to her 8:53.65 at the Pre Classic, the third-fastest woman of all time.

For the first time since we resumed our world rankings in 2014, Emma Coburn did not finish the year as the US #1. Coburn still won her seventh straight US title but ran an uncharacteristically awful race in the Olympic final and was ultimately DQ’d. In her place, Courtney Frerichs stepped up, running one of the gutsiest races in the history of American distance running to earn a silver medal in Tokyo. Later in August, she ran 8:57.77 to lower her own American record and become the first American under the 9:00 barrier. Frerichs’ campaign was the brightest spot in a turbulent year for the Bowerman Track Club.

FYI, the women’s steeple was the only event in our women’s or men’s rankings this year where the Olympic champion didn’t end up as the world #1.

1. Norah Jeruto, Kazakhstan
8:53.65 SB (#1); 1st Doha, 1st Pre, 1st Zurich (DL final)

2. Hyvin Kiyeng, Kenya
9:00.05 SB (#3); 1st Kenyan trials, 1st Stockholm, 1st Monaco, 3rd Tokyo, 3rd Pre, 2nd Zurich (DL final)

3. Courtney Frerichs, USA
8:57.77 SB (#2); 2nd US Olympic Trials, 2nd Olympics, 2nd Pre, 3rd Zurich (DL final)

4. Peruth Chemutai, Uganda
9:01.45 SB (#4); 8th Doha, 5th Ethiopian trials, 1st Olympics, 7th Pre, 7th Zurich (DL final)

5. Mekides Abebe, Ethiopia
9:02.52 SB (#5); 2nd Doha, 1st Ethiopian trials, 4th Olympics, 8th Pre, 4th Zurich (DL final)

6. Winfred Yavi, Bahrain
9:02.64 SB (#6); 3rd Doha, 3rd Monaco, 10th Olympics, 4th Pre, 6th Zurich (DL final)

7. Gesa Krause, Germany
9:07.61 SB (#9); 7th Doha, 2nd Stockholm, 5th Monaco, 5th Olympics, 6th Pre, 9th Zurich (DL final)

8. Beatrice Chepkoech, Kenya
9:04.94 SB (#7); 2nd Kenyan trials, 3rd Stockholm, 2nd Monaco, 7th Olympics

9. Emma Coburn, USA
9:08.22 SB (#10); 5th Doha, 1st US Olympic Trials, 4th Monaco, DQ Olympic final

10. Celliphine Chespol, Kenya
9:07.07 SB (#8); 10th Kenyan trials, 5th Pre, 5th Zurich (DL final)

US rankings

1. Frerichs, Nike Bowerman Track Club
2. Coburn, New Balance/Team Boss

3. Val Constien, Tracksmith
9:18.34 SB (#4); 3rd US Olympic Trials, 12th Olympics
4. Leah Falland, On Athletics Club
9:16.96 SB (#3); 9th US Olympic Trials, 5th Stockholm
5. Marisa Howard, Idaho Afoot
9:22.69 SB (#5); 5th US Olympic Trials, 9th Pre

Women’s marathon: Peres Jepchirchir’s historic year earns her #1 spot

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Peres Jepchirchir wasn’t even supposed to be at the Tokyo Olympics. When Kenya named its initial team in 2020, Jepchirchir wasn’t on it — and who could blame Athletics Kenya? She had run just one marathon outside of Kenya, and while she had won the 2019 Saitama Marathon in Japan, her time of 2:23:50 wasn’t going to put her on the most competitive Olympic squad in the world.

But Jepchirchir’s performances in the pandemic year of 2020 — two women’s-only half marathon WRs, a World Half title, and a 2:17:16 win at the Valencia Marathon — were too great to ignore. Vivian Cheruiyot was bumped off the Kenyan team and Jepchirchir was off to Japan. Once there, she made Athletics Kenya looks smart by leading a Kenyan 1-2 with Brigid Kosgei. Not satisfied with her Olympic triumph, Jepchirchir signed up for the New York City Marathon and promptly won that as well, making her the first woman in history to win the Olympics in the summer and a major in the fall.

In the US, 2021 will go down as the year of Molly Seidel. After flashing her talent by finishing second at the Olympic Trials and running 2:25:13 in London in 2020, Seidel was even better in 2021, earning an unlikely bronze medal in Sapporo and running an American course record of 2:24:42 to finish fourth in New York. With stalwarts such as Amy Cragg and Shalane Flanagan now retired and others like Des Linden and Molly Huddle nearing the end, Seidel has shown she has what it takes to succeed them and lead the way for American marathoners in the 2020s.

1. Peres Jepchirchir, Kenya
1st Olympics (2:27:20), 1st New York (2:22:39)

2. Joyciline Jepkosgei, Kenya
1st London (2:17:43 — #1 in world)

3. Angela Tanui, Kenya
1st Dhaka (2:29:04), 1st Tuscany (2:20:08), 1st Amsterdam (2:17:57 — #2 in world)

4. Brigid Kosgei, Kenya
2nd Olympics (2:27:36), 4th London (2:18:40 — #5 in world)

5. Degitu Azimeraw, Ethiopia
2nd London (2:17:58 — #3 in world)

6. Ashete Bekere, Ethiopia
3rd London (2:18:18 — #4 in world)

7. Hiwot Geberkidan, Ethiopia
1st Milan (2:19:35 — #8 in world), 2nd Berlin (2:21:23)

8. Nancy Jelagat, Kenya
1st Valencia (2:19:31 — #7 in world)

9. Gotytom Gebreslase, Ethiopia
1st Berlin (2:20:09 — #9 in world)

10. Molly Seidel, USA
3rd Olympics (2:27:46), 4th New York (2:24:42)

LRC note: When we initially published the list we didn’t have Molly Seidel in the top 10. We had Chicago champ Ruth Chepngetich (DNF Olympics, 1st Chicago in 2:22:31) as 10th as in this COVID-19 year we decided to view marathon #2 as more of a bonus marathon (kind of like marathon #3 in a normal year). But we now realize we can’t ignore her DNF at the Olympics. That’s the most important race of the last five years and she lost to Seidel in it. So Seidel is our new #10. For a fuller explanation, go to this messageboard thread – LRC women’s world rankings – Seidel not even top 10? – or listen to the January 12, 2022 episode of the LetsRun.com podcast, or watch the video segment from the podcast below:

10. Ruth Chepngetich, Kenya
DNF Olympics, 1st Chicago (2:22:31)

US rankings

1. Seidel, Puma
2. Emma Bates, Asics/Team Boss
2nd Chicago (2:24:20 — #1 in US)
3. Kellyn Taylor, HOKA ONE ONE NAZ Elite
6th New York (2:26:10 — #3 in US)
4. Annie Frisbie, Minnesota Distance Elite
7th New York (2:26:18 — #4 in US)
5. Nell Rojas, unsponsored
6th Boston (2:27:12 — #7 in US)

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