Suda's FitFoot's non-scientific totally subjective 20(ish) best races of the last 20 years!
Hello Party People! How are you all celebrating the ending of 2020??? In case you thinking: "Huh, I wonder what the 20 best races of the last 20 years are?".... well, here is my gift to you! I present my highly American/female/distance heavy list of some of the greatest/most memorable moments of the last two decades.
It was a lot of fun and so satisfying seeing how far we have come in this sport since 2000.
So let's go for a jog down memory lane starting with:
2000: The U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials. This race deserves to be mentioned as a bookend to the (spoiler alert) 2020 best race of the U.S. Olympic Marathon trials. In 2000, only one man and one woman marathoner went to the Sydney Games to compete. We could have sent up to 3 each (3 men, 3 women), but as Lori Shontz of the Post-Gazette aptly stated, "Americans are not running fast enough to keep up with the rest of the world". Yikes. This fiasco of a race motivated sponsors such as Brooks to start training groups (Hanson's Brooks Distance Project, Team USA Minnesota, Mammoth Track Club (not called that at the time)) and get American marathoners to the top of our game. Look at where it brought us.
Above photo of Christine Clark. Lone U.S. female marathoner at 2000 Sydney Olympics. She was 37 at the time and did nearly all her training on a treadmill in Anchorage, Alaska.
Honorable 2000 mention: Haile Gebrselassie vs Paul Tergat in the men's 10k in Sydney. A sprint for the finish. Tergat says of this race (spoiler, he got silver to Haile) "it was a defining moment for me. I wished Haile all the best and told him that I'd be moving up to the marathon. Haile and I became great friends. We still are today. After Sydney and the end of my track career, I actually became a better person and a better athlete." Such class.
Above: Tergat and Haile sprinting the last 100 meters of the Syndey 10k.
2001: Alan Webb at the Prefontaine Classic breaking high school mile record. Hicham El Guerrouj was in this race as was Bernard Lagat (biggest names in mid distance running at the time). Webb was in last place after the 1st lap. He raced beautifully and worked his way up to 4th place and a blazing fast 3:53xx for the full mile. He started college a few months later.
2002: Paula Radcliffe 10k European Championships in Munich. This may be my most favorite race to watch on the track. Paula's gutsy pace, her bobbing head, the driving rain, and the heart breaking finishing time of 30:01.06.... ahhhh the drama! There is such beauty in this race.
Watch here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GN0CB1BpYtA
2003: Paula Radcliffe London Marathon World Record 2:15:25. Many VERY talented men cannot run this fast. Paula's time stood until 2019. It is so darn fast.
2004: Deena Kastor's Bronze medal in the Olympic Marathon and Meb Keflezighi's silver at the Athens Games. Kastor in particular ran such a smart race: from 16th to 12th to 10th to 8th to 6th to 4th to.... 3rd! It was such a momentous occasion for a both a U.S. man and woman to bring home a medal in the marathon (see description above of how things were looking in 2000)
2005: Helsinki World Championships - Tirunesh Dibaba won both the women's 5k and 10k and became the first woman to do so. Her elder sister earned bronze in both. Also, the women's 3000 meters steeplechase debuted as an international athletics event.
2006: Boston Marathon (particularly the men's division). U.S. had 5 men in the top 10: Meb (3rd in 2:09), Brian Sell (4th in 2:10), Alan Culpepper (5th in 2:11), Peter Gilmore (7th in 2:12), Clint Verran (10th in 2:14).
2007: World Championships in Osaka - Kara Goucher earning bronze in the 10k (later upgraded to silver after Turkey's Elvan Abeylegesse was stripped of her medal(s) due to drug doping violation.
2008: Shalane Flanagan's bronze medal in 10k at Athens Olympics. Flanagan also was upgraded to silver. Flanagan's debut in the 10k 3 months prior to the Olympic Final was also stunning. She set an American record of 30:34.49 in her first try at the distance. Kudos to Kiwi Kim Smith for pushing the pace in the race and also running 30:35.54.
2009: Maggie Vessey running 1:57.84 for 800 meters and winning the Diamond League meet in Monaco. I concede this is a unique choice for "race of the year" but I think Vessey shined on this particular evening: that time is VERY fast and rare in the women's 800m, she also WON the race, and by nature of some confusing USATF rules, this race qualified her to represent the U.S. in the World Championships later that summer in Berlin.
2010 (half way!): Shalane Flanagan (she's the best, folks. She's gonna show up a lot on this list. Get used to it.) marathon debut at NYC. She almost won the dang thing. She came in 2nd but beat a lot of seasoned marathoners and we got a glimpse of the exciting future of marathoning.
2011: Jenny Simpson's surprise 1500 meter win at the World Championships. That. kick. Holy cow.
2012: Men's 800 meter race in London. David Rudisha breaks the world record and runs 1:40.91.
2013: Women's 800 meter race in Moscow at the World Championships. Brenda Martinez (1:57.91) and Alysia Montano (1:57.95) bring home silver and bronze for the U.S.
2014: MEB WINNING BOSTON! So many grown adults cried at this moment. It was amazing.
2015: Emily Infeld out-leaning Molly Huddle to earn bronze at the World Championships in Beijing. One runner was estatic, one was devastated. It could have been super awkward. Both acted with such grace and class.
2016: Matt Centrowitz winning the men's 1500 meters at the Rio Olympics in a VERY slow (relatively) and tactical race. For comparison, the top 4 finishers of the paralympic games 1500 meters ran faster than Centro. All about who crosses the line first (duh).
2017: SHALANE WINNING NEW YORK CITY MARATHON. More tears. Such a happy moment for running fans. Very close runner up: Emma Coburn winning gold in the World Championships 3k Steeplechase and Courtney Frierichs earning silver in the same race. First medals for women in the steeplechase.
2018: DESI LINDEN WINNING BOSTON. This was the year of the monsoon. Runners wore jackets and got hypothermia. Desi is one tough athlete.
2019: Brigid Kosegei breaking the women's marathon world record at the Chicago Marathon. She ran 2:14.04. Woa.
2020: Started the year off great with the amazing Olympic Marathon Trials in Atlanta, GA. A record number of runners qualified (especially women). So many runners ran close to or better than their personal bests despite the crazy wind and hilly course. Americans were fit. Then things basically shut down.... until 12/20/20 with The Marathon Project. Very impressive. See previous blog post for info about this innovative and impressive race.
There you have it! 20ish races from the past 20 years.
I had a lot of fun researching these races and rewatching them all. We really have come such a long way as a sport and as a competitive country on the international stage in the past two decades. Here's to the next 20 years!
Happy new year, FitFooters! Stay well!