Posted in Run

We took to Wiggle social media to ask our vast community of runners who they thought was the greatest runner of all time... and the list of responses offers a fascinating view.

We've collated the polling from Facebook, Twitter and Instagram into our list, which includes runners who made history and others whose records are still standing many, many years later...

Usain Bolt

Usain Bolt
"Usain Bolt - The Bolt!" by Nick J Webb is licensed with CC BY 2.0.

Usain Bolt came flying into the limelight as a teenager in Jamaica, but it was the 2008 Summer Olympics where he really set the global stage alight with his seemingly casual 100m world record of 9.69 seconds. The following year, 2009, Bolt set the world record again in the 100m sprint, running 9.58 seconds - a record that still stands to this day.

Bolt's 100m world record is iconic, but not everyone had predicted it. Indeed, his coach had said he believed Bolt was better suited to middle-distance racing. Usain was only allowed to enter his first 100m race after making a deal to set a new 200m national record first - which of course he did. The rest is history.

Michael Johnson

michael johnson
"Runner Michael Johnson" by John Mathew Smith is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Not only is Michael Johnson considered one of the greatest runners of all time, but he has become well known among newbie runners too after lending his voice to the 'Couch to 5k' app.

He goes down in history as the only man (so far) to have won both the 200m and 400m at the same Olympics, in 1996, as well as successfully defending his 400m title in 2000.

Florence Griffith-Joyner (Flo Jo)

Courtesy of Wikipedia - credited "Courtesy Ronald Reagan Library. - cropped from File:Florence Griffith Joyner.jpg

Florence has made it on to our list of the greatest runners of all time as she STILL has the current wind-legal world record of 10.49 seconds for the 100m. She set this in 1988 along with her world record of 21.34 second 200m.

Will the legendary American track and field athlete have her record broken at the next games?

Best middle distance runners

Dame Kelly Holmes

dame kelly holmes
Courtesy of Russell Garner - Kelly_Holmes_at_Athens_2004.jpg, CC BY-SA 2.0

Kelly Holmes specialised in the 800 and 1500m middle distance events and it was during the 2004 games that she won double gold.

She set many British running records for the 600m, 800m and 1000m events which still stand to this day.

She became 'Dame' Kelly Holmes after her two-time win in Sydney and, now retired, is found inspiring young people with her registered charity while holding the well-respected office of President of Commonwealth Games England.

Sir Roger Bannister

sir roger bannister
By © Pruneau / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0

Sir Roger Bannister is a well-celebrated British middle-distance athlete who is best known as being the first person to run a sub 4-minute mile. His official time came in at 3 minutes 59.4 seconds in 1954. This record was Bannister's personal goal after the Helsinki games, having not made the podium.

Emil Zatopek

emil zatopek
Courtesy of Roger Rössing derivative work: MachoCarioca from: Fotothek df roe-neg CC BY-SA 3.0

Many say that Emil Zatopek revolutionised running. He was one of the first runners to dedicate their training plans to interval training, short bursts of sprint followed by a short recovery, to teach himself to become a faster runner. 

He was not naturally gifted like his rivals. It was his dedication and determination to improve that helped him to break 18 world records and win five Olympic medals.

Best long-distance runners

Paula Radcliff

paula radcliff
Courtesy of fergie lancealot derivative work: Hydrox (talk) - Paula_Radciffe_NYC_Marathon_2008.jpg, CC BY 2.0

Paula is unrivalled for her feats, having won three London Marathons, three New York marathons, and the Chicago marathon. Her world record marathon time of 2:15:25 stood for 16 years from 2003-2019, having achieved the time during the 2003 London Marathon. 

During the 2005 London Marathon, Radcliff suffered from real runners problems, needing to poop around the 16-mile mark. Despite the unscheduled stop, she still managed to win the race by a whole minute.

Eluid Kipchoge

eluid kipchoge
Courtesy of Denis Barthel - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Kipchoge was a 5000m runner before turning to marathon distance.  He holds the world record of 2:01:39 for 26.2 miles, which he set at the 2018 Berlin Marathon, beating the previous record by 1 minute and 18 seconds. However, it is his 2019 achievement that he is best known for. He is the first person to run a sub 2-hour marathon,  which he managed on a special closed course in Vienna. The event does not count as a world record due to non-standard rules regarding a pacing team but it remains one of the greatest ever running achievements to date.

Kathrine Switzer

"(Boston, 1967)" by Recuerdos de Pandora is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Kathrine Switzer has been one of the biggest influences in women's running, having been the first woman to officially register at the Boston Marathon in 1967 under the name of KV Switzer. As she used her initials, her gender was not questioned but, at this time, women were prevented from running the marathon. Kathrine was repeatedly assaulted by fellow runners during the race to try to stop her. Her persistence persistence paid off, finishing the race in 4 hours 20 minutes. 

Despite her barrier-breaking run, women remained officially banned from running the Boston Marathon for another five years until a women's race was created thanks to Switzer's campaigning.

Mo Farah

mo farah
Courtesy of Doha Stadium Plus Qatar from Doha, Qatar - Mo Farah, CC BY 2.0

Mo Farah is the most triumphant British runner of all time with ten global titles, during which he set the first of many British records in 2009 for the indoor 3000m. His success only continued and, at the 2011 World Championships, he became the first man to win both the 10000m and the 5000m. Back-to-back wins became Farah's signature move, completing 'the double' again at the 2012 and 2016 games.

Following his success on the track, Mo Farah took to road running and has competed in the London Marathon, coming third in 2018.

Your opinion - greatest runners of all time

Think someone else should be on this list? Join the conversation here:

About the author

GBurden's picture
Gabriella Burden
Published on: 02 Jun 2021

You'll find me running, swimming, cycling, or hiking. And trying to convince anyone and everyone to do the same.