Steve Smythe analyses the global rankings lists through the years and highlights all the British athletes to have achieved a top three spot
With reference to the 2020 lists, Laura Muir is the only Briton to top the world rankings this year thanks to her 1500m time of 3:57.40.
It is not the first time that she has topped the rankings and over the last 50 years or so relatively few Britons have achieved that honour.
Steve Cram and Paula Radcliffe have seven top ranks, while Seb Coe has six and Mo Farah and Jonathan Edwards have five. The latter’s five in the triple jump is the best in any single event for a Briton.
Here we list all the Britons to top the world rankings since 1967 and additionally mention those who made the top three.
Look out for the December edition of AW magazine – which is our 75th anniversary special – as it also includes an 80-page end-of-year rankings supplement.
World and Olympic champion Christie is the only ranking topper at the blue riband event since 1967, though he also has six second places. Allan Wells has a third in his 1980 gold medal winning year.
1993 Linford Christie 9.87 (2nd Andre Cason 9.92)
Regis tops it from his world silver medal year and also has a second and a third. Dave Jenkins also has a second while Wells has two thirds.
1993 John Regis 19.87 (2nd Michael Johnson 9.94)
No No.1s but Dave Jenkins’ 44.93 in 1975 and Iwan Thomas’ 44.36 in 1997 were both third.
Surprisingly Cram has three toppings to Coe, who only headed the rankings in his world record runs. Cram also had two thirds but Coe also has four seconds and a third. Elliott also has a top and also has a second. Martin Steele has a second and Steve Ovett and Daniel Rowden a third this year.
1979 Sebastian Coe 1:42.33 (2nd Jose Marajo 1:43.9)
1981 Sebastian Coe 1:41.73 (2nd Joaquim Cruz 1:44.3)
1982 Steve Cram 1:44.45 (2nd Sebastian Coe 1:44.48)
1983 Steve Cram 1:43.61 (2nd Willi Wulbeck 1:43.65)
1986 Steve Cram 1:43.19 (2nd Johnny Gray 1:44.46)
1990 Peter Elliott 1:42.97 (2nd William Tanui 1:43.49)
Ovett comes out top Brit with three leading mark and also has three seconds. Cram only tops it once – even missing out after his historic first sub-3:30 in 1985 – but he also has three seconds and two thirds. Coe has two Olympic titles but fares surprisingly modestly and apart from his two firsts, he has two seconds.
Moorcroft tops it once for his Commonwealth gold and Elliott and Mo Farah have a second, while Jake Wightman has a third from this year.
1978 David Moorcroft 3:35.48 (2nd Filbert Bayi/Steve Ovett 3:35.48)
1979 Sebastian Coe 3:32.03 (2nd Steve Ovett 3:32.11)
1980 Steve Ovett 3:31.36 (2nd Thomas Wessinghage 3:32.58)
1981 Steve Ovett 3:31.57 (2nd Sebastian Coe 3:31.95)
1983 Steve Ovett 3:30.77 (2nd Sydney Maree 3:31.24)
1986 Sebastian Coe 3:29.77 (2nd Steve Cram 3:30.15)
1988 Steve Cram 3:30.95 (2nd Jim Spivey 3:31.01)
Cram does top this list amongst Brits with three leads and also has two seconds and a third. Coe has two tops but surprisingly no seconds or thirds. Again surprisingly Ovett only tops it once and has two seconds and a third.
Apart from the big three, Andy Baddeley tops it with his Dream Mile win. Additionally Peter Stewart has a second and Ian McCafferty, John Kirkbride and Brendan Foster have a third.
1979 Sebastian Coe 3:48.95 (2nd Steve Ovett 3:49.57)
1980 Steve Ovett 3:48.8 (2nd John Walker/Steve Scott 3:52.7)
1981 Sebastian Coe 3:47.33 (2nd Steve Ovett 3:48.40)
1985 Steve Cram 3:46.32 (2nd Said Aouita 3:46.92)
1986 Steve Cram 3:48.31 (2nd Steve Scott 3:48.73)
1988 Steve Cram 3:48.85 (2nd Peter Elliott 3:49.20)
2008 Andy Baddeley 3:49.38 (2nd Haron Keitany 3:49.70)
Four British athletes top the outdoor rankings a single time (and have no other top threes) though Ricky Wilde would have topped it in 1970 with his indoor world record.
Ovett also has a second and Nick Rose has a third.
