By David Melly
September 18, 2023
What an end to the track and field season.
This year’s Prefontaine Classic served as the final of the 2023 Diamond League, crowning victors with a massive trophy and a $30,000 check in 32 events, over two fantastic days of track and field that delivered the thrills, spills, and rewriting of the record books we all love to see.
The CITIUS MAG crew had a blast hosting the “pre-PRE show” outside the Hayward Field tower with a huge crowd of excited fans and friends of the sport. Chris Chavez and Katelyn Hutchison talked to everyone from Noah Lyles to Sebastian Coe, played the newlywed game with Karsten Warholm and his coach, and had Yared Nuguse solve a Rubik’s cube live on the air. A big shoutout to Australian high jumper Nicola Olyslagers who came on the show with us Saturday then jumped a new lifetime best of 2.03m on Sunday to take second in the women’s high jump. Talk about a CITIUS MAG bump.
You can rewatch Day 1 and Day 2 in full and catch up with all our mixed-zone interviews on our YouTube channel (don’t forget to subscribe!). Below, we break down our closing thoughts and final takeaways to an epic season finale of track and field in 2023.
The World’s Best Enjoyed Their Victory Laps
The odd reality of a professional track and field season that doesn’t end in the World Championships is that even in stacked races like those at the Pre Classic, the urgency of the postseason felt a little lacking at moments. In a sport that (currently) values World and Olympic medals above all else, maintaining the energy level of Budapest nearly four weeks later was a challenge for athletes and fans alike. Nevertheless, the Pre Classic’s lineup and crowds delivered an action-packed weekend of competition featuring pretty much all the sport’s most prominent names.
For 100m World champions Sha’Carri Richardson and Noah Lyles, the race itself was more a formality in the midst of a homecoming. The two biggest sprint stars in the sport ran well in their respective finals, with Richardson finishing fourth in 10.80 and Lyles finishing second in 9.85. But it was clear they were there to celebrate with the U.S. track fans and, frankly, to lend their huge platforms and personalities to the rest of the sport. Closing out 2023 also put some key questions to rest for both stars: Richardson showed she could put together a strong pro season from start to finish with an impressive 13 sub-10.90 performances, and Lyles showed that he was more than just a 200m specialist.
Another major sprint star who was all smiles in Eugene was Shericka Jackson, who took double titles in the women’s 100m (10.70) and 200m (21.57). The world record in the 200m still manages to evade the Jamaican superstar, but she now owns five of the 10 fastest marks of all time and didn’t seem too let down by finishing out her 2023 campaign with “only” the second-fastest 200m of all time.
Big Stars Bounce Back From Budapest
If Budapest didn’t go quite according to plan, Eugene was a great place to rebound.
Olympic champs who couldn’t come home with a World title in Budapest included Athing Mu in the 800m, Valarie Allman in the discus, and Jakob Ingebrigtsen in the 1500m. But another crack at the competition played out incredibly well for them. Mu set an American record of 1:54.97 in a mad dash to the finish, Allman turned the tables on countrywoman Laulauga Tausaga-Collins with a 68.66m winning throw in the first round, and Ingebrigtsen put together an epic double with blazing-fast wins in the Bowerman mile (3:43.73, #3 all-time) and 3000m (7:23.63, also #3 all-time).
American sprinters who left Worlds frustrated also had plenty of opportunity to get revenge in the Diamond League final. Since finishing fifth at Worlds in the 100m, Christian Coleman has now twice equaled the world-leading time of 9.83, and this time he did it by taking down the World champ head-to-head. And Rai Benjamin continued his love affair with Hayward Field, running his fastest ever 400m hurdles performance outside a championship final, clocking a 46.39 to take down World champ Karsten Warholm. Benjamin raced sparingly this year due to injury concerns, but it’s clear that a few more weeks of healthy training could pay off hugely if he times his cycle right in 2024.
Hayward Magic Is Perfect For Setting Records
The one thing the 2023 World Championships was missing were a slew of world-record performances, but the Prefontaine Classic made up for it in high fashion. For the second time in two years, Hayward Field was very good to Mondo Duplantis, who improved his own world record in the pole vault with a first-attempt clearance of 6.23m, winning the competition by a massive 41-centimeter margin. Ethiopian stud Gudaf Tsegay must also like the vibes of Hayward, because she followed up her World title in 2022 with a world record in the 5000m and now a genuine shot at the first women’s sub-14 in history. Her 14:00.21 victory without former world record holders Faith Kipyegon and Letesenbet Gidey in the race made it clear that the record entering the 13s is a matter of when, not if.
