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A Whole New World… Relays 🌎

The MVP of the meet may have been Ireland’s Rhasidat Adeleke
(Photo by Kevin Morris/@KevMoFoto)

Since its inception in 2014, the World Relays event has struggled to find its footing and its identity. It’s held not-quite-biennially (six times in eleven years) and changes its event schedule almost as often as it occurs. But nevertheless, that’s why some of the sport’s biggest stars descended on Nassau last weekend. 

This year, the added wrinkle was that every event contested at World Relays ‘24 served as a qualifier for the Paris Olympics. That meant limiting the events to those contested at the Olympics – the 4x100m, 4x400m, and mixed-gender 4x400m, which in turn meant that if you’re a distance fan hoping to tune in for some hot DMR action in order to scope out the next 1200m-leg-turned-newsletter-founder, you’re S.O.L. 

Clearly, this format was designed to make World Relays feel like it matters, but what’s better – making more races matter in relation to the Olympics, or making more races matter intrinsically regardless of their August implications every four years?

On the bright side, the complex qualification process (top eight on Day 1 make the final and the Olympics; everyone else gets a second chance at six more spots in a “fastest loser” race on Day 2; then the final two spots in Paris are decided by season’s best times) meant that at least some of the big sprint names had to show up and run hard. 

Stars from small countries without deep benches basically had no choice: if you’re Femke Bol or Marie-Josée Ta Lou, there isn’t exactly a ready-made sub to take your spot so you can save your legs for the Diamond League. And even a few high-profile Americans like Noah Lyles and Gabby Thomas made the trip to book Team USA a couple dozen tickets to Paris. But the complicated advancement system, the repechage heats on Day 2, and the literal oversized tickets handed out made the whole thing feel like one long prelim. We’re trying to make regular season meets feel more special, not less, people!

Still, there was plenty of interesting drama to follow for those in the know. The star-studded mixed relay fielded by the home team, featuring Olympic champions Shaunae Miller-Uibo and Steven Gardiner, failed to advance out of the first round of racing and had to come back the next day and score a safe heat win to qualify for Paris. Jamaica appeared not to take this meet seriously at all, fielding 4x100m teams with none of their big names and barely scraping together a couple qualifying marks. And Team USA, despite winning four of the five relay finals and avoiding any dropped-stick drama, still managed to pick up a DQ in the first round of the men’s 4x400m, thanks to an arcane exchange zone rule.

Basically, World Athletics and the NCAA have slightly different rules about how and where you can line up for a relay exchange before your leg. And guess where most Americans do most of their 4x400m running? On the pro level, the order of teams lined up for the exchange is decided at the 200-meter mark and can’t be changed, whereas if your team passes before the home stretch in the NCAA you’re still allowed to shuffle around. Third leg Champion Allison didn’t get the memo, and he slid in front of his German counterpart just before the second exchange, resulting in a disqualification. Worry not – the Americans still came back the next day in the repechage heat to take a heat win and get their Olympic spot locked in, but we were robbed of a matchup between the U.S. quartet and the Botswana team that ran away with a world-leading 2:59.11 win in the real final. Guess we’ll have to wait ‘til Paris!

Speaking of order switching, Texas-based Irish sprint star Rhasidat Adeleke got a bit of a raw deal when officials seemingly mixed up the green-clad Irish and Nigerian relay teams. That didn’t stop her from splitting sub-50 twice on Day 1 and then coming back to the mixed-relay final with an astonishing 48.45 split to help her team win the bronze. That was the fastest leg by a female 400m runner in a weekend that also featured Miller-Uibo, Bol, Marileidy Paulino, and Lieke Klaver

Meanwhile, Gabby Thomas’s double on day 2 also turned a few heads. The sprinter, known for her 200m prowess, delivered a solid second leg of the winning 4x100m then came back 20 minutes later to clock a 49.58 split on the winning 4x400m as well. Talk about range!

