Haile Gebrselassie1 of 16
A modern legend on the international distance running scene, Gebreselassie set 27 world records during his career. He won gold at the 1996 and 2000 Olympics in the 10,000 meters. He also holds eight world championship indoor and outdoor track titles from the 1,500 meters to the 10,000 meters, and he won the world half marathon championships in 2001. Winning nine major marathons in his career, he set a world record in the marathon at the 2008 Berlin Marathon, finishing in 2:03:59, at the age of 35.
Photo by: Erik van Leeuwen
Emil Zatopek2 of 16
Named the "Greatest Runner of All Time" by Runner's World, Zatopek was a dominant Czech distance runner in the 1950s. After winning gold in the 10,000 meters and silver in the 5,000 meters at the 1948 Games, he went on to win three gold medals at the 1952 Olympic Games in the 5,000 meters, 10,000 meters and the marathon, solidifying his legendary status in the sport. One of the foremost distance runners in the world at that time, he was known for competing in 69 races between 1949 and 1951, not losing once.
Photo by: Deutsche Fotothek
Paula Radcliffe3 of 16
The current women's world record holder in the marathon, Radcliffe bested her own world record by nearly two minutes at the 2003 London Marathon, running 2:15:25. The British runner also won the London Marathon in 2002, 2003 and 2005, the New York City Marathon in 2004, 2007 and 2008, and the Chicago Marathon in 2002. While the men's marathon world record has been beaten five times since 2003, Radcliffe's record hasn't been threatened in over a decade. She also holds the world record in the women's 10K, running 30:21 at the World's Best 10K in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Joan Benoit Samuelson4 of 16
In the first Olympic Games to stage the women's marathon, Joan Benoit won gold on home soil. People crowded the streets of Los Angeles, packed Memorial Coliseum, and sat glued to their television sets to watch the first ever Olympic marathon champion accomplish what many claimed just a few years prior to be a physically impossible feat for a woman. Before her Olympic win, she won the 1979 Boston Marathon in 2:35:15, besting the women's record by eight minutes. Four years later in 1983, she came back to win in Boston again, this time finishing in 2:22:43, a record that stood for over a decade. In 1985, she won the Chicago Marathon and was given the James E. Sullivan Award, an honor given each year to the nation's top amateur athlete that's akin to winning an Oscar.
Photo by: Kevin Shortt
Meb Keflezighi5 of 16
One year after the tragic bombings at the Boston Marathon, Keflezighi was hailed as a national hero for winning the 2014 edition and becoming the first American man to do so since 1983. The 2004 Olympic silver medalist in the marathon, he was the first American to win an Olympic medal in the 26.2-mile distance since Frank Shorter in 1976. He also won the 2009 New York City Marathon, ending a 27-year drought of American winners. In other distances, Keflezighi has demonstrated his range by winning the Olympic Trials 10,000-meter race in 2000 and 2004, the USA 12K cross country title in 2001, 2002 and 2009, six USA 15K titles and the 2009 USA half marathon championship.
Photo by: Amelia Gapin
Hicham El Guerrouj6 of 16
One of the best middle distance runners in history, the Moroccan runner is the current world record holder in the 1,500 meters, mile and 2,000 meters. The mile record of 3:43:13 was set in Rome in 1999, and El Guerrouj broke the previous record by more than a second. On the Olympic stage, he won gold in both the 1,500 meters and 5,000 meters in Athens in 2004, as well as a silver in the 1,500 meters in 2000. He also has four world championship 1,500-meter titles to his name, in addition to three indoor titles.
Photo by: International Olympic Committee
Usain Bolt7 of 16
The fastest man in history, Bolt holds the world record in both the 100 meters and 200 meters and is also part of the 4x100 meter record-holding relay. The first in history to win the two events in successive Olympics, called the "double double," he won gold in the 100 meters and 200 meters at both the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games. He also holds eight world championship gold medals and two silver medals. One of the greatest celebrities ever to come out of the sport, he reportedly earns more than any other track and field star in history.