There were also a trio of big American records as well, with Chase Ealey bettering Michelle Carter’s shot put record by 13 centimeters with a huge 20.76m throw, Grant Fisher knocking 3 seconds off his own 3000m record with a 7:25.47, and Yared Nuguse taking the American mile record to never-before-seen territory with his 3:43.97. When great weather, great competition, and a great atmosphere align, all of a sudden marks that once seemed unthinkable get blown out of the water left and right.
Rabbited Races Can Still Be Thrilling
One of the common knocks on the Diamond League racing format is that having pacers for every race makes outcomes more predictable and tactics less interesting, with the field lining up behind the biggest names and riding a train to fast times. But this year’s Pre Classic showed that a) chasing a rabbit to record-setting can still be riveting from start to finish, and b) that fast races can still be decided by the slimmest of margins.
In the men’s 800m, mile, and 3000m, the world-leading time was set in each event but the margins of victory were less than 0.3 seconds. In the 3000m, Jakob Ingebrigtsen had to lean hard and, ultimately, tumble to the track to hold off a hard-charging Yomif Kejelcha by a mere 1/100th of a second to claim his second Diamond League title of the weekend. And even though the women’s 5000m wasn’t as close, the thrill of seeing the clock tick by as the laps clicked past and realizing that Gudaf Tsegay was closer than any woman had ever been to sub-14 made the latter half of the race a roller coaster of emotion.
Having no rabbits in most championship races makes for exciting and unpredictable outcomes – just ask Josh Kerr – but different styles of racing each have their time and place in the sport, and the Diamond League has shown that shelling out for high-quality pacing is worth it. The beauty of the League final is that the level of competition is so elite that, aside from perhaps 1500m GOAT Faith Kipyegon, rabbits aren’t just enabling one single runner to ditch the rest of the field and time-trial their way to $30,000. And to really go after the toughest records, a pacer can only do so much – it takes a massive talent to push from several laps out to deliver. It doesn’t take the drama out of a race to run fast; it just makes for a different flavor of theatrics.
Young Stars Set Up A Big Future
It’s so easy to forget that Diamond League 400m hurdles champ Femke Bol is still only 23 years old. With multiple World and Olympic medals, a handful of top-10 times, and the poise to deliver an undefeated season in one of the sport’s trickiest events, Bol seems far beyond her years athletically.
High jump World and Diamond League champ Yaroslava Mahuchikh of Ukraine is only 21 years old (until tomorrow – happy early birthday!) and she’s already developed an incredible consistency in performances with two world-leading 2.03m jumps this year and 7 of the top 12 marks on the 2023 list.
Stats guru Jon Mulkeen also shouted out the 17-year-old Birke Haylom, who paced the women’s 5000m through 3000m in 8:26.03. According to Mulkeen, Haylom’s time would’ve taken a decent chunk off the world junior record, but because it’s not an official mark, it won’t be counted. Maybe Tsegay can return the favor and pace her to a true world junior record soon!
The future for Gen-Z track and field stars is clearly very bright.
Never Count Out The Veterans
While the young guns were busy making names for themselves, a few of the sport’s longtime ringers reminded us why they’re the best in the business.
Joe Kovacs capped his 2023 season with a season’s best 22.93m throw to take down friendly rival Ryan Crouser in the men’s shot put, winning the Diamond League title by only two centimeters. Kovacs, the 2019 World champ, has had a tough year adjusting to fatherhood with 11-month-old twins at home, but he’s clearly finding his groove at the tail end of the season as his mark in Eugene is the second-farthest throw of his career.
Over in the 110m hurdles, 33-year-old Hansle Parchment saved his best stuff for last, winning the Diamond League title over World champ Grant Holloway in a world-leading 12.93. Parchment, the reigning Olympic champion, pulled out of the final at 2022 Worlds with an injury and picked up a silver in 2023, but his performance in Eugene reminded everyone, especially his rivals, that he can’t be counted out heading into Paris.
In Budapest, it took triple jump world record holder Yulimar Rojas all six jumps to finally find her groove and take the win, and although Eugene didn’t come down to quite as dramatic a conclusion, it still came down to the fifth round before Rojas pulled together a 15.35m leap, the longest in the world this year. Behind her, 31-year-old Shaneika Ricketts finished off the best year of her career to date with a 15.03m personal best. Ricketts had never cleared 15 meters before this season and now she’s done it in two of her last three meets.
The Women’s 800m Has Never Been Better
Eagle-eyed Twitter followers may have spotted the accidental controversy we caused with our women’s 800m preview: the out-of-context suggestion that Kenyan Mary Moraa would need to win more than just a World championship title to prove her dominance wasn’t a “fluke” generated a lot of passionate feedback from Kenyan athletics fans. To be clear (in case you didn’t read the full preview), we think Moraa is an accomplished and impressive racer whose strongest trait is her ability to win races with a range of tactics in an event where often athletes only have one winning strategy.
