Tuning up for NCAAs⏱

Sponsored by New Balance

Lap 157: Sponsored by New Balance

New Balance Nationals Indoor returns to Boston this weekend from March 7 – March 10, bringing the best high school athletes to the TRACK at New Balance and the Reggie Lewis Track & Athletic Center for some incredible competition including:

  • Ventura (CA) junior Sadie Engelhardt entered in the 800m & mile

  • Real Training (CO) freshman Addy Ritzenhein in the two-mile

  • American Fork (UT) senior Daniel Simmons in the 5000m

  • Stars JoJo Jourdoun, Clay Shively, Marcus Reilly & Drew Griffith in the mile

  • Montverde Academy (FL) senior Adaejah Hodge to double in the 60m and 200m

  • Bullis (MD) sophomore Quincy Wilson ALL IN on the 400m

Tokyo Marathon: Was this the Olympic Trials? 🇯🇵

Photo: @wmmajors

The Tokyo Marathon did not get much attention in running fans’ news cycle this week despite incredibly strong fields and the two biggest stars on the roads competing. Hopefully, organizers kept receipts for those appearance fees because the shadow of the World Indoor Championships cast a considerable shadow on athletics fans’ viewing habits globally this past weekend.

But those who did keep tabs on Tokyo were supposed to be treated to a few clearcut storylines. Such as Sifan Hassan wasting no time chasing her six-star medal  – like Joanie. The only difference was Hassan was trying to win them all. It was supposed to be a battle between Hassan and the world champion and 2:14 marathoner, Amane Beriso.

But a big city marathon would look weird as hell if it only had two athletes in it, so race organizers invited others, including Sutume Asefa Kebede, who was fit coming off a victory at the Houston Half Marathon in 1:04:37. And it turned out she’d wind up having herself a day, dropping over two minutes from her personal best to run 2:15:55,  five women under 2:20 (America’s Betsy Saina bounced back from her disappointment in Orlando to run 2:19:17 for 5th), and setting a new course record in the process.

What in the world is the Ethiopian federation going to do? Assuming they select the world record holder Tigisit Assefa, there is also Worknesh Degefa (who ran 2:15:51 to win Valencia), Tigist Ketema (who debuted in 2:16:07 to win Dubai), the 10,000m world record holder Letesenbet Gidey, and 14 women in all that have broken 2:18:00 this Olympic cycle. Fourteen! 

Those responsible for selecting the Kenyan men’s squad are in a similar boat. The untimely and tragic death of Kelvin Kiptum opened up a spot. Now with Benson Kipruto further legitimizing himself by winning in Tokyo in 2:02:16, he is an easy first-round draft pick. Evans Chebet has proven himself enough times on the hilly courses of Boston and New York, that he ought to be obvious, however, he hasn’t raced since last spring and will be looking to prove his fitness in Beantown in April.

And herein lies the controversy… Eliud Kipchoge, the two-time Olympic champion (do I need to introduce the GOAT?) just laid a – by his standards – egg in Tokyo, finishing 10th in 2:06:50. Last spring his sixth-place finish at Boston was a shocker since his previous walkout song was “All I Do Is Win”.

Sandwiched between these two un-Eliudian efforts was a win in Berlin, where he ran 2:02:42, so it’s hard to say he’s done when he was cruising just six months ago. Unless that’s just how aging works – one day you just wake up and sub-4:40 mile(s) are hard. That’s what happened to me!

It’s hard to believe that Kipchoge was the sixth-best marathoner from Kenya this weekend. While there are lots of arguments to be made that a handful of others, like Tokyo runner-up Timothy Kiplagat, might be more likely to finish higher at the Olympics, it’s not going to happen. The one possibility would maybe be Alexander Mutiso Munyao crushing the London Marathon. The prospect of a third Olympic marathon title is too good of a story to pass up on. And Kipchoge might have the occasional off-race, but he’s never had two in a row. This is the perk of not having a Trials – you save a bunch of money and countries can just do whatever they want!

