- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 30, 2009

American distance runners made a statement at the world championships in Berlin. Dathan Ritzenhein and Anna Willard added an exclamation point a few days later.

It finally appears the United States is coming out of its doldrums, showing a competitiveness not seen in decades and an ability to run with the Africans and other perennial powers.

The best news: The movers and shakers rising toward the top are being followed by another crop of competitive American runners.

Let’s start with the scorecard from worlds, where the U.S. team had unprecedented success in the middle distances.

Nick Symmonds was the first American finalist at a men’s 800-meter final at worlds since Rich Kenah (bronze) and Mark Everett (eighth) in 1997.

For the first time at the world championships since 1983, three American men made the 1,500-meter final. All three American women who lined up for the final finished in the top six. Three men reached the 5,000-meter final, and two placed in the top eight of the 10,000 meters.

Amy Yoder Begley’s sixth-place finish in the women’s 10,000 (31:13.78) was the fastest ever by an American at worlds. And Jenny Barringer bettered her U.S. record in the 3,000-meter steeplechase final in 9:12.50 to finish fifth, the highest ever in that event by an American at worlds.

Ritzenhein was sixth in the 10,000 in a personal-best 27:22.28, the highest finish in that event at worlds by an American man. But the best for the Michigan native was yet to come.

On Friday night, the 26-year-old lit up the track at the Weltklasse meet in Zurich, dropping down to 5,000 meters and smoking the U.S. record of his boyhood idol, Bob Kennedy. He finished third in 12:56.27; 5,000/10,000 Olympic and world champ Kenenisa Bekele of Ethiopia prevailed in 12:52.32. Ritzenhein’s time topped Kennedy’s 12:58.21 set at the same meet 13 years ago.

Ritzenhein became the fourth runner from outside Africa to break 13:00. Even more amazing is that he put pressure on the untouchable Bekele.

Willard’s huge performance in the 1,500 meters in Zurich was lost amid Ritzenhein’s shocker. She lost a close race to double world champion Maryam Jamal in 3:59.38, making her the third fastest American of all time behind Mary Slaney (3:57.12) and Suzy Favor Hamilton (3:57.40).

Just wait until Galen Rupp, Matt Tegenkamp, Chris Solinsky, Lopez Lomong and Leo Manzano hit their stride.

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