- Zersenay Tadesse of Eritrea is the best runner unknown runner today. This is one name you really should learn. Tadesse has had a meteoric rise in the sport in recent years. He debuted internationally at the 2002 World Cross Country Championships after initially training as a cyclist. Wearing ill-fitting shoes, Tadesse nonetheless finished 30th in the long race. He improved rapidly, finishing 9th and 6th in the long race over the next two years. In 2004, he won the bronze medal at the Athens Olympics over 10,000 metres. In the spring of 2005, he won silver in the long race at the World Cross Country Championships. In spring of 2006, he was third in the 12 km long race at the World Cross Country Championships. Though he recently ran 26:37 for 10,000 metres Tadesse’s strengths lie at cross country and the roads. He ran 59:05 at the Great North Run half marathon in 2005, an aided course, and followed that up with 59:16 on a flat course in Rotterdam this year. His time at Rotterdam is the third-fastest time ever over a record-eligible course, his time at the Great North Run is the second-fastest marathon ever run. It remains to be seen what this 24-year old can do in the future over cross country and on the roads.
- Did you know that Sammy Korir has run a 2:04 marathon? Korir gained both infamy and obscurity when, in rabbiting Paul Tergat to a world record at the 2003 Berlin Marathon, he managed to finish the race and did so one second behind Tergat. Korir finished in 2:04:56 and demolished the previous world record of 2:05:38, but the world record, of course, went to Tergat. As a result, Korir, an experienced marathoner who previously had a string of 2:08 finishes to his name, is the second-fastest marathoner and arguably the least-heralded marathoner ever. Korir has hardly been quiet since. He ran 2:06:48 to finish second at the 2004 London Marathon and he won the Rotterdam Marathon this year in 2:06:38.
- If I didn’t make it explicit, you may well wonder whether Meseret Defar of Ethiopia is male or female. This is the unfortunate reality of being one of the best female distance-runners in the world, further obscured by male counterparts. This year, Defar set a new world record over 5,000 metres when she ran 14:24.53 at New York. The previous year, she finished second at the World Championships at 5,000 and won the Olympic gold medal the year prior.
- Tirunesh Dibaba, Defar’s compatriot and fiercest rival, falls into a similar category. All Dibaba, who turned 21 this summer, has done is win two World Championships at 5,000 metres along with one at 10,000 metres last year (a very impressive double), as well as four World Cross Country titles, including victory in both the short (4 km) and long (8 km) races last year, another very impressive double. In winning five of six Golden League 5,000-metre races this year, her dominance of the sport seems complete. Her double wins at 5,000 and 10,000 metres at the 2005 World Championships were a first, her World Cross Country double was the first since Irishwoman Sonia O’Sullivan managed the feat in 1998. Much like for Tadesse, the future seems wide open and the possibilites endless for Dibaba.
- Catherine Ndereba is not known as Catherine the Great simply because it makes a neat nickname. A third-place finish at the 2006 New York Marathon may have seemed a reasonable finish but it was, in fact, the worst marathon Ndereba has run since 1998. In the fifteen marathons Ndereba ran between a sixth-place finish at the 1998 Boston Marathon and the 2006 New York Marathon, she either won or finished second. Indeed, her career history reads like the history of women’s marathoning in the previous decade. She finished second at New York in 1999, won Boston and Chicago in 2000 and again in 2001, finished second at both in 2002, finished second at London in 2003 but won at the World Championships, won Boston in 2004 and finished second at the Athens Olympics and in 2005 repeated by winning Boston and placing second at the World Championships. She was the first woman to run under 2:19 when she ran 2:18:47 in winning Chicago in 2001, a time bettered only by Paula Radcliffe.
- When Berhane Adere of Ethiopia won last month’s Chicago Marathon, it was simply the latest achievement in an international career that began in 1991. An 18-year old Adere placed 34th in the senior race at the 1991 World Cross Country Championships. After many years spent on the international circuit and finishing off the podium in championships, Adere was redeemed by a silver medal over 10,000 metres at the 2001 World Championships, her seventh major championship at the distance. Finally blossoming as a champion, Adere won the World Half Marathon Championships in 2002, became the world champion over 10,000 metres in 2003 and won silver at that distance at the World Championships last year. This year, she made her marathon debut at London and finished fourth in a time of 2:21:52. In capturing victory at Chicago, she ran 2:20:42 to become the ninth-fastest woman ever at the distance. After 16 seasons of international competition, it looks as though Adere still has something to prove in the marathon, where she is likely to be the next woman to run under 2:20.
- Sileshi Sihine, like Korir, has been overshadowed by the man who is the best in the world. That man happens to be his training partner, Kenenisa Bekele. It seems that wherever Bekele wins, Sihine is right behind. Sihine’s first major title came at the 2003 World Championships, where he won the bronze at 10,000 metres to complete an Ethiopian sweep behind Bekele and Haile Gebrselassie. At Athens, he won silver at 10,000 metres and repeated the accomplishment at the 2005 World Championships. This is also the case over cross country. Sihine won bronze at the long race in 2004, a race won by Bekele. At this year’s championships, he finished second behind Bekele in the long race and may have replicated that feat in the short race if not for a fall that caused him to finish 12th.
- Khalid Khannouchi, you may remember, once held the marathon world record. In fact, his was the world record that Tergat and Korir broke in 2003. The 34-year old from Ossining, New York, is one of the most talented marathoners in the world, though he has been hampered by a foot injury in recent years. Khannouchi has run three 2:05 marathons, accounting for almost half of the 8 sub-2:06 marathons in history. Though he may be best known as the four-time winner of the Chicago Marathon, Khannouchi’s greatest moment (so far) came at London in 2002. Haile Gebrselassie, in his marathon debut, was taking on his old rival Paul Tergat, meaning that world record-holder Khannouchi was almost an afterthought. Khannouchi not only stole the show, making an emphatic statement by winning the race over two of the greatest runners in history, but he broke his own world record by four seconds (2:05:38). After reaching such heights, everything from Khannouchi since then has been world class but not superhuman, as it could be. Khannouchi felt recovered enough to run the Chicago Marathon in 2004, but finished fourth in 2:08:44, his slowest marathon ever. Most recently, he finished fourth at London in 2:07:04 this year and has announced his attention to run at the American Olympic Trials next year.
Are there any unheralded runners that are not mentioned here? Feel free to write them in by commenting.