The future is brighter than it has been in a while for United States distance running.
Although the US is clearly in no danger of consistently matching the talent seen in such running hotbeds as Ethiopia and Kenya anytime soon, there is reason to be hopeful.
Here are the runners most likely to earn medals for Team USA on the world stage in the near future. Some are young, others are experienced veterans. But they’re all insanely fast and dedicated to their sport.
To describe her as a rare talent is almost an understatement.
At just 17 years old, Cain has burst brightly onto the international scene. At the time of writing, she had advanced to the semifinal of the 1500 meters at the 2013 World Track and Field Championships in Moscow after snagging second place in the event at US nationals.
American high school records at 800, 1500 and 5000 meters on the track also happen to belong to Mary Cain.
With a year still to go in high school, Cain already seems destined to become one of the greatest distance runners in US history. Of course, the threat of injury and burnout seems to be the primary obstacle standing in her way. So, if Cain stays healthy and focused, she may well become a regular on the Olympic podium.
Rupp’s silver medal in the 10,000 meters at the London Games was the first medal by an American man in that distance since 1964. That one Olympic medal may wind up being the highlight of his career, or it could be a signal of far more success ahead.
Expect the latter.
Not only is Rupp extremely talented, he also benefits from being coached by arguably one of the world’s best running minds, Alberto Salazar, a US distance legend and former Olympic medalist himself.
Rupp also trains with Mo Farah, the 2012 Olympic and 2013 World Champion in the 10k. At the 2013 World Championships, Rupp took fourth in the 10,000 metres—a slight disappointment but also an indication that his Olympic medal was certainly not a fluke.
The former Olympic bronze medalist is now 31 years old. She’s also still pretty quick. Flanagan’s speed helped her to a respectable eighth place finish at the world championships in the 10,000. That followed a dominant showing at the US nationals, where Flanagan cruised across the line first with a 34 second margin of victory.
Flanagan has options going forward. In addition to the 10k, she’s proven herself at longer distances. After winning the US Olympic Trials Marathon, Flanagan was 10th in London.
Though later overshadowed by the horrific events of April 15th, Flanagan generated a solid fourth-place effort at the 2013 Boston Marathon. For now, she's the top active distance runner among US women.
Some see him as reckless, others think he’s tough. The truth is, Trafeh is probably a little of both.
He’s an aggressive runner who’s dropped out of, or faded badly in, his fair share of races thanks to starting too fast. Ironically, Trafeh’s weakness may also be his greatest strength.
Let’s flashback to the US Half Marathon Championships in June of this year. Trafeh blazed through the opening mile in 4:21. The blistering early pace took its toll on the field. Only Meb Keflezighi hung with Trafeh until the final mile. Trafeh then pulled away from the race-savvy Keflezighi just before the finish to claim the win in 1:01:17.
More gutsy efforts like that could produce serious dividends for Trafeh.
The path has been a bit rocky for Hall lately, but don’t be fooled. He's still among the top runners in the world and his dreams of winning an Olympic medal are alive and well.
Injuries have hampered Hall over the last couple of years. A hamstring issue that caused him to drop out of the marathon at the London Games is just an example of one of those.
Assuming he stays healthy, the next major test for Hall will be the 2013 New York City Marathon.
Undeniably, when in peak condition Hall can run with almost anyone. His clocking of 2:04:58 in Boston in 2011 is the fastest marathon ever by a US runner. At 30 years old, Hall still has plenty of time left to build on an already impressive career.
Desiree Davila: Her breakthrough was a surprising runner-up finish at the Boston Marathon in 2011. Unfortunately though, she’s been battling injuries since placing second at the 2012 US Olympic Marathon Trials.
Dathan Ritzenhein: An Olympian with a 2:07:47 marathon PR, Ritz also just finished tenth in the 10,000 at the 2013 World Track and Field Championships.