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The Ultimate Global Track & Field Newsletter ⏱️

Sponsored by Brooks Running

Lap 171: Sponsored by Brooks Running

“I’ve always felt like an underdog and that mentality has carried me because I feel like I have a chip on my shoulder. Everything I do is centered around ‘Is this going to make me a better athlete or not?’”

We are five episodes into our Beasts: Unleashed series with Brooks Running. This past week, we showcased Isaiah Harris and Brandon Miller as ‘The Underdogs’ looking to make another U.S. team. Both guys have had a strong start to the season with Miller and Harris running 1:44.24 and 1:44.58, respectively. Episode 6 will drop on Thursday. Catch up on the whole series here.

Say Goodbye To ‘Off’ Years; Hello, ‘Ultimate Champs’ 🏟️

Say what you will about our esteemed governing body, but you can’t deny that World Athletics is always looking for new ways to mix things up in track and field.

The big news out of Monaco this week was the announcement of the World Athletics Ultimate Championships, a biennial (that’s every two years, for you biennial-biannual-confused readers) championship set to trade off years with the traditional World Athletics Championships beginning in 2026. Budapest, Hungary, was named as the inaugural host city for the three-day competition that offers $10 million in total prize money and seems to be a hybrid of the weeklong global championships and the two-day Diamond League final.

Cringey name aside (as far as we can tell, there won’t be any frisbee or mixed-martial arts), there’s a lot to unpack about this news. The takeaway that potential competitors will leave with, of course, is the money: $150,000 for first isn’t pocket change, even for the most well-heeled pros in the sport. Normally, you’ve gotta hit the roads and pick up a World Marathon Major title for that kind of one-off payday, and that entails, well… being a marathoner. For comparison, Paris Olympic champions will receive $50,000 for first place (for the first time ever) and 2023 World champions received $70,000 for standing atop the podium.

Budapest is a strong choice for hosting duties after the success of Worlds in 2023. The stadium was consistently packed and easy to access; the city is easy to get to from anywhere in Europe and, frankly, no harder to get to from most of the U.S. than Eugene. Festivities are expected to kick off on September 11, which would be two weeks after the Diamond League final but not so far removed from the rest of the season that it would markedly change the contours of a normal training cycle.

But there are plenty of questions that remain. How will the second World Athletics Ultimate Championship compete for attention and significance with the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles? Why is a totally new event needed rather than beefing up the Diamond League or slimming down Worlds? We asked ourselves some of these questions earlier this week.

The WA press release is full of interesting, but vague, tidbits. “Athletes will also benefit from greater promotional rights, allowing them to commercially activate and enhance their personal profiles” sounds like fun, but if this championship is subject to the same sponsor blackout rules as others, there will surely be an upper limit to how “activated” competitors are really willing to be. “Selections based primarily on world rankings” could be a promising way to beef up the impact of the world ranking system and its stated goal of incentivizing head-to-head racing in the regular season, but “primarily” is doing a heckuva lot of heavy lifting in that sentence and more clarity is needed.

Here at the Lap Count we try not to be reflexively resistant to change. Trying something new is always worth at least one shot, and committing significant financial resources at least means you’re not preemptively setting the event up for failure. If we’re going to see some outside-the-box thinking, it would be nice to see a little more of an emphasis on regular-season competition. Casual fans already care about the end of the season, but year-round attention is a rarer commodity. But just because this particular initiative wasn’t cooked up in the CITIUS MAG think tank doesn’t mean it’s not worth giving it a chance and keeping up an open mind.

So we’ll be tuning in – and hopefully returning to Budapest in person – in hopes that the World Athletics Super Duper Ultra Extra Special Ultimate Championship is just the shot in the arm the sport needs.

Testing… Testing… Is This Thing On? 🧪

Your 2028 Olympic steeplechase mile medal favorite George Beamish.
(Photo by Kevin Morris/@KevMoFoto)

Before its Ultimate World Championships announcement, World Athletics published their four-year business strategy, which mentioned that it will be testing out new track and/or field events – like a mile-long steeplechase and a mixed-gender 4 x 100m relay. These proposed events are random but inoffensive, as if Seb Coe opened up his “Track and Field Mad Libs” and went to town. But making up entirely new events without any real historical precedent does have a way of cheapening the product.

