By Kyle Merber
June 7, 2023
Enough already! If two’s company, and three’s a crowd, then what the heck is twenty? At the HOKA Festival of Miles, Simeon Birnbaum (who was already in the club) ran 3:57.53 to win a stacked field that welcomed Tinoda Matsata and Jackson Heidesch in as the 19th and 20th sub-four-minute high school milers.
With apologies to any aspiring teen sub-four milers out there primarily motivated by graphics, CITIUS long ago decided that after the 20th that there will be no more individual custom images posted for those doing it. But that doesn’t mean there still isn’t a market for it. The Instagram posts for each of those three athletes (Jackson Heidesch, Tinoda Matsatsa, Simeon Birnbaum) received 1,500 to 3,000 more likes than Faith Kipyegon’s record run’s post. I mean 3:50 isn’t quite as round as 4-flat, but it’s a pretty damn round number!
I don’t really have a major takeaway here except that high school boys are obsessed with the barrier and we need to continue to find ways to channel that exuberance to other aspects of the sport. How do we capture this and pump that enthusiasm into the professional side of the sport (as well as high school girls’ mile races)?
At the time of writing this, the Faith Kipyegon post has 8,924 likes and 78% of those who engaged with the post follow CITIUS on Instagram. Is it fair to say that the majority of followers probably consider themselves track fans? Compare that to the Simeon Birnbaum post which has 11,377 likes, of which, 51% of those engaging do not follow CITIUS. This theme is consistent across all high school running content, though we know who is more likely to accept that “collab” tag.
That’s the challenge in marketing the professional side of the most participated high school sport in the country. Kids only seem to care about other kids!
On the ladies’ side, the high school mile was won by Charlotte Bell in 4:41.33, except it wasn’t the fastest time of the day. That honor went to Tatum David, who ran 4:37.79 to finish 7th in the professional race, which was won by Abby Nichols in 4:26.08.
I have argued before (to very mixed reviews) that professionals should not be competing at college meets, and that collegians should not be in professional meets. I believe the US Championships should be a professional-only meet (GASP!) and if amateurs want to compete on the next level then there is an option for that.
The spark notes version for my reasoning is that without clear lines in the sand, it’s impossible for governing bodies to ever make changes to the sport that are necessary for its long-term benefit. And I am willing to sacrifice the possibility that the three best athletes may occasionally not be the ones representing their country at global championships for the cause.
There are basketball players in the NCAA who are better than some of the old men riding the bench on a lottery-bound NBA team. Is that unfair? No, it’s a choice.
All that is to say that this train of thought also extends to high schoolers racing professionals. In this case, not only did Tatum David’s excellent result get buried, with many fans failing to take notice of the achievement, but it undermines the prestige of the high school-only winner’s win.
Any way you put it, Shawnti Jackson’s breaking the 100m high school national record of 10.89 (+0.9) at the Music City Track Carnival and beating all the professionals in the process is mind-blowing. So I don’t want to be that angry old man yelling at the clouds. It’s just that back in my day, winning the Millrose Boys High School Mile used to mean something!
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After hanging up his spikes – but never his running shoes – Kyle pivoted to the media side of things, where he shares his enthusiasm, insights, and experiences with subscribers of The Lap Count newsletter, as well as viewers of CITIUS MAG live shows.