10 Best Moments for U.S. Distance Running in 2009

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Kathy Willens

This year, U.S. distance running added to its resurgence and global standing with more records, world class performances, major victories and world championship medals on the roads, track and turf.

Since 2001, there has been a seismic shift in U.S. distance running fortunes and a good share of it can be traced to the training groups that sprouted around the country and their shared commitment to excellence, but another underlying factor is the change in mindset that took root when Deena Kastor and Meb Keflezighi, teammates from the training group Team Running USA, won Olympic Marathon medals in Athens 2004. That watershed moment showed that American distance runners could return to the Olympic podium if they had the talent and training environment to reach their potential and as important, it inspired others to follow the standard set by Kastor and Keflezighi.

This distance running "tipping point" has also trickled down to the 1500 meters, particularly for the U.S. women as Shannon Rowbury won a 1500m bronze medal at the World Championships and three women broke the coveted 4-minute barrier for the metric mile (Anna Willard, Jenny Barringer and Christin Wurth-Thomas) in 2009.

This is the fifth year of "10 Best Moments for U.S. Distance Running. Since 2005, the number of top, noteworthy performances has grown each year. Here are this year's "10 Best Moments" with an extensive honorable mention listing that in past years would have earned top 10 status.

#10 Semick, U.S. Women Strike Gold at World Cup 100K

At the IAU 100K World Cup in Belgium on June 20, Kami Semick of Bend, Oregon became the second American to win a world ultramarathon title, taking control early and running away from the rest of the world's top women in 7 hours, 37 minutes, 24 seconds. Semick, 43, who was the surprise silver medalist at last year's version of the 62-mile world championship, led the U.S. women to their third team gold medal in U.S. history. Countrywomen Devon Crosby-Helms and Meghan Arbogast placed fourth and fifth to seal the team victory for Team USA.

#9 Ritzenhein, Rupp 6th and 8th at Worlds

At the World Championships 10,000m in Berlin, Olympians Dathan Ritzenhein and Galen Rupp worked their way up through the pack even as the medalists pulled away, and Ritzenhein moved all the way up to 6th, running a PR 27:22.28 (#4 U.S. male all-time), less than ten seconds off the U.S. record, and the best U.S. men's WC place at the distance; Rupp finished 8th in 27:37.99.

#8 Shalane Shatters U.S. 5000m Indoor Record

At the Reebok Boston Indoor Games last February, 2008 Olympic bronze medalist Shalane Flanagan ran 14:47.62 to shatter Marla Runyan's U.S. 5000 meter record of 15:07.33 from 2001. In a wild ending sprint, Flanagan, in a photo finish, was just edged by Ethiopia's Sentayehu Ejigu, both with the same time. Flanagan now holds four U.S. distance records on the track at the same time: 3000m and 5000m indoors and 5000m and 10,000m outdoors.

#7 Barringer 5th at Worlds, Sets U.S. Steeple Record

At the World Championships, University of Colorado senior Jenny Barringer finished fifth in a U.S. record 9:12.50 (she shattered her own U.S. record of 9:22.26); her performance was also the best U.S. women's finish at the WC event.

#6 Hall, Goucher Third at Boston

At the 113th Boston Marathon in April, the granddaddy of road races, 2008 Olympians Ryan Hall and Kara Goucher, in their Boston debuts, finished third, the best combined U.S. gender finish at the race since 1985 (the last year an American won). Hall produced a solid 2:09:40 to finish a minute plus behind winner Deriba Merga of Ethiopia, while Goucher took her race to the end before defending champion Dire Tune of Ethiopia and Kenyan Salina Kosgei pulled away in the final 400 meters. Kosgei edged Tune at the finish, 2:32:16 to 2:32:17, the closest Boston finish ever; Goucher clocked 2:32:25.

#5 Rupp's Triple Leads Oregon to NCAA Indoor Team Title

Galen Rupp continued his impressive indoor season with three wins at the NCAAs: 3000m (7:48.94), 5000m (13:41.45) and anchor leg distance medley relay (3:57.07). The first man to complete such a triple at the NCAA Indoors led Oregon to its first indoor team title.

#4 Ritzenhein Smashes U.S. 5000m Record at Z?rich

At the Weltklasse Z?rich on August 28, 13 years after Bob Kennedy set the U.S. record of 12:58.21 in the 5000 meters at the same meet, Dathan Ritzenhein smashed that record by nearly 2 seconds finishing third in 12 minutes, 56.27 seconds, an almost 20 second personal improvement. The two-time Olympian is now the second fastest non-African in history and only the third American ever to run under 13 minutes to-date (also Bernard Lagat, 12:59.22 in 2006). Double Berlin world champion Kenenisa Bekele of Ethiopia won the race in 12:52.32.

#3 Lagat's 5000m Silver Medal at World Championships

In Berlin on August 23, defending 5000m world champion Bernard Lagat was edged by the great Kenenisa Bekele of Ethiopia in a thrilling final sprint, 13:17.09 to 13:17.33. Lagat, earlier at the World Championships, also earned the 1500m bronze medal.

#2 Ritzenhein Earns Bronze Medal at World Half Marathon Championships

With his stirring third place performance, Dathan Ritzenhein, 26, won the first medal at the World Half Marathon Championships for the USA and also became the second fastest American all-time on a record standard course behind only Ryan Hall (59:43). In Birmingham, England, "Ritz" pushed the pace with the best in the world and also scored a PR with his 1:00:00 time, a massive 1 minute, 25 second improvement.