Another former NCAA star making a name for himself as a pro had his moment to shine: Joe Fahnbulleh. The Liberian former Florida Gator, had one of the most impressive anchor legs of the weekend to get his team an Olympic qualifier in the repechage heat of the men’s 4x100m. 

And while we’re talking 4x100ms, any time we see the men of Team USA get the stick around cleanly and quickly, we start to believe again. Surely there will be much debate over who runs what leg at the Big Dance, but at least this time around, the Courtney Lindsey-Kenny Bednarek-Kyree King-Noah Lyles sauce seems to be working.

Mac Fleet's Extremely Early Men's 1500m Trials Predictions 🔮

We’re just 46 days away from the U.S. Olympic Trials men’s 1500m final in Eugene, and fans could not ask for a more exciting leadup with USA’s biggest and best names, as well as intriguing upstarts, all coming into form right on time. 

Here are my current favorites to make the team:

Returning U.S. Champion Yared Nuguse has to be considered the overwhelming favorite, not only to make the team, but to win the Trials final. Yared, who just last week won the Penn Relays pro mile in 3:51.06, has been on a head-spinning streak of performances over the last 12 months that includes: a Diamond League win, a 3:43.97 American Record in the Bowerman Mile, two U.S. titles, and a silver medal at the World Indoor Championships.  Let’s also not forget this isn’t Yared’s first Trials rodeo either – he placed third in 2021 while still running for Notre Dame.

While I think Yared can win many different ways, his best shot is making the last 800m fast… like really fast. And if there is anything to nit-pick about how Yared races, it’s that he can seem uncomfortable running in packs, so stringing the race out to give himself enough space to open up that signature stride and secure a spot on the team as a possible medal contender. 

Just behind Nuguse in my unofficial official power rankings are the SoVA duo of Cole Hocker and Cooper Teare. With both athletes finally re-settled outside of the Eugene vortex and back with coach Ben Thomas, all is right in the world. They’re like that Kobe and Shaq highlight reel meme with Ben Thomas playing Phil Jackson’s role, knowing exactly what pace to prescribe and how much rest to assign in his unique training philosophy. 

Hocker is back to his high-performing ways after dealing with a minor injury last year. Because of that abbreviated build, Cole’s incredible talent was really put to the test. His 2023 outdoor season began just one month before USAs – and he opened up in 3:34.14 over 1500m. He then went on to place 3rd at the U.S. Champs and ultimately 7th in the World Championship final in Budapest, running 3:30.70. He also wound up running 3:48.08 at the Bowerman Mile. Those aren’t the sorts of performances you expect from anybody rounding into shape off a shortened lead-up - but Cole Hocker isn’t just anybody.

Cole has carried that momentum into 2024 by taking hardware over 1500m at both U.S. Indoor Champs (gold) and World Indoor Championships (silver) and has shown fitness early this outdoor season, running 13:08 over 5000m in an all-to-popular U.S. trend of four-person races

Hocker’s fitness and foot speed means he could sit on Yared attack over the final 100m, just like in the 2021 Olympic Trials where he chased down a squeezing Centrowitz and took home his first national title. But that isn’t his only shot at winning. Cole has shown himself capable of navigating any style of race and has no issue being boxed in while the meters count down, as he’s extremely confident shooting even the slimmest of gaps. 

Now onto his teammate. Is Cooper Teare, the 2022 U.S. 1500m champ, back-back? If we can agree to forget last year’s early exit at USAs, I think so. And I’m not just basing that off of this year’s U.S. #1 3:32.16 performance (another four-person banger of a race – but hey, they’re just playing the game by the rules) or his B.A.A. road 5k win. It was how Teare celebrated in that 5k that has me thinking he’s going to Paris. He has his edge back, a chip on his shoulder, and that makes him dangerous.

