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Lap 125: Sponsored by OLIPOP

Can you imagine how fast Frank Shorter could have run the marathon had he put down the Coke and picked up a can of OLIPOP instead? The Runner’s Soda was born from the idea that athletes should enjoy a healthy alternative to the sugary cans of carbonation that we grew up with. Instead, thousands of runners across the country have started recognizing the benefits that a low-sugar, prebiotic soda can have on their gut health… once the miles are done.

That list now includes Katelyn Tuohy!

Kipyegon breaks the WR, again and again! 🏆

Henry Rono’s 1978 campaign – the one where he took down four world records in a span of 81 days – is widely regarded as one of the greatest seasons in track and field history. Faith Kipyegon may have something to say about that… but quick, the clock is running, Faith, you’ve got 31 days to find another distance! Well, now only 26.

  • 6/2/23 - 1500m - 3:49.11 - Florence

  • 6/9/23 - 5000m - 14:05.20 - Paris

  • 7/21/23 - 1 Mile - 4:07.64 - Monaco

Admittedly, the mile WR was super attainable. (Or at least super attainable for an athlete with Kipyegon’s pedigree.) Sifan Hassan’s previous mark of 4:12.33, set in 2019, equates to roughly 3:55 for 1500m, a time Faith has surpassed ten times in her career. Kipyegon last raced the mile in 2016. It had been a while, and that’s largely due to just how infrequently the distance is contested at the Diamond League level.

After the race, Nikki Hiltz — THE NEW AMERICAN RECORD HOLDER! — told Faith that they think she can break four minutes in the mile. I am going to respectfully disagree. At world record speeds, seven-plus seconds is a lot of time to shave off. Faith did not run a single lap under 60 seconds. And the truth is that it doesn’t get much better than a fair-weather day in Monaco, except if there was a field full of athletes to pull her along.

At current fitness and in an even more perfectly setup situation, I’d give Faith a 4:05-mid. (Close enough that if she were an American high schooler, she’d be tweeting a big game about a guaranteed sub-four coming soon.)

But that perfect situation is going to be pretty damn hard to come by. She is just so much faster than every other middle-distance runner on the planet right now, that the last 600 meters are basically guaranteed to become a solo effort. Do we know how good of friends she is with Stewart McSweyn?

Anyway, you take Kipyegon out of this race and it was still an all-timer. Seriously – how about the depth? The race for second went to Ciara Mageean, who ran 4:14.58 to set the Irish national record. And behind Kipyegon and Mageean, the national records for Great Britain/Scotland, Australia, USA, Wales, France, and Venezuela also fell. Anytime records are being broken it’s good for the sport – the general public doesn’t need to know how infrequently the mile is run.

If Faith wants to pull a Rono and take down a fourth record while the getting’s good, might I suggest the 1000m? The record is Svetlana Masterkova’s 2:28.89, and Kipyegon already has the second fastest time ever at 2:29.15. According to the scoring tables, Kipyegon might be ready to run 2:25 right now – and that’s absolutely blazing, but a bit easier to find a rabbit for.

Why isn’t the Men’s 800m doing anything for me?

Step into my head Being John Malkovich-style. I’m (we’re?) leaning forward on the couch, almost falling out of it, watching the Monaco Diamond League action. The men’s 800m is next on the track and I am not buzzing for it. I FEEL NOTHING. That’s weird – I love this event! I checked in with some friends to confirm if I was being crazy. Am I the only one who isn’t excited?

Responses came fast and in the negative. I am not crazy.

But still, I can’t help but check my pulse. It’s a great field of 10 lined up, including Americans Bryce Hoppel and Clayton Murphy, two guys I like that also have global medals. And yet I still struggle to yell at the television like a guy in a potato chip commercial! After Kenya’s Wyclife Kinyamal runs 1:43.22 to set a new world lead, it feels like I need to get to the bottom of this conundrum.

The easiest thing to point to is that the times just aren’t that fast right now. For all the talk of super shoes and wave lights “breaking” every other event, they seemingly have not had a huge impact on the men’s 800m. 1:43.22 is equivalent to a 3:31.15 – 15 guys have done that in the 1500m this year. But I think this goes a bit deeper than just the times being run.

