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The 10 Best Moments of the Decade for U.S. Distance Running


Meb Keflezighi

Meb Keflezighi

Over the past decade (2001-10), U.S. distance running has produced many highlights including world titles, Olympic and World Championship medals, world and U.S. records as well as major marathon victories, and this progressive resurgence, led by the return of training groups, has made the U.S. the third best distance running power behind Kenya and Ethiopia, a ranking that many, or perhaps most in the sport, would have called a “pipeline dream” in 2000 when the U.S. sent only one athlete per gender for the Sydney Olympic Marathon. In this ten year period, there have been a host of “best moments” by U.S. runners, and below is my Top 10.

Hall Pops 2:06:17 Marathon at London – #2 U.S. Performer All-Time
At the Flora London Marathon in April against a stellar field, Ryan Hall of Mammoth Lakes, Calif. ran another impressive marathon to finish 5th in 2:06:17, only former course and world record holder Khalid Khannouchi has run faster (twice) as an American. In his third marathon, the Team Running USA athlete continued his development as he prepped for the Beijing Olympics. The top six men broke 2:07, the first time that has ever happened at the same marathon on the same day. Winner Martin Lel of Kenya defended his London title with a course record 2:05:15.


Goucher Garners First U.S. 10,000m Medal at World Championships
At the World Championships in Osaka, Japan in late August, Kara Goucher, 29, ran a smart race under challenging conditions – warm and humid weather as well as pushing and shoving in a tight, large pack – to earn a surprise bronze medal in the 10,000 meters. Over the final laps, Goucher battled Briton’s Jo Pavey and New Zealand’s Kim Smith and the three-time NCAA champion at Colorado produced the best kick and a less-than-two-second edge over Pavey, 32:02.05 to 32:03.81, for the coveted hardware and a spot on the podium. Goucher’s medal was the first for the U.S. at the distance in eleven World Championships.

Hall Sets U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials Record
With seeming ease, Ryan Hall, 25, floated over the 5-loop Central Park course to become Olympic Marathon Trials champion on November 3. His awe-inspiring 2:09:02 performance set a Trials and USA Championship record and against one of the best U.S. marathon fields assembled, it was the largest men’s Trials victory margin ever: 2 minutes, 5 seconds. On the challenging course, the Stanford grad ran a huge negative split: 1:06:17 (first half) vs. 1:02:45 (second half), 3 minutes, 32 seconds, and the first sub-2:10 at the Trials and USA Championship.

From 5K to 35K, Hall ran each successive 5K faster than the previous one. His progression went: 5K – 16:51, 10K – 15:35, 15K – 15:26, 20K – 15:12, 25K – 15:05, 30K – 14:48 and 35K – 14:28. His final 5K – where he celebrated the last 400 meters – was 14:57.

Drossin, De Reuck Win Silver, Bronze at World Cross plus Team Silver
At World 8K Cross Country Championships in Dublin, Ireland, Deena Drossin won the silver medal and teammate Colleen De Reuck, the bronze medal, to lead Team USA to the silver medal. The runner-up team placing tied the highest U.S. women’s WXC finish since 1992 and two individual medals by U.S. women had not occurred since before the IAAF assumed control of the event in 1973 (and has yet to happen again). This multi-medal haul opened the eyes of many in the U.S. and world and marked an early sign of an American distance resurgence. Two weeks later, Drossin (now Kastor) set a world 5K road record (14:54) at the Carlsbad 5000.

Solinsky Smashes U.S. 10,000m Record – 26:59.60!
On Saturday, May 1, Chris Solinsky smashed the 9-year-old U.S. 10,000 meter record with the first sub-27 minute 10,000 clocking by an American with his historic 26:59.60 at the Payton Jordan Cardinal Invitational on the Stanford campus. Solinsky, 25, a Wisconsin grad, pulled away from the deep field with a commanding 1:56 final 800 meters to win unchallenged in his debut at the distance.

In perhaps the greatest 10,000 on U.S. soil, two national records (also Canada) and a collegiate record were set and eleven men broke 28 minutes with the first eight finishers all setting PRs. For the year, Solinsky’s time also held up as the second fastest 10,000m time in the world.

Flanagan Earns Olympic 10,000m Bronze Medal and AR at Beijing
At the Beijing Olympics on August 15, Shalane Flanagan won the bronze medal in 30:22.22, shattering her own U.S. record and equaling the best-ever U.S. women’s performance in the event. Earlier in the week, the 2004 Olympian had suffered from food poisoning. Flanagan’s track medal was the first by an American male or female, at a distance longer than 800 meters, since Lynn Jennings’ 10,000m bronze in Barcelona 1992, which was also a U.S. record at the time. Tirunesh Dibaba (ETH) and Elvan Abeylegesse (TUR) won the gold and silver medals with impressive times under 30 minutes, 29:54.66 and 29:56.34, respectively.

Lagat’s Historic 1500m/5000m World Title Double
In Osaka, Japan, at the World Championships, Bernard Lagat became the first runner ever to win the 1500m/5000m double, and only the third in the history of global championships – Hicham el Guerrouj (2004) and Paavo Nurmi (1924) also won Olympic doubles. In addition, Lagat, 32, a two-time Olympic 1500m medalist for Kenya, won the first gold medals at both distances for the U.S. by one athlete.

Deena Does It! Sub-2:20 Win at London
On April 23, Deena Kastor convincingly won the Flora London Marathon with a sterling 2:19:36, breaking her 2003 U.S. record (2:21:16) and making her the 4th fastest woman all-time and the 8th woman to break 2:20 (and first American woman). The Team Running USA athlete – who also ran the fastest women’s marathon time of the year – maintained a metronomic 5:20 pace throughout and split each half in 1:09:48. Brava, Deena.

Keflezighi Wins 40th ING New York City Marathon
The winless drought ended in New York as Meb Keflezighi, a two-time Olympian, became the first U.S. champion of the storied New York City Marathon since 1982 (Alberto Salazar) when the UCLA grad broke away in the final miles from four-time Boston Marathon champion Robert Kipkoech Cheruiyot. Keflezighi, 34, also won his first-ever marathon and first national marathon title (20th USA title overall) as well as $200,000; his only-in-America performance was historic and poignant. Post-race, Meb read the Top 10 on the Late Show with David Letterman and shared a float ride with Miss America at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Olympic Marathon Medals for Kastor and Keflezighi
At the Athens Olympic Games in August, Meb Keflezighi and Deena Kastor won silver and bronze marathon medals respectively. On warm race days over a difficult point-to-point course, the dynamic duo from Mammoth Lakes executed near perfect race strategies to earn the first Olympic Marathon medals for the U.S. since 1976 (men) and 1984 (women). The U.S. was the only country to win more than one Olympic Marathon medal in Athens. Their collective achievement was the “Moment of the Decade” not only because of its historic importance, but also because it showed the value of group training and served to inspire and motivate other top Americans to “train hard and dream big” which led to other great moments such as the above. Like Frank Shorter’s Olympic Marathon victory in Munich 1972, their double medals were a true watershed moment for U.S. distance running.

The 10 Best Moments of the Decade for U.S. Distance Running
And the #1 Moment is… By Ryan Lamppa, Running USA wire