Pre-USAs Mailbag⏱

Sponsored by Under Armour

Lap 122: Sponsored by Under Armour

Heading to Eugene for the US Outdoor Championships? Join CITIUS MAG and Under Armour on the morning of Sunday, July 9th for a community run. We’ll depart from UA Athlete House (E 20th Ave. and University St.) at 8:35AM and finish up with coffee and doughnuts. The First 100 runners to RSVP & check-in will receive a custom CITIUS x UA singlet!

Mailbag #2 — 2023 US Outdoor Preview

Photo: Johnny Zhang | @jzsnapz

And back to Eugene we go!

It feels just like yesterday that I was alternating meals between McMenamins and Agate Alley – it’s been too long! This year’s USATF Outdoor Championships begin tomorrow and will run until Saturday. The CITIUS MAG team will be churning out content, covering all the action with highlights with previews, reaction shows, interviews, and whatever else will convince people to like us!

For the full schedule and results, check HERE. For notable entries, check HERE. And since it won’t be on NBC, you can find where to watch live HERE.

Enough with the housekeeping! Let’s get to the newsletter. But rather than a traditional weekly Lap Count recap or preview I thought it’d be more fun to open up the mailbag to my dear readers. Most of these questions are edited for clarity. [Editor’s note: don’t feel bad – most of Kyle’s original draft for this email was also edited for clarity.] Enjoy!

What’s your prediction for the attendance to the nearest thousand?

Let’s base this on some data!

Last year’s four-day meet total attendance was 13,306, with a single-day high of 3,664 track fans on Saturday. If you’re thinking that doesn’t sound particularly impressive, you’d be right. The bar is low! Now the hater in me would suggest that we’re in store for similarly poor numbers due to some Eugene burnout – this is the fifth US championship in eight years there. But in fairness, if I was a fan of track and field in the US last year, then I wasn’t wasting my annual Eugene pilgrimage to find out who makes the team – I’d be there a couple of weeks later to actually watch them compete at Worlds. So maybe we keep those 2022 numbers in mind but also look back even further for a reference point.

It’s difficult to compare US Champs attendance numbers to that of an Olympic Trials, so let’s look at the last time this meet was in Oregon with a World team on the line: 2015. That meet saw 38,975 fans show, with a daily average of 9,699.

My educated guess is that we’ll see something between 5,000 and 6,000 each day.

Currently, general admission tickets are $40, but last week there was a $24 flash sale in one of the sections. That section is now sold out. Maybe that’s some useful insight into price elasticity? I am always on team Fill the Stadium No Matter the Cost.

That said, I hope fans show up. If you’re reading this and you’re on the fence, my two best arguments for going would be that a four-day-long track meet is so much better than a ten-day one. And USAs is one of the few professional meets that can guarantee an American you’ve probably heard of will win every event!

Photo: Johnny Zhang | @jzsnapz

Which athletes that got fourth at last year’s meet are favored to make it on the team this year?

Is there anything more motivating than heartbreak, in life, or on the track? Nothing propelled my own fitness forward like a breakup my sophomore year of college and I can only imagine the level of spite powering previous fourth-place finishers’ training this past year. The first name that jumps to mind is Weini Kelati, who I feel good about being a top three 10,000m runner in the country right now. The only barrier is that she does not currently have the standard. Fortunately for Kelati, the 10,000m will be run under slightly cooler conditions at 7:45pm and there are other women without the time or ranking who need the pace to be honest.

But wait, fans of redemptive arcs! There’s more!

This is not exactly an upset pick, but I believe Clayton Murphy will reestablish himself on Team USA.

Given his recent success on the Diamond League circuit, CJ Allen is well positioned to make his first team in the 400mH.

And I like 20-year-old Tamari Davis’s odds at taking that third spot in the women’s 100m after her fourth-place finish a year ago – momentum matters and she has it! Davis is an example of someone who I really want to make the team because with her upside and potential, the experience would be valuable ahead of 2024.