The US Men’s 100M gets even spicier 🌶

Photo: Justin Britton | @justinbritton

This newsletter has basically turned me into a beat writer covering Noah Lyles. And isn’t that the goal in an Olympic year? If I am NBC, then there are four athletes whose storylines I’d be leaning into based on performance. Obviously there is Noah, then Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone, Athing Mu, and Sha’Carri Richardson. Well, no one else from this bunch is racing indoors… so thank you Noah.

(Quick aside: the people in charge of the sport (NBC) need to commit a bit harder to Tara Davis, who is now a world champion. She wants that spotlight and deserves it! But we all know broadcast television hasn’t exactly cracked the code on covering the field events in a captivating light. Sorry, Crouser ☹️)

Entering the weekend, the fact that Lyles was no longer positioned as an underdog in the 60 meters is a testament to how much his improvement curve and improvements to his start have changed the narrative. However, Christian Coleman was so explosive out of the blocks that even the best top-end speed in the world could not catch him. Can we show this video to the football guys who are oohing and ahhing at a 4.21 40 at the Combine?

Now if I was Vince McMahon, first off, I should be in jail... but secondly, I’d prefer that Coleman won this. Because if Lyles – the best over 100 and 200 meters – can ALSO be the best 60 meter runner in the world, then his story arc loses some interest. Any true anime fan knows that at some point the protagonist needs to experience conflict – I don’t know if running in the 6.4s regularly qualifies as that. 

And as much as I enjoy watching track and field for the pure displays of athleticism, my favorite part is the drama. And that quota was satisfied in the 4x400s. Even just from team selection!

Despite some overly involved officials, the US men’s team got the stick around and though he ended up on the floor, Trevor Bassitt split 46.30. When the finals lineup was announced, Matthew Boling, who had run 46.73 was given the nod instead. I’d love to know what the conversation was like behind that decision. But it was the inclusion of Lyles, who has not raced a 400 since high school, that sparked a political debate worthy of Chris Wallace moderation. Also passed over was the US Indoor Champ Brian Faust, who was not even given a shot in the prelims. Admittedly he had just run 47.11 and got knocked out in the first round of the open. 

Bassitt should be frustrated, and had every right to grumble. In addition to being a world medalist in the 400m hurdles, he finished second at World Indoors in 2022, running 45.05 in the open event. However, it was Fred Kerley who took to the internet to voice his opinions, accusing USATF of favoritism and being puppets, presumably alluding to NBC’s interest in Lyles’s Olympic storyline. 

Noah’s on-the-spot comeback to Fred’s comments was good, saying, “He could be here, but he ain’t… If he’s mad at that, come on out here.” But Trevor was there. 

Kerley is the former world medalist in the 400m with a personal best of 43.64, yet he has not been on the relay since 2019. And while there might be a rivalry with Noah, that frustration seems more towards USATF. Because how can you fault a guy for saying he wants to run and then getting picked to do so?

Lyles ended up splitting 45.68 for the fastest third leg among all teams, so in all fairness… he did his job. Unfortunately, the team was still DOOMED as the Belgian World Champion had the better finish. This is still a dangerous precedent – it all feels very British Athletics, if you know what I mean. That leg alone won’t be enough to earn him a spot in the 4x400 at the Olympics, so he’ll have to go again, presumably at the Florida Relays. 

From a strict marketing perspective, you understand why it would be beneficial to have Lyles on that team. We have one star who people outside the sport are starting to pay attention to, and who really likes racing! That should be exploited! But it’s a tough signal for a federation to send to its other athletes that politics and TV ratings might be considered when figuring out who to include on a relay. 

Now if Noah doesn’t get selected to run the 4x400 this summer, a potential path to getting a fourth gold medal at the Olympics would be a bit less sexy. There is always the mixed-gender relay… and there are prelims… and then there are the mixed-gender relay prelims… Gold is gold, right? RIGHT!