The bigger point was that the storylines around the women’s 800m headed into an Olympic year have never been more interesting: Moraa, American Athing Mu, and Brit Keely Hodgkinson have all made compelling cases over the last three seasons for why they could come out of Paris with a gold medal, and Mu’s incredible performance here shows that she still has the competitive fire burning – maybe hotter than ever before. And it goes to show just how high the level of competition is that Jamaican Natoya Goule-Toppin’s 1:55.96 PB went almost entirely unnoticed by fans. Following an event packed with so much closely-matched high-level talent is a thrill ride that will have middle-distance fans counting down the days until the next big showdown in 2024.
The Women’s 400m Could Be Crazy In 2024
The takeaway coming out of the women’s 400m final in Eugene was less about who showed up and more about who was not there.
Marileidy Paulino closed out a stellar season that yielded her first World title, a Diamond League title, and an incredible 8 sub-50 second performances. Paulino recovered incredibly well from a brief mid-season dip to deliver in Budapest and Eugene, and after picking up silver medals in 2021 and 2022, finally getting gold must’ve felt incredible. But neither here nor at Worlds was she racing U.S. champ Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone, Olympic champ Shaunae Miller-Uibo, or 2019 World champ Salwa Eid Naser. McLaughlin-Levrone and Naser withdrew from Worlds with injury concerns, and Miller-Uibo was competing mostly for fun after giving birth earlier this year. The lingering promise of a season with all four stars fit, healthy, and contending for the win in Paris is tantalizing.
That’s a big “if”: McLaughlin-Levrone may very well return to her specialty event, the 400m hurdles, and Miller-Uibo has made no secret of her desire to one day pursue the heptathlon, but if the stars align and everyone makes it to the Olympics in the same event, we very well may get some times that haven’t been seen since the 1980s.
OAC Is On The Edge Of Something Big
When On Athletics Club was founded in 2020, no one – except maybe coach and club mastermind Dathan Ritzenheim – could have envisioned just what an outsize impact the Colorado-based training group would have on the sport.
Fast forward three years later, and the club is full of record holders from around the world and some of the fastest runners in the history of the sport. This outdoor season alone saw national records from the likes of Americans Yared Nuguse (mile) and Alicia Monson (5000m), Spaniard Mario Garcia Romo (mile, 2000m), Aussie Olli Hoare (1500m), and Kiwi Geordie Beamish (steeplechase). Throw in Diamond League stalwarts Sage Hurta-Klecker and Joe Klecker and the odds are good that in any international distance or middle-distance race on the circuit, OAC will be a serious contender.
The big thing that’s evaded the group thus far is a global medal. They’ve come close: Romo was the fourth-place finisher in the 2022 World 1500m final, Hoare is the reigning Commonwealth Games champ, and Beamish managed to finish fifth in Budapest in his first year training for the steeplechase. As the crew gets more accustomed to racing on the highest-possible level, it seems like only a matter of time until someone breaks through to bring home some hardware, and Paris 2024 would be a huge stage for the club to announce itself to a broader audience.
It’s All About The People
As World Athletics president Sebastian Coe told us on the pre-PRE show, athletes are “the gift that keeps giving” for fans and supporters of track and field. From the huge crowds Noah Lyles drew everywhere he went, to Yulimar Rojas’s winner’s dance, to Jakob Ingebrigtsen’s press conference antics, track and field is at its best when the personalities of its biggest stars are able to shine through.
And it’s not just the athletes: the Hayward fans are an integral part of the Prefontaine Classic experience. The word that always comes to mind when describing the track and field atmosphere in Eugene is “celebration”: From Olympic Trials to World Championships to the Diamond League final, every big event held in Oregon’s cathedral of athletics feels like an ebullient lovefest. We were fortunate to partner with Tracktown USA to create a CITIUS MAG Superfan Section for the first time ever and our friends in the stands threw themselves quite the party. Whether it was getting a clap going for every attempt of the field events, starting a “U-S-A” chant for Rai Benjamin to kick off the meet, or making the silliest homemade signs in the stadium, the superfans of the sport really enhanced the experience for the competitors – and for us.
“We love track and field” isn’t just a clever catchphrase to stick on a hat: it’s a statement of values. We’re not in this business to complain, to gatekeep, or to make ourselves famous, and we’re certainly not in it for any sort of huge paycheck. We do this work because we know just how great this sport is and how much greater it can be, and we want to share that vision with as many people as we can.
So thanks for being along for the ride this season. We can’t wait to see what’s next.
David began contributing to CITIUS in 2018, and quickly cemented himself as an integral part of the team thanks to his quick wit, hot takes, undying love for the sport and willingness to get yelled at online.