Passing The Baton 🤝

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A Quick Letter From Chris ✉️

Photo by Anderson Bobo/@bobo.studios

As you may have just read in Kyle’s previous email blast before this one, we’re entering a new era of this newsletter. Kyle and I have shared a remarkable journey together, fueled by our shared love for track & field and I am so happy for him in his new position with Michael Johnson’s upcoming professional track league. The signs were there all along when we sat in our World Championships backyard and Kyle jokingly said, “if only my wife and I agreed on as many things as I agree with you on, we’d be in a good place.” And MJ responded with, “are you coming onto me? We’d make a good couple!” I believe they will! 

Beyond our professional partnership, Kyle is a dear friend of mine. We’ve celebrated victories, navigated the challenges of being a media startup, and shared countless moments of laughter and elation at the track. His unwavering support has been a constant source of strength, both personally and professionally. As Kyle embarks on a new adventure as the Director of Athletes and Racing, I couldn’t be prouder or more excited for him. His vision and dedication to the sport will undoubtedly continue to shape its future in profound ways. 

We will be carrying on with The Lap Count weekly. We want to continue with the mission of making the sport easier to follow and this newsletter is a key part of that. Onward to the next 166 laps with gratitude and excitement for The Lap Count and what Kyle has poured into all the words over the past three years.

No Fireworks Yet From Diamond League Sprints - Should U.S. Fans Be Worried? 🇨🇳

(Photo by Luke Howard for Diamond League AG)

This year, the Diamond League action kicked off on the other side of the world with two meets in Xiamen and Shanghai (technically the latter was in Suzhou, a city west of Shanghai). While there were some truly great performances from the pros who made the trip and braved the jet lag – most notably Mondo Duplantis’s umpteenth world record in the pole vault and Beatrice Chepkoech’s season-opening 8:55 steeplechase – the sprint results were… nothing special, to say the last.

Over two weeks and two rounds each of the women’s 200m, 400m, men’s 100m, and men’s 110m hurdles, the fastest winning times were 22.62, 50.08, 10.01, and 13.11. Of those marks, only Daniel Roberts’s hurdles performance would be leading the NCAA right now if he was still in college. Perhaps neither Chinese track was designed with fast sprint times in mind, or maybe the travel was too much for the Americans heading across the Pacific. But let’s not forget that Christian Coleman’s 2023 co-world lead of 9.83 was run in Xiamen last fall, so clearly running quick times on the Chinese circuit is possible. With Coleman, Fred Kerley, and Sha’Carri Richardson all taking losses against competition they’ve beaten handily in the past, U.S. fans in particular were left wondering… is something up?

Before you head to DraftKings and start stacking your Paris bets against the Americans, let’s put some of these performances in context. Coleman’s 10.04 in Suzhou was run into a 0.1m/s headwind, which converts to a 10.03 in still conditions. Noah Lyles took a trip to Bermuda this weekend and picked up a wind-aided 9.96 victory thanks to a 3.0 m/s tailwind, which converts to 10.07 at +0.0. Both athletes are coming off long indoor seasons that only wrapped up in mid-March, and it’s highly likely that between a little downtime and then some early-season heavy loading, neither sprinter is anywhere near peak form at the moment. Kerley is perhaps a bigger question mark, but given that the 2022 World champion didn’t race much of an indoor season at all, with only one 60m race under his belt, he has to have his training cycle focused on August as well.

Richardson has run two open races this year, a pair of 200s both around the 23-second mark. It’s easy to forget that the World bronze medalist at 200m doesn’t actually have a particularly robust pro resume in the longer sprint event – her PB headed into 2023 was “only” 22.00 and her season-best in 2022 was 22.38. She may be taking a page out of the playbook of one of her rivals, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, who’s opened up her season the last three years with 22.39, 22.79, and 23.19. Over those same three seasons, SAFP has picked up seven global medals.

A pessimist’s read would look beyond the times and point out that the bigger issue is that these stars aren’t winning their races – times aside; neither Akani Simbine (Shanghai 100m winner) nor Daryll Neita (Shanghai 200m winner) has ever medaled at a global championship. But in a sport where all the financial incentives are structured toward winning in Paris, not winning in Xiamen, the jury is still out on whose 2024 season will be viewed as a success with the benefit of retrospect.

More Shanghai Diamond League Highlights

– Team Boss had a mixed bag of results in the Shanghai steeplechase, with Gabbi Jennings finishing 4th in 9:19.59 and Emma Coburn stepping off the track with 1000m remaining after tweaking her ankle on a water jump. Jennings’s DL debut was a six6-second PB and lands her just 0.11 seconds off the U.S. top-10 in the event.

