The CHill Zone of T&F: Conway's View From the Finish Line

The Top 800 Meter Races of All Time – Men

Nov 20th, 2012
11:04 am PDT

David Rudisha3Now we get into some interesting events with the middle distances, and for me one of the most exciting race on the track – the 800 meters. This event has seen some HUGE talent over the decades, and most are represented here. The largest noticeable absence being Sebastian Coe – the man who brought this event into both the 1:42, and 1:41 eras. His absence is not due to a lack of appreciation for what he gave the sport, but rather due to the fact that his best races were all runaways!

The other man that is missing is Alberto Juantorena – “El Caballo”. Again, not due to lack of appreciation, but he too tended to run in races that he dominated, against fields that just couldn’t compare. So these two GIANTS of the event go unrepresented. There is still plenty of talent including the last two WR holders.

There is also a major difference with this list compared to the previous ones – the lack of domination by major championships. The lack of WR races was expected. Many may not expect to see so few Majors represented. But the truth is that once we get above 400 meters, races in Majors tend to be tactical. It’s also not uncommon to see great middle distance fields put together outside of Majors. As such, we get a sprinkling of various types of races on this list. We’ll see if you agree! So with that, here is my list of the top 800 meter races of all time.

1. 2012 Olympics – Selecting #1 for this event was the easiest so far.It’s not every day that you see this quality of a race run over any distance, let alone the half mile. A barrier breaking WR  Rudisha. A WJR by Amos that makes him only the 5th human in justify under 1:42! Five men under 1:43.Eighth place under 1:44. London had everything including the kitchen sink because Rudisha did it without benefit of a pacemaker AFTER talking the world he was going after the record under the spotlight of the Olympic Games – the equivalent of a baseball player calling a home run to win the World Series. Oh, by the way, half the individuals in the race were teenagers!

1:40.91 – David Rudisha
1:41.73 – Nigel Amos
1:42.53 – Timothy Kitum
1:42.82 – Duane Solomon
1:42.95 – Nick Symmonds
1:43.30 – Mohammed Aman
1:43.32 – Abubaker Kaki
1:43.77 – Andrew Osagie

2. 1999 Brussels – While the speed events seem to need a major championship to get the best together on the track to go at it, the middle and long distances often have high speed races outside of such meets. In that mold the #2 race on my list occured on the Circuit with Wilson Kipketer leading a solid mass finish withi four men unde 1:43.00, and another just missing. In my opinion, an easy choice for #2 behind Rudisha’s legendary WR run.

1:42.27 – Wilson Kipketer
1:42.69 – Japheth Kimutai
1:42.69 – Hezekiel Sepeng
1:42.92 – Andre Bucher
1:43.09 – Djabir Said-Guerni
1:43.33 – William Chirchir

3. 1996 Olympics – Before London, this was clearly the greatest 800 Meter race in Olympic history. An Olympic final with Johnny Gray doing what Johnny Gray does best as he towed the field through the first lap in 49.55 – with the field still bunched up behind him! They stayed that way until the final straight when one of the greatest stretch runs in history took place with four men finishing under 1:43 – and within .27sec of each other. Nothing compared to that until London.
1:42.58 – Vebjorn Rodal
1:42.74 – Hezekiel Sepeng
1:42.79 – Fred Onyancha
1:42.85 – Norberto Tellez
1:43.91 – Nick Motchebon
1:44.19 – David Kiptoo
1:44.21 – Johnny Gray
1:45.52 – Ben Lalaou

4. 2002 Rieti – As stated previously, many of the best middle distance races have occurred outside of championship events, and when it comes to the 800, Rieti seems to be a place where special races happen. Such was the case in 2002 when former WR holder Wilson Kipketer led a fast and close finish! Once again we have Wilson Kipketer leading the way to a special finish, this time with Wilfred Bungai forcing him to a photo finish.

1:42.32 – Wilson Kipketer
1:42.34 – Wilfred Bungai
1:42.91 – William Yiampoi
1:43.15 – Japheth Kimutai
1:43.15 – Mehdi Baala

5. 1984 Cologne – Another non-championship race of significance as Joaquim Cruz approached the then WR, missing by only .03 ahead of his Olympic Games victory. Unlike Sebastian Coe’s initial first under 1:42 however, Cruz had company as Sammy Kosgei pushed Cruz to the limit with the best #2 finish in a race at WR pace – with Johnny Gray in top form, in what was one of the greatest week’s of 800 running in the history of the event.

1:41.77 – Joaquim Cruz
1:42.28 – Sammy Kosgei
1:43.28 – Johnny Gray
1:43.91 – Agberto Guimares
1:44.98 – Jose Luis Barboza

6. 1997 Zurich Weltklasse – This race was on par with ‘84 Cologne, and was actually a WR at the time – Kipketer would later lower it to the legendary 1:41.11. Cologne got one place higher due to the closeness of the finish. Both however, were extremely fast, WR quality races that had the occurrence of individuals in close proximity. Another great race and #6 on this list.