There are plenty of problems with track and field – ask anyone on Twitter – but is “existing events are too boring” really one of them, and are new events really the solution?

We’re not opposed to experimenting with new or different events outside a global championship setting, it’s just that there are already a host of existing events that have established context and are already contested at varying levels of the sport that might make for better additions to the program.

If there really are no bad ideas in brainstorming, we’ve got a few suggestions. And where better to start than the paragon of excellence that is the American high school track and field system? There are something like one million high school track & field athletes in America during any given school year. Surely with those kinds of numbers, via trial and error, we’re already sitting on a goldmine of events that World Athletics could “test” in the future. Let’s explore some of the options:

❌ 25+ heats of any one event: While nice for taking a beat to grab tepid concession stand nachos, this concept isn’t ready for the big time.

❌ 25+ runners in one heat: While a good way to bring in the critical fan demographic of “parents of people competing,” it would slow down the meet significantly when they inevitably have to call back every race for a fall at the start.

❌ Coaches’ 4 x 400m Relay: Coach selections are political enough to begin with without having to jockey for relay spots as well.

❌ Throwers’ 4 x 100m Relay: Nothing brings the house down at a high school invitational like an unscored throwers’ relay to cap things off, but the stakes are too high at a global championship. While there’s no doubt Joe Kovacs handing off to Ryan Crouser would be entertaining, no one wants to see a 300-pound double Olympic champion pull a hamstring.

❓ 4 x 800m relay: Though popular at the high school level as a means of juicing your 800m “PR,” at the level of international competition things would likely play out too similarly to the 4 x 400m to make this all that interesting. The usual suspect countries would simply run away with the medals year after year. 

✅The distance medley relay: Relays rock. Everyone loves relays. This one is especially exciting because of just how weird it gets. Outside of the 400m leg, things tend to reset and get tactical with every baton exchange. That makes it ripe for an upset – something World Athletics should enjoy since parity between competing countries seems like an important factor in growing the sport. Plus it gives distance stars the chance to rack up the hardware using the sprinter playbook with a few relay medals. Give us more DMRs!

We’re Done Saying “It’s Still Early” 🙅‍♂️

We love seeing Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone back out there.
(Photo by Jan Figueroa/@janfigueroa07)

As of the morning you wake and read this newsletter, there are 57 days until the first day of track and field action at the 2024 Olympics.

That’s eight more seven-day training weeks. Seven more long runs. 19 more hard efforts if you use the Team Boss “hard effort every three days” system. If you’re an American pro, you’ve probably also marked on your calendar that the Olympic Trials are 16 days away. Jamaicans get an extra six days or so, and European competitors are already starting their championship season with action kicking off Friday (We have a full preview!). Track and field doesn’t have a formal “postseason” the way ball sports do, but no matter how you slice and dice it, we’re entering the part of the training cycle where you’ve gotta be sharp and stop saying you haven’t started speedwork.

The last few weeks of pro track and field have started to give us a sense of who’s ready and who’s not. The male 400m hurdles medalists from Tokyo, for example, have each laid down a sub-47 second performance to make it clear where they stand. Noah Lyles tied the second-fastest wind-legal 100m of his career in Jamaica this weekend – although he lost to another medal contender in Oblique Seville. After rocky starts on the Diamond League circuit, Christian Coleman and Sha’Carri Richardson used the Prefontaine Classic to put any doubts to rest about their fitness heading into Trials.

Two days and a few thousand miles apart, reigning Olympic champion Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone and reigning World champion Femke Bol each ran their first 400m hurdles of 2024 in the two fastest times in the world this year– with Sydney clocking a 52.70 (Race video | Post-race interview) and Femke running 53.07. McLaughlin-Levrone and Bol are an interesting case study in how differently two athletes can approach a race schedule and still show up to championships fit: McLaughlin-Levrone races sparingly and rarely abroad, but when she deigns to enter her specialty event, she’s ready to post a world-class time. Bol raced a chock-full indoor season and headed over the Atlantic to the Bahamas to anchor a few Dutch teams at World Relays, before presumably taking some downtime to reset during May. Almost no one as good as Bol races as much as she does: counting heats, she raced 29(!) times in 2023 including 11 rounds of the 400m hurdles.

