2009 has to go down as the best year for American distance running in more than 30 years. The United States had a pretty good stretch of producing incredible distance and middle distance runners starting in 1964 with Billy Mills and Bob Schul to Jim Ryun, Frank Shorter, Marty Liquori, Rick Wohlhuter, Bill Rodgers, Craig Virgin, Steve Prefontaine, Dave Wottle, Steve Scott and Alberto Salazar. But Americans started to fade by the 1980's with the emergence of the Africans.
The year started with a bang. Galen Rupp put together the finest season of collegiate distance running since Henry Rono was setting world records at Washington State. Wunderkind German Fernandez clocked some incredible miles and finished the year out with a national junior record at 5000.
Bernard Lagat was Bernard Lagat. He battled for two medals at the World Championships and put a scare into Kenesia Bekele this weekend in Greece in an epic battle over 3000 meters. But he's not alone anymore at the ranks of the elite 1500/5000 ranks. Dathan Ritzenheim stamped his presence on the 5000 with an American Record and Matt Tegenkamp quickly followed him under 13 minutes. Leo Manzano continues to show improvement wrapping his season up with an incredible charge at the finish in the 1500 of the World Athletics Final to grab second place in a field of great runners. I'm not meaning to ignore Lopez Lomong but just think what could happen next year if Alan Webb blossoms under the guidance of Alberto Salazar. We could have five men capable of breaking 3:50 in mile.
And let's not ignore the American women. My favorite is Jennifer Barringer. She's tough as nails and blew the drawers off the collegiate record for 1500 meters and blasted the American steeplechase record. She could well become the best American distance runner since Mary Decker.
Barringer has a host of people to push her. Anna Willard appears to have turned away from the steeple, an event in which she has shown undeniable greatness, in favor of the 1500 and 800. Willard went four for four in big meet 800's capping her season with a win in Greece. Then there's the blue collar Christin Wurth-Thomas. She runs with a reckless abandon and has shown that she's not afraid to mix it up at either 1500 or 800 meters. The best 1500 meter of the bunch thus far of course is Shannon Rowbury who captured at bronze medal at 1500 in the World Championships.
The longer distances suffered this year but Kara Goucher showed that she will be a major player in the marathon and lets hope Shalane Flanagan can recapture the brilliance that she showed in Beijing last year.
The best story for the women has to be Maggie Vescey, a runner who loves to leave it late but who scored some amazing wins and big times this season. Vescey was an unknown at 800 meters until late charge at the Prefontaine meet in June stamped her as someone to reckon with. She proved her potential with a Golden League win and despite a poor performance at the World Championships, ended her season with a respectable showing in Greece taking second to Willard.
The Americans are back! I think next year we could see records at 800 and 1500 for the women, another steeple record, plus the men could take down the 1500, 5000 and 10000 records. Wow!