Athletics All-Time Greatest 10,000 metre Runners: Emil Zatopek and Tirunesh Dibaba

My choice of the Top Ten 10,000m runners of all-time. For full biographies from Wikipedia please click on the names of the athletes.


1  Emil Zátopek (Czechoslovakia)

2 Paavo Nurmi (Finland)

3  Haile Gebrselassie(Ethiopia)

4  Kenenisa Bekele (Ethiopia)

5  Ilmari Salminen (Finland)

6 Ron Clarke (Australia) 

Pyotr Bolotnikov (Soviet Union)

8 Viljo Heino (Finland)

9 Vladimir Kuts (Soviet Union)

10 Hannes Kolehmainen (Finland)

Very hard to choose between Nurmi and Zatopek at the top of this list. Nurmi was unbeaten over 17 races at 10,000m in his career and won two Olympic titles. He set two world records, one of which stood for nearly 13 years. Zatopek won two Olympic golds and two European titles. He set five world records but only held the record for seven years in total. He did lose at 10,000m but had a winning streak of 38 between 1948 and 1954 . I have gone for Zatopek because I think that the event was harder to dominate in his era. Not far behind come the two Ethiopians with Haile just preferred as he backed up his six years as world number one with other years near the top. Bekele also had six years at the top.

After these four there is a  big gap to the next group.  Salminen and Clarke both had four years as the best in the world but I prefer Salminen’s  Olympic and two European championships to Clarke’s poor championship record and three world records. Bolotnikov is not as celebrated as he should be. He won Olympic and European titles and set two world records. Heino topped the world for five years during the later years of World War II and won the European title in 1946 Then Zatopek came along. Kuts was top for three years, set a world record and won an Olympic gold. Kolehmainen, the first great Finn, just scrapes in ahead of a group including Viren,Yifter and Farah. If Farah has another year as the world best he will enter my Top Ten.


Tirunesh Dibaba (Ethiopia)

Derartu Tulu  (Ethiopia)

Ingrid Kristiansen (Norway)

Wang Junxia (China)

Fernanda Ribeiro (Portugal)

I have only chosen a Top Five for the women as the event has only been included in major championships since the mid 1980s. Dibaba is a clear number one despite never holding the world record. She has two Olympic and three world titles and has dominated the event in recent years. Tulu has two Olympic titles and a world title. Kristiansen set two world records which are still great times today but never won a global title. Wang’s world record hasn’t been approached since she set it twenty years ago and she also managed to win a world title. There are clear doubts about the legitimacy of the performance of Chinese runners of that time. I think it was possible to reach that level but that the intensity of training necessary was impossible to sustain for long. I am prepared to give Wang the benefit of the doubt. These four are clear of the rest. I picked Ribeiro at five because of her excellent championship record including an Olympic and world title.


This entry was posted in All-time Greats, Athletics and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s