It's OK To Compare Rising Stars To Greats

By Kyle Merber

May 17, 2023

If you’ll grant me a taste of slight hyperbole, the World Athletics social media accounts are my greatest hope for track and field. We all love to complain about everything that is wrong with the bureaucracy, but let’s give credit where it is due – it’s one of the few corners in the sport treating it professionally.

While the few people with the Instagram password likely don’t have the power to rebuild the infrastructure of the sport from the ground up, they do have the power to create storylines and build intrigue. Look no further than the post about how Britton Wilson, the fastest runner 400m and 400m hurdler in the world this year, broke the NCAA record.

An ongoing problem is that it is difficult for up-and-coming athletes to make a name for themselves in track and field outside of the Olympics. Sure, within our bubble it can be done at the World Championships, too. But celebrating a gold medal after it happens does not put asses in seats in that moment, watching it live. And if the next meet that “matters” is four years away, then that’s a long time to maintain a captive audience. And that audience might only care if the exact same athletes remain competitive.

If the goal is to have an educated fan base who will tune into the World Championships – or heaven forbid, fly to Budapest to watch in person – then new superstars need to be made. There is an obsession with putting historical figures on a pedestal that feels somewhat unique to track. It’s a great practice in terms of appreciating the tradition of a sport where the length of the track remains consistent each generation. But Usain Bolt isn’t selling tickets in 2023, so for the health and future of the sport, we might wanna move on.

The reactions to World Athletics leveraging Allyson Felix’s good name to provide helpful perspective to Britton Wilson’s accomplishments is nothing short of soft. This is not disrespectful or messy – it is invoking a muse. A casual fan who maybe isn’t familiar with Britton or the gravity of a 49.13 second 400m should hopefully understand, “Allyson Felix is one of the best runners of all-time and this person that I have not heard of is running even faster.” This does not strip Felix of her 32 global championship medals or her legendary status.

Lebron James has scored more points than Michael Jordan. That’s a fact. And it’s a fact that Britton Wilson ran faster for 400m than Allyson Felix ever has. By calling it out, World Athletics has brought awareness to Wilson’s name and talent. That’s good because we can still buy tickets to go watch Britton run.

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.