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December 12, 2013

Names Every Runner Should Know

Written by Dena Evans
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imagesAre you a new runner and hope to join in the conversation with the more experienced athletes on the next group run?  Have you been running long enough to have heard these names, but are a bit too sheepish to ask who they are or what they have done? Wait no longer and raise your running knowledge quotient in a few quick minutes right now!

 

Mo Farah

Farah is a British athlete who has won both the 5000m and 10,000m gold medals at the most recent IAAF World Championships in 2013 as well as the 2012 London Olympics.  As you might imagine, this is extremely tough to do, and he is widely considered to currently be the best distance athlete on the planet.  Originally born in Somalia, Farah has a twin brother from whom he was separated when only part of his family was able to move to the UK in the early 90’s.  He is married with three daughters and trains with American coach Alberto Salazar in Portland, Oregon.

 

Wilson Kipsang Kiprotich

The current world record holder in the marathon, Kipsang is a Kenyan athlete, who covered 26.2 miles at the 2013 Berlin Marathon in 2 hours, 3 minutes, and 23 seconds.  He has run faster than 2:05 four times, was the bronze medalist in the marathon at the 2012 Olympics, and is the reigning champion of the NYC Half Marathon.  2:23:23 equates to 4:42 per mile average, or 26.2 miles of 70 second quarter miles.  Continuously.

 

Paula Radcliffe

Although Radcliffe has competed sparsely over the past few years due to injury and maternity, she remains the women’s world record holder over the marathon distance.  Her mark of 2:15:25 at the London Marathon in 2003 stands nearly three minutes ahead of the next best performance, by Liliya Shobukhova at 2:18:20.  While famously unable to achieve the Olympic gold medal to match the magnitude of her performances outside of the Games, her long and storied international career and front running tactics have made her a household name and a women’s distance running standard bearer for the current generation.

 

Meb Keflezighi

Keflezighi, was the first American male to win a medal in the Olympic Marathon since the 1970’s when he took home silver in the 2004 Athens Games.  Following the disappointment of not qualifying for the US team in 2008, he returned to form from injury in 2009, winning the ING New York City Marathon, again the first American to do so in a generation.  Keflezighi finished 4th in the Olympic marathon at the 2012 Games at the age of 37.  His accessible nature and interest in the community have made him a fan favorite.  Keflezighi is a current member of the runcoach board of directors.

Tirunesh Dibaba

Nicknamed “The Baby-Faced Destroyer,” this twenty eight year-old Ethiopian athlete has won three Olympic Gold medals, five World Championships in track & field, and five more world championships in cross country.  She can close her 5000 and 10,000 events with 400m finishing sprints in faster than 60 seconds, sometimes battling compatriot, rival, and fellow world champion Meseret Defar.  Dibaba has two siblings who have also won medals at the world championship level, and her cousin Derartu Tulu, won gold at the 1992 and 2000 Olympics.

 

Legends (not nearly an exhaustive list, but just to get you started):

 

Steve Prefontaine

Former University of Oregon and US international athletes initially famous for outspoken criticism of restrictive amateurism rules and a brazen front running style, but remembered greatly due to a tragic passing in a car accident in May of 1975.  Eugene, Oregon plays host to an annual Diamond League event in his honor which is traditionally one of the highest quality international meets across the globe each year.

 

Roger Bannister

A well respected British neurologist, Bannister is just a teeny tiny bit more famous for being the first person to record a mile in less than four minutes.  He did so at Iffley Road Track at Oxford in May of 1954.  The time was 3:59.4, but the world record status only lasted for a little over a month and a half before the time was bettered again.

 

Joan Benoit Samuelson

Winner of the first Olympic marathon for women in 1984, this diminutive American athlete still blazes trails while racing regularly.  She nearly finished among the top 10 American women at the 2013 ING New York City Marathon.

 

Sebastian Coe

A former Member of Parliament and head of the organizing committee for the London Olympic Games, Coe earned gold in the 1500m at the 1980 and 1984 Olympics and captivated the track and field world for the years surrounding these events with his rivalries with fellow countrymen Steve Ovett and Steve Cram.  Coe was world record holder in the 800 meters for 26 years, running 1:41.73 in 1981.

 

Frank Shorter

The Olympic Gold medalist in the marathon in 1972, his performances and influence are widely regarded as a crucial factor in the growth of recreational running during this time.

 

Grete Waitz

Norwegian athlete Grete Waitz won nine New York City Marathons in the 70s and 80s, more than any athlete in history.  She took silver to Benoit Samuelson in the 1984 Olympic marathon, but won gold at the 1983 Helsinki World Championships.  In all, Waitz lowered the women’s world record in the marathon nine minutes over several races, down to 2:25 in 1983.  She passed away due to complications from cancer in 2011 at age 57.

 

Kip Keino

One of the very first Kenyan athletes to take the world stage in distance running, Keino’s victory over Jim Ryun in the 1500m at the 1968 Olympics made a huge impact.  This was followed by future championships in the years to come, and further magnified by humanitarian efforts in his home country.

 

Jim Ryun

About that silver medalist….Jim Ryun was famously the first high school athlete to break four minutes for the mile, attended University of Kansas, competed in two Olympics for the United States, and set the world record in the mile (the last American to hold that distinction).  Ryun also served for many years in the United States House of Representatives.

 

Billy Mills

The last US male to earn gold in the 10,000 meters, this 1964 Olympian came out of nowhere to take the victory in what still stands as one of the biggest upsets of all time.  A well-traveled motivational speaker, Mills is a member of the Oglala Sioux tribe and was the second Native American athlete to ever win Olympic Gold.

 

Kathrine Switzer

Subject of a famous photo showing Boston Marathon race director Jock Semple trying to pull her off the course in 1967 while entered under her gender neutral initials, Switzer became the first official female winner of the Boston Marathon in 1972, running 3:07.

 

This list leaves out a great many giants of our sport – including many contemporary world-beaters. However, perhaps the list above can be a conversation starter for your next run, and hopefully an invitation to learn more about the heroes and heroines of our sport!

 

Last modified on November 29, 1999
Dena Evans

Dena Evans

Dena Evans joined runcoach in July, 2008 and has a wide range of experience working with athletes of all stripes- from youth to veteran division competitors, novice to international caliber athletes.

From 1999-2005, she served on the Stanford Track & Field/ Cross Country staff. Dena earned NCAA Women’s Cross Country Coach of the Year honors in 2003 as Stanford won the NCAA Division I Championship. She was named Pac-10 Cross Country Coach of the Year in 2003-04, and West Regional Coach of the Year in 2004.

From 2006-08, she worked with the Bay Area Women’s Sports Initiative, helping to expand the after school fitness programs for elementary school aged girls to Mountain View, East Menlo Park, and Redwood City. She has also served both the Stanford Center on Ethics and the Stanford Center on the Legal Profession as a program coordinator.

Dena graduated from Stanford in 1996.

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