Christmas Wishes: The Matchups We Want to See in 2018

By Kevin Liao

December 24, 2017

The holiday season can be tough. Between the cold weather, gift shopping, and having to talk to your uncle at dinner who is definitely going to talk politics, you might just need a distraction from spending hours upon hours pretending you like your relatives.

Citius Mag is here to help.

While you take a break from your Christmas feast or marathon NBA watching session, we’ve put together some of the best matchups we’re hoping to see in the year to come. With no Olympics or World Championships in 2018, there isn’t a natural peak to the season, meaning track fans will have to find other storylines to follow. We’ve tried to identify a few of them to look out for. And given the fact we’re publishing this on Christmas Eve, we’ve also included some pro basketball analogies to prepare you for the five Christmas Day NBA games to come tomorrow.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

Christian Coleman vs. Andre De Grasse

We were robbed of an opportunity to see the future of sprinting face off at the 2017 World Championships when De Grasse came down with an injury just days before the big meet. In his absence, Coleman went on to win silver in that thrilling 100 meter final, providing a glimpse of his potential in the post-Bolt world.

Now that Bolt’s out of the picture and Justin Gatlin is both aging and again embroiled in scandal, the track world is putting its faith behind De Grasse and Coleman to carry the torch forward.

Here’s one thing these guys can do to be better than the previous generation of sprint starts: Actually race each other.

Bolt and Gatlin were famous for dodging each other. In a six year span between 2012 and 2017, the two men raced a mere three times outside of championship races. It’s absurd that the two marquee names in track and field’s marquee event raced so sparingly.

Some people argue that preserves a sort of prestige for when they do face off at championship races. I’m calling B.S. on that.

The Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers have waged some epic battles in the past three NBA Finals. (I’m a Warriors fan, so you don’t have to remind me about game seven of the 2016 Finals…I’m still not over it.) Yet seeing them play twice a year in the regular season, including as the featured game on Christmas Day(3:00 PM Eastern tip-off), by no means diminishes the games they play in the Finals. In fact, it provides us fans the hoops nourishment we need to get through the long slog of the regular season before the playoffs begin.

By the same account, Coleman and De Grasse — or Bolt and Gatlin in the previous era — racing at Prefontaine or Monaco doesn’t take away from their inevitable showdown at a championship race. In fact, it just builds up hype.

Remember when Bolt lost to Yohan Blake in both the 100 and 200 at the 2012 Jamaican Trials? The “Will Bolt lose?” storyline carried on all the way to London and made the Olympics just that much more exciting.

So here’s a message to Coleman and De Grasse (and perhaps more importantly, their agents): Do something good for the sport and actually race — the more often, the better.

Clayton Murphy vs. everyone

The basketball community has coined the phrase “unicorn” to describe the new generation of physically improbable stars who are reinventing the way the game is played.

The Christmas Day matchup between the New York Knicks and Philadelphia 76ers (noon Eastern tip-off) features two of those unicorns — Kristaps Porzingis and Joel Embiid. Both men are well over seven feet tall yet possess the footwork, agility and shooting ability more often found in players well over a foot shorter than them.

U.S. middle distance running’s unicorn has to be Clayton Murphy, a young man who has the rare ability to compete on the global level in both the 800 and 1500 meters.

We saw that ability in a breakthrough 2016 season in which Murphy shocked the world to win a bronze medal over 800 meters at the Rio Olympics. He started the next season on fire, running 1:43.60 in April and 3:51.99 for the mile at the Pre Classic. Unfortunately, an injury sustained during his 800/1500 double at USA’s in the blistering Sacramento heat forced Murphy to miss the remainder of 2017.

Murphy has now moved to Portland and is training with the Oregon Project.

For 2018, we just want to see Murphy unleash his unicorn abilities on the Diamond League circuit over both 800 and 1500 meters and see just how competitive he can be over both distances on the world stage.

U.S. women’s marathoners vs. the American record

Deena Kastor’s American marathon record of 2:19:36 has stood since 2006.

The Minnesota Timberwolves haven’t made the playoffs since 2004.

Both of those feats could very well be going down in 2018.

American women’s marathoning has never been deeper, with five active women having finished on the podium of major or global championship marathons (Flanagan, Linden, Huddle, Hasay and Cragg). Four of the five are running Boston, a course not known for fast times, but should any of them choose to attempt a time trial effort in Berlin or Chicago this fall, Kastor’s mark could be in jeopardy.

After years of futility, the T-Wolves look to be back on track, mostly thanks to the offseason addition of swingman Jimmy Butler. Minnesota, which faces LeVar Ball’s Los Angeles Lakers on Christmas Day (10:30 PM Eastern tip-off), is solidly positioned for the playoffs, currently sitting fourth in the Western Conference standings. Should young standouts Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins continue to develop and coach Tom Thibodeau not overwork his stars, Minnesota should break its 14 year streak of watching the playoffs from home.

Caster Semenya vs. the 1500 meters

Semenya has accomplished all that she can in the 800 meters. She’s a two-time Olympic gold medalist and three-time world champion in the two lap event.

Though she will likely run for South Africa at the Commonwealth Games, Semenya doesn’t have a major global championship to look forward to in 2018, so why not continue exploring her abilities in a different event, the 1500 meters?

We saw in limited doses what Semenya could accomplish in the 1500 meters when she won a bronze medal at the World Championships last year. Now who wouldn’t want to see more of what the greatest modern half-miler can do against the likes of Kipyegon, Simpson, Hassan, Dibaba and Muir?

Semenya’s NBA comp is probably Kyrie Irving, whose Boston Celtics are facing the Washington Wizards on Christmas Day (5:30 PM Eastern tip-off). Irving got to the mountaintop with the Cavs in 2016 and is now seeking to blaze his own path as the undisputed alpha dog of the Celtics.

Semenya could do the same in the 1500 meters — and for the sake of excitement, we hope she does.

Evan Jager vs. the 8 minute barrier & Emma Coburn vs. the 9 minute barrier

Coburn and Jager are without question the greatest steeplechasers in American history. Yet even with the championship hardware they’ve earned, both are still looking to dip under mythical times barriers in their events.

It’s worth noting what an achievement it would be for both, as only 11 men have ever broken 8:00 and just four women have ever broken 9:00.

Jager has come agonizingly close on a couple occasions, including his infamous fall at the 2015 Paris Diamond League. Coburn is a bit further away with a 9:02.58 personal best from her gold medal run at the World Championships, one of three sub-9:10 performances in her career.

Much like the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder (8:00 PM Eastern tip-off), two teams who have similarly knocked on the door of breakthroughs but have yet to get there, Coburn and Jager have a prime opportunity in this non-championship year to chase those fast marks.

What do you want to see in 2018? Shoot us an email with your thoughts. citiusmag@gmail.com

Kevin Liao

Sacramento-based amateur runner, photographer and writer. Once interviewed Taoufik Makhloufi in French. Enjoys politics a lot. Follow him on Twitter @RunLiao.