1969 Dick Taylor 7:47.8 (2nd Ron Clarke 7:53.8)
1974 Brendan Foster 7:35.2 (2nd John Walker 7:40.6)
1982 Dave Moorcroft 7:32.79 (2nd Sydney Maree 7:33.37)
2015 Mo Farah 7:34.66 (2nd Caleb Ndiku 7:35.13)
For three years running Britain ranked top and then Moorcroft’s world record and Farah’s double followed at a distance. Taylor and Bedford also had a third. Jack Buckner had two seconds, a position matched by Ian McCafferty and Foster. Nat Muir had a third.
1969 Dick Taylor 13:29.0 (2nd Jurgen May 13:33.0)
1970 Ian Stewart 13:22.85 (2nd Ian McCafferty 13:23.34)
1971 Dave Bedford 13:22.2 (2nd Emiel Puttemans 13:24.6)
1982 Dave Moorcroft 13:00.41 (2nd Wodajo Bulti 13:07.29)
2011 Mo Farah 12:53.11 (2nd Bernard Lagat 12:53.60)
2016 Mo Farah 12:59.29 (2nd Muktar Edris 12:59.43)
World record-setter Bedford tops it three times beating Farah’s two and the latter also has a second and third. Foster also has two seconds as well as his first.
Taylor, Dave Black and Eamonn Martin also have a second with Black and Olympic silver medallist Mike McLeod a third.
1970 Dave Bedford 28:06.2 (2nd Lachie Stewart 28:11.72)
1971 Dave Bedford 27:47.0 (2nd Juha Vaatainen 27:52.78)
1973 Dave Bedford 27:30.8 (2nd Dave Black 27:55.50)
1975 Brendan Foster 27:45.43 (2nd Frank Shorter 27:45.91)
2015 Mo Farah 26:50.97 (2nd Paul Tanui 26:51.86)
2017 Mo Farah 26:49.51 (2nd Joshua Cheptegei 26:49.94)
Four Britons have a single topping with Adcocks and Jones also having a second and Hill also having a third.
1968 Bill Adcocks 2:10:48 (2nd Yoshiaki Unetani 2:12:41
1970 Ron Hill 2:09:28 (2nd Akio Usami 2:10:38)
1974 Ian Thompson 2:09:12 (2nd Karel Lismont 2:11:14)
1984 Steve Jones 2:08:05 (2nd Carlos Lopes 2:09:06)
Colin Reitz – second in 1986 with 8:12.11 – is the best British placing since 1967. Olympic bronze medallist Mark Rowland has a third.
Jackson dominates from a British perspective with four tops but also has four fourths. Tony Jarrett has a second and two thirds and Andy Pozzi also has a second this year.
1990 Colin Jackson 13.08 (2nd Greg Foster 13.15)
1992 Colin Jackson 13.04 (2nd Tony Dees 13.08)
1993 Colin Jackson 12.91 (2nd Tony Jarrett 13.00)
1994 Colin Jackson 12.98 (2nd Mark Crear 13.02)
Olympic champion Hemery also has a third while Commonwealth champion Alan Pascoe has two seconds and European champion Kriss Akabusi two thirds
1968 David Hemery 48.12 (2nd Geoff Vanderstock 48.93)
Tom Gale has a joint top ranking with his 2020 indoor mark. Steve Smith was second four times – in 1992 (2.37), 1994 (2.38), 1998 and 1999 (2.36). Robbie Grabarz had a third.
2020 Tom Gale 2.33 (equal with 4 others)
Luke Cutts’ equal third with his 5.83m in 2014 is the only top three placing.
Olympic champion Rutherford also has a second.
2012 Greg Rutherford 8.35 (eq 1 Sergey Morgunov 8.35)
2014 Greg Rutherford 8.51 (2nd Christian Reiff 8.49)
Apart from his five ranking-toppers, Edwards also has two seconds and two thirds while Idowu has a second and third to back up his two firsts. Connor has a topping from his European and Commonwealth title winning year while Nathan Douglas has a third.
1982 Keith Connor 17.57 (2nd Ken Lorraway 17.46)
1993 Jonathan Edwards 18.29 (2nd James Beckford 17.92)
1998 Jonathan Edwards 18.01 (2nd (Denis Kapustin 17.65)
2000 Jonathan Edwards 17.71 (2nd Fabrizio Donato 17.60)
2001 Jonathan Edwards 17.92 (2nd Christian Olsson 17.49)
2002 Jonathan Edwards 18.01 (2nd (Christian Olsson 17.80)
2008 Phillips Idowu 17.65 (2nd Nelson Evora 17.67)
2009 Phillips Idowu 17.73 (2nd Nelson Evora 17.66)
No Britons top during this period but Geoff Capes was third in both 1977 (21.30m) and 1980 (21.68m).