Although Cooper sits atop the U.S. season best list, I’m wagering he wants this Trials final to go as slow as possible. His U.S. title winning time in 2022 was 3:45.86, which saw him blaze a sub-38 final 300m. And guess who was buried deep in 11th place in that kicker's race? Yared Nuguse. I wouldn’t be surprised to see some team tactics from Hocker and Teare if both make it through to the final – a 62-second first 400m could do them wonders. 

And here’s the dreaded “best of the rest” section:

Forgive me, track gods, for I have sinned by placing some of these names in “the rest” category. I know a couple of these characters will be texting or tweeting about their omission as favorites – and should they make the team, I’ll never hear the end of it. But this is about a race where, ultimately, three guys make the team, and who am I to equivocate? 

Hobbs Kessler has done everything right this year. I mean… everything. He’s cleaned up his inconsistent performances. He’s started racing with intention. He ran a 3:48 indoor mile! He even brought home a bronze medal from the World Indoor Championships. By all standalone measures, he should be a favorite to make the team – but I’ll need a few more race results this outdoor season, other than a 3:56 road mile in Germany, to feel great about his chances ahead of the three guys I’ve already mentioned.

When I think about how Matthew Centrowitz announced that this will be his final season, I feel like Vin Diesel watching Paul Walker drive off into the sunset. But just like CGI-Walker, the 2016 Olympic champion isn’t quite dead, yet. Just this past weekend, Centrowitz clocked his fastest 1500m since 2021, running 3:35.39 and continuing his upward trend over the last 24 months since having knee surgery. It looks like there's just enough life left in those legs to make every washed-up 30-something middle-distance runner start to believe. For Centro to make this team, it needs to be a 3:34-3:36 type of race, and Craig Engels has to be in third with 100m to go.

If we’re using history as a guide to the future, at least one collegiate is placing in the top three. Whether they have the standard or ranking is a whole other thing, but in 2021 it was both Cole Hocker and Yared Nuguse, 2022 it was Jonathan Davis, and in 2023 it was Joe Waskom. Who could it be in 2024?

Assuming Nico Young declares for the longer events, the shortlist is UW’s trio of Joe Waskom, Nathan Green, Luke Houser and NAU’s Colin Sahlman. The Huskies have proven over and over they excel in championship finals and Sahlman is on an absolute heater of a 2024 outdoor season, having already run 3:33.96 for 1500m and an eyebrow-raising 1:45.63 800m. And frankly, I trust Andy Powell and Mike Smith to not mess things up.

Before I add to my list of angry texters, humor me while I rattle off a handful of other names that could prove to be the darkest of dark horses, or who could at least make the final more interesting in Eugene: Sam Prakel, Henry Wynne, Craig Engels, Josh Thompson, Vince Ciattei, Johnny Gregorek – these are the savvy veterans who’ve shown enough form recently to not be discounted – and Eric Holt, who races like Laser from American Gladiators would if he were a 3:51 miler.

Stay tuned for next week when I’ll share my too-early predictions for how the women’s 1500m will play out at the Trials.

An Appreciation Of Emma Coburn’s Longevity ❤️‍🩹

Emma Coburn has been at the heart of U.S. women’s steeplechase teams for Worlds and Olympics for more than a decade. (Kevin Morris/@KevMoFoto)

Last week, American track fans were hit with the news that three-time Olympian Emma Coburn broke her ankle in her Diamond League season opener and will not be able to recover in time for a chance at making her fourth Olympic team next month. It’s heartbreaking news for the Team Boss veteran, and caps off a really tough couple of years for Coburn, who lost her mother to cancer last spring and spent most of the last six months returning from a season-ending hamstring injury, only to get hurt in her first race back.

Emma is not just a longtime friend of CITIUS; she’s been a barrier-breaking (and clearing) athlete for well over a decade in the U.S. racing scene. With 10 national titles and three global medals, few American distance runners have ever been as consistent for as long as she has. When Coburn won her first U.S. title and qualified for her first national team while still at Colorado, Olivia Markezich was not yet in middle school. 