I think the bigger issue is that there are so many guys close together. In theory, this is a good thing, right? Parity? Anyone can win any race! Except it is pretty hard to develop storylines and nurture fan debate if literally, every time out, anyone can win. There are 14 guys within a second of that world leading time right now, and that doesn’t include Emmanuel Korir, the defending Olympic and world champion. And if there is one race where a dude can come out of nowhere it’s the ol’ two-lapper.

Now of those 14 guys, 11 of them have set their personal best in the last year. The fact that the majority of the men in the field are running the best they ever have is another reason this should be an exciting race, but that also means almost too many new faces. These are mainly guys that have just entered the global scene and we haven’t yet had the opportunity to get to know them.

Maybe everyone is too nice?

If you go down the descending order list, you’re really just looking at a few countries that make up the entire potential field. There are Kenyans, Algerians, the French, Americans, Spaniards, the British, and Australians. We just need some shit talk here or something or I will be falling asleep on that third 200.

The event that IS doing it for me: the women’s 100

Marie-Josée Ta Lou in London | Photo: @KevMoFoto

One event that definitely isn’t lacking intrigue is the 100m, where you’ll find no shortage of head to head match-ups among women with lots of medals around their necks. And if at this point you aren’t familiar with Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce yet are somehow subscribed to this newsletter, then you are likely all alone in a very tiny sliver of a Venn diagram that ought to be studied by a media studies department somewhere.

For the rest of you, good news: the Pocket Rocket is back in action! Granted, she ran the 200m at the Jamaican Championships a few weeks ago, but what we really want to see is that start. After wins in Luzern (10.82, +0.3) and Madrid (10.83, -0.1), it’s safe to say Shelly-Ann has immediately reestablished herself as a serious threat despite some early season injuries. Her start isn’t quite at 100% yet, but she still ran 10.82 for her first 100m of the year.

Meanwhile, freshly minted pro Julien Alfred beat Sha’Carri Richardson in Hungary, before Sha’Carri pulled out of London with a sore hamstring. Then there is the world leader, Shericka Jackson, who has raced nine times in 17 days, but was beat handily by Marie-Josée Ta Lou in London, who won in 10.75 (+1.2).

Anyone winning outside of those four seems relatively unlikely, and that’s a good thing (British fans can email their complaints to [email protected]). Fans can conceptualize following five different athletes and their various trajectories over the course of a season. Especially when it’s a combination of veterans – who have been doing this for over a decade – and exciting rookies in the headlines.

One of the biggest problems that our sport has is the turnover rate and the sheer amount of names and events one needs to know to follow along. As the NBA, NFL, F1 and MLS get greedy and look to expand into more cities and teams, they’re giving up an advantage they don’t even realize they have. Too many feelings would get hurt for track and field to ever act in its best interest, but less is often more.

The Monsoon breaks the American record, again!

Photo: @kevmofoto

Make it three American records for Alicia Monson this year: Indoor 3000m, 10,000m, and now the 5000m. Finishing in 5th in London with a time of 14:19.85, it is indicative of how much the event has progressed these past three years. Shannon Rowbury’s American record of 14:38.92, which lasted from 2016 until 2018, is now fourth on the list and not on the same straight away as Monson’s mark!

Up front, Gudaf Tsegay sprinted away from Beatrice Chebet and Sifan Hassan to win in 14:12.29. Faith Kipyegon will have her work cut out for her in at least one event come Worlds.

The fans actually showed up👏

Photo: @kevmofoto

Is there really nothing better to do in London than go to a track meet? Well on a Sunday afternoon, at least 50,000 fans couldn’t think of a better option. The inner turmoil of being so heavily invested in this sport is that I simultaneously love it so much, yet nothing gives me greater frustration than track not being everything I know it can be. It’s a lot like when I try to feed my daughter any green vegetable and she almost always refuses. But occasionally she’ll put a brussel sprout in her mouth, if only for a second, and it’s hard not to come away with a sense of optimism.

It had been a while since London Stadium had housed the world’s greatest athletes – 2019 to be exact, but they are back! In my research for this thought piece, I went back and rewatched David Rudisha’s 800m WR for the hundredth time and every one of Mo Farah’s three gold medal races. You really forget how close Farah was to rolling around in Rupp’s spit.