No Britons have ever ranked in the top three in this period.
Nick Miller ranked third in 2018 (80.26m) – the only time a Briton has ranked in the top three in the period from 1967.
Backley, Britain’s greatest ever male thrower, had three seconds and two thirds to back up his two firsts. Mick Hill has a third.
1990 Steve Backley 90.98 (2nd Jan Zelezny 89.66)
1992 Steve Backley 91.46 (2nd Seppo Raty 90.60)
Double Olympic champion Thompson has three firsts, two seconds and two thirds. Dean Macey has a third.
1982 Daley Thompson 8743 (2nd Jurgen Hingsen 8723)
1984 Daley Thompson 8798 (eq 1 Jurgen Hingsen 8798)
1986 Daley Thompson 8811 (2nd Jurgen Hingsen 8730)
1964 Olympic 50km runner-up Nihill tops it once but is the only top three appearance.
1972 Paul Nihill 1:24:50 (2nd Gennadiy Agapov 1:25:19)
No Britons appeared in the top three ranking spots in this period.
Britain topped the rankings twice but also have seven seconds and six thirds.
2017 GBR 37.47 (2nd USA 37.52)
2018 GBR 37.61 (2nd Japan 37.85)
Seven ranking toppings make this one of Britain’s most successful events and they also have five seconds and seven thirds.
1974 GBR 3:03.33 (2nd FRG 3:02.94)
1986 GBR 2:59.84 (2nd FRG 3:00.17)
1990 GBR 2:58.22 (2nd USA 2:59.42)
1991 GBR 2:57.53 (2nd USA 2:57.57)
1994 GBR 2:59.13 (2nd USA 2:59.42)
1997 GBR 2:56.65 (2nd JAM 2:56.75)
2002 GBR 3:00.40 (2nd GER 3:00.80)
A share of first for Asher-Smith is the only ranking-topping. Andrea Lynch with a second is the only other top three in the period from 1967.
2018 Dina Asher-Smith 10.85 (eq 1 Marie Josee Ta Lou 10.85)
Asher-Smith fares better than in the 100m as she also has a second from her world title in 2019. No other Britons feature in the top three.
2018 Dina Asher-Smith 21.89 (2nd Blessing Okagbare 22.04)
Merry has just the single ranking but world and Olympic champion Ohuruogu also has two seconds. No one else ranks.
2001 Katharine Merry 49.59 (2nd Grit Breuer 49.78)
2008 Christine Ohuruogu 49.62 (2nd Shericka Williams 49.69)
Olympic champion Kelly Holmes was second in 2004 with 1:56.38 and also has one third while Lillian Board has a second from her European title winning year in 1969 (2:01.50). Jemma Reekie also has a second if you count her indoor mark this year.
Muir now has two toppings but surprisingly no other top threes. Holmes only has a third to back up her Olympic gold run. Hayley Tullett has a third.
2004 Kelly Holmes 3:57.90 (2nd Tatyana Tomashova 3:58.12)
2016 Laura Muir 3:55.22 (2nd Faith Kipyegon 3:56.41)
2020 Laura Muir 3:57.40 (2nd Faith Kipyegon 3:59.05)
No Briton has ranked top since 1967 but six Britons have ranked second: Iris Lincoln (4:45.7 in 1968), Lillian Board (4:44.6 in 1970), Rita Ridley, the twin sister of Iris (4:37.4 in 1971), Kirsty Wade (4:21.61 in 1986), Barbara Parker (4:30.51 in 2011) and Laura Weightman (4:17.60 in 2019). Board’s second came in the year she sadly died of cancer.
Joan Allison and Muir have two thirds with Christina Boxer, Zola Budd and Yvonne Murray a single third. Reekie also has a third if you count her indoor mark.
Again no Briton has ranked top (from 1974 as there was little international competition until then). Yvonne Murray ranked second four times, in 1989 (8:38.51), 1990 (8:39.46), 1992 (8:36.63) and 1994 (8:29.60), while Paula Radcliffe was second in 1997 (8:35.28) and 2002 (8:22.20). Radcliffe and Murray also have a third while Budd has two thirds and Liz McColgan a single third.
Britain fared well before this became a championship winning distance with Radcliffe the only exception coming with her Commonwealth gold medal run. Radcliffe also had a second and a third.
