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Top 10 Moments of the Year

Galen Rupp - 26:48

Galen Rupp - 26:48

Every year since 2000, the year of U.S. distance running’s nadir, it has been more and more difficult to earn a spot in the Top 10 Moments of the Year. A performance that 5-7 years ago warranted a Top 10 rank now merits honorable mention, and 2011 was collectively one of the deepest years yet as U.S. distance runners continued their ladder of success with more World Championship medals, broken records and top performances on the track, roads and turf and in the mountains.

The impressive 2011 performances by U.S. distance runners should serve as a springboard for the 2012 Olympic Games in London, and Team USA will likely have several true medal contenders at nearly every distance event and no distance medal(s) or near medals in London would be a surprise and a disappointment.

Below are the 10 Best Moments for U.S. Distance Running in 2011.

#10 – tie
Verzbicas Smashes U.S. High School 2 Mile Record at Pre
At the Prefontaine Classic on June 4, youth superstar Lukas Verzbicas shattered the U.S. high school 2 mile record with his 8:29.46. The Illinois resident ran in the Open race and finished 11th overall. The previous record was 8:34.40 by German Fernandez in 2008.

#10 – tie
Team USA Strikes Double Gold at World Mountain Running Championship
At the 27th World Mountain Running Championship, held on September 11 in Tirana, Albania, Max King and Kasie Enman won world titles – the first U.S. men’s podium topper since Jay Johnson in 1989 and the first U.S. women’s individual mountain gold ever.

Verzbicas’ Historic High School Indoor Triple
U.S. high school superstar Lukas Verzbicas produced an incredible and historic triple at the New Balance Indoor Nationals in March. The two-time Foot Locker Cross Country champion won the 5000m (14:06.78), two mile (8:40.70) and mile (4:10.67). His 5000m time broke his U.S. Junior and national high school record from 2009 and his two mile performance just missed Gerry Lindgren‘s 46-year-old national record of 8:40.00. In a word, wow!

Team USA Wins Gold, Silver at IAU 100K World Championship
At the 25th IAU World Championship in Winschoten, NED in September 10, Team USA won gold and silver medals – the first team gold for U.S. men ever. Michael Wardian and Andrew Henshaw led the U.S. men’s contingent with silver and bronze individual medals respectively, while 50-year-old Meghan Arbogast was the top U.S. woman in fifth place.

Rupp Sets U.S. Indoor 5000m Record
At the Aviva Grand Prix Indoor in Birmingham, Great Britain on February 19, Galen Rupp finished second to Briton’s Mo Farah in the 5000 meters with his 13:11.44, surpassing Bernard Lagat‘s 2009 U.S. record by just 6/100ths of a second. Farah set a British record (13:10.60).

Lagat Sets U.S. Two Mile Indoor Record
At the NYRR Saturday Night at The Armory III on February 12, Bernard Lagat broke Doug Padilla‘s nearly 21-year-old U.S. indoor two mile record, clocking 8:10.07. The two-time Olympic 1500m medalist ran halves of 4:08.1 and 4:02.0. Behind him, 18-year-old Lukas Verzbicas nearly broke Gerry Lindgren‘s nearly 47-year-old U.S. high school record of 8:40.0. The two-time Foot Locker Cross Country champion went out aggressively (4:14 for his first mile), but slowed in the second half to clock 8:43.24. Still, his time ranks #3 on the U.S. high school list, and his 3000m split of 8:07.54 ranks #2.

Flanagan, Team USA Women Bronze Medals at World Cross
In Punta Umbria, Spain last March, Shalane Flanagan, 29, earned the bronze medal at the World Cross Country Championships and led the U.S. Senior women’s team to a repeat bronze medal finish. The 2008 Olympic 10,000m bronze medalist, who improved on a 12th place finish at the 2010 worlds, ran 25:10 over the 8K loop course. Her medal was the first U.S. individual medal since Deena Kastor‘s silver medal at the 2003 world cross.

Team USA placed three more runners in the top 20 with Molly Huddle, Magdalena Lewy Boulet and Blake Russell finishing 17th, 18th and 19th in 26:26, 26:27 and 26:30 respectively.

Lagat Sets Another U.S. 5000m Record
At the Herculis Meeting in Monaco on July 22, Bernard Lagat ran 12:53.60 to break his U.S. 5000 meter record set in 2010. Lagat, 36, finished second overall behind Great Britain Mo Farah’s world leading 12:53.11.

Lagat Strikes Silver Again at World Championships 5000m
In Daegu, Korea at the World Championships on September 4, Bernard Lagat and Mo Farah of Great Britain waged a pitched battle in the 5000 meters with Farah prevailing, 13:23.36 vs. 13:23.64, each closing with a sub-53-second final lap.

For Lagat, a Tucson resident, it was his second successive silver after his victory in 2007. The U.S. record holder and multi-WC medalist is now the men’s all-time World Championships 5000m medalist with three (gold and two silver). Teammate Galen Rupp (Portland, Ore.) was ninth in 13:28.64.

Davila, Hall, Goucher Deliver at Blustery Boston
The U.S. contingent at the 115th Boston Marathon had high pre-race hopes, and overall, under near ideal Boston conditions (cool temperatures and a steady tailwind), they delivered as Desiree Davila nearly won the women’s race as the first U.S. Boston champion since 1985 with a personal best and U.S. course record 2:22:38, just two seconds behind winner Caroline Kilel of Kenya, while 2008 Olympian Kara Goucher finished a solid 5th in 2:24:52, also a PR, and just 7 months removed from the birth of her son. Davila is now the third fastest U.S. woman for the distance – only Olympic Marathon medalists Deena Kastor (2:19:36) and Joan Benoit Samuelson (2:21:21) have run faster.

For the U.S. men, Ryan Hall pushed the pace early to set up the fastest marathon ever run – Kenyan Geoffrey Mutai‘s otherworldly 2:03:02. Hall, also a 2008 Olympian and U.S. half-marathon record holder (59:43), finished strongly for fourth in 2:04:58, the fastest marathon ever produced by an American.

Rupp Shatters U.S. 10,000m Record
Galen Rupp closed out his 2011 season with a U.S. record performance at the Belgacom Memorial Van Damme meet in Brussels, BEL on Friday, September 16. Rupp, 25, shattered the U.S. 10,000m record with his impressive 26:48.00, good for third overall behind winner and near unbeatable Kenenisa Bekele of Ethiopia (26:43.16). The previous U.S. record was 26:59.60 by Chris Solinsky set in May 2010.