World Champs Halftime Show⏱
Sponsored by ASICS
Lap 129: Sponsored by ASICS
As an official partner of World Athletics, ASICS is proud to support all of CITIUS MAG’s content throughout this year’s World Athletics Championships Budapest 2023. CITIUS MAG is the premier destination for real-time competition updates, in-depth analysis and interviews with your favorite track and field athletes.
Be sure to check out www.asics.com to see the gear sported by some of the top athletes from around the globe, and stay up to date WCH Budapest 23 coverage with our daily talk show with top athletes, coaches, and personalities on CITIUS MAG Live from 2-4pm ET every day or our daily recap podcast after each evening’s competition.
Welcome to Budapest! 🇭🇺
Photo: Justin Britton | @justinbritton
There is a moment of brief silence during every cross country race shortly after the gun goes off when you are surrounded by a huge pack of bodies but not quite registering the thud of hundred of spikes on the grass and the increasingly labored breathing around you. During this period of calm, you can look around and say, “this is it… we are finally here.”
That was the start of the World Championships for me. I got those same early race jitters the second I arrived at the stadium for the first time, and they didn’t dissipate until the early heats of the steeplechase took to the track. All of that preparation has culminated in this – and that extends to the media teams!
I feel like I’ve just taken my seat in the press area, but somehow it’s now the start of day five at the World Championships. But it also feels like day fifty – I am much too exhausted to try to piece together much in the way of coherent thoughts as I stumble my way through the Budapest public transportation system.
But what my travel and track-addled brain is able to say confidently is this: “WOW!” This is only my second time at a global championship and so I don’t have much to compare Budapest ‘23 to, but the sentiment that this has been an exceptional event is shared by every veteran media member and athlete I’ve spoken with.
The CITIUS MAG team has been busy at work pumping out content for fans who presumably also have regular-life responsibilities to balance. If you are watching 5+ hours of track and field each day on top of every interview uploaded then don’t be surprised when your boss says something.
So I will keep this newsletter brief with some rapid-fire thoughts that we can talk more about later!
The Double Dutch Disaster 🇳🇱
Photo: Justin Britton
Bet you didn’t have two Dutch athletes tripping five meters before the finish line whilst still in the lead ten minutes apart on your bingo card!
But that’s what happened, and boy, what a way to start out the first day of competition! This is what I love about track and field – not that this happened to Sifan Hassan or Femke Bol, both of whom are electric if not generational talents and seem like genuinely kind people – but that it’s impossible to predict. Like shuffling a deck of cards the same way twice, there are just about infinite permutations as to how each race will play out. And yet it always seems so obvious beforehand as we find a way to talk ourselves into fully believing that the most predicted outcome is inevitable.
If with 100m to go in the women’s 10,000m you’d drafted a text to your track nerd group chat saying something to the effect of “Sifan’s gonna do this triple, isn’t she?” then you would have had every right to hit send on that puppy. But just seconds later, you’d have looked like a damn fool – it was a tumultuous start to Hassan’s bid for triple gold as her feet gave way in the race’s closing meters. After a pedestrian opening mile north of 5:30, this year’s London Marathon champion gradually made her way toward the front of the field with grace. But when she made her bid for the lead it was violent with an explosion with 300 meters to go – perhaps that gear shift was too sudden?
Watching this race from the other side of the track my immediate hope was that there was no impediment by last year’s 5000m champion Gudaf Tsegay. There was a huge sigh of relief when a text came in from a TV-viewing friend that confirmed this was just an unfortunate one-woman accident. The tragedy remains tragic, but we don’t have to rewatch the replay a thousand times to dissect every flailing elbow. Think of the position that would have put the poor officials in!
To put it much too harshly, falling on your own is your own fault. And it means the winner and their respective fans can feel good about the victory without the controversy. Like, maybe there was the tiniest bit of contact two steps prior to the fall if you look closely, but that’s just another reason why an athlete coming off the final turn and in the lead should stay on the rail. It’s both the shortest and safest path.
Now the question is if Fall $1 happening moments before the Netherlands team took to the track for Mixed-Gender 4×400 Relay planted the seed in any way. Surely some athletes watched and thought to themselves, “I hope that’s never me!”
Photo: Justin Britton
While the United States relies on its depth to field a competitive team for this relatively new event, the Dutch bring in their heavy hitters, unwilling to give up a free shot at a potential gold medal. Although I am still not fully on board with the event’s existence… if World Athletics is handing out $80K to the winner, plus an additional $100K for an attainable bonus, then we should take it seriously. And that’s what the United States did, as the squad was fully in it coming into the anchor leg.
Admittedly, even the most red blooded American would have had their doubts when Femke Bol grabbed the baton next to Alexis Holmes. The Kentucky graduate’s best open 400 is 50.32 – good, but not quite the equivalent of Bol’s 51.45 over hurdles last month. This is the obligatory point in the newsletter where I say: ”there is a reason they don’t run the race on paper!” Holmes HELD IT DOWN!
