Top 10 Most Famous Long Distance Runners
Famous runners throughout history have inspired many a young athlete to follow their dreams, with thousands being motivated by the success of their idols.
There have been so many outstanding competitors in the athletic field of running over the years, it is hard to single out any one greatest runner. There are, however, individuals who have stood out above the crowd for their notable achievements in the field of long distance running. The performance of these athletes is often unparalleled, and many hold unbeaten world records in their various long distance running events.
Here we look back over the last century to uncover 10 of the most famous long distance runners of all time, in celebration of their outstanding achievements.
1. Steve Prefontaine
Steve Prefontaine was an accomplished young athlete, whose career as a long distance runner showed promise from the very beginning. The American long distance runner, who competed at the 1972 Olympic Games, at one point held the US record in seven different distance track events from the 2000m to the 10,000m.
Prefontaine was at the top of his game, but tragically died in 1975 at the age of 24 in a car accident. At the time of his death, the young athlete was one of America’s greatest long distance runners.
2. Haile Gebrselassie
Widely considered to be one of the greatest long distance runners in history, Haile Gebrselassie is a two time Olympic gold medalist, both of which he claimed in the 10,000 meters. He also won the Boston marathon on four consecutive occasions, breaking the world record for this event in 2008 at the age of 35.
His achievements don’t end there, as the now-retired Ethiopian runner continued to lead the pack in his athletic field throughout his career. From claiming the 2001 ‘Half Mile marathon Championship’ title, to winning the Dubai marathon three times in a row, Gebrselassie was unbeatable at his peak.
All in all, Gebrselassie has set a whopping 27 world records throughout his career, making him one of the most accomplished, and celebrated, long distance runners to date.
3. Emil Zatopek
Another athlete to overtake all competitors was Emil Zatopek, a Czechoslovakian long distance runner who claimed three gold medals at the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki. Perhaps one of his greatest achievements came in 1954, when Zatopek became the first runner to ever break the 10,000 meters in under 29 minutes.
The only person ever to take gold for the 5000 meters, 10,000 meters, and marathon in the same Olympics, Zatopek was known for his tough training regime, and was the innovator behind interval training and hypoventilation training.
All of that hard work paid off, however, and in February of 2013 Runner’s World Magazine selected Zatopek as The Greatest Runner of All Time.
4. Paula Radcliffe
Paul Radcliffe is the unbeaten world record holder for the women’s marathon, a title she has held for 15 years. Originally from England, Radcliffe has won the London marathon three times, is a three time winner of the New York marathon, and also came first in the 2002 Chicago marathon.
Radcliffe has been awarded several accolades in recognition of her achievements over the years, and has won the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award, IAAF World Athlete of the Year, the Laureus World Comeback of the Year, and the AIMS World Athlete of the Year Award (on three separate occasions!)
Although now retired, Radcliffe’s world record is yet to be beaten, and so she remains the greatest women’s marathon runner to date.
5. Wilson Kipsang Kiprotich
Winner of the 2013 Berlin marathon, Kenyan distance runner Wilson Kipsang Kiprotich broke the world record in this same event, setting it at 2 hours, 3 minutes, and 23 seconds.
Kiprotich has enjoyed numerous other victories throughout his running career, and has claimed first place at marathons throughout Europe, including the Frankfurt marathon, the Berlin marathon and, most recently, the London marathon in 2014. It was in this race that Kiprotich set his second course record, coming in first with a time of 2 hours, 4 minutes, and 29 seconds.
Kiprotich continues to enjoy a successful running career, and competed at the Tokyo marathon and new York City marathon, where he claimed second place, earlier this year.
6. Deena Kastor
Deena Kastor is an American long distance runner who in September 2014, at the age of 41, set the Master World Half marathon record.
