The Mailbag Before Worlds⏱

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Lap 127: Sponsored by OLIPOP

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The World Championship Mailbag — Let’s Get Hungary! 🌍

Photo: Hungarian Athletics

If I was irritated by the slow trickle of news and results last week, this time around I’m lovin’ it. Fresh off a family trip to Ireland, I’m writing this one half-asleep from my couch with my laptop perched on my stomach like an otter. But there’s no rest for the weary, and there’s nobody more weary than an intrepid track newsletter author in the week between trans-Atlantic flights. Let’s get to the mailbag – and seriously, to all who submitted questions, thank you!

The United States didn’t win any medals in the distance events on home soil. Does this team have a chance to pull off a surprise medal that maybe we aren’t expecting?

We have Paul Chelimo, don’t we? So of course there is a chance! Prior to Eugene, the last time that the United States didn’t win a distance medal at a global championship was in 2005 in Helsinki. (And no, the 800m does not count as a distance event.) But that stat puts into perspective just how much of an outlier 2022 was despite the home-field advantage and availability of Eugene-made honey.

That said, let’s run through the names on this team that have medaled before: Chelimo and Emma Coburn. We are going to need some young blood to step up!

A fairly obvious hope is in Yared Nuguse, who is ranked second in the world in the 1500. Sinclaire Johnson was 6th in 2022 and Nikki Hiltz, who was a finalist in 2019, beat her at USAs – I don’t think either of them get gold though... Keira D’Amato was 8th last year and recently ran an American record in the half marathon. But if I can insert an athlete you might not expect into this conversation, how about Elise Cranny in the 10,000m.

Photo: Johnny Zhang

I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on what Athing Mu’s coach said about her maybe choosing not to race at Worlds. What are we supposed to make of this as fans?

Some context for those who missed the LA Times article that included this bombshell, it featured coach Bobby Kersee saying, “It’s in our control if we decide we’re just going to go ahead and train through this year and focus on next year… the next time she gets on the plane it’ll either be on vacation or to Budapest.”

There is a lot to unpack here. First off, I hope Athing goes to Worlds because she is a joy to watch run and she is clearly in great form this summer. But I also hope Athing is okay in general.

This is the complicated part of being a sports fan in 2023. Athlete mental health is at the forefront of all of our minds. But it’s also a professional endeavor and it should still be acceptable to remain critical of performances and decisions when done respectfully.

Now let’s not pretend that two extra weeks of training before taking a vacation in August are really going to prepare an athlete any better physically for the Paris Olympics. If that’s truly the case, then Kersee is doing Athing no favors, especially in the court of public opinion. It is objectively good for the sport to have her winning medals and breaking records.

But it seems like she is struggling with some level of burnout or anxiety and this pretty bizarre statement is an example of a coach trying to protect his athlete. If that’s the case, then I understand. If it’s just deciding that the World Championships do not matter – which sounds so insane to even suggest – then I hate this sport.

I need your help writing a pitch to my friends to sell them on watching track, specifically the World Championships. Could you write me a script?

How you should go about plugging track to your friends depends a lot on what your friends are like. But since I’m so invested in your success, I’ve drafted a couple different elevator pitches, based on the type of person you might fraternize with.

For the aspiring insider…

“The Olympics are next year. I know you love to watch them because everyone loves to watch them. But I’m gonna let you in on something. You know track? It’s huge at the Olympics.

And because I follow it year ‘round, I get more out of the Olympics than you do. I know the players, the rivalries, the stakes. The Olympics are great for a casual viewer. But imagine tuning into the Super Bowl, barely understanding the rules of football, and caring about anything other than the commercials.

The track world champs are this weekend – come over to watch with me and we can be insufferable together for Paris 2024!”

For the fearer of being late to the party…

“Well, those bastards over at Netflix have done it again. From the dangerous minds who brought you that super addictive show about Formula 1 – that has made 1/8th of our friends into armchair experts on the sport overnight – comes the exact same premise, but about track & field.

When [NAME OF FRIEND WHO IS NOW AN F1 GEEK] comes up to you in six months regurgitating talking points straight from the new track show, wouldn’t it be sick to be able to counter with some original ideas of your own?

Track’s world champs are this weekend – come over to watch with me and I can spoon-feed you takes about track that I get from my favorite weekly track newsletter.”

Photo: Johnny Zhang

What would you consider to be the deepest event in the world right now?

Statistically speaking, if you look at the 10th-best performance values in each event on the World Athletics scoring tables then the three deepest would be the M1500, M200, and M100. There might be some male bias there! I don’t think anyone has run fast in the 100m consistently enough to warrant a top-three depth ranking.

By feel, it seems like whoever wins the women’s 100m hurdles will almost be chosen as random as there are so many with the potential to do so. And the sixth-place finisher in the women’s 100m will be by far and away the fastest fifth loser ever, and will likely be cursing themselves for being born in the wrong generation.