Yes, Bol hit the deck. But don’t let that fall distract you from Holmes splitting 48.8 to anchor a world record-winning team. Much like in the 10,000m that finished minutes prior, the fate of the two athletes did not intersect. Holmes was closing and still very much in it and so the American narrative, thankfully, is not that this was won on an unforced error, but that it was an earned walk-off win.
Femke Bol took the disappointment like a champion. Her Dutch teammates stood by her side and this will only wind up a short mention at the bottom of what is already a very long resume for the 23-year-old. In fact, Lieke Klaver was likely willing to fight any media member who would have asked her friend an inappropriate question. And isn’t that what sport is about? Celebrating the wins and picking each other up after the losses.
Let’s Talk About Noah Lyles, Even More 🥇
Photo: Johnny Zhang | @jzsnapz
If I may continue with the baseball similes, [Edior’s note: “go for it, dude, it’s America’s pastime.”] it was like when Babe Ruth called his shot, except if he had done so after the Yankees missed the 1931 playoffs and said, “in Game 7 next year, I am going to hit a home run in the bottom of the 9th to win the World Series 4-3.”
Noah Lyles did all that except he got the score wrong.
It was not just that the sport’s greatest showman ran 9.83 – a new personal best – to win the World Championships without ever having made the US 100m team before. It was the way he did. Much is made of the importance of storytelling and the need for athletes to buy into a level of transparency needed to hook fans’ attention. Lyles did all of that well before this season even began.
Since setting the American record for the 200m at last year’s World Championships, Noah has not been shy about his desire for the double (and of course a third medal in the relay). And the plan was laid out, as he reiterated time and time again: the races he was running during the indoor season were to work on his weakness.
Did you forget about when the fastest man in the world placed third at a college invitational this past January? Or when he got beat by a high schooler in April? He was ridiculed on the Internet for it and this is a guy who seemingly reads every word written about him (Hi Noah!).
Although I am a self-proclaimed Noah-stan, there were moments when I doubted him as well. But after seeing the dominance in the semi-final, the tide had shifted for me. All of the concentrated work on improving his start had finally clicked into place. With his top-end speed, which was always there, it didn’t have to be better than everyone else – it just had to be better than it was.
As the athletes got set in the blocks my own heart was pounding. If for some odd reason, they had given me a lane then I’d have purposely false started just to get out of there. The reason I was so nervous is that it feels like Noah has the potential to become a household name. And while it is unfair for the weight of the sport to rest on any one set of shoulders, with the Olympics around the corner there isn’t a better person to handle that responsibility than Noah.
Remember that Noah is self-funding and raising money to pay the production cost for his own documentary on Peacock. He gets it! With great power comes great responsibility. Hopefully the free press comes with it too.
Talk About Chasing Clout! 🤠
Photo: Justin Britton | @justinbritton
The day before stepping into the ring for the biggest competition of the year, Ryan Crouser dropped a bomb – this one not weighing 12 lbs. In the three weeks leading into Budapest, Crouser thought he’d developed a pesky calf strain. It turned out the Olympic and World champion had two blood clots in his lower leg.
My initial thought was wondering why he would share that. Was this an excuse? Or was this to give his competition enemies a false sense of confidence? It took one casual warm-up toss that flew over 20 meters for me to be convinced that it was the latter.
In a lead-up to a championship that featured numerous dropouts from stars, track fans were beginning to develop trust issues. Well, next time you find yourself doubting the commitment of athletes and their willingness to line up under distress, then look to the shot putters for comfort.
Crouser’s first throw of 22.63m would have won the competition outright. Of course, with the way time and space works he could not have known that then. But for insurance, his second toss of 22.98m was significantly farther than anyone not named Ryan Crouser had mustered all season. He could have stopped, yet he pressed on.
With the gold medal fully locked up, Crouser did not have to step into the ring to potentially risk his health anymore. BUT HE DID. And that’s when he sent the shot into orbit 23.51m as the crowd erupted over the second furthest throw of all time, which set a new championship record.
I am not a doctor, but that’s freaking sick.
Haters: an invaluable resource
Photo: Justin Britton | @justinbritton
I know if I were sitting at my desk performing the duties required of my day job, and somebody was outside my window chirping about how I’ll never really figure out Excel macros or Tweeting about how I used too many exclamation points in my last email to my boss, I’d probably be pretty rattled, but I’d also do my best to drown out the doubt! It can’t be productive, right?
For an athlete of Sha’Carri Richardson’s visibility, that’s just not possible. She’s the most recognizable active American track athlete, and perhaps the most scrutinized, ever. Her struggles have been incredibly public, beginning with the saga around her removal from the 2021 Olympic team, continuing through her 2022 campaign – which was not the comeback story she’d hoped for – and even picking up in 2023 when she got off to what many thought was too hot of a start.
All along the way, she’s received unfathomable amounts of vitriol, unsolicited advice, and blind support – in its own way a form of sometimes crushing pressure. She understandably has shied away from interviews with the traditional press, which has been critical, probing, and even hostile toward her.
But following her historic victory – 10.65, a championship record, from lane nine, after qualifying on time – on Monday, Richardson exhibited remarkable poise, saying “last time I was really here in a big stadium I had my orange hair and I wanted to show you guys that I’m still that girl but I’m better. I’m still that girl but I’m stronger. I’m still that girl but I’m wiser.”