But on the other end of the “who’s ready and who’s not?” continuum, who should we be worried about at this point? One easy answer is anyone who’s been mysteriously absent on the circuit so far this season, particularly at meets closely associated with their sponsors. Ryan Crouser and Erriyon Knighton haven’t competed since indoors with no clear explanation. Olympic champs Faith Kipyegon and Athing Mu both pulled out of the Pre Classic and have publicly disclosed bumps along the training road, but given how far ahead of their domestic competition they usually are, it’s probably worth withholding judgment. Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce hasn’t competed yet in 2024, but since she has 24 global medals on her shelf and has been posting hype videos to Instagram, she’s probably earned the public’s trust that she knows what she’s doing. The glass-half-full view is that they’re saving their legs for when it counts – we sure hope that’s true.

And then there’s the people who have raced… and left some room for improvement. Fred Kerley hasn’t won a race since April 6th and has season’s bests of 10.03 and 20.17 in the 100m and 200m… but he’s confident the best is yet to come. We’ll see what he has in store this weekend at the NYC Grand Prix. Shericka Jackson’s slowest 200m final last year was 22.02, and after three races in 2024, her season’s best is 22.69 – but she has won two of her three Diamond League showings. Double-double Olympic champ Elaine Thompson-Herah finished dead last in the 100m at the Prefontaine Classic and hasn’t raced since, but ETH has only lost one Olympic final in her life (the 4x100m in Rio, where she still picked up a silver).

Now, to be fair, the flip side of the rocky start to the season is obvious: you peak too early and you’re completely burned out come August. And there are a few reasons why these big names are able to race sparingly and selectively: they aren’t nearly as worried as the average pro about busting the rust (they have the experience), making the team (they have the talent), or picking up an appearance fee (they have the money). But now that we enter the “national championship blackout window” in the World Athletics calendar, we’re about to find out who’s spent their spring training smart and who needs every one of those 57 days to have a fighting shot at a medal in Paris.

In Partnership With Bandit Running

Aidan Tooker has found a home training with SOVA alongside Cooper Teare and Cole Hocker but remains unsponsored. (Elijah Agurs/@eavzls)

This summer, Bandit Running is proud to bring back the Unsponsored Project for 2024, helping athletes represent themselves at the Track Trials. They're offering unbranded gear, financial support, and a platform to spotlight athletes who are betting on themselves at the highest stage. Aidan Tooker, the former standout at Syracuse, is among them. Last month, he came just shy of his 3000m steeplechase personal best and hopes to make the U.S. Olympic Trials final after making it to the U.S. Championship final last year. If you’re an unsponsored athlete who has qualified for the Trials or is aiming to qualify in the coming weeks, reach out to [email protected] to learn how you can get involved.

BONUS: Bandit is supporting this weekend’s Portland Track Festival broadcast and making it free when you sign up at tracklnd.com.

5 Events To Watch at NCAA Championships 🏆

Parker Valby is expected to star at the 2024 NCAA Outdoor Championships this weekend in the 5000m and 10,000m. (Photo by Elijah Agurs/@eavzls)

Before we get to Paris, we’ve got to make our second of three trips to Eugene this summer for the 2024 NCAA Championships. NCAAs is always one of the most action-packed and thrilling events of the entire track and field year. It’s easily the highest-caliber meet with a meaningful team scoring component, and with points up for grabs in every final and trophies often decided during the 4x400m relay, the stakes are front and center. Not to mention, every Olympics inevitably features at least a couple athletes who spent much of the spring doodling those rings into their notebooks during class.

So whether you’re rooting for your alma mater or trying to get the inside scoop on Trials contenders, NCAAs is well worth your time. You can find a larger CITIUS MAG preview here thanks to our own Paul Hof-Mahoney, but for the attention-span-challenged, here’s a quick summary of the top events to watch:

Women’s 400m: All year, Arkansas has been putting on a clinic in 400-meter dominance, and this weekend should be no different. When World gold medalist Rosey Effiong is your FOURTH best quarter-miler, you know you’ve got an embarrassment of riches. The only questions remaining are which Razorback will come out on top, how many points can they rack up in the team competition, and will Britton Wilson’s 49.13 NCAA record from last year be in danger?