1:41.24 – Wilson Kipketer
1:42.62 – Patrick Ndururi
1:43.38 – Rich Kenah
1:43.80 – Patrick Konchella
1:44.04 – Marko Koers

7. 1984 Olympic Trials – I’m going to stay in 1984 with a race that was one of the closest ever 800 races. The Times may seem slow by today’s standards but Jones and Gray set an American Record – later destroyed in the sizzling 800 meter racing of the hot 1984 summer as Gray would run 1:42.96. Anyone that saw this race had chills during that final 100 meters stretch run – replayed over and over on television. The most exciting finish in 800 meter history IMHO. Hence it’s spot on this list.

1:43.74 – Earl Jones
1:43.74 – Johnny Gray
1:43.92 – John Marshall
1:43.92 – James Robinson
1:45.17 – Don Paige

8. 2000 Olympics – As the #87selection showed this list is about races and not necessarily times, which is why Sydney makes this list. The times were "slow" by most standards, but the weather in Sydney was not the best. Weather aside however, the racing was sterling as a set of outstanding half milers ran to the closest finish in Olympic history as Nils Schumann upset Wilson Kipketer for the gold – and the race earning a spot on the list.

1:45.08 – Nils Schumann
1:45.14 – Wilson Kipeter
1:45.16 – Djabir Said Guerni
1:45.29 – Hezekiel Sepeng
1:45.40 – Andre Butcher
1:45.82 – Yuriy Borzakovski
1:46.24 – Glossy Dube
DQ – Andrea Longo

9. 2008 Olympics – Once again it is the race for race sake that puts the ‘08 Olympic final in the top 10. Without a true “stud” in the field, this race was wide open from the start and that is exactly how the race turned out as five men headed up the final straight with the potential to take home the gold. Not often does that happen on the biggest of stages, which makes this exciting finish #8 in spite of what many would consider to be a “slow” Olympic final.

1:44.65 – Wilfred Bungei
1:44.70 – Ismail Ahmed Ismail
1:44.82 – Alfred Yego
1:44.94 – Gary Reed
1:44.95 – Yusuf Kamel
1:45.88 – Yelmer Lopez
1:45.96 – Nabil Madi
1:47.18 – Nadjim Manseur

10. 2004 Olympics – The final spot on the list goes to another close Olympic race – at leasts for the medals. This was the final hurrah for Wilson Kipketer who was not the all conquering athlete he once was. Still he showed what kind of competitor he was as he picked up yet another medal in a Major. The race for the medals waas sizzling with kicker supreme Borzakovskiy taking home the gold.

1:44.45 – Yuriy Borzakovskiy
1:44.61 – Mbulaeni Mulaudzi
1:44.65 – Wilson Kipketer
1:45.16 – MousinnChehibi
1:45.31 – Wilfred Bungei
1:45.53 – Hezekiel Sepeng
1:45.61 – Djabir Said Guerni
1:52.49 – Ismail Ahmed Ismail

Now that was a fun list to put together. Looking forward to wading my way through the women.

6 Responses to “The Top 800 Meter Races of All Time – Men”

  1. Waynebo says:

    Another great list!
    #1 was an absolute to me. Easily the greatest race ever on all levels. I’m a little partial to the ’84 olympic trials because Earl Jones is from Inkster,MI – and so am I :-) I also watched it live as a teenager who ran the 800m, and it was thrilling to watch a photo-finish for the AR in my event. It was also very close for 3rd – also sub-1:44. Just a great race!

    One thing this list highlights is the one thing I don’t like about distance & middle distance running on the elite level. The “tactical” races in the majors. I hate ‘em. I don’t enjoy watching runners go out slow, afraid to lay it on the line with everybody running nowhere near close to their PR. To make matters worse, they do it on the biggest stage where the opportunities to gain new fans are biggest. The races on this list are the exact opposite. Guys laying it on the line and going hard through the whole race. This is the type of competition that will draw in fans.

    I hope Symmonds & Solomon can build on what they did and crank out some more 1:42′s. As I’ve said to you several times, it’s time for Gray’s AR to come down!

    • CHill says:

      This list was fun to put together, but difficult because I had to go through so much data to put it together .. in large part because of what you bright up – majors don’t define this event ..

      In some ways that’s good, because it means that the best are getting together regularly outside of majors – much more do than the shorter sprints …. But as you said, when they do get together in majors they’re much less likely to “put it on the line”

      That’s one of the many things that makes Rudisha’ s effort in London so special … His tactic was simple – run as fast as he could !!! And that’s what racing should be about !!

  2. Jonathan Howland says:

    I think that they probably don’t deserve to make your list–because the list is so full of really good races–but Juantorena against Boit in 1977, both Zurich and the World Cup were both pretty good.

    • CHill says:

      I actually looked at both of those .. Great head to head clashes, but they destroyed everyone else … They didn’t make the list for lack of back up … But definitely great head to heads ..

  3. Anderson says:

    Number 6 on your list should be 1997. They weren’t that fast yet in 1985!

    • CHill says:

      You’re right .. I’ve looked at way too many lists numbers and videos lately … Though they were nearly that fast in ’85 ..

      Actually in retrospect Rudisha was long overdue .. At least an athlete of his caliber .. Makes me wonder where WR should be in several other events . … Something else to ponder …

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