In defense of World Indoors being the best 🌎

Photo: Justin Britton | @justinbritton

Maybe it’s just the New Yorker in me, but I love indoor track. And aside from the Millrose Games and the 59th section of the Boys 200m at the Hispanic Games, there aren’t many better events for it than the World Indoor Championships. With half the effort, it is easy to build an atmosphere that amplifies the noise and energy of the crowd and you can even pull this off inside a warehouse. Plus, with only six lanes on the track and steep banks to force unwanted body checks, it can become a roller derby out there. 

This edition of Worlds in particular further validated what I already knew to be the case: three day championships are so much more palatable. There were fewer athletes, and therefore fewer heats and rounds. And without the 200m, 400m hurdles, steeplechase, 5000, 10000, hammer throw, discus, race walk, marathon, 4 x 100, and Mixed 4 x 400, the schedule was much less cramped. Now I don’t care what events we get rid of and whose feelings we have to hurt, but that’s such a better product. 

As a fan, it kind of killed me that on the first day of the broadcast, those who successfully navigated the search function on Peacock were being told that this entire event – THE WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS – were nothing more than a tune-up for the Olympics. That’ll really build intrigue! 

Trust me, everyone who was watching the World Championships is going to watch the Olympics. You don’t need to sell us on that. And obviously there are stars who are not present at the meet, so this isn’t the comprehensive clash of the titans. But if every win or medal that an athlete ever earns is qualified by who is missing, then there would only be one meet every four years that gets any attention. Oh shit, isn’t that what’s happening already? And doesn’t that whole framework kinda suck at driving continued intrigue?

The mentality of some running fans is littered with hypocrisy. You want kudos for your 5K PB set at a local road race, but when a professional medals for their country at the World Championships you’ll give it an asterisk because “not everyone was there.” 

Well, not me! I can’t stop thinking about how much fun this past weekend’s event was. And these are the top 13 things I can’t stop thinking about the most as an extremely biased American distance runner:

Femke is never scared - Has there ever been a reason to doubt that Femke would show up to these World Championships? Between rounds and finals, Bol raced five times and came away with two more gold medals and a lower world record. Although this is still a one-sided rivalry, that doesn’t prevent all of us from salivating at the thought of Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone and Femke Bol finally battling it out over hurdles this summer. It’s hard to believe that they have actually only raced twice, ever. And the last time they raced, Bol was a completely different athlete. As of the 2022 World Championships, Bol had never broken 50 in the open 400 and it wasn’t for a lack of trying, having run 18 of them between 2021 and the race in Eugene. Now she is running 49.17 on the boards.

Hometown Hero - Josh Kerr may have teased us for a long time about whether or not he’d race in his home country, but there is no better way to pick up Instagram followers than a World Championship win. This was presumably the moment the in-stadium noise-o-meter hit its highest level. He remained so calm despite being deep early, and effortlessly weaved through traffic. Kerr has made a habit of exhibiting four-beers-deep level of confidence in his tactics – it’s quite sobering.  

Lapped Runner - Get lapped once, shame on you. Get lapped twice, shame on World Athletics. That could have been such a disaster…

Photo: Justin Britton | @justinbritton

Everyone runs away happy - The camera operator didn’t know who to focus on after Julien Alfred won the 60m in 6.98 because everyone was celebrating. And Poland’s Ewa Swoboda and Italy’s Zaynab Dosso each earned their first global medals and the emotion after showed. As an aside, if the TikTok algorithm had to pick who the most popular athlete in the sport is then it’s easily Swoboda. World Athletics has posted six videos of her in the past few months and they have received: 1.2M, 1M, 3.5M, 4M, 2.4M, and 3.3M views.

