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Top 10 Runners in the World

author image Carol Smolsky
Carol Smolsky is a Registered Nurse, ACE Personal Trainer, Crossfitter and yoga practitioner. She finished 14 full Ironman Triathlons (four Hawaiian championships), and countless other running and stair climbing races. She writes workouts for all levels, from recovering patients to elite athletes, as well as Triathlon Training Programs for all distances.
Top 10 Runners in the World
Runners at starting gates Photo Credit Digital Vision./Digital Vision/Getty Images

When thinking about great runners, many names come to mind. Roger Bannister was the first to break the four-minute barrier in the mile. Katherine Switzer was the first female to enter the Boston marathon, enduring not just 26.2 miles but the race director who tried to remove her mid-race only to be stopped by Switzer's boyfriend. She went on to finish in four hours and 20 minutes. These runners ran their hearts out, not knowing a 3:59.4 mile would pave the way for a 3:43.13 mile, or that a 4:20 marathon would lead to a 2:15:25 record time for women.

100 and 200 meters: Lightning Bolt and Flo Jo

Top 10 Runners in the World
Usain Bolt upon winning a 200 meter race Photo Credit Chris McGrath/Getty Images News/Getty Images

The world-record male and female 100-meter runners have something in common: They both hold the world record for the 200 meter. Jamaica's Usain Bolt holds the men's world record in the 100 at 9.58 seconds, and the record for the 200 at 19.19 seconds. This five-time "World Athlete of the Year" has six Olympic Gold medals. The flashy American Florence Griffith-Joyner set the women's world record for the 100 in 10.49 seconds, then the 200 in 21.34 seconds at the 1988 Olympic Trials. She went on to win three gold medals in the 100, 200 and 4x100 relay and even designed and raced in her own outfits.

400 meters: Johnson and Koch

Top 10 Runners in the World
Race car driver Emerson Fittipaldi and girlfriend, track star Michael Johnson, and actors Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas, 2002 Photo Credit David Cannon/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

American Michael Johnson holds the current world record for the 400 with a time of 43.18 seconds set in 1999. While wearing his trademark 3.3 oz. gold shoes, he won double gold in the 400 and the 200 during the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. He also won a gold medal in the 1992 Olympics in the 4x400 relay, and in the 2000 Sydney Olympics he earned gold in the 400. He has won eight World Championship gold medals. East German Marita Koch has the current women's world record for the 400 at 47.60 seconds, set during the World Cup in Australia in 1985. While competing, she set 30 outdoor and indoor world records.

2,000 to 10,000 meters: Bekele and Junxia

Ethiopia's Kenenisa Bekele holds five world records: for the 10,000, 26:17, the 5,000 indoor, 12:49.6; the 5,000 outdoor, 12:37.5; the 2-mile indoor, 8:04.35; and the 2,000, 4:49.99. He won double-gold at the 2008 Olympics in the 5,000 and 10,000, and gold at the 2004 Olympics in the 10,000. Known for his blistering kick, he has hammered the final 400 meters of 10K races in 53 seconds to win on several occasions. Wang Junxia of China set two women's world records 20 years ago: 29:31.78 in the 10,000 and four days later an 8:06.11 in the 3,000. In 1993 she ran the year's fastest marathon in 2:24:07. At the 1996 Olympics she took gold in the 5,000 and silver in the 10,000.

Mile: El Guerrouj and Masterkova

Top 10 Runners in the World
Hicham El Guerrouj receives award from Crown Prince Felipe and Princess Letizia of Spain Photo Credit Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Morocco's Hicham El Guerrouj, the "King of the Mile," is the current world record holder with a time of 3:43.13, set in Rome in 1999. He also is the current world record holder in the 1,500, 3:26.0, and the 2,000, 4:44.79. He is a double Olympic gold medalist, winning the 1,500- and 5,000-meter races in Athens in 2004. Born in Siberia, Russia's Svetlana Masterkova holds the women's world record for the mile at 4:12.56, set on Aug. 14, 1996. Just nine days later, she set and still holds the world record in the 1,000 at 2:28.98. In the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, she won gold medals in the 800 and 1,500 races.

Marathon: Kiprotich and Radcliffe

Top 10 Runners in the World
Paula Radcliffe signs autograph for fans Photo Credit Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Wilson Kipsang Kiprotich of Kenya holds the marathon world record for men at 2:03:23, set at the 2013 Berlin Marathon. He won bronze in the 2012 Olympic marathon and also has won the New York, Honolulu and London marathons. He is 6 feet tall, but weighs only 137 pounds and has broken one hour in the half-marathon several times. Paula Radcliffe of the United Kingdom overcame asthma and anemia as a child to set the marathon world record for women at 2:15:25 at the 2003 London Marathon. She is a three-time winner of both the New York and London marathons and also won the Chicago marathon.

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