By Kyle Merber
March 15, 2023
If you ever lose faith in humanity, then I’d suggest spending an hour outside of arrivals at an international airport to be reminded that there is happiness left in the world. And if you ever lose faith in track and field, then I’d suggest attending the New Balance National meet to be reminded of all the charm in the sport that us grumpy curmudgeons occasionally forget about.
The almost six thousand athletes that christened The TRACK in its inaugural national meet were more than happy to remind us why this sport can be so great, and also to receive one of the iconic backpacks seen on college campuses across the country. (For a sense of how culturally important these meet backpacks are, I failed to find a kid willing to trade me theirs for a Venmo payment, the equivalent of many weeks of allowance.) For four days the building was buzzing with excitement and while there was ample attention and positive feedback following the Indoor Grand Prix earlier this season, it was no match for this one.
The facility was built for this exact moment and the young fella proved up to the task. And while there are many little details that went into making it a unique experience like the dramatic intro music, enthusiastic on-field announcers, a superstar in concert, customized gear, pacing lights, professionals signing autographs, the fact that the meet was actually running on schedule, plus a million other things that would only matter to the most particular of track & field newsletter writers, there is one thing that truly made this meet special: the athletes.
It would not be the national meet if it were not for the best performers in the country coming together to put on a show and that’s exactly what they did. Believe me. I’d love nothing more than to just publish a list of every athlete who competed so I can take the night off of writing. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t call out specifically the top seven names to remember from the New Balance National meet:
There was no one more impressive this weekend than the junior from Montverde Academy, and that’s not a matter of opinion. Entering the weekend the national high school record was 22.89, which was set earlier this year by Mia Brahe-Pedersen. In the prelims, Hodge ran 22.77 to break it. But that was only a preview of what was to come. With a match-up against the sensational Shawnti Jackson, Hodge was able to power away on the second curve to run 22.33 – an ABSURDLY good time for anyone, let alone a 16-year-old. For context, this is the third-fastest time in the whole world this year. Unfortunately for American sprint fans, Adaejah represents the British Virgin Islands in international competition. But the great news is that the World Championship standard is 22.60 and so we are likely going to see the best high school 200m runner of all time this year in Budapest.
Hodge wasn’t the only athlete from Montverde breaking records this weekend. Granted, this is not a consequence of gerrymandering or a coincidence. The Florida powerhouse has two of the all-time best prep athletes because it is a destination for talent. This is Asinga’s first winter away from Missouri and it’s paying huge dividends. He tied the 60m national record of 6.57 which has stood alone for 24 years. Then he returned to blast a 20.48 second 200m to break Jaylen Slade’s previous mark of 20.62 set in 2021 — before that it was Noah Lyles’s record, set in 2016, and later that year he went on to finish 4th at the Olympic Trials. Asinga is heading to Texas A&M.
Somehow a group of elite distance runners swindled their way into the CITIUS MAG box suite at the TRACK, presumably looking for internships. I was asked if I ran in college and then told that Johnny Gregorek is the oldest pro that they know of, but it was still super fun conducting some focus groups to get a pulse on how the youth consume the sport. The Duke-bound senior finished second in the 2-mile (8:44.45) before coming back to win the mile (4:02.25) in a wild final 200m. Both times are obviously good, and although they’re not national records, if a kid from Iowa runs 4:02 indoors then you should pay attention to it.
Predicting that someone who ran 3:58 for the mile as a junior would go on to have a successful career isn’t exactly a hot take. But after running 8:43.24 to win the two-mile, Burns confirmed what we already knew – he is strong. This winter he did a 10-mile tempo in under 50 minutes. His father was the coach at the University of Missouri for eight years, and coached Karissa Schweizer to a number of NCAA titles. I feel confident that Connor is the perfect prototype of a Jerry Schumacher-ready athlete.
If there is one thing the junior from Massachusetts is not afraid of it is racing – an SEC coach’s dream. Following her tenth place – and top American finish – at the U23 World Cross Country Championships, Shea returned to Boston to win the 5000m (15:46), the 2 mile (9:49), and finish second in the mile (4:40.76). I don’t think there were team scores this weekend, but if there were she would have placed quite well on her own.
The world fell in love with Quincy this weekend. Yes, running 46.67 to win the 400m as a 15-year-old freshman is pretty incredible. But listen to this kid speak! He is a joy to listen to and his positivity is infectious. Mac Fleet described him as being better at media than an NFL veteran. Ahead of the race, he said that the thing he was looking forward to most was having the chance to meet Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone. Well, guess what a national title will get you…
Do you remember how freaking good Ed Cheserek was in high school? If any one of his records were to ever go down, that’d be a testament to the potential of the individual who dethroned the king. Tyrone doubled back the next day after anchoring his team to a DMR victory to upset the pre-race favorite Lex Young (14:00) and the man responsible for pushing the pace, Daniel Simmons (13:59), to run 13:56.82. The future Washington Husky stayed remarkably patient before unleashing a final kilometer of 2:34 to slowly close the gap on the pacing lights representing the national record, before passing it with less than two hundred meters to run. Don’t sleep on him.
When you go down the record boards of the top ten all-time list in high school there are quite a few names that might not pop off the page in a flash of Olympic glory. Many you may only vaguely recall and nostalgically misremember a race you think they won. But unlike your high school classmates whom you may still occasionally stalk on Facebook, there are probably fewer answers about what may have happened within the sport to these former phenoms.
The truth is that running fast as a teenager doesn’t automatically lead to fast times as an adult. The talent is on display, but to make it to the next level requires a mentality that isn’t as tested when competing against athletes who are not on the same level. It also requires a tremendous amount of luck!
And while it is tempting to go through the list of “where are they now?” types, check out this list of 2015 New Balance National Indoor Champions:
Noah Lyles, Grant Fisher, Rai Benjamin, Teahna Daniels, Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone, Grant Holloway.
So it does work out quite well sometimes…
The Lap Count is a weekly newsletter delivered on Wednesday mornings that recap all the fun action from the world of track & field. It’s a great way to keep your finger on the pulse of the sport. There is a lot happening and this newsletter is a great way to stay up to date with all the fun. Subscribe today.
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.