Charlton lowers the mark - From a strict “get your name out there” standpoint, setting and then breaking your world record is one helluva strategy. Obviously there were plenty of track fans who knew who she was prior to 2024, but even the mileage hogs are paying attention now. Charlton lowered the WR mark to 7.65 in her decisive victory, improving on the previous World silver medal. Last year, the Bahamian’s 60 meter hurdler’s season’s best was 7.87 and she finished fourth at the World Championships and ran 12.44. She’ll have 40 meters to hold off Tobi.

The first OAC world champ - Imagine watching the livestream with a thirty-second delay and your “friend” gets a text message about Geordie winning and spoils it for you. That’s textbook Chris Chavez. At the time, it didn’t make any sense. Geordie was in 8th and time was running out. How could he win? If there was ever a race that Geordie was too deep and deserved to be punished for making too great of a tactical miscalculation, it should have been this race. But despite all of those guys in it, they made the mistake of running a 1500 like it was pre-2016. And with Hocker and Kessler running tactically sound races themselves this was a big one for US-based fans.

Emily Mackay’s BIG move - Have you ever seen someone move so hard with 400 meters to go that you think they miscounted laps? Mackay probably would have gone sooner had she had the opportunity as she was growing visibly frustrated being boxed in after halfway. The former Binghamton standout blossomed late in her rookie season last year, dipping under four minutes for 1500m in Marseille, winning the Morton Games, and then the Falmouth Mile. Her 2-3 finish alongside Nikki Hiltz was inspiring, but it was also a reminder of just how crowded that 1500 team will be this year now that Mackay has arrived and Elle is back.

Elle is going to break 14? - My daughter was napping so my wife and I watched Elle St. Pierre become a world champion with the TV on mute. We were doing the loudest silent yell possible because you can try to downplay indoor all you want, but she was out kicking the 5000m world record holder Gudaf Tsegay. This is amazing regardless of if/when she entered motherhood. Consider that in third was Beatrice Chepkoech, the world record holder in the steeplechase. Just saying that out loud reminded me that Elle is a 3x All-American over barriers… run it back? Or just run 13:XX for 5000m?

Ask for the champ’s opinion - Miltiadis Tentoglou has a knack for pulling out wins. It’s why his Instagram bio literally reads, “I have won every Major title.” Call it the Miltos touch. Whether it’s in last round theatrics, or in this counting back to next-best marks, the Olympic long jump champ knows the event and it’s why he is not shy about criticizing the idea of World Athletics changing the rules of his event. And he went as far to say that if implemented that he’d be shifting his focus to the triple jump. New bad rule idea: once an athlete wins an Olympic gold medal in an event, they have to go find a new one. You beat the final boss, so play a new game.

Crouser collects ‘em all - Do you know who else has won every Major title? Ryan Crouser. It was the one gem missing on his infinity belt and now he’s got it. And this one was dominant as always: he tossed 22.77m for a new championship record and four of his throws were better than the silver medalist Tom Walsh’s. If this was Formula1 then there’d be new rules implemented at the start of each season to make it harder for Crouser to dominate because he’s become Max Verstappen in a cowboy hat.

Photo: Justin Britton | @justinbritton

Hoppel gets his gold - If everyone else is racing like an idiot, then being normal will make you look like a genius. And combined with his ability to run 1:44 any which way, Bryce Hoppel did exactly that by staying out of the way in a very messy final. Turns out threshold training and altitude works for 800m runners too! 

HI-CHEW… the runners’ candy? - If banks are investing in track and field then why not sweets? Thank God the bibs were so large so there was still enough room for the athlete’s name coming only at the expense of knowing what country they were competing for. HI-CHEW is a Japanese-based company that has been making a huge push into the Western world recently, and they are now being distributed across most big box retailers. In the past couple of years, they have also signed with Duke Athletics and four MLB teams. We are talking about this sponsorship and therefore it worked, even if dentists hate it.

Putting Dominica on the map - Many of you probably didn’t realize that Dominica (pop. 72k) has the second best flag in the world only behind Seychelles, but thanks to Thea Lafond’s triple jumping prowess, she has led you out of the cave. As a University of Maryland pentathlete, Lafond never became an All-American. And when she graduated her personal best in the triple was 13.27. Now it is 15.01! Someone should write a book about the benefits of being a generalist in your youth. 