What race do you predict will be the most exciting to watch this year? I am looking for drama like last year’s men’s 1500 or women’s 10,000m!

The 5000m on both sides is going to be sooooo good. There are eight men who’ve run 12:46 or faster this year and that’s not including the defending champion Jakob Ingebrigtsen. Those dudes just keep full sending it from the start and the prospect of having to outkick a 3:27 guy at the end means they’ll likely do it again.

Then there is the second battle between the current world record holder and the former. What did Letesenbet Gidey learn from her earlier run-in with Faith Kipyegon in Paris? I don’t think a slower pace will help her odds…

Can you give some insight into the marathon course? I haven’t heard much and am curious if we are expecting it to go fast or for there to be carnage.

The Budapest23 marathon course consists of four 10-kilometer(ish) loops that basically will feel like out-and-backs on Andrássy Avenue in the center of the city, crossing the Széchenyi Chain Bridge over the Danube river twice per loop. It's pancake flat, which should help anyone looking to latch onto the front packs and knock out an Olympic qualifying time, but the unnecessary detour past St. Stephen's Basilica will surely be a source of annoyance for racers on the third or fourth loop, as it adds two sharp turns and a 180-degree U-turn for very little distance gained. Here's hoping the Hungarian fans make up for it with a seriously loud cheer zone!

(None of these landmarks mean anything to me yet, but I will read the city’s Wikipedia page on the flight over.)

All in all, the flat course and the 7am start times in Hungary will make for more favorable conditions than the 2019 edition in Doha, where the races were scheduled to start at midnight to accommodate the high temperatures of October in Qatar (and still featured conditions in the mid-80s Fahrenheit). Championship races rarely guarantee personal-best conditions, and even in Europe the summer mornings can still get pretty toasty, but all things considered, a party of fast times is definitely in the cards if the forecast cooperates and the field doesn’t try to bluff on a 2-7 offsuit.

Photo: Johnny Zhang

If you had to bet your life savings that one athlete (on both sides) is leaving with a gold medal, who are you investing in?

I am sure most people would go ahead and say Mondo Duplantis because at his best he is just so much better than everyone else. Yet he is coming off a rare loss at the Monaco Diamond League so it feels slightly more risky. Instead, I am going with Ryan Crouser, who is undefeated this year. Plus, he has six throws to get one right, whereas in the pole vault three misses and you’re done. Also, the risk of getting injured in the pole vault is infinite.

Applying the same logic to the women’s side then Yulimar Rojas and Val Allman seem like good bets. But then you remember that Faith Kipyegon still exists and she is invincible over 1500 meters.

Are the athletes’ hotel rooms, food, and transportation all paid for by their country? Is it like a village setup similar to the Olympics?

This is on a country-to-country basis, but everything is fully paid for in this version of America. It’s not quite a village setup that you’d get in an Olympics or Pan Am games, and it might vary depending on where it’s held. There is a general dining hall that is available to all of the world’s athletes, but then Team USA will provide food at the hotel, and likely a video game room.

Photo: Jan Figueroa

Is the NCAA just subsidizing other countries' athlete development? Is this a good move for the US? Or am I just bitter that my home country of France just doesn't seem to be taking full advantage of that sweet American tax-payer money?

In 2022, there were 94 NCAA or former NCAA athletes from other countries, including 19 NCAA champions that competed at Worlds. As you cogently point out, zero of those qualifiers were French. It’s an unbelievable pipeline and development system that is not an advantage unique to American kids. The average college athlete has a better setup both in terms of resources and finances than most professionals.

Ultimately, it’s not the NCAA’s responsibility to worry about whether or not their system is helping to develop USATF or its rivals. They’re completely separate entities, and in many regards… don’t get along very well! Winning medals isn’t exactly a World War II, Rosie the Riveter “We Can Do It!” situation. Look at the conference realignment that happened last week – there’s no loyalty in college business sports.

Would you take the over or under of Team USA winning 13 gold medals?

Let’s crunch some numbers. Right now the US has ten athletes who have the world leading mark this year:

Noah Lyles (200), Ryan Crouser (SP), Gabby Thomas (200), Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone (400), Nia Ali (100H), Katie Moon (PV), Maggie Ewen (SP), Val Allman (DT), Brooke Andersen (HT), Anna Hall (Hep)

Then there are five potential relay medals up for grabs, all of which are realistically gold. Who knows if we’ll take the mixed-gender relay seriously, but the US is defending champions in three of them so the math is there.

