As the who’s who of global track fandom descends upon the 146th biggest city in the United States this week, I am anxiously awaiting the arrival of the first-ever World Championships held on US soil. Why it took until the 18th edition to bring the most dominant team in the sport a home game, I don’t fully understand, but alas, it is here.
The World Athletics President, Lord Sebastian Coe, who older readers may remember from his world records and gold medals, has cited on multiple media tours the dire need to capture the investment and attention of the American audience. How did everyone in charge for the previous 39 years miss so hard? The best place to start trying to grow the sport is obviously in the country that’s the best at it (Team USA has 170 World Championship gold medals, second place is Kenya with 60). And it doesn’t hurt that the country’s GDP is $19 trillion!
If you expect me to spew some negative opinions about the meet being hosted in Eugene, then dear reader, you are sorely mistaken. Much like Long Island, if you aren’t from here, then it’s not okay to make fun of it — you have to earn that right. (And I hope my patriotism isn’t losing the international crowd. The United States is bad at a lot of things, it’s just that running fast and making money happen to be two of the things we’re not.)
In both public and private circles, I may have lamented that the Hayward faithful have been so over inundated with meets that that good old-fashioned Hayward Magic may be losing some of its allure.
But those thoughts are reserved for events like an NCAA or USA Championship — not an event of this caliber. This stadium is not only the most comfortable place I have ever watched a track meet, it’s the best venue I have ever taken in any sporting event. (Yes, even including old Yankee Stadium.) And we haven’t seen it rock to its fullest!
That’s why I am desperately rooting for the success of the World Championships. To help make that happen, here are the things I want to see most during the next week and a half.
I want to see fans’ reactions.
I’ve spent a solid percentage of my life in Eugene, but others have only heard about it and will be experiencing Track Town, USA, for the first time. Surely there will be skeptics, and I want to be there to witness their initial impressions of the airport, the few bars and restaurants, Pre’s trail, the gas pump (where somebody has to pump your gas for you — perhaps a slice of home for those traveling from New Jersey), the university, the stadium and everything else that comes with spending a week in Eugene geeking out about track. For many international visitors, this may be their first time in the United States, and while it isn’t the New York City skyscrapers, walk one block south of the stadium and that’s a pretty solid taste of Americana. Does the history of Oregon, Nike, and a mustachioed guy who never won an international medal mean anything to someone from Sweden? I’m interested to find out!
I want to see World Records.
What a greedy request! If the over/under is set at 2.5, what are you taking? To begin, there is Mondo Duplantis and the question of whether or not he can match his 6.20m vault from indoors on the outdoor runway. One year ago, Ryan Crouser tossed the shot put 23.37m at the Olympic Trials in this same ring and he’s rounding into shape at the right time. At the World Indoor Championships, Yulimar Rojas triple jumped her way into the record books with a 15.74m leap, but has only competed in her primary event a single time outdoors.
Then there are the hurdles — Sydney McLaughlin broke her own in the 400mH at the US Championships, but it didn’t get quite the fanfare you’d expect. After all, she didn’t even post on Instagram about it. Karsten Warholm hasn’t finished a single race in 2022, but I’d be remiss not to mention him. And Keni Harrison was only .14 off in the 100H running into a headwind. There are a few other events whose all-time marks could be under threat, and if the track gets hot enough to cook an egg then we might just make a few omelets.
I want to see rivalries.
The 200m seems to be where I’ll best scratch this itch. Just a few weeks ago we saw the hard-charging and anime-inspired 2019 World Champion, Noah Lyles, point in the general direction of the precocious Erriyon Knighton. Although the pair will be teammates, this is likely a fight for the throne as the Olympic Champion Andre De Grasse has not been below 20.00 or 10.00 so far this season. As with every rivalry in a sport that is not tied to geographic loyalties, this is a litmus test for fans as to how they prefer their stars to act. While we would normally expect the up-and-coming high schooler to be the one talking a big game, it is in fact the opposite.
Then there’s the beef that the World Athletics social media team started when they posted this graphic. If you think it’s innocuous to symmetrically post the US Champion in the center of a promotion for a US-based meet then you’re clearly not from Jamaica. Rather than apologize for such an egregious act, World Athletics catered to the immense pressure and appeased the most dedicated and vocal fan base in the sport with a “JAMAICA TO THE WORLD” post. I’m sure no one noticed…
I want to see redemption.
Observing Donavan Brazier in full stride is best described as a religious experience. It’s inconceivable to watch him glide around the track and imagine there are many people who can do it better — such was the case in 2019 when he won the 800m World Championship. But this sport is a fickle beast and can humble even the most special of athletes. After an American Record indoors, Brazier lined up at the Olympic Trials and did not make the team due to injury.
A year later and thanks in part to a bye — he’s the defending world champion — Brazier is currently battling bursitis in his foot. At the U.S. Championships, he looked strong going 1:46.49 for the fastest time in the first round before passing on the next two. Admittedly, he may be considered a long shot as ten men have run 1:44.06 or faster this season, although I believe in the possibility of a Jordan flu game. That the most talented runner in the field winning a medal would be considered an upset speaks to the tsunami-like ebbs and flows of track and field.
And we’ll file this sub-category under redemptions as well, but I want to see handoffs–clean handoffs. The US men have six of the nine fastest 100m times in the world this year, and that does not include Lyles who anchored the national record* winning team in 2019. However, the squad failed to make the final at last year’s Olympics following a botched handoff, something that has become an awful tradition. (2008-Dropped, 2009-DQ, 2011-Fell, 2012-Doping DQ, 2013-Botched, 2015-DQ, 2016-DQ). You knew it was bad, but seeing it written out like that… ouch!
I want to see upsets.
Everyone reading this should text one friend their hottest take — just put it out there into a universe and the only risk is that a single person may laugh. And if you are correct with the timestamp to prove it, then you’ll become legendary.
It’s scary to say out loud that Grant Fisher is going to win the 5000m gold. You have to be brave to say Emma Bates is medaling in the marathon. That despite the complete and utter disrespect shown for the U.S. men’s 1500, that you’re crazy enough to believe they’ll have three in the final. But here I am putting words down about Sinclaire Johnson breaking the American Record.
You can just say things and try to speak them into existence. Try it — it’ll make things more fun and there’s an outside chance you’ll get to say, ‘I told you so.’
I just want other people to love track and field as much as I do.
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