The track and field record books can be strange, in no small part because they’re so tainted with alleged doping.
Early in 2016, some evidence emerged that seemed to confirm the suspected doping regime of Chinese athletes in the 90s. One of the key figures that was implicated was Wang Junxia, who dropped 42 seconds from the women’s 10,000m record when she set it in 1993. The IAAF looked to confirm the legitimacy of a letter that said the Chinese athletes were forced to take illegal drugs as members of coach Ma Junren’s training group. There were also calls from UK Athletics to re-write and wipe clean the history books to move past the doping crisis in the sport and start The Clean Athletics Era. Hate to break it to the UK Athletics chief, but this era isn’t totally clean either.
Then last summer, Ethiopia’s Almaz Ayana broke Junxia’s world record by 14 seconds en route to the Olympic gold medal. Red flags were raised but Ayana has never been tied to any performance enhancing drugs. It just so happens that she really crushed a tainted world record. In the post race press conference, I remember that doping was among the first few questions asked and her translator passed along her answer as ““My doping is my training and my doping is Jesus” and that she was ‘crystal clear.’
Because even tainted world records can go down, and it’s a similar case with Genzebe Dibaba breaking the 1,5000m world record previously held by another Chinese athlete, it’s hard to say that there’s a track record like baseball’s Joe DiMaggio 56-game hitting streak or Cal Ripken’s 2,632 consecutive game streak. Nothing is untouchable in track, and even the dirty records can fall.
We’ve been focusing on American records this week on the site and which ones could fall in 2017. So in fairness, we’ll run through the records that we think will withstand the year and why. (Not that they won’t fall in the future!)
Men’s records that will stand in 2017
100 meters: Tyson Gay’s 9.69
It’s still interesting to think that the fastest American man in recent years at 100 meters is Justin Gatlin, but he just turned 35 years old and 2016 was not as popping as 2015 was for him. He failed to reach the 200m final and settled for silver behind Bolt in the 100m final once again. The fastest time in the world last year was held by Gatlin and it was just 9.80 from his Trials win. Trayvon Bromell is the next 100m star for the U.S. and he’s run 9.84 in back-to-back years. He’s still young and special things aren’t rushed. He could be the future American record holder but not in 2017.
200 meters: Michael Johnson’s 19.32
Again, Justin Gatlin came the closest when he ran 19.57 in 2015. He’s the third-fastest behind Walter Dix’s 19.53, and of course Johnson. LaShawn Merritt went 19.74 last year but it’s unlikely his time comes down a half second for a new record.
400 meters: Michael Johnson’s 43.18
It’s still strange to see that time and realize it’s not the world record but then you realize how much of a beast Wayde van Niekerk is and all is well in the world. There’s no American version of WvN yet to bring this one down.
5,000 meters: Bernard Lagat’s 12:53.60
Did you know the American record in this event is the 73rd fastest performance at the distance? Lots of Kenyans, Ethiopians, Qatari and Algerian performances are faster. There’s also Mo Farah’s British record of 12:53.11. I think someone like Olympic silver medalist Paul Chelimo is capable of dipping under 13 minutes this year but sub 12:53 is a stretch for anyone in 2017. Bernard Lagat can rest easy in his first year off the track.
10,000 meters: Galen Rupp’s 26:44.36
Galen Rupp owns four of the top five fastest U.S. times in this event. (Chris Solinsky is the one guy that cracks the top five performances and if you need a little reminder: He was the first American to break 27 minutes for the event and Rupp finished 11 seconds back in that famous Payton Jordan race.) Leonard Korir and Shadrack Kipchirchir made the Olympic team with Rupp but their personal bests are still far from Rupp’s. Chris Derrick’s personal best of 27:31.38 is up there among some of the best Americans but still distant from Rupp. This one is going to last a few years.
110-meter hurdles: Aries Merritt’s 12.80
Aries Merritt underwent kidney surgery in 2015 and just recently showed a return to form during the indoor season. It might be too soon to get excited over him lowering his personal best.
400-meter hurdles: Kevin Young’s 46.78
Young’s world record has been in the books since the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. Kerron Clement’s 47.24 from 2005 is the closest that anyone has come since 2000. The fastest time in the world for 2016 was Clement’s 47.73 for gold in Rio. Still almost a second off.
Women’s records that will stand in 2017
100 meters: FloJo’s 10.49 or 10.61
Track and Field News believes the 10.49 was wind-aided and should not have been accepted as the world record. Instead they pose 10.61 as the true American and world record. Regardless, neither is going to be touched for a while.
200 meters: FloJo’s 21.34
400 meters: Sanya Richards-Ross’ 48.70
We’re taking a risk here and saying that Allyson Felix will come very close but just miss Richards-Ross’ American record in 2017. It might take a little bit of chipping away in the 49-second range before she cracks it. Remember, Richards-Ross has run faster than Felix’s personal best on eight occasions.
800 meters: Jearl Miles- Clark 1:56.40
LOL. The American record is not even in the top 100 fastest performances of all-time. It falls at No. 106 and the upper part of the all-time list is filled with Eastern European countries. Miles-Clark’s mark has stood since 1999. Alysia Montano is the most recent star to get close but her 1:57.34 is still about a full second behind. Ajee Wilson is the current American star and her personal best is 1:57.67. She did show great signs of fitness by running 1:58.27 in February. If there’s a world record attempt in Monaco with Caster Semenya and Wilson happens to be in the race, she could move up in the U.S. all-time standings and creep closer to Miles-Clark. Wilson is only going to turn 23 in May.
Records that can drop like personal bests
Evan Jager (steeplechase), Emma Coburn (steeplechase) and Keni Harrison (100 hurdles) are three active American record holders that we think would hold onto their records and would naturally lower them as personal bests since they could be in better shape than in 2016 or 2015. Shannon Rowbury and Molly Huddle are notable cases that we mentioned because there’s the potential for them to get faster but also face stiff competition.