Reliving those moments is why fans flock to the stadium. We can pretend it’s only to watch stars like Keely Hodgkinson or Sha’Carri Richardson, but it’s just as much the history and the experience of being part of that massive, engaged crowd. In the office on Monday morning, those who showed up to watch have a more interesting weekend recap to share during a team meeting than they would otherwise.

It’s fair to say that the sport is alive in Europe. Most of the big European meets perform better than any in the US. But I really doubt that the UK has this enormous, diehard fan base that voraciously consumes track and field – at least not at a scale any bigger than that of the US’s track nerds.

Not dissimilar to the United States’s, the British Championships were only shown online. And UK Athletics had to pay BBC’s production costs in order to guarantee that the London Diamond League meet was on television. UKA sought an emergency grant of up to £300K earlier this year from UK Sport so that the meet would still happen despite the promising early ticket sales.

A big reason the stadium filled up is because ticket prices were more reasonable than normal, at £23 for adults, £13 for seniors and students, and only £5 for juniors. For some perspective, if you were in London and looking to visit the sites, a tour of the stadium sans track meet is £22. Quick math puts the value of attending a track meet at exactly one pound!

Despite being on the brink of bankruptcy, I commend the commitment from the organization to get as many eyeballs as possible on this meet. That’s a future-oriented decision, although I am sure that the investment paid off immediately, too. (Not having a fundraising concert to coincide with the event seems like a missed opportunity.)

But as my opening paragraph suggests, we can’t always (or even usually) have nice things. The great attendance at the meet was set against the backdrop of British athletes fairly qualifying for the World Championships (according to the rankings system set forth by World Athletics!), yet not being selected by their federation.

Lina Nielsen is currently 27th on the descending order list in the 400m hurdles, which has an allotted quota for 40 athletes. The World standard is 54.90 – Nielsen’s season’s best is 54.96 and her personal best of 54.76 was run the month before the qualification period opened.

There may have been 50,000 blokes in a stadium, but now we also need a bloke or two in a decision making decision to exhibit 50,000x more support for the athletes they allegedly work for! (How about that for putting a bow on this section, huh?)

Positioning track and field in women’s sports 💁‍♀️

Jemma Reekie in London | Photo: Getty Images for British Athletics

The World Cup is underway and the early results are extremely promising both in terms of Team USA’s odds for repeating, but also the continuing growth of women’s sports. In the first group stage match against Vietnam, the television audience peaked at 6.5M. The trajectory is apt considering the recent push by the players for pay equity. It is still not perfect, but it’s improving, as participating players will now receive $30K and those on the winning squad get $270K. In 2022, the U.S. Women’s National Team settled in a $24M agreement for back pay to their players.

This is not suddenly a newsletter about soccer, but there are lessons to be learned here for track and field. As interest grows in – or at least interest in broadcasting and covering – women’s sports, so do the dollars from those who want to be associated with them. In 2022, the sports sponsorships of professional women’s sports grew by 20%. There is an incredible window of opportunity for athletics to position itself as the premier women’s sport in the world, and we desperately need to start acting that way.

Data via Nielsen

Now this is not to suggest that everything in track and field is perfectly equitable for women – there is a lot of room for growth, particularly behind the scenes in terms of coaches, agents, meet directors, and on the brand level. But in terms of presentation and participation, the numbers do not get much better. Minus three events in the multis, there is 1:1 equity across disciplines at the Olympic level.

In 2016, Running USA reported that 57% of road race finishers were women and that market share has likely grown. Track is the most highly participated in sport by women in the NCAA. In 2022, there were actually more women competing than men, despite men making up 57% of the NCAA system (thanks a lot, FOOTBALL). At the high school level, track is the most popular sport amongst girls in 16 states. And advocating for women’s sports is not unique to women – a 2018 Nielsen survey indicated that 84% of all sports fans have an interest in watching women’s athletics.

