Still loving track and field⏱

Sponsored by ASICS

Lap 130: Sponsored by ASICS

As an official partner of World Athletics, ASICS is proud to have supported all of CITIUS MAG’s content throughout this year’s World Athletics Championships Budapest 2023. With their help, our team was able to cover the most exciting nine days of track and field with extensive depth and enthusiasm that the greatest sport in the world deserves.

Through the podcasts, interviews, previews, newsletters, recaps, group runs, and more we were always aligned on the same mission — help bring the excitement to fans around the world. Thank you ASICS for making it possible to tell more athletes’ stories!

Reflections on the 2023 World Championships 🌍

As you have probably realized by now, I love track and field.

I also love porterhouse steak, but that doesn’t mean I want to eat it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, every day for nine days straight. My personal feelings about shortening the World Championships remain steadfast – especially because I have an almost two-year-old waiting for me at home. As I sit to write this newsletter on my plane ride back to New York, I keep pausing to watch videos of my daughter. Fear of missing out on precious moments aside, even when she’s old enough for me to drag her along to her first global championship, I’d imagine nine days will still feel like a lifetime.

And that’s coming off of a truly incredible world championship meet! While much was made in the lead-up about the long list of athletes who were pulling out, they ultimately were not missed much. I say that respectfully, and with hopes of past champions’ eventual return, but the product that was out on the track received the fans’ undivided attention. The consensus is that this was a special edition with great crowds, an overwhelming amount of enthusiasm, intriguing storylines, and memorable races.

We American fans will – naturally – become pessimistic about the state of the sport whenever we struggle to fill stadiums domestically, but after touching grass sitting through a major meet in Europe, I feel reinvigorated about the sport’s health, globally.

Throughout the course of my time in Budapest, I could not stop thinking about how much better off we would all be if there were similar opportunities to cover and follow the sport with comparable intensity at other points throughout the year.

There were too many fantastic performances last week to write about here – if you want a daily blow-by-blow of the action from Worlds, check out David Melly’s excellent recaps on the CITIUS homepage – but I did my best to dissect and dive deeper on a handful of moments that really stood out to me.

The 1500 that Vince McMahon wanted 🤼‍♀️

Photo: Johnny Zhang | @jzsnapz

Since losing last year’s World Championships to Jake Wightman, it all went perfectly for Jakob Ingebrigtsen in 2023 as he won each of his 16 races in dominant fashion and even set a couple of world records along the way. The Norwegian seemed unbeatable, which made his subsequent loss – in near identical fashion, to a different British athlete – one of the highlights of this year’s championships.

In a move that made us storyline loving sickos rub our hands together and nod like Jack Nicholson in The Departed, rather than admitting defeat and congratulating his opponent on a well-deserved victory, Ingebrigtsen cited illness, claiming that Josh Kerr was nothing more than the “next man up” who capitalized on him not being at his best.

Running 3:29.38 and closing in 52.77 to beat the deepest field ever is not a fluke in anyone’s mind except Jakob’s. That’s self-preservation at work. Admitting that someone else was better, even if only for a few minutes, is to admit defeat. That’s why I appreciate Jakob so much – he’s a talented entertainer who has embraced his role as a sort of middle distance anti-hero.

But to the rest of us: Kerr won this race, his fourth straight final, and is now the deserving Olympic favorite.

One recurring bit during our recap podcasts all week was speculating “What would Vince McMahon do?” to make each race the most interesting version of itself possible. Track and field is of course not scripted like the WWE, but as one journalist told me this week, “I do not root for people, I root for storylines.”

And in my opinion, a Jakob revenge tour would create the most chatter. If he goes back to dominating the Diamond League and scaring middle distance world records then it will perpetuate the narrative that he can only run well in rabbited races and is not a championship racer. What that means for Tokyo is a hungry Jakob who still steps to the line with a massive target on his back; but if he wins there (an incredibly likely outcome) then he’s done so, surprisingly, as an underdog. The Jakob vs. the world story is so good and fans want a third season of it!

Although I thought the best storyline going into the 1500 was that Jakob would be beat, just a few days later, for the 5,000m, I changed my mind – unless an American was to pull off a major upset. Track and field is not fair, but it felt like the sport would be doing Ingebrigtsen’s entire season’s body of work a disservice if he did not walk away from Budapest without a gold medal.