Photo by: Puma International
Wilson Kipsang Kiprotich8 of 16
The current world record holder in the marathon, he won the 2013 Berlin Marathon in 2:03:23, besting the previous record by 15 seconds. The first to break the 2:05 mark five times, the Kenyan distance runner won bronze at the 2012 Olympics. His marathon wins include Frankfurt in 2010 and 2011, the Berlin Marathon in 2013, and the London Marathon in 2014, where he set a course record of 2:04:29.
Photo by: Sid the Kid2010
Florence Griffith Joyner9 of 16
Nicknamed Flo Jo, Joyner is said to be the fastest woman in history. Having set world record times in 1988 in the 100 meters in 10.49 seconds and 200 meters in 21.34 seconds, her marks still stand today. At the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, she won gold in the 100 meters, 200 meters and 4x100 meters, as well as a silver medal in the 4x400 meters. She won silver in the 200 meters at the 1984 Games in Los Angeles. She also holds both a gold and silver medal from the 1987 world championships in Rome.
Deena Kastor10 of 16
Kastor ran into the hearts of American fans when she won the bronze medal at the 2004 Olympic Games. The first American woman to medal since Joan Benoit-Samuelson's win in the initial women's marathon at the Olympic Games in 1984, Kastor secured her place in the history books with that performance and still holds the American women's marathon record with a time of 2:19:36. She established herself as an American favorite in the years leading up to the 2004 Olympics by earning national titles in the 10,000 meters four times, the 15K four times and six titles in the US 8K Cross Country Championships.
Photo by: Scott Murphy
Geoffrey Mutai11 of 16
In 2011, Mutai ran the fastest marathon in history by finishing the Boston Marathon in 2:03:02, a 4:42 per-mile pace. While Boston's course is not a world record eligible course, it still proved to be one of the greatest feats in running history. The Kenyan star set the course record in the New York City Marathon that same year, running 2:05:06, and winning again in 2013. He is a sub 60-minute half marathoner, an achievement earned by just over 100 men in history. Mutai holds a personal best of 58:58 in the 13.1-mile distance.
Photo by: ccho
Alberto Salazar12 of 16
One of Bill Bowerman's athletes at the University of Oregon, Salazar established his dominance in the sport early on, winning the NCAA cross country championships in 1978 and smashing the American indoor 5,000-meter record by more than 20 seconds. He went on to win the New York City Marathon three years in a row from 1980 to 1982, logging a record-breaking debut at the distance in a time of 2:09:41. He also won the 1982 Boston Marathon and famously reignited his career to win the grueling 90K Comrades Marathon in 1994.
Photo by: CalHopkins
Carl Lewis13 of 16
Winning 10 Olympic medals in his track and field career, nine of which were gold, Carl Lewis also scored 10 world championship medals--eight of them gold. From 1979 to 1997, he competed in the 100 meters, 200 meters, relays and long jump. Although he qualified for the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow, as a result of the boycott, he didn't compete. Even still, he went on the represent the United States in the next four Summer Games, making him one of the most prolific champions in Olympic history. These wins inspired the International Olympic Committee to name him "Sportsman of the Century."
Photo by: hutashan
Catherine Ndereba14 of 16
A former marathon and half marathon record holder, Ndereba won the Boston Marathon four times and the Chicago Marathon twice. She claimed the top title in the marathon at the world championships twice, and attained silver medals in the distance at the 2004 and 2008 Summer Olympics. One of the most accomplished female marathoners in the history of the sport, she also achieved impressive marks at other distances. In fact, in 1999, she ran world bests in the 5K, 12K, 15K and 10 miles. Dubbed "Catherine the Great," the Kenyan legend announced her retirement from the sport at the age of 41 in the spring of 2014.
Photo by: Jessica Woods
Kenenisa Bekele15 of 16
The world record holder in the 5,000 meters and 10,000 meters on the track, Bekele won gold in both events at the 2008 Summer Olympics. While he is the most decorated cross-country runner in the sport, with six wins at the 12K distance and five wins at the 4K distance at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships, he recently made his debut in the marathon. Finishing in a time of 2:05:04, he broke the course record at the Paris Marathon in April 2014.
Photo by: Fabian Jucker