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Posted: December 14, 2009  : Add to Mixx! Subscribe to stories like this

(RWire) Athletics: The 10 Best Moments for U.S. Distance Running in 2009

American runners produce another year of noteworthy achievement and milestones

By Ryan Lamppa, Running USA wire

This past year U.S. distance running added to its resurgence and global standing with more records, world class performances, major victories and world championship medals on the roads, track and turf. Put simply, the USA is the #3 distance power behind Ethiopia and Kenya.

Since 2001, there has been a seismic shift in U.S. distance running fortunes and a good share of it can be traced to the training groups that sprouted around the country and their shared commitment to excellence, but another underlying factor is the change in mindset that took root when Deena Kastor and Meb Keflezighi, teammates from the training group Team Running USA, won Olympic Marathon medals in Athens 2004. That watershed moment showed that American distance runners could return to the Olympic podium if they had the talent and training environment to reach their potential and as important, it inspired others to follow the standard set by Meb and Deena.

This distance running "tipping point" has also trickled down to the 1500 meters, particularly for the U.S. women as Shannon Rowbury won a 1500m bronze medal at the World Championships and three women broke the coveted 4 minute barrier for the metric mile (Anna Willard, Jenny Barringer and Christin Wurth-Thomas) in 2009.

This is the 5th year of "10 Best Moments for U.S. Distance Running", and since 2005, the number of top, noteworthy performances has grown each year. Below - brava and bravo - are this year's "10 Best Moments" with an extensive honorable mention listing that in past years would have earned top 10 status for some - such is the current state of distance running in the USA.

Semick, U.S. Women Strike Gold at World Cup 100K
At the IAU 100K World Cup in Belgium on June 20, Kami Semick of Bend, Ore. became the second American to win a world ultramarathon title, taking control early and running away from the rest of the world's top women in 7 hours, 37 minutes, 24 seconds. Semick, 43, who was the surprise silver medalist at last year's version of the 62-mile world championship, led the U.S. women to their third team gold medal in U.S. history. Countrywomen Devon Crosby-Helms and Meghan Arbogast placed 4th and 5th to seal the team victory for Team USA.

Ritzenhein, Rupp 6th and 8th at Worlds
At the World Championships 10,000m in Berlin, Olympians Dathan Ritzenhein and Galen Rupp worked their way up through the pack even as the medalists pulled away, and Ritzenhein moved all the way up to 6th, running a PR 27:22.28 (#4 U.S. male all-time), less than ten seconds off the U.S. record, and the best U.S. men's WC place at the distance; Rupp finished 8th in 27:37.99.

Shalane Shatters U.S. 5000m Indoor Record
At the Reebok Boston Indoor Games last February, 2008 Olympic bronze medalist Shalane Flanagan ran 14:47.62 to shatter Marla Runyan's U.S. 5000 meter record of 15:07.33 from 2001. In a wild ending sprint, Flanagan, in a photo finish, was just edged by Ethiopia's Sentayehu Ejigu, both with the same time. Flanagan now holds four U.S. distance records on the track at the same time: 3000m and 5000m indoors and 5000m and 10,000m outdoors.

Barringer 5th at Worlds, Sets U.S. Steeple Record
At the World Championships, University of Colorado senior Jenny Barringer finished fifth in a U.S. record 9:12.50 (she shattered her own U.S. record of 9:22.26); her performance was also the best U.S. women's finish at the WC event.

Hall, Goucher Third at Boston
At the 113th Boston Marathon in April, the granddaddy of road races, 2008 Olympians Ryan Hall and Kara Goucher, in their Boston debuts, finished third, the best combined U.S. gender finish at the race since 1985 (the last year an American won). Hall produced a solid 2:09:40 to finish a minute plus behind winner Deriba Merga of Ethiopia, while Goucher took her race to the end before defending champion Dire Tune of Ethiopia and Kenyan Salina Kosgei pulled away in the final 400 meters. Kosgei edged Tune at the finish, 2:32:16 to 2:32:17, the closest Boston finish ever; Goucher clocked 2:32:25.

Rupp's Triple Leads Oregon to NCAA Indoor Team Title
Galen Rupp continued his impressive indoor season with three wins at the NCAAs: 3000m (7:48.94), 5000m (13:41.45) and anchor leg distance medley relay (3:57.07). The first man to complete such a triple at the NCAA Indoors led Oregon to its first indoor team title.

Ritzenhein Smashes U.S. 5000m Record at Zürich
At the Weltklasse Zürich on August 28, thirteen years after Bob Kennedy set the U.S. record of 12:58.21 in the 5000 meters at the same meet, Dathan Ritzenhein smashed that record by nearly 2 seconds finishing third in 12 minutes, 56.27 seconds, an almost 20 second personal improvement. The two-time Olympian is now the second fastest non-African in history and only the third American ever to run under 13 minutes to-date (also Bernard Lagat, 12:59.22 in 2006). Double Berlin world champion Kenenisa Bekele of Ethiopia won the race in 12:52.32.

Lagat's 5000m Silver Medal at World Championships
In Berlin on August 23, defending 5000m world champion Bernard Lagat was edged by the great Kenenisa Bekele of Ethiopia in a thrilling final sprint, 13:17.09 to 13:17.33. Lagat, earlier at the World Championships, also earned the 1500m bronze medal.

Ritzenhein Earns Bronze Medal at World Half-Marathon Championships
With his stirring third place performance, Dathan Ritzenhein, 26, won the first medal at the World Half-Marathon Championships for the USA and also became the second fastest American all-time on a record standard course behind only Ryan Hall (59:43). In Birmingham, England, "Ritz" pushed the pace with the best in the world and also scored a PR with his 1:00:00 time, a massive 1 minute, 25 second improvement.

Keflezighi Does It! Wins 40th New York City Marathon
The winless drought ended in New York as Meb Keflezighi, 2004 Olympic silver medalist and 10,000m U.S. record holder, became the first U.S. champion of the storied New York City Marathon since 1982 (Alberto Salazar) when the UCLA grad broke away from four-time Boston Marathon champion Robert Kipkoech Cheruiyot. Keflezighi, 34, also won his first-ever marathon and first USA Marathon title (20th USA title overall) as well as $200,000; his performance was historic, poignant and very American. Post-race, Keflezighi read the Top 10 on the Late Show with David Letterman and shared a float ride with Miss America at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

For the Honorable Mention list, go to:

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