Most of us reading this have hopefully accepted the fact that we are not the most talented person in the world at our chosen pursuit – so we’ve gotta work relatively hard to be get whatever the job is, done.. We sort of collectively get that talent is worthy of admiration, but sacrifice is worth respect. While Ingebrigtsen is clearly one of the most talented runners to ever walk (run?) the planet, it’s worth pointing out that Jakob’s life is significantly more regimented than just about any of ours ever was, is, or will be. (Yes, he might be faster, but has Jakob ever floated the Delaware River with 15 friends in a giant flamingo raft with an infinite supply of hard seltzers? It’s a choice!)

Similarly, Josh Kerr powered off his smartphone and bought a burner with no apps on it except for Duolingo and Premier League updates. We had no idea that he had spent the past couple of months meal prepping containers of dry chicken and white rice because he never had the ability to make a TikTok about it!

It was really fun watching Jakob get beat in the 1500. Track and field is unpredictable and that’s why it is such a pleasure to watch. At the same time, it is nice to know that hard work does pay off and that double threshold isn’t just a time-consuming and sexy trend.

The thrill of chasing the 800 meter crown 👑

Photo: Justin Britton | @justinbritton

The chase for the crown between Athing Mu, Keely Hodgkinson, and now-reigning queen Mary Moraa featured a well-developed plot that made for one of the most intoxicating matchups in Budapest. And it delivered! Maybe even more than fans expected, thanks to a hard and arguably too fast pace from the gun. Especially for American fans, as much as this was a race between these three women, it also felt like there was a second internal battle going on between Athing Mu and her demons.

Over the last year, it became quite evident that the precocious American star was no longer enjoying the sport or the limelight that came with her success as much as she once had. Mu is super charming and personable, yet her relationship with the pressure of being a 19 year old Olympic champion seems complicated. She lamented to a scrum of media, “are we ever going to be enough?” Compare that to Hodgkinson, who when asked how it felt being a part of one of the most anticipated races of the championship said, “I think it’s absolutely sick to be honest, I really enjoy it.” 

My hope for Mu’s own personal relationship with the sport is that she finds a love for running again because her talent and presence has the ability to attract new fans and transcend beyond it. If you’ve never lost before then it’s understandable why it might be built up to be the end of the world. But life goes on and no one will stop cheering or supporting an athlete because she won a bronze medal. In fact, the opposite is probably true!

Enjoying track exists on a spectrum between two points: loving to train and loving to compete. Some athletes thrive off the day-to-day monotony of time in the forest, the simplicity of an altitude camp, or the process of one-upping previous workouts. Then there are others who can’t stand any of that and only do it out of obligation between the occasional adrenaline shot straight to the heart that is racing.

One of my go-to questions in long-form interviews is to learn where an athlete views themselves plotted between these two points. It’s insightful to know how their minds work, and that hopefully creates a connection with fans. Athletes should know if they identify as a runner or a racer – this can shift as a season progresses, though it ultimately requires a balance.

Much is made of what happens in the mixed zone and that’s mainly because it is the one chance that we as fans have to get an idea of the stories behind the performances. Understandably, not every athlete wants to talk to every member of the media. Trust me, I was respectfully turned down by plenty of athletes last week who had no familiarity with who I am and what I am about.

The death march through the mixed zone can put athletes in a particularly vulnerable position just moments after stepping off the track. They’re still trying to process what happened for themselves, and now have to work out those feelings aloud, to a sea of strangers, with cameras shoved in their face. It is why I appreciate Athing stopping to address the assembled members of the press, especially knowing her current and complex relationship with them.

Witnessing someone so young break records and ascend to the top of the sport made Athing seem otherworldly. Her combination of speed, strength, and an effortless stride was difficult to relate to as it all seems to come so naturally to her. But having a complicated relationship with running? Now that is something we can all relate to!

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The Dutch Drama Sandwich 🥪

Photo: Justin Britton | @justinbritton

It feels like a decade ago when Femke Bol took that unfortunate dive just five meters short of winning the Mixed Gender 4x400 relay. During that first track final it was the United States’ Alexis Holmes who played the role of hero, throwing down a dominant anchor leg and benefitting from the unfortunate mishap.

Fast forward to the women’s 4x400 for the last track final and you might be skeptical of whether or not Vince McMahon really is behind the curtain pulling strings.