Men’s 5000m: Three NCAA champs do battle in this one, with NAU’s Nico Young facing off against Stanford’s Ky Robinson and Harvard’s Graham Blanks. Blanks is on the comeback trail from injury and Young has been red-hot all spring, but anything can happen come race time. Notably, all three are skipping the 10k and heading into this one on fresh legs.

Women’s Shot Put: Oregon’s Jaida Ross has broken the NCAA record twice this year… can she do it a third time in her home stadium? Or will she fall to Colorado State’s Mya Lesnar as she did indoors? Ross hasn’t lost a shot put competition since that indoor faceoff, and Lesnar has only finished second once this season – to Ross at West Regionals. It should be a battle for the ages (and the record books). Read more about her in our interview with her.

Men’s 100m: Five guys are entered with sub-10 second personal bests, but there’s no clear favorite. SEC champ Godson Oghenebrume of LSU is the top returner from 2023 but only finished 5th at the East Regional. Favour Ashe of Auburn and T’Mars McCallum of Tennessee are the co-NCAA leaders at 9.94, but Houston runners Shaun Maswanganyi and Louie Hinchliffe both broke 9.90 with wind-aided times earlier this year. It’s truly a toss-up and should be a battle of milliseconds.

Women’s 800m: LSU’s Michaela Rose is the favorite to defend her title here, but Sanu Jallow of Arkansas was a lot closer to her at SECs than any other collegian has been recently. Only ten women in NCAA history have broken 2:00, and five of them are in this event: Rose, Jallow, Clemson’s Gladys Chepngetich, NCAA indoor champ Juliette Whittaker, and former NCAA champ Roisin Willis. It’s crazy to think that Athing Mu’s 1:57.73 NCAA record could be under threat, but this is the field to do it.

Want more NCAAs preview action? Paul Hof Mahoney has you covered with a comprehensive preview. He and Anderson Emerole will also be on-site in Eugene to bring you interviews all weekend.

With the first pick in the World Championship Lane Selection Draft… 🎟️

Brittany Brown was all smiles after the race but not so much beforehand.
(Photo by James Rhodes/@jrhodesathletics)

After winning the 200m at the Oslo Diamond League in a season’s best of 22.32, Brittany Brown shared a series of Instagram stories and tweets expressing her frustration over her lane assignment. That’s because she managed to claim the win despite starting all the way out in lane eight. 

Brown placed second at Worlds in the 200m in 2019 and remains among the event’s top competitors today, so she was understandably upset over being relegated to the edge of the track. Sometimes a poor lane can be seen as a disadvantage, ask Noah Lyles running from lane 3 in the Tokyo Olympic 200m Final. But it can be used to an athlete's advantage, just ask Wayde Van Niekerk in 2016 or Sha’Carri Richardson in 2023, both winning Gold medals from the outside lane 8. Nonetheless, Oslo is a long way to travel only to wind up in a race where you’re not set up to do your very best.

It was pointed out to Brown that the lane assignments likely had to do with athletes’ World Athletics rankings coming in. If that’s been communicated to athletes ahead of time, then that’s a pretty reasonable, albeit complicated approach. But Brown in turn noted that the rankings tend to favor European-based athletes: ultimately that’s where the majority of ranking-eligible, higher category meets are held. And hey – if we’re going to rely on rankings more and more in championship selections to come, it’s important that we continually assess the impact they have on the sport today.

No matter how you feel about the current fairness of Diamond League lane draws, and regardless of your feelings about the ranking system, it’s easy to see there’s room for improvement. Namely, let’s make lane selection both entertaining for fans and more incentivizing for athletes, without having to inspect the Rube Goldberg machine that churns out WA rankings.

What if we made lane selection into a draft? People love drafts.

The Lane Draft would work best in a championship setting – instead of a draft lottery, selection order would be based on seed time from the semi-final. You run the fastest in your prelim heat? Sweet. You get to pick your lane first. At Diamond Leagues, you could base draft order on points in the DL standings, creating another small but non-negligible incentive to race the circuit all year.

You’d expect the middle lanes to go in the first several rounds – you have people to chase but a slightly less tight curve to run – but there will of course be outliers in terms of preference, a rare instance of track athletes being able to clearly showcase a strategic decision that fans can understand. 