Coburn’s not just a fierce competitor – she’s also been a vocal advocate for clean sport and a friend/mentor to a growing stable of young athletes. Team Boss, the training group Coburn formed in 2016 with her husband Joe Bosshard after leaving longtime coaches Mark Wetmore and Heather Burroughs, now features five Olympians and athletes competing in distances ranging from 800m to the marathon.

Coburn was the American record holder in the steeplechase from 2014 to 2018 and owns a whopping 14 of the 20 fastest marks ever run by a U.S. woman in the event. Every normal year from 2016 to 2022 (2020 pandemic season notwithstanding), Coburn clocked at least one sub-9:10 steeplechase – a barrier that only two other Americans have ever broken. 

That kind of streak is exceedingly rare in a sport where pros’ peaks are more often measured in seasons than decades; even more so in an event as hard on the body as the steeplechase. For comparison, world record holder Beatrice Chepkoech, who’s one year younger than Coburn and is inarguably one of the all-time greats in the event, only has two global medals and didn’t get back within 10 seconds of her 2018 PB until last season.

At 33 years young, we’re certainly not expecting Coburn to go riding off into the sunset any time soon, and hopefully, all these stats and streaks will be more impressive when she makes the team in 2028. But in the meantime, let’s raise a glass to one of the greats and send high-bone-density vibes her way as she resets and recovers.

Jakob Loves To Run — His Mouth 🗣️

The war of words between Jakob Ingebrigtsen and Josh Kerr continues.
(Photo by Johnny Pace/@pacephoto)

For Jakob Ingebrigtsen – the reigning Olympic champion and holder of numerous world records and bests – defending his 1500m title in Paris should be a walk in the park, assuming he doesn’t get injured or sick.

Sounds like a hot take from your favorite track and field analysts and fans here at the Lap Count? Well, we didn’t actually come up with it. Instead, Ingebrigtsen said it himself during an appearance on the European Athletics podcast

It’s one thing for a member of the press to fire off a take to stir the pot or attract some clicks. That’s the spin zone opinion that drives basically all sports media. But imagine LeBron James showing up to the pregame press conference during the NBA playoffs and saying, “We’re going to win in seven games as long as I suddenly get a reliable starting point guard, our bench greatly exceeds its historic production, and I am six years younger?” (The Lakers ultimately were eliminated by the Denver Nuggets.)

Coming out and saying you’re going to smoke everybody in Paris… unless the thing that has happened to you at the last two World Championships happens to you again… is a bold move, to say the least. That’s not how trash-talking works! Athletes don’t get asterisks next to their runner-up performances if they feel they could’ve won under different circumstances. And Josh Kerr’s medal is still just as gold.

Until someone else wins in Paris or cracks 3:27, Jakob is still the Olympic champion and the fastest 1500m runner in the world over the last three years. And it’s important to remember that the subtleties of shit-talking can get lost in translation and English is not his first language. But our pro-bono media advice is this: wait until you defend your gold, then at the post-race press conference talk about how much adversity you overcame to take the win. It’s always easier to talk the talk after you’ve walked the walk.

When Sha’Carri Met Cardi 💅

NBC Sports is, as always, all-in on Olympic promo and has already started calling their shots, promotion-wise, for who might be the biggest names and most magnetic personalities competing in Paris in a few months. Even though the U.S. track trials are still six weeks away, the bigwigs over at Rockefeller Plaza have clearly begun picking favorites and ratcheting up the marketing machine. 

Viewers of the early Diamond League meets were already treated to interstitial character segments about U.S. 100-meter stars Sha’Carri Richardson and Christian Coleman, and an even larger audience tuning into the Kentucky Derby this weekend was introduced to Sha’Carri via a pre-recorded clip where the LSU grad sat down with another colorful pop-culture personality to talk track.

When Sha’Carri Met Cardi, a multi-part series with an Ephron-esque title, features the Grammy-winning rapper, actress, reality star, and firecracker social media personality getting her nails done with the sprint superstar and grilling her on the ins and outs of a professional athlete’s life. 