– 22-year-old Brit Megan Keith had a big run of her own in the Shanghai 5000m, with a 14:43.24 PB in 8th place knocking 13 seconds off her best from 2023. Keith is now 5th on the Great Britain all-time list, ahead of big names like Laura Muir and Jess Warner-Judd. If she was in the NCAA, people would be going wild since she’s only a few months older than Parker Valby and running a tad faster!

– Olympic 10,000m champ Selemon Barega got his first win on the track in over a year with his 12:55.68 victory over 17-year-old countryman Biniam Mehary. That’s the fastest outdoor 5000m so far this year but Grant Fisher’s 12:51.84 indoor mark is still the world lead when combining lists.

– 100m hurdles world record holder Tobi Amusan once again found herself locked in a battle against the rulebook, as she was called for a false start in the Shanghai race thanks to a 0.093 reaction time (7/1000ths of a second under the legal limit). She still contested the race under protest, and though she didn’t ultimately get into the official results, Amusan crossed the finish line first before eventual winner Jasmine Camacho-Quinn’s 12.63.

We Gotta Start Writing The NCAA Records In Pencil ✏️

(Photo by Johnny Zhang/@jzsnapz)

Coming off a banner indoor season in the NCAA, one of the main takeaways was that we need to move our mental goalposts when it comes to distance medley relays. In the good ol’ days (8-10 years ago, when the older half of the CITIUS MAG staff was last in college), 9:30 was really movin’ for a men’s DMR and sub-11 meant you were turning heads on the women’s side. Fast forward to 2024, where neither time will put you in the top 20 in any given season. The top 13 men’s DMRs have been run since 2021, and 9 of the 10 fastest women’s marks were run this season.

With all that being said, the Harvard women’s 10:37.55 winning mark from this weekend’s Penn Relays is FAST. Harvard and runner-up Providence ran the #3 and #4 DMRs of all time, a few ticks off New Balance’s all-star world record team at 10:33.85. If Providence leadoff Shannon Flockhart’s 3:15.11 split had been subbed into a Crimson uniform, we’d be looking at a new world record. Super shoes, program depth, and training progress aside, it’s clear that the NCAA is producing pro-caliber performances – as if Maia Ramsden qualifying for the World Indoor final hadn’t made that clear already.

On the men’s side, the DMR was a relatively pedestrian affair, with the perennial Penn Relays ringers from Villanova taking the win in 9:35.90. As it turned out, everyone was saving their best stuff for the 4xmile the next day, where Nova senior Liam Murphy again anchored his team to a win over Virginia and Georgetown with a 3:54.32 split. Murphy has really ascended this year, clocking PBs from 1500m to 5000m and notching the best NCAA finish of his career to date with a 4th-place run in the 3000m indoors. And now he’s got 1/4th of a collegiate record, as Villanova’s 15:51.91 destroyed Oregon’s previous mark of 16:03.24 from 2009 and – for the first time in collegiate history – not one, not two, but THREE teams broke 16 minutes for 4xmile.

There have certainly been teams of sub-16 caliber in the past, but carrying the baton all-out for four legs on your second race of the weekend is a heavy lift that makes turning the race into a kicker’s affair tempting. So props to all three teams for keeping the pace up throughout the race, and special kudos to Georgetown for being the only team of the trio with all four runners clocking sub-four minute miles (Nova and UVA averaged sub-four, but both teams had one runner split 4:00).

Of the DMR and 4xmile/1500m, the women’s 4x1500m is now the “oldest” NCAA record having been set by Arkansas way back in 2022. It’s also a good sign of equity in the sport that all four records are held by four different schools (although Arkansas also holds the outdoor men’s DMR best, which is 4 seconds slower than its indoor counterpart). With the Penn, Drake, and Oregon Relays all on the books, the relay record keepers are probably safe to relax until next season, but if recent history is any indication, none of these marks should be etched in stone.

60,000 reasons to keep your season going after Paris 💰

(Photo by Kevin Morris/@KevMoFoto)

Gabby Thomas (two-time Olympic medalist) and Alexis Ohanian (Serena Williams’s husband & Reddit co-founder) have announced they’ll be hosting a new women’s-only meet this September, called the 776 Invitational. 

If you’re reading this newsletter, then you already know that the “product” in question – elite women’s athletics – is of incredibly high quality. And you also probably know what the issues are: outside of the Olympics, our sport has had a tough time packaging itself for successful mass consumption, and women’s sports have historically been given a fraction of the attention that the fellas get. 

The prize money involved should help entice the stars from the Olympics – who will still be fresh on casual fans’ minds at that point – to keep their seasons going. It makes the Diamond League’s look like peanuts: 776 will pay $60,000 to event winners, $25,000 to runners-up, and $10,000 to third-placers, compared to the DL at $10,000, $6,000, and $3,500, respectively. Those are the types of prize purses necessary to get top-tier athletes interested in your brand-new meet, especially as they’re still in the throes of the post-Olympics hangover. 