Photo: Johnny Zhang | @jzsnapz

Will any current world champions contest the event that they are getting a bye in at USAs? Is this good or bad for the sport?

A little background on this question: Any country can qualify up to three athletes for the World Championships who either achieved the standard or who are within the rankings quota. However, the previous world champion and last year’s Diamond League winner each receive an automatic bye. In the event those are two different athletes from the same country, there is a maximum of four entries per country with discretion going to the federation. In the case of the US, we bring the world champ over the Diamond League winner.

In 2023, Team USA will be bringing four athletes in 11 events:

Fred Kerley (100), Grant Holloway (110H), Noah Lyles (200), Michael Norman (400), Ryan Crouser (SP), Athing Mu (800), Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone (400mH), Katie Moon (PV), Chase Ealey (SP), Brooke Andersen (HT), and Val Allman (DT). Note: Kara Winger (JT) qualified via DL win, but has retired.

Now back to the question. Only Holloway, Crouser, Moon, Ealey, Andersen, and Allman will be competing in their primary event at the US Championships.

As a whole, I think byes to the World Championships are a terrible thing for the sport. While it makes sense to do this to guarantee that big names will be there for the sport’s biggest stage, byes discourage these same athletes from competing during the regular season – they don’t technically have to!

Athletics fans are going to watch the World Championships no matter who is there. But the variability in field quality of Diamond League meets during the regular season can make or break an event. When I am mayor of track and field, I have a plan that addresses all of these problems: get rid of byes and shorten the qualifying window for standards and rankings. Let’s condense this baby down!

If you hit the lotto, would you use your winnings to build a Hayward replica on the east coast?

Why should I have to win the lottery to do that? If enough of you readers tell enough of your friends to subscribe to this newsletter, that’s an extra $270 million in my pocket right there!

But oh god, absolutely not.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s a beautiful stadium! I just think you could create an east coast rival for much less. New Hayward has 12,650 permanent seats, which can temporarily be expanded to as much as 25,000. Most meets – even great ones! – do not need that capacity.

We certainly need an east coast rival to Hayward. But it should be much smaller. I am a big fan of venues that can build an atmosphere, which is a challenge around a space as vast as a 400-meter oval. So architects… listen up!

The inspiration for my temple comes from the classic film A Knight’s Tale. I want athletes to feel like soldiers (specifically Heath Ledger) in a colosseum, and to achieve that we need the few thousand fans that are there to literally be on top of them, screaming like banshees. The wooden beams are to be built a few stories high, and go all the way around the track. There will be splinters. The fire department says that we can only fit 2,500 people there, but we pack in 6,000 anyway. (In this hypothetical I have millions of dollars burning a hole in my pocket – I’ll pay the fine.) And the kicker is, 90% of the stadium is standing room only. The luxe seated portion is reserved for the patrons of the USATF Foundation, injured training partners in boots, and grandparents.

If a meet is more than two hours long then it is too long. Francis Xavier Gagliano Stadium is not built for comfort – it is built for volume. Also, it’s in Washington D.C., where there are several airports, plenty of hotels, and a prestigious university that could maybe help pay for a 400m track.

The 1992 and 1998 US Champs were held in New Orleans

What are your thoughts on moving the championship from Eugene?

I would love to! But as much as we complain about Eugene, there realistically aren’t that many other options currently available that meet the minimum requirements of the stadium and a local organizing committee.

It’d be nice to get a major meet at Mt. SAC’s new stadium – we get to pretend that’s actually in Los Angeles.

But based on recent history, Sacramento and Des Moines are our best non-Eugene alternatives. The NCAA has hosted some great meets in Austin, and I’m not totally opposed to a committee forming to make that happen. But USATF would have to make some concessions there – and frankly, in a lot of places around the country – because it’s so damn hot. It would be unpleasant for fans and distance athletes. If we did have the US Champs in a super warm climate place like Texas or Florida, then the 10,000m should be contested a few weeks earlier in a different location. That would open up the door for some wild cards to enter without having to worry about doubling.