It’s not the first time Cardi and Sha’Carri have intersected online: fans were quick to note that Richardson’s viral wig-removal moment in 2023 was reminiscent of a lyric from the Cardi B./Latto sing “Put It On Da Floor Again.” And Cardi has a long record of flexing her intellectual curiosity with unorthodox interviews, most notably in her wide-ranging 2019 interview with then-presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. Her unique brand of high-energy honesty has its own share of haters; but it’s also won her millions of dedicated fans. Sounds like someone else we know…

Is it a shameless gimmick? You bet. Will making Cardi B a fan of track and field a la Leslie Jones bring a huge number of new eyeballs to the sport? Yes, it will. We can’t wait for part two.

In it for the Long Throw Haul 🥏

UC Berkley coach Mo Saatara and star Mykolas Alekna are in a magical season.
(Courtesy Cal Athletics)

Genetics and exposure to the elite side of the sport aside, it’s not always easy having a G.O.A.T. discus thrower candidate for a father. There’s the pressure to follow in his footsteps; the potentially crushing weight of expectation; the sheer size of the shadow cast over you. At least that’s the assumption, right?

Well, it doesn’t appear to be the case for Mykolas Alekna, son of Lithuanian discus legend Virgilijus Alekna, and now the world record holder in his own right. The younger Alekna recently chucked the disc 74.35m, taking down the oldest men’s mark in the track & field world record book. Fresh off his record-breaking toss in Oklahoma, Alekna – who competes for his native Lithuania as well as Cal, though he’s redshirting this season – chatted with our contributor Paul Hof-Mahoney about pressure, expectations, training, and more.

TLC: The week before, you had thrown 71.39m in Berkeley. After that, coming into Ramona, was the world record something you had set in your mind?

ALEKNA: I knew that with good conditions I could throw the world record, but that was never my goal. I didn’t feel any pressure honestly, I was just trying to enjoy the competition. From the past I’ve learned that if you try to force something, it’s not good. When there’s more pressure, you usually don’t perform as good as you want to. So I never tried to set a world record, but I knew that I could do it.

TLC: Now, that fifth round throw where you actually did break the world record, did you know as soon as that one came out of your hand that it was the big one?

ALEKNA: Yeah, I think if there was no wind, in a stadium, it felt like a 71m throw. I throw over 70m in practice and I know how it feels. If there was no wind it would be around 71m but the wind was great, so in my mind I knew it was probably further than 74m. It felt like a really nice throw, smooth, light and long, so I knew it was gonna be good.

TLC: At the meet, Ryan Crouser was also there because he was with Rojé Stona. It was cool that the shot put world record holder was there to watch the discus world record get broken. What was it like being able to do that in front of someone who has done before what you did on that day?

ALEKNA: It was great, I didn’t expect Ryan to come to this meet but I was really excited. I saw him when I was throwing, and he was recording my throws behind the circle, and I saw him every time. It was really fun, and I’m glad he was able to come to the meet and watch and support all the throwers.

TLC: For my money, your dad is the greatest discus thrower in history, so did you ever feel any pressure growing up with “Alekna” as your last name going into any competitions?

ALEKNA: No, honestly I’ve never thought about that. I throw discus because I like it, not because my dad wants me to throw or because other people want me to throw. That’s my choice and I decided to do it. I’ve heard people say “Oh, your dad is a great discus thrower” and try to put pressure on me, but that never gets to my mind. I just try to enjoy when I throw because that’s what I love to do. 

TLC: You and your coaches have an interesting philosophy in the weight room, different from your peers who seem to lift really heavy a lot. When did that training philosophy really start and what’s the reasoning behind it?

