Medals, records, surprises and more; who produced the #1 moment?
Each year it gets harder and harder to select the 10 best moments in U.S. distance running. In the Olympic year of 2012, it is fitting to select 12 best moments as U.S. athletes and teams produced sterling, historic and medal winning performances on the roads, track and trails and in ultras. Although Kenya and Ethiopia have much more overall depth than the U.S., this country has the most diverse top talent in the world. As the top moments of 2012 indicate, the USA's decade-long distance running resurgence remains strong.
Here are the 12 Best Moments for U.S. Distance Running in 2012:
Olson Obliterates Course Record at Western States 100 Mile
On June 23 at the Western States Endurance Run 100 Mile in Auburn, CA, Timothy Olson of Ashland, OR smashed the course record in 14 hours, 46 minutes, 44 seconds - the first sub-15 time at this grueling event. Men's runner-up Ryan Sandes was also under the previous record of 15:07:04 by Geoff Roes in 2010.
Conley Closes Fast for Surprise Olympic Berth
At the Olympic Trials in Eugene, OR on June 28, UC-Davis grad Kim Conley, who was on nobody's pre-race 5000m favorites list, earned a trip to London with a stirring, crowd-roaring Hayward Field finish to nip Julia Lucas at the tape for the coveted third spot - 15:19.79 to 15:19.83. Conley's shocking performance was also a personal record.
Morton Wins World 24 Hour Title, Team USA Women Strike Gold
Mike Morton (Lithia, FL) and Connie Gardner (Medina, OH) both set U.S. records at the IAU World 24 Hour Run Championships in Katowice, Poland, as Morton won the men's title, while Gardner's silver medal finish led the women to the team title on September 9. Morton covered 172.457 miles to better Scott Jurek's national record from 2010 by nearly seven miles. Gardner ran 149.368 miles to improve the American record set earlier this year by Sabrina Moran by a mile and a half.
Rupp and Lagat Trade U.S. Indoor Records
On February 11, Galen Rupp, at the USATF Classic, and Bernard Lagat, at the Millrose Games, set U.S. indoor records at 2 miles (8:09.72) and 5000 meters (13:07.15) and each broke the other's record for the respective distance.
Dobson Demolishes Pikes Peak Ascent Record
On August 18, Kim Dobson, 27, of Grand Junction, CO rewrote history at the Pikes Peak Ascent, finishing in 2 hours, 24 minutes, 59 seconds, crushing the women's course record by an astounding 8:32. The previous record was 2:33:31 set by Lynn Bjorklund in 1981. With the historic win, she also earned the new $5000 Ascent Bounty prize, given to the first woman to eclipse the 2:32 mark, and overall, she took home $8000.
Sproston Secures World 100K Title, U.S. Women's Team Golden
On April 22 in Seregno, Italy, Amy Sproston, 38, won the IAU 100K World title in 7:34:08 and also led the U.S. women's contingent to the team gold medal. Incredibly, Sproston had been hospitalized with deep vein thrombosis four weeks earlier. Teammate Meghan Arbogast, 51, finished fourth in 7:41:52, a personal record, smashing her age group world record for 100K (62 miles). The U.S. men's team won the silver medal.
Lagat Wins Third WIC 3000m Gold Medal
With a near perfect race and devastating final 200 meters, Bernard Lagat, 37, won his third World Indoor 3000m gold medal in Istanbul, Turkey on March 11. The multiple Olympic and World Championships medalist, who ran 7:41.44, became the oldest male world indoor champion and matched the great Haile Gebrselassie for the most indoor 3000m world titles.
Jager Sets U.S. Steeplechase Record
At the Herculis Meeting in Monaco on July 20, Olympic Trials champion Evan Jager broke the U.S. steeplechase record with his 8:06.81 to finish third overall; impressively, it was his fifth steeplechase ever.
#4 - tie
Keflezighi Captures Olympic Marathon Trials Crown
On January 14, Meb Keflezighi ran a masterful race to win the Olympic Marathon Trials on a multi-loop course in Houston. The 2004 Olympic Marathon silver medalist, at 36 the oldest men's Trials champion, clocked 2:09:08 with fellow Olympians Ryan Hall, second (2:09:30) and Abdi Abdirahman, third (2:09:47).
For the first time, four U.S. men ran under 2:10 in the same race. This race also produced the #2-5 and #9 all-time Olympic Trials performances, the deepest men's Trials ever with best times for place (#2-15) and the second most sub-2:20 performances (50) at the Trials (record 56 in 1980). In addition, 21 men set personal records.
#4 - tie
Flanagan Shatters Olympic Marathon Trials Record
At the first Olympic Trials with both genders at the same 26.2 mile qualifying race, Shalane Flanagan smashed the event record with her 2:25:38. The 2008 Olympian led three other U.S. women under the old mark (2:28:25) - Desiree Davila (2:25:55), Kara Goucher (2:26:06) and Amy Hastings (2:27:17).