This isn’t just me being a patriot saying that the United States should have won the 4x400. It’s a matter of personal bests and math. But they don’t hand medals out for should’ve, could’ve, would’ve… During the prelims, in a twist of fate, it was Alexis Holmes who was involved in an out-of-zone pass, resulting in a US disqualification. That ultimately opened up relay gold to another country, presumably one that consumes significantly fewer deep-fried Oreos. (If they ever make that a WA event, look out world – I’m coming out of retirement!)

As the fourth leg kicked off, getting the baton in third, the 400m hurdle champion Bol had the opportunity to hawk down the Jamaicans just before the line – the same place where she had previously faltered. As it was happening in slow motion, it was a twist so good that it must have been directed by M. Night Shyamalan.

Noah Lyles takes on the National Basketball Association 🏀

Photo: Justin Britton | @justinbritton

He did what he said he would do – Noah Lyles is a triple World Champion. The performances speak for themselves, but Noah now speaks for all of us track fans, too. With great speed comes a bigger platform and Lyles is ready to put it to work.

The clip from his post-gold medal winning press conference went viral after he held up his own title of World Champion in comparison to those in the NBA. “World Champion of what, The United States?” The question is reverberating through the ears of sensitive basketball players who have taken offense with only millions of dollars to comfort their sorrows.

My fellow blog boy Kevin Durant commented on ESPN’s Instagram post saying, “somebody help this brother.” With three Olympic gold medals to his name, I would have expected @easymoneysniper to feel secure enough in his global accolades to give Lyles a pass!

It really isn’t a complicated position for Lyles to have taken: 29 of the NBA’s 30 franchises are in the United States. Comparatively, over 200 countries compete at the World Athletics Championships. And there is the difference between representing your country and an arbitrary TV market that a handful of billionaires decided on.

And if you are wondering what the former Saved By The Bell actor Mario Lopez thinks about the issue, then you’re in luck! Turns out he’s a track guy now, because as pointed out by the former fictional high school wrestling star, just because the Premier League has the best players in the world participating in the league, that does not make you a world champion.

I know this think-piece already seems like it was written by an AI bot randomly selecting celebrities to weigh in on their thoughts about something Noah Lyles said, but wait until you hear what Drake said!

If the goal was to get people talking then the first man to pull off the double since Usain Bolt has succeeded and is likely thrilled about it. This right here is why Lyles running so fast is good for the sport – he will speak his mind! It does the sport no justice to squander the attention being the fastest man in the world could receive. Had he taken the microphone and given a canned, bland soundbite, then there would have been no reach. Nobody would care.

But now they know his name. Next, they’ll hopefully want to watch him.

Sharing is caring — the pole vault tie heard ‘round the world

Photo: Johnny Zhang | @jzsnapz

Katie Moon and Nina Kennedy sharing the gold medal… It seems everyone has a strong opinion on this topic. And yeah, as one of American track and field’s most prominent retired-milers-turned-newsletter-writers, you better believe I’m gonna weigh in here!

Initially, I was of the opinion that “ah man, that sucks – a jump-off would be exciting” and “the drama! the intrigue! it would be great for the sport!” And a small part of me – the part of me that spends a lot of time yelling at the TV when the Knicks or Yankees are squandering a game that would put them above .500 on the year – felt strongly that there should only be one world champion, at a fundamental level.

I was having these knee-jerk reactions to what was by all accounts a beautiful and celebratory moment, but then the part of my brain that’s internalized way too many Mike Francesca call-ins calmed down and I tapped into the competitive athlete-in-me’s perspective: in that same position, I’d for sure have opted to share the gold, too. It’s still a global gold medal. You still get your bonus money. You still get your bye to the next World Championships (we think). You really do get it all. It’s basically the one instance in sport where it’s not a zero sum game. So why risk it?

Not everyone came around to that argument. And predictably, Moon received a ton of backlash about her decision. If you ever think there aren’t enough people out there who care about track and field, just wait until people are given an opportunity to be really mean to somebody in the sport – you’ll quickly realize there are way more out there than you realize.

Maybe I’m over-indexing on the amount of haters in this case. I hope I am. But even if I’m not, chances are at least one of you reading this is grinding your teeth at the mere thought of a dual world champion, so I’m going to do my best to sway you over to the kinder, gentler, (it turns out) saner, and correct side of this discussion.