This is the easiest PowerPoint presentation a partnership team could ever make. (Take note, UK Athletics!) Find all the sponsors who are proudly supporting the Women’s World Cup and let them know there is an opportunity to support women’s sports (and more cynically and business-ly, continue engaging a dedicated and growing audience) year round. Being the official sponsor of the British Athletics women’s team and funding the travel bill for a full squad is the press release of a PR team’s dreams. Maybe if we all brainstorm together we can think of a British airline that could be a good fit to share this deck with!

Data via Nielsen

Historically these packages are sold together. Throwing in the WNBA was a prerequisite to being involved in the NBA, for instance, but times have changed. Unbundled sponsorships were up 146% in 2021 as it creates the ability to speak directly to a target audience with focused messaging. A brand that might want to test the waters track-sponsorship-wise doesn’t need to fork over money to back every event at a meet. They can opt instead to bolster only the women’s side of the bill… not a bad investment, given that if you don’t count Kipchoge, who hasn’t raced on a track in over a decade, I’d say that a slight majority of the world’s most popular track athletes are women.

But of course, should said theoretical sponsor want to throw its money around at track collectively, I can live with that, too. A rising tide of money lifts all boats, and all that. Plus, any additional attention given to track as a whole is going to benefit women’s athletics. For example, if you – like me – are nonplussed by the state of the men’s 800m, can I introduce you to a little something called the women’s 800m, which is absolutely electric right now? Show me a skeptical first-time viewer and I’ll show them an Athing vs. Keely showdown… and then I’ll show you a fan!

The main reason that track and field today isn’t being marketed as a women’s sport is because it is so inherently engrained into today’s presentation. That doesn’t make it less so — we just have to point it out.

Rapid Fire Highlights 🔥

  • I would rather celebrate Chris Nilsen’s second-ever Diamond League win at Monaco without having to note that it was a rare Mondo Duplantis off-day, but that’s sort of the news, too, right? In his last 46 competitions, the world record holder has only lost on three occasions.

  • Empire Elite’s Eric Holt won the Sunset Tour 1500m in 3:34.50 to lead nine men under 3:37. This is bittersweet for this old newsletter writer because it means that I will now be the one turning to Eric for running advice. Karissa Schweizer won the women’s 1500 in 4:04.35 and her presence on the Worlds Team is still up in the air.

  • There is a century-old barn that once housed pigs that will now house a 200m indoor track facility in Indianapolis. It will host the 2025 DII NCAA championships and hopefully become an alternative to having every indoor national meet at altitude.

  • Femke Bol is figuring out the 15-step pattern and it shows. The Dutch superstar ran 51.45 seconds over 400m hurdles to become the second fastest ever at the distance behind only SML. Some may say the record is out of reach, but I disagree… Femke is taller, meaning perfecting the long stride pattern is doable and she is younger. As someone who wants Sydney to attempt the double in Paris, I wouldn’t hate to give her some additional motivation!

  • Noah Lyles ran 19.47 (+1.6) to surpass Bolt as having the most 200m races ever under 20 seconds, though admittedly the race was closer than you’d expect Letsile Tebogo ran a huge personal best of 19.50. And in third was Zharnel Hughes, who ran 19.73 to take down the British national record exactly as he predicted – people are starting to get skeptical!

  • Yared Nuguse won a tightly bunched 1500m in London in 3:30.44 as 14 men finished within two seconds of one another. The last time an American won a Diamond League race in the event was Leo Manzano in 2011.

  • Karsten Warholm set a new Diamond League 400mH record of 46.51.

  • The Guardian Mile is this Saturday and will feature Johnny Gregorek, Sam Prakel, Matt Centrowitz, Eric Holt, Dani Jones, Taryn Rawlings, and more. Tune into CITIUS MAG’s YouTube channel for race video!

  • The Chicago Marathon fields have been released for the men and women and OH MY GOSH it is loaded! Kelvin Kiptum, Benson Kipruto, Ruth Chepngetich, Emily Sisson, Emma Bates, Sifan Hassan, the list goes on and on!

Thanks so much to OLIPOP for supporting this week’s newsletter and making such delicious prebiotic soda that helps promote good gut health! Every night when I say my prayers I make not of how thankful I am for the existence of their Banana Cream flavor and how it makes me feel like life is a beach.