Flying back to the coop 🇨🇳

Photo: World Athletics

The 2027 World Championships are headed to Beijing, and the crowd goes mild! 

Not that Beijing and the Bird’s Nest haven’t been great hosts before, but they last hosted in 2015, in addition to the 2008 Olympics. China is a gigantic market and had the largest audience of any country in 2023 for Diamond League viewership, which makes sense given the 1.4 billion population while simultaneously not winning any medals during the 2023 World Championships.

That’s all awesome. But after experiencing the crowd and enthusiasm in Budapest in a meet that many would put on the shortlist for the greatest World Championships ever, it is good for the health of the sport to regularly be at its center in Europe. Rome’s bid did not receive the necessary financial support from the Italian government. I’d like to once again refer to the added benefit of having a shorter championship. It’s easier and less expensive to host!

For perspective, the stadium in Beijing held 80,000 during the Olympics and 54,000 for Worlds, whereas Budapest’s capacity was 36,000.

But if we are going to try and move championships around to tap into different global markets, there is one GIGANTIC continent that has never hosted before: Africa. It also happens to be the home of the second-winningest country of all time, Kenya. The reason cited for the overlook has been that Nairobi’s national stadium would require a sizable upgrade to be suitable.

The 16-hour time difference between Beijing and Los Angeles isn’t an ideal appetizer to the 2028 Olympics, as an 8pm meet will be live at 4am to West Coast viewers. But hey, I’ve never been to mainland China and now have the perfect reason to expense a trip there!

Some sort of NCAA Preview ✍️

Photo: Xavier Gallo

If you are more than a few years out of college and failed at getting that dream coaching gig –  which paid way too little for working 70 hours a week and being on the road every weekend most of the year– then odds are you’re not super dialed into what’s on tap at the NCAA Championships this weekend. They’ll be Friday at the TRACK in Boston, which is a real treat because the last time the national meet was in a major US city and not a college town was Indianapolis in 1998. (For the record, that “major US city” distinction is defined as having a big four professional sports franchise.).

Here is my rambling preview to catch you up on everything to know ever since you graduated and started working in a cubicle:

  • Last year, Texas Tech’s Terrence Jones won the 60m. Now he’ll try to do the double, adding the 200m to the itinerary.

  • I have been leading the charge on the JaMeesia Ford hype train while the South Carolina freshman leads the NCAA in the 200m at 22.36.

  • Arkansas has the top four seeds in the women’s 400m. Do you think they’re favored in the 4×400 too?

  • Don’t worry about Christopher Morales Williams this weekend. If he gets the WR in the 400m (again) it will count because they use the right blocks at NCAAs regardless of how coach’s vote.

  • Five women are seeded under 2:01 in the 800 and that’s never happened before. Plus you include the returning champ Roisin Willis and super frosh Sophia Gorriaran on home turf and there just aren’t enough lanes.

  • Last year’s 800m was a weird one. Yusuf Bizimana won after a successful protest. He is the top seed this year so here’s to hoping he can celebrate crossing the finish in first.

  • Maia Ramsden just ran two 4:06 1500s representing New Zealand in Glasgow and is flying back to Boston to hopefully add an indoor title to her one from outdoors. Countrywoman Kimberly May and Florida’s Flomena Asekol won’t be as jet-lagged.

  • There were 108 men under four minutes in Division 1 this year and down from 3:56.20 last year, it took 3:55.46 to get into NCAAs. Luke Houser returns to defend his title, but I have convinced myself that 15 seed Parvej Khan is his biggest threat simply because I like the way he eats his gold chain mid-race.

  • The women’s 3000m might be the race of the weekend: Parker Valby vs. Maia Ramsden vs. Olivia Markezich. Valby is going to make sure the winner goes under the NCAA record of 8:35.20, but WILL IT BE HER?!

