In Defense of World Indoors Being the Best

By Kyle Merber

March 6, 2024

Maybe it’s just the New Yorker in me, but I love indoor track. And aside from the Millrose Games and the 59th section of the Boys 200m at the Hispanic Games, there aren’t many better events for it than the World Indoor Championships. With half the effort, it is easy to build an atmosphere that amplifies the noise and energy of the crowd and you can even pull this off inside a warehouse. Plus, with only six lanes on the track and steep banks to force unwanted body checks, it can become a roller derby out there.

This edition of Worlds in particular further validated what I already knew to be the case: three day championships are so much more palatable. There were fewer athletes, and therefore fewer heats and rounds. And without the 200m, 400m hurdles, steeplechase, 5000, 10000, hammer throw, discus, race walk, marathon, 4 x 100, and Mixed 4 x 400, the schedule was much less cramped. Now I don’t care what events we get rid of and whose feelings we have to hurt, but that’s such a better product. 

As a fan, it kind of killed me that on the first day of the broadcast, those who successfully navigated the search function on Peacock were being told that this entire event – THE WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS – were nothing more than a tune-up for the Olympics. That’ll really build intrigue!

Trust me, everyone who was watching the World Championships is going to watch the Olympics. You don’t need to sell us on that. And obviously there are stars who are not present at the meet, so this isn’t the comprehensive clash of the titans. But if every win or medal that an athlete ever earns is qualified by who is missing, then there would only be one meet every four years that gets any attention. Oh shit, isn’t that what’s happening already? And doesn’t that whole framework kinda suck at driving continued intrigue?

The mentality of some running fans is littered with hypocrisy. You want kudos for your 5K PB set at a local road race, but when a professional medals for their country at the World Championships you’ll give it an asterisk because “not everyone was there.”

Well, not me! I can’t stop thinking about how much fun this past weekend’s event was. And these are the top 13 things I can’t stop thinking about the most as an extremely biased American distance runner:

Femke is never scared - Has there ever been a reason to doubt that Femke would show up to these World Championships? Between rounds and finals, Bol raced five times and came away with two more gold medals and a lower world record. Although this is still a one-sided rivalry, that doesn’t prevent all of us from salivating at the thought of Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone and Femke Bol finally battling it out over hurdles this summer. It’s hard to believe that they have actually only raced twice, ever. And the last time they raced, Bol was a completely different athlete. As of the 2022 World Championships, Bol had never broken 50 in the open 400 and it wasn’t for a lack of trying, having run 18 of them between 2021 and the race in Eugene. Now she is running 49.17 on the boards.

Hometown Hero - Josh Kerr may have teased us for a long time about whether or not he’d race in his home country, but there is no better way to pick up Instagram followers than a World Championship win. This was presumably the moment the in-stadium noise-o-meter hit its highest level. He remained so calm despite being deep early, and effortlessly weaved through traffic. Kerr has made a habit of exhibiting four-beers-deep level of confidence in his tactics – it’s quite sobering.

Lapped Runner - Get lapped once, shame on you. Get lapped twice, shame on World Athletics. That could have been such a disaster…

Everyone runs away happy - The camera operator didn’t know who to focus on after Julien Alfred won the 60m in 6.98 because everyone was celebrating. And Poland’s Ewa Swoboda and Italy’s Zaynab Dosso each earned their first global medals and the emotion after showed. As an aside, if the TikTok algorithm had to pick who the most popular athlete in the sport is then it’s easily Swoboda. World Athletics has posted six videos of her in the past few months and they have received: 1.2M, 1M, 3.5M, 4M, 2.4M, and 3.3M views.

Charlton lowers the mark - From a strict “get your name out there” standpoint, setting and then breaking your world record is one helluva strategy. Obviously there were plenty of track fans who knew who she was prior to 2024, but even the mileage hogs are paying attention now. Charlton lowered the WR mark to 7.65 in her decisive victory, improving on the previous World silver medal. Last year, the Bahamian’s 60 meter hurdler’s season’s best was 7.87 and she finished fourth at the World Championships and ran 12.44. She’ll have 40 meters to hold off Tobi.

