2023 USATF Outdoor Championship Day 3 Recap: Middle-Distance Madness!

By David Melly

July 9, 2023

Where to even start? Day 3 of the 2023 USATF Outdoor Championships had something for everyone: thrills, spills, and everything in between. Veteran athletes staged long-awaited comebacks and promising young stars announced their arrival. Collegians turned pro and pros got their paychecks. And 12 new national champions were crowned.

Below, we break down the highlights of the track and field finals that took place yesterday, but if you want a full in-depth breakdown of all the action, including Sha’Carri Richardson’s incredible 200m prelim and the intriguing first round of the men’s 110m hurdles, watch or listen to CHAMPS CHATS to get the dish!

Without further ado, here’s what you need to know:

Women’s 400m:

We’ve been waiting for it all year and it finally happened: Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone clocked her first (but probably not last) sub-49 performance in the women’s 400m final. In her first four races of the season, McLaughlin-Levrone ran between 49.51 and 49.79 a variety of different ways: going out fast, going out slow, pressing the finish, jogging it in. We got the sense she was learning the event in real time and, particularly after clocking a shockingly easy 49.60 in the semis, we knew she was putting the pieces together. McLaughlin-Levrone was never seriously challenged for the victory and her 48.74 was only 0.04 seconds off Sanya Richards-Ross’s American record. We still don’t know whether she’ll run the hurdles, the flat, or both, but she’ll be a gold medal threat in any event she chooses come Budapest.

Behind her, a pair of experienced collegians will join her on their second Team USA each as Britton Wilson finished second in 49.79 and Talitha Diggs got a PB of 49.93 in third. Wilson made the team in the hurdles last year and Diggs is the 2022 U.S. champ in the 400m, so they’ll have more experience this time around when they get another shot at global competition. Diggs also debuted her adidas kit as she turned professional right before the final.

Men’s 400m:

The men’s 400m has been a relatively quiet event on the professional level this year, with only one man clocking a sub-44 so far this season, the reigning World champ Michael Norman focusing on the 100m early, and the U.S. leader, Rai Benjamin, focusing on the hurdles. But as the NCAA runners are starting to feel the wear of a long season, the pros are rounding into form at the right time, and a trio of experienced vets landed on the podium led by Bryce Deadmon in first in a personal-best 44.22. Vernon Norwood and Quincy Hall also made the team in 44.39 and 44.41, after finishing 5th in the 400m and 400m hurdles, respectively, at last year’s championship.

Women’s 1500m:

The CITIUS team spent a lot of time breaking down the 1500ms on the show, so the best way to unpack every step of these races is to tune in to the podcast. But both races were so epic it’s worth giving them a little bit more time and attention.

Nikki Hiltz followed up their U.S. indoor 1500m title with an outdoor title to match thanks to a well-timed and blazing-fast final 100m. Hiltz, a fan favorite who competes for lululemon, is the first openly non-binary athlete to win a U.S. track title with a 4:03.10 victory and has been on an absolute tear this season.

Early on, the race was really dictated by the supremely-talented Athing Mu in only her second 1500m in the last two years. Mu controlled the field from the front from the second lap to the final sprint, and it’s clear that she’s gotten much more comfortable racing the longer distance as she got another huge PB of 4:03.44 and a second-place finish out of it. Cory McGee closed well to make another U.S. team in third and 2022 champ Sinclaire Johnson got a little boxed on the final lap and didn’t quite have the positioning to land on the podium, instead hitting the track in the final meter to finish fourth by 1/100th of a second. Fortunately for Sinclaire and her fans, Mu may stick to defending her 800m title at Worlds rather than attempting the double, so Johnson has a shot to head to Budapest with plenty left to prove.

Men’s 1500m:

Yared Nuguse winning this one wasn’t a huge surprise as the OAC star has been on another level this season and entered the race with both the fastest PB and arguably the fastest top-end closing speed, but how it played out was a little unexpected. Nuguse controlled the race from early on until 250 meters to go, when University of Washington’s Joe Waskom blew past him in a bid for the win. Normally, if you get passed that decisively in the last lap of a 1500m, you’re not coming back, but Nuguse is built different and had the gear to come back against the best in the country over the final 50 meters and take the win in 3:34.90 with a 53.26 final 400m.

Waskom’s bold move paid off with a second-place finish and a new PB of 3:35.32. He may have to knock another 1.12 seconds off in the next two weeks to get the standard and, due in large part to racing an NCAA season and not professional meets, he doesn’t have the ranking at the moment (although if all the math works out, he should be pushed in by his performance this weekend). But given that Andy Powell’s 8 sub-4 milers and handful of professionals are all fit, tapered, and hanging around Seattle, if anyone can set up a time trial on short notice with top-tier pacing, it’s the Huskies. Cole Hocker ended up third after a disappointing and injury-plagued 2022 and spoke after the race about having big goals for Worlds, and between him and Nuguse, it’s not crazy to think that with a few more weeks of healthy training, the team the U.S. is sending features multiple medal contenders in the right kind of race.