  • Six dudes are attempting the 3000m/5000m double so if you like watching Nico Young duke it out against Ky Robinson then I have 20 minutes of TV to sell you!

  • Four women’s teams ran under the previous NCAA record in the DMR this season. Meanwhile, I am worried that my DMR world record will finally be beaten, rendering my entire career and remaining relevance moot. Thanks for reading, if this is the weekend I dissolve into dust and am scattered back to nothingness by a gentle breeze.

  • This isn’t a fair way to measure things, but if I want to make the point that Lamara Distin is very good at the high jump then it’s important to note that her season’s best of 2.00m would have won Worlds.

  • Once again, not how things work… BUTTTTT Wayne Pinnock’s season’s best would have won World Indoors in the long jump by quite a margin. He was second in Budapest though, so it’s not the craziest comparison. (If I don’t get one angry email for the last two bullets, then no one actually reads this newsletter.)

  • We are all universally rooting for Mya Lesnar in the shot put, right? I want to ask her father for an interview this weekend, but will probably peer pressure someone else into doing it for me because I’m afraid of being on the receiving end of a spinebuster.

    Full Women’s Entries | Full Men’s Entries | Schedule/Results

Rapid Fire Highlights 🔥

  • Did you know that the USA 15K championships were this weekend? Well, you should have! It was actually a great race in Jacksonville at the Gate River Run, as many athletes have quickly bounced back from the Olympic Trials and are making the most of some residual fitness. Teshome Mekonen won the men’s race in 42:50, and Rachel Smith won the women’s in 48:26. (Full Results)

  • The indoor and outdoor defending mile champion, Sadie Engelhardt has committed to run at NC State. The catch is that she is only a junior so this verbal is well ahead of schedule, but who could blame her? I want to run for coach Henes, too!

  • The Trials of Miles hosted a banger at The Armory this weekend with UA Dark Sky’s Vince Ciattei leading a string of men to new personal bests with one of his own in 3:50.56. Puma Elite’s Taylor Werner won the women’s 2 mile in 9:32.56, and Bowerman’s Thomas Ratcliffe took the men’s race in 8:16.55. (Results)

  • Narve Nordas had some less than kind things to say about the meet’s organizers this weekend after his fifth place finish in the World Indoor 1500. While 14 is admittedly too many for an indoor middle distance race, saying, “I'm better than him who won, but then I didn't do it” will make for some good Coffee Club fodder on this week’s episode.

  • Allie Wilson unfortunately did not make it out of the first round at Worlds but she did sign a Nike contract two days before. And the UK’s Georgia Bell finished fourth and got herself a check(mark) too.

  • Mary Moraa is leading a protest among Kenyan athletes who are unhappy that the sport’s council will not be sending full fields to the African Games. If only one athlete is selected, it would be Mary, so huge props to the world champion for using her stature to speak for athletes’ rights.

  • Every single time a Major releases its elite field, pundits (myself) will refer to it as the best of all time, as that’s a symptom of the times. But actually, the London Marathon women’s field is INSANE, featuring the WR holder, the former WR holder, the Olympic champ, a world champ, the fastest debutant ever, the former 10,000m record holder/Olympic champ, the 2022 London champion, AND MORE! The men’s field ain’t too shabby either.

  • Australia’s Claudia Hollingsworth continues to live up to the promise that coach Craig Mottram saw in her six years ago. Now at 18, the OAC Oceania athlete won the Canberra Classic in 1:58.81. that’s faster than Athing Mu or Keely Hodgkinson had run at the same age. (Granted COVID, but I needed to get your attention!) (Interview)

Thank you New Balance for sponsoring this week’s newsletter! The whole of Citius Mag will be on hand in Boston this weekend covering the races and speaking with the best young athletes in the country. Also, special thank you to editor Paul for fixing my grammar this week despite having quite the week. For over three years now we have somehow always gotten this thing out.

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