The Men’s 100m Got Spicier

By Kyle Merber

March 6, 2024

This newsletter has basically turned me into a beat writer covering Noah Lyles. And isn’t that the goal in an Olympic year? If I am NBC, then there are four athletes whose storylines I’d be leaning into based on performance. Obviously there is Noah, then Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone, Athing Mu, and Sha’Carri Richardson. Well, no one else from this bunch is racing indoors… so thank you Noah.

(Quick aside: the people in charge of the sport (NBC) need to commit a bit harder to Tara Davis, who is now a world champion. She wants that spotlight and deserves it! But we all know broadcast television hasn’t exactly cracked the code on covering the field events in a captivating light. Sorry, Crouser ☹️)

Entering the weekend, the fact that Lyles was no longer positioned as an underdog in the 60 meters is a testament to how much his improvement curve and improvements to his start have changed the narrative. However, Christian Coleman was so explosive out of the blocks that even the best top-end speed in the world could not catch him. Can we show this video to the football guys who are oohing and ahhing at a 4.21 40 at the Combine?

Now if I was Vince McMahon, first off, I should be in jail... but secondly, I’d prefer that Coleman won this. Because if Lyles – the best over 100 and 200 meters – can ALSO be the best 60 meter runner in the world, then his story arc loses some interest. Any true anime fan knows that at some point the protagonist needs to experience conflict – I don’t know if running in the 6.4s regularly qualifies as that.

And as much as I enjoy watching track and field for the pure displays of athleticism, my favorite part is the drama. And that quota was satisfied in the 4x400s. Even just from team selection!

Despite some overly involved officials, the US men’s team got the stick around and though he ended up on the floor, Trevor Bassitt split 46.30. When the finals lineup was announced, Matthew Boling, who had run 46.73 was given the nod instead. I’d love to know what the conversation was like behind that decision. But it was the inclusion of Lyles, who has not raced a 400 since high school, that sparked a political debate worthy of Chris Wallace moderation. Also passed over was the US Indoor Champ Brian Faust, who was not even given a shot in the prelims. Admittedly he had just run 47.11 and got knocked out in the first round of the open.

Bassitt should be frustrated, and had every right to grumble. In addition to being a world medalist in the 400m hurdles, he finished second at World Indoors in 2022, running 45.05 in the open event. However, it was Fred Kerley who took to the internet to voice his opinions, accusing USATF of favoritism and being puppets, presumably alluding to NBC’s interest in Lyles’s Olympic storyline.

Noah’s on-the-spot comeback to Fred’s comments was good, saying, “He could be here, but he ain’t… If he’s mad at that, come on out here.” But Trevor was there. 

Kerley is the former world medalist in the 400m with a personal best of 43.64, yet he has not been on the relay since 2019. And while there might be a rivalry with Noah, that frustration seems more towards USATF. Because how can you fault a guy for saying he wants to run and then getting picked to do so?

Lyles ended up splitting 45.68 for the fastest third leg among all teams, so in all fairness… he did his job. Unfortunately, the team was still DOOMED as the Belgian World Champion had the better finish. This is still a dangerous precedent – it all feels very British Athletics, if you know what I mean. That leg alone won’t be enough to earn him a spot in the 4x400 at the Olympics, so he’ll have to go again, presumably at the Florida Relays.

From a strict marketing perspective, you understand why it would be beneficial to have Lyles on that team. We have one star who people outside the sport are starting to pay attention to, and who really likes racing! That should be exploited! But it’s a tough signal for a federation to send to its other athletes that politics and TV ratings might be considered when figuring out who to include on a relay.

Now if Noah doesn’t get selected to run the 4x400 this summer, a potential path to getting a fourth gold medal at the Olympics would be a bit less sexy. There is always the mixed-gender relay… and there are prelims… and then there are the mixed-gender relay prelims… Gold is gold, right? RIGHT!

For more of the top stories and analysis from the biggest stories in track and field from the past week, subscribe to The Lap Count newsletter for free. New edition every Wednesday morning at 6:30 a.m. ET.

Kyle Merber

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.