Yet it is championship season and wins aren’t handed out from the descending order list. There are an additional seven competing Americans who are ranked in the top three of another event. So Team USA’s PERFECT day would be about 22 gold medals, which obviously won’t happen. I will still take the over and say 14. #patriot

Photo: Justin Britton

What sort of goals do people who aren't real medal threats set when making their race plans? Is it a particular time?

This is the dilemma every non-2:03 guy at a World Marathon Major faces. Isn’t that the beautiful thing about running? Goals can exist on a spectrum and as I once famously said to myself after losing a race, but setting a personal best, “You don’t always have to cross the finish line first to win.”

If you didn’t have a clock at the finish line, then most athletes would have a good idea of if they executed well or not. And ultimately that’s what it comes down to – did you get the most out of yourself? There are a few events in particular where anyone besides a select few have a realistic chance to medal. In the distance events, running a personal best is partially up to the gods and most mortals would bleed out if they are the one falling on the proverbial pace sword.

An obvious goal then would be to make the final. To qualify for a global championship and then only have the opportunity to run in front of a less-than-full stadium during a morning session without high-stakes implications is less than satisfying. You want to be there under the lights when the US crowd is wide awake and watching on television.

Plus, finishing in the top 12 qualifies American athletes for the USATF tier program, which is an often overlooked crazy nice benefit of being good at running. In addition to free health insurance, athletes receive an additional $12K stipend (and $6K for their coach), funding for travel, and $2K towards massage/chiro work.

And finally, the best motivation is beating people you don’t like.

What’s the race with the biggest upset potential?

There are so many races that are absolutely wide open. The men’s 100m could see another Marcell Jacobs situation where someone comes out of nowhere. If you are entered in the men’s 800m then you might win. But the biggest upset is theoretically the takedown of one of the “locks” that people see as unbeatable of which there are many.

Despite losing to Marileidy Paulino in Paris, I am sure the betting odds are going to be significantly stacked in Syndey McLaughlin-Levrone’s favor. But because she is arguably the sport’s biggest star, the potential there is the greatest.

The most overlooked potential upset might not be a race at all, it would be JuVaughn Harrison in the high jump. The former Tiger is undefeated this season and cleared 2.35m to beat Mutaz Barshim in London. The Qatari has won the last four global championships, plus three more silvers dating back to the 2012 Olympic Games. Losing to a guy who was only 9th in 2022 and 7th in 2021 would upset some people – just not me.

Rapid Fire Highlights 🔥

  • World Athletics unveiled the medals that will be awarded in Budapest, and they look a bit more traditional than last year’s version. In Eugene, the athletes were handed a medal immediately after finishing their victory lap. This year’s major shakeup is that now coaches will be given hardware to commemorate the occasion as well. Feels weird, but an innocuous gesture.

  • USATF announced the full roster and the most interesting thing is that Elise Cranny, Alicia Monson, and Natosha Rogers are all entered in both the 5000m and 10,000m. And Sean McGorty is in the 10,000m. More takeaways HERE.

  • It was the 10th year of the Sir Walter Miler down in Raleigh, and it was held in front of a packed local crowd as always. NAZ Elite’s Abby Nichols won the women’s race in 4:26.80 and Amon Kemboi took the men’s in 3:57.84.

  • Notable results from the Ed Murphey Classic: Addy Wiley (800m - 1:59.00), Dani Jones (1500m - 4:02.83), Henry Wynne (1500m - 3:34.67), Marvin Bracy (100m - 9.93), Andre De Grasse (200m - 20.19).

  • Cole Hocker ran 7:42.93 to win a quiet 3000m in Leuven to win by 12 seconds. Good result, not groundbreaking. I just want to keep y’all in the loop!

  • Welcome to Vacationland, Hellen Obiri! The adopted daughter of New England won the Beach To Beacon 10K in 31:37. There was some controversy on the men’s side as Ethiopia’s Yihune Addisu took the title in 27:56 for a two second victory over Conner Mantz. Afterward, Mantz took to Strava to politely comment on an unwelcome interference with less than 200m to go. Watch the video to judge for yourself.

  • Eric Holt is the King of New York as he takes the Brooklyn Mile in 4:03 alongside fellow champion Werkuha Getachew, who won in 4:31.

  • Shawnti Jackson ran a new 200m personal best of 22.35 to win the Pan Am U20 gold.

  • My former coach Tommy Nohilly has accepted the head coaching position at the Atlanta Track Club. Very sad to see a friend leave New York, but am extremely excited for him. This was a huge opportunity to coach one of the best run organizations in the sport and to have a tremendous amount of support for his athletes. Anyone who has worked with Tommy would enthusiastically throw an endorsement behind him and I thought this wisdom-filled podcast with Chris was filled with great insight.

Thank you to OLIPOP for sponsoring this week’s newsletter! I was gifted this amazing new outfit to celebrate the launch of the new watermelon lime flavor, which perfectly expresses how I feel when drinking it.