I first suggest giving Katie Moon’s Instagram caption a read. In it, she explains what was going through her mind when she made the decision. After checking it out myself, I’m going to hazard a guess that anyone suggesting Moon and Kennedy are “cowards” hasn’t pole vaulted before. Even as a diehard track fan – and former diehard participant! – I admittedly hadn’t given much thought to the fatigue factor. But reading Katie explain it… yeah… it does make sense that if you’re totally gassed that there’s an inherent danger in launching your body over 16-feet in the air.

“YOU SHOULD BE WILLING TO BLEED FOR YOUR SPORT,” perhaps you’re shouting at your laptop, your face beet red as you awaken your family down the hall and spill coffee on your crotch. Okay. Even if that’s where you’re coming from, consider this: you will not be winning many global pole vault medals if you are catastrophically injured or dead. And in an event like this, those ultimately are the stakes if your approach on the runway is severely hampered by fatigue.

Ultimately, if you still take issue with what transpired, direct your ire at the rules in place that make a tie possible. I’m personally fine with them remaining as they are, but I encourage you to come up with constructive criticism here –namely, come up with a better solution to break the tie than a potentially dangerous jump-off! My personal favorite solution is, since athletes’ coaches now also receive medals, to have said athletes’ coaches run through a quick pole vault competition themselves.

And this brings me to another, happier conclusion: that the more you learn about the sport and all of its facets, the better you’re able to enjoy it. One of my favorite conversations I had the entire time we were out in Budapest just happened to be with Katie Moon, herself. Not just because we got to hear more from the world champ about her leadup to this meet, and what turned out to be her controversial decision to split gold, but because I got a chance to ask incredibly basic questions about the pole vault to the world’s best pole vaulter.

I’m not saying you need to read a textbook on a field event to fully enjoy it, but spending a little bit of time learning about the technical aspects of it, the training, the rules – it all elevates your potential enjoyment. I’ve always been a big distance guy. I’ve notably become a big throws guy. Now I count myself among the ranks of big pole vault guys. I hope you’ll join me.

Rapid Fire Highlights 🔥

  • Uganda’s Victor Kiplangat won the marathon in 2:08:53. The course being a pancake flat proved no challenge at all for the 2017 World Mountain Running champion. Fun Fact: His brother is Jacob Kiplimo. Maru Teferi of Israel recovered from a late race fall to take second.

  • Amane Beriso’s hot streak continues as her last nine months included a 2:14 to win Valencia, a second place finish at Boston, and now a world marathon title in 2:24:23.

  • The Neeraj Chopra-effect is in full swing and India is going to need that fourth spot come Worlds in 2025! The biggest nation in the world is developing into a javelin powerhouse, going 1-5-6.

  • Most of the men in the 800 would have expected Marco Arop from Canada to be the one up front pushing the pace, but he surprised them all by sitting in the very back through the first lap. The Mississippi State graduate then made a decisive move around the turn and never looked back to win in 1:44.24 with a final quarter of 50.8!

  • The field let Faith Kipyegon do whatever she wanted in the 5000m because what can you really do against the world record holder in the event, who also happens to have the most speed? Her last lap was 56.5!

  • The US men’s and women’s 4×100 both won at a global championship for the first time since 2007. The reports of relay camp turmoil were greatly exaggerated.

  • Shericka Jackson’s winning time of 21.41 in the 200m was a new championship record – the world record is loading!

  • Yulimar Rojas of Venezuela was the biggest favorite of the whole championships at -3500 coming into the competition, but she cut it close! It wasn’t until her final jump that she took the lead to win by eight centimeters in 15.08m.

  • Pulling a similar stunt as Rojas, just as he did at the Olympics, Greece’s Miltiádis Tentóglou waited until the sixth round to land 8.52m out to win the long jump.

  • After Keni Harrison’s stellar first two rounds, it came as some surprise when Danielle Williams of Jamaica returned to the top of the podium for the first-time since 2015 in the 100 hurdles. She ran a season’s best in every round – that’s how you peak!

  • India, Burkina Faso, and Serbia each won their first ever gold medals at a World Championship, while Pakistan and the British Virgin Islands won their first medal of any color.

  • The New York City Marathon fields have been announced and they’re good! I am admittedly a bit surprised at how many Americans have opted to run one of the later fall marathons with the Olympic Trials only 90 days later.

Thank you so much to ASICS for sponsoring this week’s newsletter and ALL of the coverage from the CITIUS MAG team at Worlds! If we in anyway help made your viewing experience 1% better than it is mission accomplished for us and it was all thanks to this wonderful partnership.