The 5th Avenue Mile (another end-of-the-season production where athletes are often trying to hang onto championship fitness) pulls some of the biggest middle distance names in the world dangling a much smaller monetary carrot. And for better or worse, there’s no expectation 776 competitors will have to sing karaoke after. 

At least for now, the meet will be track-only, so field event athletes hoping to make a dent on some student loans or their car payments are out of luck. The official Lap Count position has long been that condensing a track meet into a standard sportscast TV window necessarily means cutting down events, but it’s a shame that jumps, throws, and vaults always seem to be the first on the chopping block. And it’s honestly a bit of a missed opportunity for the 776 organizers that popular, marketable athletes like Tara Davis-Woodhall and Katie Moon won’t be making an appearance, but hopefully this year’s success will be parlayed into an expanded format next time around. Give it a shot in its first iteration, folks!

Historically, legacy events like the Penn Relays have no issue attracting fans and making money, but startup meets and leagues can struggle to get a foothold. But 776 has two key advantages: a partnership with a big star who is an actively competing athlete and a thoughtful advocate for growing the sport, and a co-organizer who, well… is enthusiastic and filthy stinkin’ rich. 

Even with smarts and passion, elevating women in sports’ male-dominated attention economy is an uphill battle. Sometimes you also need to throw a whole lot of money at the situation. If you buy a spotlight bright enough, the world has no choice but to take notice. And it doesn’t hurt to be Serena Williams’s husband and a major advocate for women’s sports, when it comes to getting press attention for your track & field venture.

No Bib Deal 🙄

Rai Benjamin For President 2024

Track season wouldn’t be in full swing if there weren’t discussions about bibs taking place, with most folks falling into the “why do we still have to strap these wrinkled-up scraps of paper to ourselves” camp.

One of the core aims of this newsletter has always been to take a sober-minded look at the state of the sport and celebrate what works, question what doesn’t, and get into the weeds on topics that might otherwise get a passing mention. Sometimes that means playing the devil’s advocate. So without further ado, let’s talk bibs – track & field’s least exciting bit of equipment – and why they are so necessary!

The case for keeping bibs around is simple. You can rake in sponsorship dollars from the companies that pay to plaster their logo on the bibs. Oh wait… but the athletes don’t see any of that money despite wearing the logo across their torsos, at least directly. That money goes to the meet organizer. High-quality competitions are expensive to put on (especially if you don’t have Reddit money lying around), but there’s gotta be easier ways than slapping mini-billboards on your entrants.

Surely bibs are essential for fans and broadcasters to be able to identify which athlete is which in a crowded distance field, or during a sprint races lasting only ten or so seconds? But even the most eagle-eyed fans can’t pick out a name from across a stadium, and broadcasters – ideally – know what Noah Lyles looks like. And given that the sport’s governing bodies already regulate size and placement of logos on uniforms, how hard would it be to mandate that, on the pro circuit, you’ve gotta screen print your last name on your back like, you know, every other major sport?

Hip numbers, at least, play a nominal role in FAT timing and some of the higher-tech bibs do provide live positioning data that helps provide on-screen statistics that nobody really ever asked for. But in an age of technology where we can measure 90-meter javelin throws with lasers and set pace lights to dance around the track at varying tempos, the fact that we’ve constrained ourselves to covering a bunch of spandex-clad athletes in gravity-defying footwear in excess paper feels like it lacks imagination.

So maybe the deal with bibs is they’re still around today because they’ve always been around. That or track & field is quietly in the pocket of Big Safety Pin. Follow that paper trail, folks…

Eric Jenkins In Conversation with C.J. Albertson 🗣️

Photo by Kevin Morris/@KevMoFoto

C.J. Albertson, who trains solo and coachless in his hometown of Fresno, California, and races more frequently than most of his marathoning peers, has won the hearts of Prefontaine-leaning running fans across the U.S. with his frontrunning ways in Boston. But proved he’s not a one-trick tactical pony after more measured efforts at the Marathon Trials and on Marathon Monday yielded similar success.

A week after his top-ten, sub-2:10 performance at the Boston Marathon, Albertson chatted with CITIUS MAG’s own Eric Jenkins for a wide-ranging and candid retrospective on his race through Beantown, his unique approach to marathon training, what gives him confidence and consistency, and of course, his seemingly prophetic post about pace.

Eric: It's about a week since the Boston Marathon. You’re coming off a fresh PR, 2:09:53, seventh place, top American. You’ve had a little bit of time to digest. How are you feeling about it?