ALEKNA: I think that everything depends on the thrower and your body because we’re all different. Some people like to lift heavy, but since I’ve gotten into the sport I never tried to lift heavy. I would just focus on speed more, and Mantas noticed that. When he writes up my training, he makes sure that all my lifts are really explosive and fast, and Mo Saatara has the same philosophy and training. I just think it depends on the thrower. For me it works. For other throwers, they like to lift heavy and that works for them. Everything depends on who you are and how your body has developed. 

TLC: What are you and your coaches going to do to try and handle that added pressure as the season moves along and we get closer and closer to Paris?

ALEKNA: I don’t feel any pressure, honestly. If I don’t do that well, I still do what I love. I love the sport and I know that I have a lot of years ahead of me, I’m still really young. I don’t think we’re even gonna talk about the pressure with my coaches because I don’t think it’s a problem for me.

Check out the full interview here, which gets into some of the more interesting, technical aspects of the discus as well.

Rapid Fire Highlights 🔥

– After discussions with World Athletics and the local organizing committee, USA Track and Field did a U-turn on its decision not to send a team to the World U20 Championships in Lima, Peru this August. Good news for top junior athletes looking for a summer working vacation!

– Olympic champion and world record holder Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone competed for the first time over hurdles since 2022 and won the 100m hurdles at the Oxy Invitational in 12.71 (Race Video) and then came back to win the 200m in 22.38. For comparison, in McLaughlin-Levrone’s 2022 world-record-setting campaign, she opened up her season with a 12.75.

– 2022 World champion Michael Norman ran 44.21 for his first 400m race since 2022 and instantly put himself back in the conversation for an Olympic medal and a spot on that hotly-debated 4x400m relay squad. Welcome back, champ! (Race video)

– Time for your weekly update on Bullis Academy (MD) sophomore Quincy Wilson! The 16-year-old just ran 45.17 for a slight personal best and the win at the East Coast Showcase, which moved him to No. 8 on the all-time U.S. high school list. (Race video)

– If you noticed Elise Cranny wasn’t in any Team Boss videos in recent months, it’s because she parted ways with the team after four months and is now being coached by NAU associate head coach Jarred Cornfield.

– 1500m and mile world record holder Hicham El-Guerrouj ran his first “race” since 2008 and clocked a 6:39 in the Community Mile for the 70th anniversary of Roger Bannister’s sub-four mile in Oxford. Four men broke four minutes for the mile on the Iffley Road Track as part of the races on Monday. El-Guerrouj only eking out a sub-seven showing ought to dispel all this modern talk about “super shoes” ruining the sport!

– At last weekend’s Ivy League Heptagonal Championships, NCAA champion Maia Ramsden set two meet records in 2.5 hours with a 4:09.29 in the 1500m and a 15:47.23 in the 5000m. Neither time is a PB but the records she broke both belonged to Olympians – Abbey Cooper (née D’Agostino) and Lynn Jennings. And fellow Harvard NCAA XC champ Graham Blanks continued his return to racing after an injury derailed his indoor season with a win and meet record of his own in the 5000m, clocking 13:47.34 with a 1:59 final 800m.

What To Watch 📺

• The Diamond League makes its third stop of the year in Doha on Friday. Watch live on Peacock at 1 p.m. ET (Program)

• The USATF 25K Championships take place on Saturday morning in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Watch it on USATF.TV with a subscription. Women start at 8:19 a.m. The men go off at 8:30 a.m. (Race details)

• Sound Running’s Track Fest is loaded with stars like Sifan Hassan, Nikki Hiltz, Evan Jager, Emily Mackay, Moh Ahmed, Matthew Centrowitz, Jess McClain + more. There will be a $6.99 pay-per-view, where all of the money goes toward the athletes’ prize purse. (PPV signup here)

• Mutaz Barshim’s “What Gravity Challenge” with 12 of the top high jumpers in the world is slated for Friday. (Looks like Redbull TV may have a stream.)

Thank you to Velous for sponsoring this week’s newsletter and allowing us to step into these warmer days and recover from our runs in style!

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