McColgan also had a third while Angela Tooby had a second.
1981 Paula Fudge 15:14.51 (2nd Yelena Sipatova 15:24.6)
1985 Zola Budd 14:48.07 (2nd Natalya Artyomova 14:54.08)
1987 Liz McColgan 15:01.08 (2nd Angela Tooby 15:13.22)
1988 Liz McColgan 15:03.29 (2nd Ingrid Kristiansen 15:10.89)
2002 Paula Radcliffe 14:31.42 (2nd Berhane Adere 14:33.65)
Radcliffe dominates from a GB perspective with two seconds to go with her three firsts. World champion McColgan also has a second while Jill Hunter has a third.
1980 Kath Binns 32:57.17 (2nd Julie Shea 33:02.32)
1991 Liz McColgan 30:57.07 (2nd Kathrin Ullrich 31:03.62)
2001 Paula Radcliffe 30:55.80 (2nd Asmae Leghzaoui 31:16.94)
2002 Paula Radcliffe 30:01.09 (2nd Sun Yingjie 30:28.26)
2004 Paula Radcliffe 30:17.15 (2nd Xing Huina 30:24.36)
Radcliffe heads the rankings with two world records and wold title run and also has a third. Mara Yamauchi and Veronique Marot have a second and Joyce Smith a third.
2002 Paula Radcliffe 2:17:18 (2nd Catherine Ndereba 2:19:26)
2003 Paula Radcliffe 2:15:25 (2nd Sun Yingjie 2:19:39)
2005 Paula Radcliffe 2:17:42 (2nd Mizuki Nohguchi 2:21:37)
No Britons have made the top three since 1995.
Chris Pereira ranked equal second with 13.5 in 1968 though that year it a 80 metre hurdle that featured in the Olympics.
World and Olympic champion Gunnell also has a second while Perri Shakes-Drayton with a third is the only other Brit to feature.
1992 Sally Gunnell 53.23 (2nd Tatyana Ledovskaya 53.55)
1993 Sally Gunnell 52.74 (2nd Sandra Farmer-Patrick 52.79)
1994 Sally Gunnell 53.33 (2nd Kim Batten 53.72)
No Briton has ranked in the top three since 1967.
Since 1988, Holly Bradshaw has ranked third in 2012 (4.87m) and 2014 (4.73m).
Ugen stands alone with her shock ranking topper though Sheila Sherwood has two seconds and Shara Proctor a single second.
2018 Lorraine Ugen 7.05 (2nd Malaika Mihambo 6.99)
Hansen tops it with an indoor mark and also has a second and third but no other Brits have made the top three.
1998 Ashia Hansen 15.16 (2nd Iva Prandzheva 15.12)
Shot, discus and hammer
No Britons have ranked in the top three since 1967 (1989 for the new event, hammer).
Perhaps surprisingly, world champion Whitbread only topped the rankings once but also had two seconds. Olympic champion Sanderson had two seconds and three thirds.
1986 Fatima Whitbread 77.44 (2nd Petra Felke 75.04)
10km and 20km walk
No Briton has ever made the top three of the rankings.
Peters’ Olympic win stands alone in the period from 1967 to 1980.
1972 Mary Peters 4801 (2nd Heide Rosendahl 4791)
World and Olympic champion Ennis-Hill has four toppers and two seconds while Johnson-Thompson has two firsts and a second. World and Olympic champion Lewis only had one topping but had four seconds. Kelly Sotherton had two thirds.
1998 Denise Lewis 6559 (2nd Jackie Joyner-Kersee 6502)
2009 Jessica Ennis 6731 (2nd Nataliya Dobrynska 6558)
2010 Jessica Ennis 6823 (2nd Nataliya Dobrynska 6778)
2011 Jessica Ennis 6790 (2nd Jennifer Oeser 6663)
2012 Jessica Ennis 6955 (2nd Kristina Savitskaya 6681)
2014 Katarina Johnson-Thompson 6682 (2nd Brianne Theisen-Eaton 6641)
2019 Katarina Johnson-Thompson 6981 (2nd Nafissatou Thiam 6819)
British women only headed the rankings once and they also have eight thirds.
2018 GBR 41.88 (2nd USA 42.05)
Britain only topped it in 1969 – the first international year of the event – with their world record in one of the greatest race of all-time. They also have two seconds and 10 thirds!
1969 GBR 3:30.8 (2nd France 3:30.85)
(Lead photo by Mark Shearman)