CJ: “Going into it I was going to be happy with a top-ten finish. So being seventh, which is my highest finish at Boston, breaking 2:10, which I had never done before, being top American, which I had never done before… I've always thought that I could do those things but haven't actually done them. So to be able to check all those boxes was great, especially after coming off of the Trials ten weeks ago. 

Eric: In the last 12 months, you’ve run five marathons at a world class level – 2:10-2:11,  now 2:09. How do you stay consistent? At this level, we see so many guys have big races, then they'll have a down race. You don't really seem to have that.

CJ: “I understand sometimes you have things go wrong… but in my mind, it seems like a race that you should be more consistent in. In a 5000 or 1500, you can go out a little too fast and really bury yourself… But for a marathon… you're always running slower than threshold and never really extending yourself that much. You should always at least be able to settle into a pace that's pretty close to your marathon pace. I don't know. It just seems easy to me. I mean, I've run so many 20-plus mile runs at around 5:10 or 5:15 pace that running at marathon pace is fairly easy.”

Eric: Before the race you had posted mile splits and you finished a couple seconds away from the predicted time. Was that surprising? Are you always that in tune with your body and what you think you're going to run?

CJ: “I think because I've gone out hard before people maybe just thought I was an unintelligent runner – like I get it, I understand what the paces are and I know exactly what my body can do. But also I'm racing. So, that post was just kind of alluding to like, here's the splits I would run like – I know how to pace. I was just poking fun at myself…”

Eric: You train like an animal. But are you going to take some downtime right now? Like, what's your plan for the next coming weeks? 

CJ: “The majority of the year I'm not in serious training. The 10 to 12 weeks before a marathon I'm trying to really buckle down, be pretty serious. And that's really only two times a year – obviously, I'll race more than two marathons but I'm really only going through two of the heavy cycles. So for half of the year, I'm mentally not in serious training… And mentally it's very laid back, so I really only go after it sparingly and for not that long. That allows me to stay fresh and hopefully will allow me to have some longevity.”

Rapid Fire Highlights

– The U.S. men’s 1500m picture just got more interesting ahead of the Trials as Cooper Teare clocked a 3:32.16 personal best at a meet in Virginia on Sunday night. He joins Yared Nuguse, Cole Hocker and Hobbs Kessler as the only Americans under the 3:33.50 Olympic standard.

– You thought there’d only be one bullet point about the U.S. men’s 1500m situation? Think again. Colin Sahlman is ready to enter that conversation as well. The NAU sophomore clocked an impressive 1:45.63 800m personal best at the Desert Heat Classic in Tuscon (52.52/53.12 splits). Not only is that faster than 1500m world champion Josh Kerr ran last week, but Sahlman took down the NCAA 800m indoor champion Rivaldo Marshall of Iowa in the race.

Emmanuel Wanyonyi beat Hobbs Kessler and added insult to injury by taking his road mile world record in 3:54.5 at adidas’s Road to Records event at their HQ in Herzogenaurach, Germany. Ethiopia’s Medina Eisa also ran a U20 world record in 14:38 to win the women’s 5K. Yomif Kejelcha ran 13:00 to win the men’s race.

– On their home track at the Texas Invitational, Rhasidat Adeleke beat Julien Alfred and Dina Asher-Smith in 10.84. The Irish record of 11.27s is only still standing because of the +3.5m/s wind reading.

Quincy Wilson, the 400m wunderkind from Bullis School in Maryland, has done it again. At the Penn Relays, the 16-year-old recorded the fastest ever high school 4x400m split (44.37) in meet history in the prelims, then split 44.69 in the final. In both races, he received the baton after a teammate took a tumble, so he was in a position to chase – folks, the kid can run fast, and he can race with tactical savvy. He’s the real deal.

– The running boom is alive and well! 840,318 people applied to run the 2025 London Marathon, up 45% from its 578,304 record-setting total for this year’s race. If this newsletter thing doesn’t pan out, watch for The Lap Count to pivot to hosting a high-cost-of-entry marathon in a city near you.

– If you were a high schooler competing at the East Coast Relays this weekend in Jacksonville, you were treated to a showdown between the reigning Olympic 100m and 200m champions. Andre DeGrasse got the win in a photo finish over Marcell Jacobs in 10.11 – but it looked like most people didn’t know where the finish line even was. (Race video)

– USATF and World Athletics are in talks to quell the American federation’s nerves about sending a team to the World U20 Championships in Peru.

– The Prefontaine Classic announced that Erriyon Knighton, Letsile Tebogo, and Kenny Bednarek will be racing head-to-head-to-head in the 200m at this year’s meet on May 25th. 20-year-olds Knighton and Tebogo are always on the tip of our tongues as the future of the sport, but “Kung Fu Kenny” has quietly been putting together a strong start to the season that includes a wind-aided 9.91 (+2.2) win in the 100m at the Kip Keino Classic.

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