Photo: Johnny Zhang | @jzsnapz

Of the men and women on the start line for the 10,000m who do you think would be the best multi-athletes and why?

Finally a good (unhinged) question! On the men’s side, my gut said it was Sean McGorty. He is 6’4 and looks like he can shoot hoops or be a Winklevoss triplet. Then my limited research determined that my gut is a genius! His father was twice an Olympic trials qualifier in the decathlon and has coached the event at the NCAA level. The ability to toss a javelin is genetically predetermined.

For the ladies, I am going to give the nod to Ednah Kurgat. She’s the sole individual in the field who has successfully made it through 10 weeks of basic training for the U.S. Army. Her role as a tactical power generation specialist seems like it could be useful when figuring out the high jump!

How do we know if an athlete has a high enough ranking when they cross the finish line? Can you chase the standard this year? Is there some sort of preference given to athletes who have the standard vs. the ranking?

Why did you have to ask such complicated questions? It would be much better if you just stayed inside the cave and looked at the shadows on the wall. But if you must know, HERE is a very important document that lays out the qualification standards and target field sizes for each event.

There is no preference between the standard or ranking in the US. When the window closes on July 30th, USATF will work down the list by order of finish at the US Championships and take the first three qualified athletes. So yes, you can “chase” after the championships.

To check if an athlete is currently inside the rankings see HERE.

My best advice is just to follow me on Twitter because if there are any confusing situations then I am probably in the top percentile of people who understand how this thing works without having to worry about any real consequences in the event I get it wrong.

Photo: Johnny Zhang | @jzsnapz

What is your opinion on Sha’Carri Richardson’s recent post about getting the athletes together for a meeting at USAs to discuss creating an organization for a unified voice?

While the specific word “union” never came out of her mouth, I am fully in support of Sha’Carri’s call to action to unionize under a player’s association. Any sort of initiative like this would require the involvement of the most high-profile names in the sport and so I applaud her willingness to step out front.

There have been efforts before, such as in 2012 when there was the backlash against Rule 40, or the formation of The Athletics Association in 2019. But the most effective form of protest that any athlete has done in recent history was by Nick Symmonds in 2015 when he refused to sign the USATF contract. He was subsequently left off the Worlds team that he had fairly qualified for. Essentially Symmonds was asking, “If Nike is paying USATF a lot of money, but not me, then why am I being forced to wear Nike?” Well, a couple of months later every athlete that qualified for an Olympic or outdoor World Championship was receiving $10,000.

The opinion of this former athlete is to identify and make clear what the next steps are. Does that mean seeking experienced outside counsel? What are the specific and realistic demands? To fight for change you have to be willing to give something up – but how much?

I saw on Twitter that athletes were upset about filming restrictions at USAs. What’s all that about?

This unfortunately is not a new rule nor is it limited to USATF. But it is the first time that a lot of athletes are being made aware of the strict restrictions around media rights, something that CITIUS is well aware of! We do our absolute best to comply because, unlike athletes, we need to reapply for credentials all the damn time and our YouTube channel is basically our lifeblood. USATF will take the heat for it, but this is much more an NBC decision and it extends to anyone else who is broadcasting meets across the world. We were once asked to take down a fan-submitted cell phone video from a race in Europe that wasn’t even available to watch in the US, days after the event ended.

We have seen some premier athletes gain access to licensed footage like Noah and Sydney, and as a result, hundreds of thousands of fans have enjoyed a behind-the-scenes look at their races. The fan in me would love to see more of that stuff and if the rights holders aren’t doing anything with the footage then it seems like a long-term beneficial move to relax the restrictions.

My suggestion: put it under embargo for a certain period of time so everyone and their mother aren’t ripping off the footage that NBC paid millions of dollars for. Once a few days have passed, lift the embargo to allow for some creative use.