Women’s Steeplechase:

The word “upset” gets overused and I’ve already been attacked once this season for calling a race an upset, so I’m a little leery, but it’s safe to say that anyone beating Emma Coburn in a race she’s won for the last 8 straight years is an big surprise, especially when you have to set a 10-second PB to do it. That’s exactly what NAZ Elite’s Krissy Gear did, coming back from 6th place at 2k to storm past U.S. leader Courtney Wayment and Coburn over the final few hurdles to take the win in 9:12.81 and get the World standard needed to head to Budapest.

Gear, whose background is in the middle distances, has a seriously dangerous kick, but she also ran a huge PB and is now #6 on the U.S. all-time list so it’s clear that she should be taken seriously as a global contender at any pace. Coburn still finished second in a huge season’s best of 9:13.60, and after a year that included multiple early-season falls and losing her mom to cancer, it’s safe to say that every track fan will be rooting hard for her to pick up another medal at this year’s World championship.

Men’s Steeplechase:

This event was about as open as any U.S. championship could be, with no reigning champion, no one with the World standard, and 6 men entered with season’s best between 8:16 and 8:22. But one athlete showed that perhaps the upper limit of his potential remains unscratched, as BYU’s Kenneth Rooks took a head-over-heels spill over an early barrier but reattached himself to the pack and came blazing past Mason Ferlic in the final 150 meters to win it all in 8:16.78, a new PB. If you can fall like that and still run your fastest time to date it’s safe to say there’s a few more seconds in the tank. Behind him, runner-up Benard Keter also got his personal best in 8:17.19 and made his third straight team, and the underdog story of the meet, longtime veteran and well-known nice guy Isaac Updike, made his first U.S. team at 31.

Isaac and his coach Tom Nohilly joined CHAMPS CHAT to break down the race and offer their reactions. Watch his segment below (1:18:38):

Women’s 100m Hurdles:

The track events ended with a bang as Keni Harrison lost her first U.S. final in the event since 2016 and 34-year-old mom of three Nia Ali picked up her first outdoor U.S. title ever with a blazing 12.37 victory. Ali, who’s particularly strong in the 60m hurdles, got out hard and held the lead for most of the race while the places shifted like crazy behind her, with Harrison closing hard for second and Alaysha Johnson fading from 2nd to 4th in the last few hurdles. Harrison and Ali will be joined by Kentucky senior Masai Russell, the collegiate record holder who only finished 2nd at NCAAs.

Men’s Hammer Throw:

American record holder in the hammer throw (and my college teammate!) Rudy Winkler picked up his fourth national title with a 79.04m throw. Winkler is the only American with the standard right now and is truly on another level from the rest of the field, as 5 of his 6 throws would’ve been good enough to win the competition. Behind him, Daniel Haugh and Alex Young, Winkler’s teammates at the Tokyo Olympics, both got season’s bests and should make Team USA this year as well via world ranking.

Men’s Pole Vault:

The pole vault competition this year was a wacky one as no one jumped particularly high, American record holder KC Lightfoot retiring in 5th place rather than taking all three final attempts with what appeared to be a hamstring issue and 2x World champion Sam Kendricks finishing fourth at 5.81m. The only 6-meter vaulter to make the team was Chris Nilsen, who won the title with a 5.91m effort, and he’ll be joined by Zach McWhorter and Texas Tech’s Zach Bradford.

Men’s Long Jump:

Two of the top four spots were decided by one centimeter in this one as Marquis Dendy claimed his first outdoor U.S. title since 2015 with a 8.14m jump to Jarrion Lawson’s 8.13m and high jump favorite JuVaughn Harrison outjumped Steffin McCarter for third, 8.08m to 8.07m. It’s also worth noting that Division II standout Cordell Tinch, who looked phenomenal in his first round of the men’s 110m hurdles, also finished 5th in this competition with an 8.00m leap, which was occurring at the same time as the hurdles prelims.

Men’s Javelin Throw:

The great championship for Tracksmith athletes continued as Curtis Thompson took the gold in the men’s javelin with an 80.92m season’s best, the only thrower over 80 meters in the competition. It looks like the U.S. may not field a full team in this particular event as he’s the only athlete who’s definitely inside the rankings cutoff at the moment.

Women’s Shot Put:

The last field event of the day continued Maggie Ewen’s strong season, as she took the win with a 6th-round throw of 19.92m. In fact, all six of Ewen’s throws would’ve been long enough to win, and her shortest, 19.48m, shows impressive consistency from the Nike athlete. Behind her, World champion Chase Ealey’s rocky 2023 continued as she only managed fourth place, but her global gold guarantees her a spot on the plane.

We’ve got one more day of track and field left but it’s shaping up to be the best yet, so don’t miss any of the action with us on Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube and beat the Sunday scaries by tuning in live on YouTube after the final events conclude for our wrap-up, analysis, and celebration of another great championships.

David Melly

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.