Well I see my female sprinters list raised a few questions. But then the history of women’s sprinting is full of superstars, which make trying to come up a with a list of 10 is difficult regardless of the criteria. I’ve found the same to be true when taking a look at the history of women middle distance runners.
Same basic rules apply. No current athletes are eligible. Only athletes whose careers are over. And I must say, that perhaps even more than the sprints, drugs have had an impact on these events – making it difficult to separate "fact from fiction" so to speak. So with that lets go and see how my faves stack up to yours.
1. Ana Quirot – The Alberto Juantorena of this list, Ana was one of those unique 400/800 doublers. And like El Caballo, she was very good at it. Good enough that her 1:54.44 from 1989 is still #4 all time. Ana was a very fluid runner who was powerful in the stretch. But the most unique part of her tale is about heart. Because mid career she was badly burned in a kitchen fire -losing a couple of prime seasons. But Quirot came back from her injuries to win gold at Worlds in both ’95/’97. As tough an athlete as has ever faced the track.
2. Tatiana Kazankina – Simply the best 800/1500 doubler ever on the women’s side. Yes I know she’s an Eastern Bloc athlete, but she was just one he’ll of a competitor. In an era when we know what most athletes were doing, she rebuffed them all. She was tough, gritty, and rarely outrun in the stretch. You enough to win a middle distance double at the ’76 Games, and for up with 1500 gold four years later.
3. Kim Gallagher – Truth be known, I was tempted to put Kim #1. Just a natural athlete, she ran as if that was what she was meant to do. So very fluid, she made it look easy. And in an era of Eastern dominance she still managed Olympic silver (’84) & bronze (’88). Kim did ask of this while fighting illness during her career, and finally succumbed to stomach cancer in ’02. But when she was healthy, she was as good as they came.
4. Maria Mutola – Mutola was the epitome of a competitive athlete. Her 800 was about guts and grit, not style. She simply ran hard. Mutola showed up at Worlds in 1991, and was a factor in every major global meet until get final appearance at Worlds in 2005 – winning titles in’00, ’01, & ’02! Careers just don’t get much better in terms of longevity and consistency.
5. Nadezhda Olizarenko – A contemporary of Kazankina, Olizarenko was every bit as competitive in both events but especially the 800. She was good enough to win the 8 and get bronze in the 15 in Moscow in 1980. She actually broke Kazankina’s 800 WR, before dropping it nearly a second and a half to 1:53.43 ‘ still#2 all time. A superb kicker, she had the 1500 strength to hold of virtually anyone.
6. Madeline Manning – If you grew up when I did Manning was one of your first real views of the sport. She seemed to run every where and all the time. She was one of the first female track starts that I was introduced to. And she was an Olympic champion winning gold in Mexico City. I was young and just learning the sport and Making left an impression on me, which earns her a short on this list.
7. Paula Ivan – I’m going to take a bit of poetic license and put a woman on this list based primarily on one race. Not that I didn’t like her career, because I did, but her Olympic 1500 run in Seoul was perhaps one of the greatest distance races in history. Whereas most Olympic races are clones of those we saw in London – slow, tactical, flying finish at the end races – Paula took the race to the field and went charging from the gun – and she stayed there! Paula took off, never looked back, and won by the largest margin ever in a major – man or woman. Her winning time of 3:53.96 was the #2 time ever – and is still the #2 non Chinese time ever. I say non Chinese time because as skeptical as some of the Eastern Bloc times were, the Chinese of 1997 are even more so. THE most bold race ever in a middle distance run.
8. Mary Decker Slaney – I was torn about Mary and whether I wanted to include her. She was a great middle distance runner who had a lot of bad luck it seems. And to be honest often came across as a bit of a whiner to many. At the end of the day, however, she was ajoy to watch and was the flag bearer of US distance running in one of the toughest eras of the middle distance running sport for women. She made US distance running respectable and was an inspiration for many young women to follow.
9. Regina Jacobs – Again I was torn about adding Regina, but for a completely opposite reason. Jacobs was busted in the BALCO debacle. The problem in this. The history of 1500 meter running for women is short, and the majority of that history is tainted with “drugs”. Knowing that there are those on this list that used but did not get busted, I am going to include Regina, because she was one tough competitor on the track. I enjoyed watching her run and she was indeed one of my favorite athletes and it broke my heart when her name came forward. So I am going to put her here in spite of the bust. Not something I would do normally, but I think the circumstances allow it.
10. Gabriella Szabo – Whenever I watch Jordan Hasay run I am reminded of Szabo who was dynamite in a small package. The diminutive Szabo was a dynamo that was awesome running a 3:56.96 1500, 4:19.30 mile and 14:47.45 for 5000. She won titles in the 1500 indoors (‘99) and outdoors (‘01) in addition to titles at longer distances. The hard running Szabo was as tough a warrior as the middle distnaces has seen and definitely one of my favorites.
So there you have my faves. I’m sure there will be some differences and looking forward to hearing yours. Not sure what I’m going to list yet. Should go to distances but really tempted to talk about the hurdles.