#1 Keflezighi Wins 40th New York City Marathon

The winless drought ended in New York as Keflezighi, 2004 Olympic silver medalist and 10,000m U.S. record holder, became the first U.S. champion of the storied New York City Marathon since 1982 (Alberto Salazar) when the UCLA grad broke away from four-time Boston Marathon champion Robert Kipkoech Cheruiyot. Keflezighi, 34, also won his first-ever marathon and first USA Marathon title (20th USA title overall) as well as $200,000; his performance was historic, poignant and very American. Post-race, Keflezighi (left, PhotoRun) 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.

Honorable Mention

  • At the Tyson Invitational in February, 2008 Olympian Rupp ripped a 13:18.12 for 5000 meters indoors to set U.S. and NCAA records (previous records, 13:20.55, Doug Padilla (1982) and 13:20.4, Suleiman Nyambui (UTEP / TAN), 1981). The Oregon senior was edged by Ethiopia's Bekana Daba who ran 13:17.89.
  • At the Memorial Van Damme Meet in Brussels on September 4, Matt Tegenkamp became the third fastest American at 5000 meters with his 12:58.56; the fourth American to break 13 minutes finished 7th overall.
  • At the Nike High School Indoor Nationals, Lukas Verzbicas of New Lenox, IL smashed - by more than 10 seconds - Brad Hudson's 1984 U.S. high school 5000m record, with a solo 14:18.42 (he also won the two mile in 8:57.44).
  • On March 22, against an international field, Kara Goucher, prepping for Boston, handily won the windy Lisbon Half Marathon in 1:08:30 (only Kastor has run faster (twice) on a record standard course).
  • * 2009 USA 10,000m champion Amy Yoder Begley produced her second championship PR this season when the 2008 Olympian ran 31:13.78 to finish 6th at the World Championships. The Arkansas grad is now the 4th fastest American woman at the distance.
  • At the NCAA Indoor Championships in late March, Barringer of Colorado shattered the collegiate 3000 meter indoor record with her winning 8:42.03. The U.S. 3000m steeplechase record holder became the fifth-fastest American woman indoors for the distance.
  • Chris Derrick set a U.S. Junior 5000 meter record of 13:29.98 at the Payton Jordan Cardinal Invitational, and on his "home" track, the Stanford freshman also beat freshman phenom German Fernandez who ran 13:31.78 (also inside the previous mark of 13:37.91 by Galen Rupp in 2004). Derrick finished third overall.
  • At the USA Outdoor Championships in June, German Fernandez shattered Derrick's 5000m U.S. Junior record with his 13:25.46, good for fifth place overall.
  • Two-time Olympic medalist Bernard Lagat set a 3000m PR of 7:33.15 and finished second to the nearly unbeatable Kenenisa Bekele at Meeting Areva in Paris last July.
  • On June 7, two-time Olympic 1500m medalist Bernard Lagat, in an exciting race, won the Prefontaine Classic 3000 Meters in 7:35.92 over Saif Shaheen of Qatar who ran 7:36.87. Fellow Americans Chris Solinsky and Matt Tegenkamp finished right behind in 7:37.05 and 7:37.32, respectively.
  • Ultrarunner Jamie Donaldson covered 136.83 miles to lead the U.S. women to the silver medal behind France at the World 24-Hour Run Championship in Italy on May 2-3. Donaldson was the 4th female finisher and 20th overall, the highest place by a U.S. athlete at the event.
  • Four-time Olympian Colleen De Reuck, age 45, won the USA 20K title at New Haven in 1:07:21 to become the oldest woman to win a major U.S. championship. Her time was also a Masters world record.
  • At the Husky Classic, with her 15:01.70 on the oversized track, Barringer of Colorado ran the fastest women's collegiate 5000 meters indoors ever.
  • In December, with a dominant performance, Lukas Verzbicas added to his laurels by becoming the first sophomore boy ever to win the Foot Locker Cross Country Championship.
  • At the Big 12 Conference Indoor Championships, German Fernandez (Oklahoma State) won the 3000 meters in 7:57.71 to set a U.S. Junior record.
  • Bernard Lagat runs 13:03.06 for 5000 meters and finishes second at the Reebok Grand Prix in New York City last May.
  • At Payton Jordan Cardinal Invitational, Barringer set a collegiate 5000m outdoor record of 15:07.64 (she has run faster indoors).
  • In May, Jenny Barringer set a 3000m steeplechase collegiate record (9:26.20) at the NCAA Midwest Regional Championships; at the NCAA Championships in June, Barringer won the national title in 9:25.54 to break her collegiate record.
  • At the USA Outdoor Championships in June, the Oregon TC Elite swept the men's 5000 meters (Matt Tegenkamp - 13:20.57, Chris Solinsky - 13:20.82 and Evan Jager - 13:22.18).
  • At the Reebok Boston Indoor Games last February, Galen Rupp finished second in the 3000 meters with a 7:44.69 for 4th all-time collegiate indoor.
  • At World Mountain Running Championships in Italy last September, Megan Morgan of Del Mar, Calif. won an individual Junior silver (highest U.S. Junior place ever at the event), while Brandy Erholtz, 10th overall, led the U.S. Senior women to the team bronze.
  • At age 52, Joan Benoit Samuelson, 1984 Olympic Marathon champion and running icon, ran 2:49:09 for 17th at the ING New York City Marathon.
  • Ultrarunner Pam Reed, 48, ran 490 miles in six days to set a U.S. Open record at the Self-Transcendence Multi-Day in Queens, NY last May.
  • At the P.F. Chang's Rock 'n' Roll Arizona event last January, Josh Cox set a U.S. record for 50K in 2 hours, 47 minutes, 17 seconds.
  • Karl Meltzer wins three 100-mile runs in 58 days (Massanutten, Bighorn and Hardrock).

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