It was an answer that pointed to a great deal of introspection in the runup to her first world title, but it’s also an answer that points to the fact that her audience – both fans and haters – loomed large over her preparation for her redemptive 2023 season. If you supported her when she was at her lowest, she’s still that same person. If you kicked her when she was down, she’s a better, more improved athlete than you could have ever imagined – how’s it feel to have been proven wrong?
Ten minutes before Richardson was crowned the fastest woman in the world, another American star stormed the homestretch to secure a gold medal of his own. Except in the case of Grant Holloway, there was hardly any doubt this would be the outcome, and you’d be hard pressed to find anyone knocking his odds, or his humanity.
This was his third outdoor world title. His 2023 had gone swimmingly, beginning with an indoor world title at the 60m hurdles, and continuing through the 11 of 12 races he won outdoors ahead of Budapest. He’s got the best start in the business, and as he progressed through the rounds here in Hungary, I don’t believe he clipped a single hurdle. In a sport that invites upsets, coming into the final, this felt like as sure a bet as you could possibly imagine.
Yet when the predictable outcome unfolded and after Holloway had celebrated, wrapped in an American flag, counting off one, two, three, on his fingers and smiling for the dozens of assembled cameras, he gave what I found to be a fascinating interview. He said something to the effect of being driven by his doubters. What? Who?! Nobody was at his level all year, and everybody seems to love him – I know I do!
I’m sure an athlete of Grant’s caliber does have people questioning whether he’ll win, and I’m not trying to downplay any hardships he faced leading up to this moment. But maybe he has to search for years-old Tweets to find his one hater? Regardless, there does seem to be something about the mentality of the world’s most accomplished athletes – they need a chip on their shoulders to perform their best.
You don’t get to a world championship final without being one of the most self-motivated people alive. You have to truly want to be the best. (And you have to be blessed with all the talent that can fit into a human body.) But perhaps what separates the eventual winner from the others in the field is that .1% boost that comes from an external push. Like a tree photosynthesizing, they transform ambient doubt – no matter the quantity – into positive energy, and use it to run stupid fast.
Rapid Fire Highlights 🔥
Joshua Cheptegei won the10,000m in 27:51 for his sixth global championship and it was a thrilling race... although the woman in the stands behind me may have felt differently as she tapped on my shoulder with 400m to go asking that I sit down. Spoiler alert: I did not. With all of these medals and two world records at 5,000 and 10,000 while still only 26-years-old, it feels like we are watching an all-time great career unfold. He’ll attempt to add to that legacy on Sunday when he toes the line for the 5,000m.
I did my best to encourage readers to lay some money down on a hedged Kristjan Čeh and Daniel Ståhl bet, as the pair have dominated every competition the past few years. In the sixth round Čeh threw big to take the lead, but in all his clutchness, the Big Swede tossed a championship record of 71.46m to finish out the competition.
Much too confused by how the scoring worked, I only started following the multi-events with a closer eye in the past couple of years. Yet with the addition of the live score tracking in-stadium, it became easy to understand the drama as it unfolded in the Heptathlon 800m. Anna Hall could not distance herself enough from Katarina Johnson-Thompson as the 2019 Champion from Great Britain returned to the top in what was an emotional night for her adoring fans.
All year I have been backing Jamaica’s Jaydon Hibbert in the triple jump, however, a tweaked hamstring on his first jump sent my prediction haywire. The man who could not miss from 17.64m out was Hugues Fabrice Zango who earned Burkina Faso its first ever gold.
Ten years after winning her first medal in Moscow, Serbia’s Ivana Vuleta is finally golden in the long jump with a massive leap of 7.14m. The United States’ darling Tara Davis catapulted into silver medal position and we don’t expect she will have a hard time getting into Diamond Leagues anymore!
Soufiane El Bakkali came in with Lamecha Girma’s number and he also left with it. The race played right into the Moroccan’s hands as things got tactical and if there is one thing that man can do it’s hurdle the final barriers very quickly!
They tell applicants that they should aim to keep their resume to one page but Faith Kipyegon’s is allowed to bleed onto a second. The two-time world record holder dominated the 1500 controlling it from the first step to win in 3:54.87 for her fifth global championship. Do you now give her the title of the best 1500m runner of all-time… over El G?
Gianmarco Tamberi had the Italian faithful going WILD as he won the high jump in 2.36m over JuVaughn Harrison who made the same height but with an early miss.
Look to the oddsmakers to determine just how big of a deal Laulauga Tausaga’s upset was — had you placed $100 down on her ahead of time then you’d have made out $13K in profit. Lagi came in with a personal best of 65.46m and somehow tossed an additional four meters to win in 69.49m. I do not now know how but we love it.
Thanks so much to ASICS for sponsoring not only this week’s newsletter — which I somehow wrote! But all of the content coming out of CITIUS MAG’s Budapest HQ this week. They’ve been wonderful partners and super supportive of our mission to get more fans excited about these World Championships.