Photo: Johnny Zhang | @jzsnapz

Taking off your hat of impartiality, who’s the one athlete you are unabashedly rooting for at US Champs? Why should we, the fans, root for them, too?

Well, an obvious one for me is Johnny Gregorek, because of the whole Columbia, NJNY, and being my best friend thing. But I also think he’s a good example of someone who is being overlooked in the 1500 team conversation. Johnny has twice made Worlds and has run 3:34 and 3:51 this year. Yet he will be treated like an underdog because he’s much more charming than everyone else in track and field!

Besides, I don’t generally root for favorites not named Fred Kerley to win because it’s boring. But that emotion changes quickly if it’s for a special performance. Like, I am always hoping someone contends with Jakob in the 1500, but the second he’s running a personal best the hard way then Jakob has my full support. USAs being a qualifier is a bit unique because as an American fan it’s in my overall interest that our best athletes be at Worlds. That said, second place also makes it.

Then there’s the emotion of a first time qualifier – it can light up the stadium! There is nothing worse than seeing someone who’s expecting it cross the finish line emotionless like it’s just another day at the office. And there is no greater sign of respect to your competitors than a genuine display of overwhelming joy and it feels disrespectful to not give a shit.

So some names of potential first-tiers I am cheering for? Isaac Updike, Helen Schlachtenhaufen, Cordell Tinch, Eric Holt, Josette Andrews, and Will Sumner. Honestly, I wish there was a list of people I was rooting against but my soul is too pure. But being a hater is underrated… It’s a professional sport – that is allowed!

Rapid Fire Highlights 🔥

  • At the Lausanne Diamond League, Jakob Ingebrigtsen ran 3:28.72. Mary Moraa ran a tactically beautiful race to defeat Keely Hodgkinson in the 800m in 1:57.43. And Berihu Aregawi ran fearlessly from the front to become the fifth fastest 5000m runner ever in 12:40.45.

  • At the Stockholm Diamond League weather really put a damper on things. Rain and environmental protestors crashed the party, but we still got some solid performances: Beatrice Chebet won the 5000m in 14:36.52, and Mondo still managed to clear 6.05m for the home crowd. Our David McCarthy was in the mixed zone having a bit too much fun interviewing the athletes.

  • Keira D’Amato broke Emily Sisson’s American at the Asics Half Marathon on the Gold Coast of Australia running 66:39! A miraculous return to form after having to pull out of the race ahead of the London Marathon due to injury.

  • NCAA Cross Country champion Charles Hicks will forgo his remaining eligibility to join the Bowerman Track Club, becoming the squad’s seventh Stanford graduate.

  • At the Peachtree Road Race, Senbere Teferi was well on her way to victory when she made an inopportune turn to follow the lead motorcycle off course. As a result, Teferi would finish third and the awkward victory would go to Fotyen Tesfay (30:44). Kenya’s Charles Langat won the men’s race in 27:43 in a tight finish as the top three all were given the same final time.

  • More NIL contracts! Roisin Willis joins New Balance and Mia Brahe-Pedersen heads to Nike. Expect even more to be announced in the coming days…

  • Seven-time NCAA champion and American record holder in the triple jump Jasmine Moore has turned professional and signed with Puma.

  • The AIU has provisionally suspended Kenyan marathoner Titus Ekiru who holds a personal best of 2:02:57 for triamcinolone acetonide.

  • The world record holder in the 5000m and 10,000m Joshua Cheptegei made the decision to sign up for a marathon! He’ll make his debut in Valencia this December.

  • At the Beer Mile World Classic, which was wonderfully produced and entertaining, the WR holder Corey Bellemore ran 4:30 despite losing a shoe. And Shelby Houlihan, who is still serving her suspension, controversially ran 5:43 to set a new women’s beer mile record. She is not eligible to return to sanctioned competition until 2025.

Thanks so much to Under Armour for sponsoring this week’s newsletter! The whole CITIUS team is thrilled to be partnering together on all of our USAs coverage this weekend — stay tuned and come to the group run to get a singlet.