Put simply, this was the greatest U.S. women's marathon ever. Overall, it was the first time that five women were under 2:30 at the Olympic Marathon Trials (and in the same race) and the Trials also produced the #1-4 and #8 all-time Olympic Trials performances and it was the deepest women's Trials ever with best times for place (#1-15). In addition, 32 women set personal records.
Linda Somers Smith, 50, also set a U.S. 50-54 age group record in 2:37:36, good for 28th overall. The 1996 Olympic marathoner has qualified for a record 7 Olympic Marathon Trials, and in Houston, she finished her 5th Trials overall.
And finally, kudos to the Houston Marathon Committee for producing an outstanding, historic U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials.
Rupp's Record Romp at Olympic Trials
In Eugene last June, Galen Rupp won not only the 5000m and 10,000m Olympic Trials titles, the first man to double since Curtis Stone in 1952, but the Oregon grad also set Trials records for each distance, 13:22.67 and 27:25.33. In the 5000 meters, Rupp outkicked the "kick king" and Olympic and World Championship medalist Bernard Lagat and he also broke legend Steve Prefontaine's 1972 Olympic Trials record to the delight of the crowd.
Keflezighi Finishes 4th in Olympic Marathon
Veteran Meb Keflezighi, 37, ended his Olympic career with a flourish by finishing fourth in the London Olympic Marathon on August 12. The 2004 Olympic Marathon silver medalist, as per his style, ran a controlled race in 2:11:06 on the world's largest sporting stage. Keflezighi's performance is the second fastest Olympic Marathon time by an American behind Frank Shorter's 2:10:46 silver medal performance at Montreal 1976. Only Shorter (gold and silver) has placed better by an American in the Olympic Marathon than Keflezighi (silver and 4th).
Rupp's Olympic 10,000m Silver Medal
Running a near perfect race in London on August 4, Galen Rupp (right, PhotoRun) won the silver medal in the Olympic 10,000 meters. Rupp, 26, finished just behind his training partner Mo Farah of Great Britain, clocking 27:30.42 and 27:30.90 respectively as the stadium crowd erupted. His hardware was the first (and the third medal overall) by an American male in the 10,000m since Billy Mills' shocking gold medal in Tokyo 1964. Over the past 10 years, Alberto Salazar's protégé progressively became one of the best in the world and he delivered a historic performance in London.
* At the Bank of America Chicago Marathon on October 7, three-time Olympian Dathan Ritzenhein became the third fastest American marathoner all-time with his 2:07:47 (good for 9th overall), while Renee Metivier Baillie debuted in 2:27:17 (8th overall).
* In her first race since the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials victory in Houston, Shalane Flanagan won the Lisbon EDP Half-Marathon in 1:08:52 against a top international field on March 25.
* On September 8-9, at WMRA World Long Distance Challenge hosted by the Jungfrau Marathon in Interlaken, Switzerland, Team USA's Stevie Kremer won the gold medal to lead the charge for the team gold medal, while the U.S. men earned the team silver medal.
* At the 28th World Mountain Running Championships held on September 2 in Ponte di Legno, Italy, the four-member U.S. Women's Mountain Running Team took the gold medal. Leading the U.S. women was 26-year-old Morgan Arritola, Fairfield, ID, who earned the bronze medal.
* In June, Galen Rupp finished third at the Prefontaine Classic 5000m in 12:58.90 (#6 U.S. all-time).
* Although not a true distance event, but worth acknowledging, at the London Olympics 2012, Leo Manzano earned the 1500m silver medal; the first U.S. 1500 medal by an American male since Jim Ryun's silver at Mexico City 1968. Teammate Matthew Centrowitz just missed a bronze medal by .04 seconds.
* At Hanji Aoki Cup Chiba Ekiden in December, a young Team USA - led by Olympic medalist Galen Rupp - won the bronze medal, the best U.S. co-ed team place since the marathon relay went co-ed in 2007. Rupp's teammates were James Strang, Chelsea Reilly, Jake Riley, Emma Kertesz and Neely Spence.
* At the 50th JFK 50 Mile on November 17, Max King clocked 5:34:58 to smash the course record by nearly six minutes. In 5:37:56, runner-up Trent Briney was also under the old mark.
* Wunderkind Sarah Baxter, a junior at Simi Valley, CA, had an unbeaten and record setting cross country season. In October, she shattered the Mt. SAC course record in 16:00 (old record, 16:16 by Amber Trotter in 2001), and at the Nike Cross Nationals in December, she defended her title and beat another high school phenom, Mary Cain, who set the U.S. high school 1500m record (4:11.01) this year.
* Cayla Hatton of Farmington, CT produced the #2 prep times at 5000m (15:50.32) and 10,000m (33:17.28). Her 5000 performance was at the World Junior Championships in Barcelona last summer; good for 4th, the best ever place for an American girl at the event.
* At the New Balance Indoor Nationals in March, Erin Finn of West Bloomfield, MI ran 16:19.69 for 5000 meters to set the U.S. high school indoor record. Haley Pierce of Adrenaline TC clocked 16:31.86 to also beat the previous record of 16:35.15 by Waverly Neer of Culver Academy in 2011.