The first OAC world champ - Imagine watching the livestream with a thirty-second delay and your “friend” gets a text message about Geordie winning and spoils it for you. That’s textbook Chris Chavez. At the time, it didn’t make any sense. Geordie was in 8th and time was running out. How could he win? If there was ever a race that Geordie was too deep and deserved to be punished for making too great of a tactical miscalculation, it should have been this race. But despite all of those guys in it, they made the mistake of running a 1500 like it was pre-2016. And with Hocker and Kessler running tactically sound races themselves this was a big one for US-based fans.

Emily Mackay’s BIG move - Have you ever seen someone move so hard with 400 meters to go that you think they miscounted laps? Mackay probably would have gone sooner had she had the opportunity as she was growing visibly frustrated being boxed in after halfway. The former Binghamton standout blossomed late in her rookie season last year, dipping under four minutes for 1500m in Marseille, winning the Morton Games, and then the Falmouth Mile. Her 2-3 finish alongside Nikki Hiltz was inspiring, but it was also a reminder of just how crowded that 1500 team will be this year now that Mackay has arrived and Elle is back.

Elle is going to break 14? - My daughter was napping so my wife and I watched Elle St. Pierre become a world champion with the TV on mute. We were doing the loudest silent yell possible because you can try to downplay indoor all you want, but she was out kicking the 5000m world record holder Gudaf Tsegay. This is amazing regardless of if/when she entered motherhood. Consider that in third was Beatrice Chepkoech, the world record holder in the steeplechase. Just saying that out loud reminded me that Elle is a 3x All-American over barriers… run it back? Or just run 13:XX for 5000m?

Ask for the champ’s opinion - Miltiadis Tentoglou has a knack for pulling out wins. It’s why his Instagram bio literally reads, “I have won every Major title.” Call it the Miltos touch. Whether it’s in last round theatrics, or in this counting back to next-best marks, the Olympic long jump champ knows the event and it’s why he is not shy about criticizing the idea of World Athletics changing the rules of his event. And he went as far to say that if implemented that he’d be shifting his focus to the triple jump. New bad rule idea: once an athlete wins an Olympic gold medal in an event, they have to go find a new one. You beat the final boss, so play a new game.

Crouser collects ‘em all - Do you know who else has won every Major title? Ryan Crouser. It was the one gem missing on his infinity belt and now he’s got it. And this one was dominant as always: he tossed 22.77m for a new championship record and four of his throws were better than the silver medalist Tom Walsh’s. If this was Formula1 then there’d be new rules implemented at the start of each season to make it harder for Crouser to dominate because he’s become Max Verstappen in a cowboy hat.

Hoppel gets his gold - If everyone else is racing like an idiot, then being normal will make you look like a genius. And combined with his ability to run 1:44 any which way, Bryce Hoppel did exactly that by staying out of the way in a very messy final. Turns out threshold training and altitude works for 800m runners too! 

HI-CHEW… the runners’ candy? - If banks are investing in track and field then why not sweets? Thank God the bibs were so large so there was still enough room for the athlete’s name coming only at the expense of knowing what country they were competing for. HI-CHEW is a Japanese-based company that has been making a huge push into the Western world recently, and they are now being distributed across most big box retailers. In the past couple of years, they have also signed with Duke Athletics and four MLB teams. We are talking about this sponsorship and therefore it worked, even if dentists hate it.

Putting Dominica on the map - Many of you probably didn’t realize that Dominica (pop. 72k) has the second best flag in the world only behind Seychelles, but thanks to Thea Lafond’s triple jumping prowess, she has led you out of the cave. As a University of Maryland pentathlete, Lafond never became an All-American. And when she graduated her personal best in the triple was 13.27. Now it is 15.01! Someone should write a book about the benefits of being a generalist in your youth.

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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.