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It’s been quite a year! From Eliud Kipchoge’s world record in the marathon to Taylor Swift kissing Boston Marathon champion Des Linden on the head at the Billboard Music Awards, read on to reminisce about the best moments of 2018 in running.
International Athlete Of The Year: Eliud Kipchoge
Where were you when Eliud Kipchoge broke the marathon world record? I was half asleep at home, eyes glazing over a laptop at some ugly hour in the morning, then suddenly jolted upright when the numbers on the screen flashed 2:01:39, nearly a full minute faster than Dennis Kimetto’s four-year-old world record. Yes, technically he had run faster before (2:00:25 at the Nike Breaking2 attempt), but that effort did not qualify for record-setting due to pace-setting and fluid stations.
At the Berlin Marathon, Kipchoge threw down an average of 4:38 mile pace on a fast yet certified course and, folks, that record is going to stand for a very long time—unless Kipchoge himself opts to chase it again.
American Athlete Of The Year: Shelby Houlihan
American track fans are going to remember 2018 as the year of Shelby Houlihan. Take a deep breath, because her laundry list of accomplishments is a mouthful. The self-styled French bread-loving Bowerman Babe broke the American record in the 5K (14:34.45), won four USATF national titles, ran under four minutes for 1500m on three separate occasions (with a personal best of 3:57.34; No. 4 all-time for an American), won three IAAF Diamond League races, then finished the year with runner-up honors in the Diamond League final and the Continental Cup.
The revamped “Shelbo800” going into 2019 and 2020 is not only a favorite in any U.S. championship race she enters (those wheels!), but a major title threat in world and Olympic finals.
Amateur Athlete Of The Year: Michael Norman
In 2018, USC sophomore Michael Norman reminded track fans how he nearly made the Olympic team as an 18-year-old high school senior. The California native was electric every time he hit the track, setting world and NCAA records for the indoor 400m (44.52) and indoor 4x400m relay (3:00.77, which unfortunately won’t count for the WR), as well as collegiate records in the outdoor 400m (43.61) and outdoor 4x400m relay (2:59.00). Perhaps his most shocking achievement was recording the second-fastest 400m split in world history (behind only Michael Johnson) with an awe-inducing 43.06 anchor leg at the NCAA West Regionals.
This is the stuff of professionals—and, sure enough, Norman quickly turned pro following the close of the collegiate season. He maintained an undefeated record from February until July, when he took runner-up honors to prep rival and current pro Noah Lyles at the Lausanne Diamond League meeting over 200 meters.
Performance Of The Year: Des Linden, Boston Marathon
Marathons are hardly the most entertaining race distance for spectators but Hollywood needs to get in on the rights to the 2018 Boston Marathon because that race was a movie. From the freezing rain to the 10-mile-per-hour gusts of wind, dozens of top-ranked pros dropped out of the race, others literally battled hypothermia and all bets were off for the finish.
Des Linden, a three-time top five finisher and 2011 runner-up in Boston, was hardly the top name batted around during discussions of which American woman might end the 33-year title drought. Shalane Flanagan had already won a World Marathon Major, Jordan Hasay was faster and Molly Huddle had the best track credentials. But Linden just kept “showing up” (a phrase she later filed for trademark).
The Olympian did the unthinkable in bowing back from the pack when Flanagan had to use the restroom midway through the race, then helped her U.S. rival catch back up to the lead. The purely selfless act turned into just the momentum she needed to carry her through to her first major marathon win and a much-deserved social media bio edit.
Breakthrough Of The Year: Jakob Ingebrigtsen
Norway’s teen sensation Jakob Ingebrigtsen became a media darling last year as a 16-year-old when he became the youngest person to break four minutes in world history at the Prefontaine Classic. He won plenty of junior titles that summer, but was rocked back into his own stratosphere when he went to play with the big boys and failed to advance to the steeplechase final at the IAAF World Championships.
This summer, then, marked the 17-year-old’s successful foray into the senior ranks. He defeated his older brothers—and the rest of the continent—by winning double gold in the 1500m and 5K at the European Championships. He ran a mind-melting PB of 3:31.18 for 1500m. He did place just third at the IAAF Continental Cup 1500m final, but less than a second behind established veterans Elijah Manangoi of Kenya (age 25) and Marcin Lewandowski of Poland (age 31).
The youngest Ingebrigtsen brother is here to stay.
Most Anticipated News Of The Year: Sydney McLaughlin’s Shoe Contract
It was somewhat of a surprise that New Jersey native Sydney McLaughlin went to college at all, as the hurdler had numerous professional options open to her after she qualified for the Rio Olympics at age 16.
But her year at the University of Kentucky certainly increased her star power as she found new success in the flat track events (11.07 PB for 100m, 22.39 for 200m, 50.07 for 400m) and shattered the collegiate record and came within sniffing distance of the world record for 400m hurdles (52.75), an event in which she also won her first NCAA title.
After announcing her intent to go pro after the NCAA Championships in June, McLaughlin kept the track and field world on pause about her next move. She skipped the USATF Championships, opted out of competing on the European circuit and though she signed with a management company—WME—in August, it wasn’t until late October that she announced her sponsorship with New Balance.
The move was somewhat of a surprise given Nike’s huge influence in the track and field world, but rest assured McLaughlin must be making what she deserves. An anonymous survey of professional track and field agents on LetsRun.com estimated she is likely one of the highest paid athletes in the sport, with a base salary of approximately one million dollars per year.
Surprise Of The Year: Allyson Felix Gives Birth
With only 11 days left in the year, America’s resident track queen Allyson Felix dropped the bomb that she had given birth to her first child, a baby girl named Camryn, a month prior. That timeline means that when she ran 51.35 and 52.01 on the track for 400m in June and then quickly shut her season down, she wasn’t hurt or contemplating retirement—she was four months pregnant! It’s pretty mind-blowing that in today’s age of social media and compulsive over-sharing that the United States’ most decorated female track and field Olympian of all time could keep anything a secret.
Kudos to Felix, who plans to make her fifth Olympic team in Tokyo 2020, and best wishes for recovery as both she and baby are still in the NICU recovering from the premature birth. Her as-told-to essay on ESPN is a must-read, as she addresses the anxiety of wanting a family and a career in athletics at the same time.
Best Running-World-Meets-Pop-Culture Moment Of The Year: Taylor Swift Kisses Des Linden on the Head
Honestly, this probably replaces Madonna-Britney as the most iconic female kiss of all time for us.
— Chris Chavez (@ChrisChavez) May 21, 2018
Most Inspirational Athlete Of The Year: Sarah Sellers
When dozens of the top professional runners dropped out or succumbed to the terrible weather conditions at the Boston Marathon, an unknown athlete named Sarah Sellers finished in second place in 2:44.04. She won $75,000 and later secured a sponsorship with Altra.
The 26-year-old Utah native is a full-time nurse anesthetist who fit her training runs in between shifts, sometimes at 4 a.m. or 8 p.m., never made All-American in college and whose gutsy performance in Boston showed every amateur runner that sometimes, dreams really do come true.