Wurth-Thomas 3:59.98 in Rome: U.S. women milers rage on

Christin Wurth-Thomas may not have won the race–no one could touch Maryam Yusuf Jamal tonight–but her 3:59.98 for 1500 meters, which earned her second place in a typically formidable Golden League field, makes her the second American woman to dip under four minutes in 2009, with Jennifer Barringer having run 3:59.90 at the Prefontaine Classic in May.

Remarkably, only two U.S. women ever managed the feat before this year, and one of them (Mary Slaney) tested positive for testosterone later in her career. If one chooses to discard all of Slaney’s performances on that basis, only Suzy Favor Hamilton and her 3:57.40 from nine years ago keep Barringer and Wurth-Thomas from the top two U.S. spots ever.

It gets better than that. Before last year, if one also tosses EPO chat Regina Jacobs’ 4:00.35 from the all-time U.S. list, Diana Richburg (4:01.79 way back in 1987) was the third-fastest American ever, behind Favor Hamilton and Ruth Wysocki (4:00.18). But with 2008 and 2009 U.S. champion Shannon Rowbury (4:00.33 last summer), Anna Willard (4:01.44, also at this year’s Pre Classic), Barringer, and Wurth-Thomas having shaken up the scene, four of the all-time top ten 1500-meter performers have emerged just within the past twelve months. Wurth-Thomas, who turns 29 tomorrow, is by far the oldest of the bunch. at the moment, three of the top six performers in the world in the 1500 are Americans.

The show may just be beginning. It’s all but certain that these women, plus others on the fringe, will push each other to even greater heights–and they all deserve it. Distance running is a limited discipline in this country in terms of media coverage, and of the Four Horsechicks of the Metric Mile Apocalypse, I have interviewed, run with, or written articles about three of them (Willard is the exception). I can honestly say–and I’m not surprised, given the general proclivities of elite runners–that you couldn’t ask for a more gracious, thoughtful, yet intense assortment of athletes. I tend to root for Shannon since I know her the best, but it’s impossible not to feel a rush when any of them triumphs. I just wish Comcast carried the Universal Sports Network, dammit.