Perhaps a taller sprinter opts for an outer lane so they can really open up their stride at 50m. Maybe an absolute scoundrel goes for lane one with the first pick because they love to hunt down their competitors. Or some deliriously confident youngster bets on themself and chooses lane eight after a blistering prelim – “make them catch me.”

We’ve seen stranger things! What if we had each athlete pick a number from 1-8 out of a hat? The number you pick will determine your lane draw in the race. Fair, equitable, random, and fun! Do not forget that at the 2022 World Indoor Championships, Shusei Nomoto of Japan and David King of Great Britain tied with the exact same time of 7.565 in the 60mH semi-finals. Who went to the final? A name was drawn at random from a bag to pick which athlete advanced. Strange? Yes! Exciting? Yes!

It’s a small change up, but one that could infuse the sport with a tad more personality, and ultimately, fairness.

Rapid Fire Highlights 🔥

– If you thought we were done writing about the U.S. men’s Olympic marathoning qualifying saga around Leonard Korir, think again. The Road to Paris rankings got another update yesterday. If this becomes official CJ Albertson is "qualified by World Rankings" then Leonard Korir gets that U.S. spot for the Olympics due to the World Athletics’ quota reallocation rule and since America determines its team with the Trials. We are still awaiting final word from World Athletics or USATF before we can celebrate. Definitely would put an end to what I'm sure has been a super stressful past few months for the U.S. Army runner.

– The Australian Olympic marathon team was announced. Sinéad Diver, Genevieve Gregson and Jessica Stenson were named to the team but it did not come without some controversy. Brett Robinson and Patrick Tiernan were officially named but it looks like Liam Adams could also join them off his World Ranking.

– Looking for a recap of what went down at the Oslo and Stockholm Diamond Leagues, we’ve got full recaps of those here and here. Jakob Ingebrigtsen diving at the finish line is not controversial!

– Sadly, Joe Klecker announced he will miss the U.S. Olympic Trials since he hasn’t had enough time to recover from a torn adductor. Per Strava, he still ran 81 miles last week. It’s not too late to change your mind, Joe!

– Drew Griffith, a good friend of The Lap Count, ran 3:57.71 at the HOKA Festival of Miles to move to No. 6 on the boys' all-time high school list. We’re sticking with our stance of no more graphics celebrating the high school boys’ sub-4! But we’ll celebrate him a bunch more next week at New Balance Nationals.

Allie Zealand and Sadie Engelhardt did get graphics on the CITIUS MAG Instagram this weekend! Zealand won the HOKA Festival of Miles high school girls race in 4:30.38 to break Sadie Engelhardt’s record from earlier this season. Engelhardt took it right back by running 4:28.46 and finishing second in the pro heat.

– 60m world champion Julien Alfred ran a personal best of 10.78 at the Racers Grand Prix – the fastest time in the world by a pro this year. Is she suddenly a gold medal contender for Paris? The Prime Minister of Saint Lucia is excited about it. We spoke to her coach, Edrick Floreal, who broke down that race and her training.

📺 What to Watch This Weekend

• NCAA Championships will be on ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPN+ all throughout the weekend. Here’s your handy guide for it. (Live results)

• The New York Mini 10K starts at 8:00 a.m. ET on Saturday morning in Central Park and features all three U.S. Olympic marathoners for Paris. Watch it on ESPN+ or WABC7. (Live results)

• The third edition of the NYC Grand Prix will be streamed live on Peacock from 1:00 to 3:30 p.m. ET. Noah Lyles, Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone, Gabby Thomas and Rai Benjamin are among the stars that were announced for this meet. (Live results)

• Portland Track Festival has some sneaky strong fields just before the U.S. Olympic Trials qualifying window closes. Watch for that men’s 1500m, where I spy Josh Kerr on the entries. (Meet site + live stream)

• If that’s not enough track for you and you want to find a way to watch the European Championships, find BBC because they just got the rights to it!

Thanks to Bandit for sponsoring this week’s newsletter and their continued support of track and field athletes aspiring to compete at the national an global championship stage. As a thanks for reading this far down into the newsletter, they’re also offering up 15% off your next order at BanditRunning.com by using code CITIUS15 at checkout. The newsletter getting longer means we’re in the heart of track season!

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