Prior to attaining this astounding achievement, Kastor has enjoyed success throughout her running career, and also holds world records in the American Women’s marathon and half marathon. Winning bronze in the Women’s marathon at the 2004 Athens Olympics, Kastor also qualified for the Olympic marathon in 2008, but was unable to finish due to a foot injury.
Kastor was inducted into the New York Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 2001, and the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 2007. With dozens of honours and awards celebrating her career, she remains on of the US’s top female track athletes to this day.
7. Geoffrey Mutai
Kenyan long distance runner Geoffrey Mutai is best known for his victory at the 2011 Boston marathon, where he ran the fastest ever marathon time in history, completing the race in 2 hours, 3 minutes, and 2 seconds.
Mutai also smashed records at the 2011 New York City marathon, where he broke the previous course record, set 10 years prior by Tesfaye Jifar in 2001.
His success as a long distance runner has led him to victory at marathons and half marathons around the world, including the Monaco marathon, the Valencia Half marathon, the Berlin marathon, and the RAK Half marathon.
One of the most formidable competitors in the history of long distance road running, Mutai was chosen as the AIMS World Athlete of the Year for two consecutive years.
8. Catherine Ndereba
Catherine Ndereba is one of the most accomplished female marathon runners in history, and has won the Boston marathon four times, and the Chicago marathon twice. The Kenyan-born athlete
has twice been awarded gold medals in the marathon at the World Championships in Athletics, has also won silver medals at two consecutive Olympic games, in 2004 and 2008.
In 2001, Ndereba broke the world record for the women’s marathon, completing the Chicago marathon in 2 hours, 18 minutes, and 47 seconds.
Although retired from the sport since 2014, Ndereba’s achievements in long distance running are considered among the most notable in history, with perhaps her finest year being 1999. In this year she ran world bests in the 5K, 12K, 15K, and 10 miles, well and truly earning her nickname of ‘Catherine the Great.’
9. Paavo Nurmi
Nicknamed ‘The Flying Finn,’ Finnish athlete Paavo Nurmi was the greatest long distance runner of the early 20th century, and one of the most famous long distance runners of all time. Setting a whopping total of 22 world records across distances ranging from 1500 m to 20 km, Nurmi dominated in his field of athletics throughout his career.
The long distance runner secured a grand total of nine gold medals and three silver medals across 12 events at the Olympic Games, with his international debut being at the 1920 Summer Olympics.
At the peak of his career Nurmi was virtually unbeatable, and was undefeated for a grand total of 121 races. He remained unbeaten in his world record for cross country events, and for the 10,000m for the duration of his 14 year career.
Even following his retirement in 1934, Nurmi’s accomplishments continued to be celebrated, and he was the lighter of the 1952 Olympic Flame at the Summer Olympics in Helsinki. The sensational athlete has since been applauded for introducing an analytic approach to running, and for transforming running into a major international sport.
10. Kenenisa Bekele
Ethiopian long distance runner Kenenisa Bekele is the current world record and Olympic record holder in the 5000m and 10,000m events. With a total of three gold medals and one silver medal awarded him across two separate Olympic Games in 2004 and 2008, Bekele is one of the greatest current competitors in the sport.
He accomplished four consecutive wins the 10,000m at the World Championships in Athletics, and his six long course and five short course titles make him the most successful long distance runner in IAAF World Cross Country Championships history. In 2009, he became the first man ever to win both the 500m and 10,000m events at the same World Championships in Athletics.
Considered one of the greatest long distance runners of all time, Bekele is still a fierce competitor to this date, most recently achieving second place in the 2017 London Marathon.
The achievements of the athletes listed here are a strong tribute to the astonishing capabilities of the human body, and should inspire any enthusiastic runner to push themselves to attain their running goals.
With dedicated training, anybody can build the strength and stamina required to complete a marathon, a goal that is sure to contribute to your future health and happiness.
Let the accomplishments of our top 10 most famous long distance runners motivate you to improve your performance, and inspire you to continue breaking personal records as you move towards your fitness goals.