The American Distance Running Resurgence

I’m going to digress in this post and talk about something that was near and dear to me for over a decade: distance running.

I ran competitively from 1973 to roughly 1988. I use the word “competitively” somewhat ironically, since I was pretty mediocre. I ran my best 1500 meter time at age 24, barely breaking four minutes (remember, this is the 1500; the equivalent mile time is about 4:19). I also ran 31:45 for 10,000 meters on the track and a 2:35 marathon.

Still, I loved distance running, and have followed the sport off and on for years. The past decade has not been kind to US middle and long distance racing. You could certainly attribute it to better competition, particularly from African runners, but a lot of the blame also goes to waning interest in the sport. Fewer road races are run today, and they often attract fewer runners.

However, the recent Rio Olympics speaks to a resurgence in US distance racing. Here’s just a brief summary, with some embedded video, that runs down how well Americans did at Rio in the 2016 games.

Jenny Simpson’s been running for years, mostly focusing on the steeplechase. She converted to the 1500 meters, and won a bronze at Rio at age 30. Shannon Robury from the US placed fourth, just a half-second behind Simpson.


Evan Jager, man-bun and all, won the men’s steeplechase silver. He ran a smart race, too, staying near the front and leading much of the time, but still had enough left at the end to make up substantial ground at the end to claim second. His 8:04.28 is just four seconds off his US record.

Emma Coburn won the bronze in the women’s steeplechase, the first American woman to place in the steeplechase, and ran an American record 9:07.63 in the process.


Great Britain’s Mo Farah ran a fabulous 5,000 meters, keeping up with a fast pace to win the gold. Paul Chelimo won the silver, but then had a scare when he was disqualified for stepping inside the curb, but then was later reinstated. While many athletes from other countries come to the US to become citizens in order to compete for the US, Chelimo did it the hard way, serving time in the U.S Army.


When I saw the name “Matt Centrowitz”, I did a double-take, since I followed Centroitz’s career when I actively ran in the 1980s. It turns ou that this Matt Centrowitz is the older Centrowitz’s son. The younger Centrowitz won in a highly tactical race, with the final time at 3:50 flat, the slowest winning time since 1932. However, that win required running the last quarter in an impressive 50.62 seconds.


I couldn’t find any video of the men’s 800 meters, but Clayton Murphy placed third to win in a fairly speedy 1:42.93, less than a second off David Rudisha’s 1:42.15.

One of the bigger shocks at Rio came in the Marathon. I began running, inspired to start when watching Frank Shorter win the 1972 marathon in Munich. Shorter went on to win the silver in 1976. The only other American man to medal in the marathon was Meb Keflezighi at the 2004 Athens games. Galen Rupp had run a tough 10,000 meters, finishing out of the medals, and ran his second ever marathon at Rio (his first marathon came at the Olympic trials). He ran a respectable 2:10:05, less than two minutes behind Eliud Kipchoge’s 2:08:44.

Overall, this is the best showing by American distance runners in years, often in hot, muggy weather. Will this translate to more successes in the future? The crystal ball is cloudy, but it was sure fun for this former distance runner to watch it all happen.



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