World Championships Success Stories Could Take Track and Field to New Heights
With new young stars emerging and world records broken, the World Athletics Championships delivered excitement and action on American soil
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Sydney McLaughlin, Athing Mu, Fred Kerley, Allyson Felix, Ryan Crouser and Mondo Duplantis put on an exhilarating show of epic athletic performances over the past 10 days in Eugene, Oregon.
Did you catch any of the action? Did you see those once-in-a-generation home-grown stars perform at their greatest? Did you even know it was happening?
The World Athletics Championships (aka the world championships of track and field) concluded on July 24 in what was certainly one of the best, most exciting international sporting events ever held on American soil. Amid thrilling performances on a daily basis, track and field was on display in full glory at the University of Oregon’s Hayward Field as new young stars emerged and several new world records were broken, including McLaughlin’s exhilarating win in the 400-meter hurdles on the penultimate night of the event and Duplantis’ meet-ending victory in the pole vault.
“I have been to 14 world championships and this one has made me fall in love with the sport I love the most all over again,” said NBC Sports commentator Ato Boldon, a 200-meter gold medalist from the 1997 world championships and a four-time Olympic medalist for Trinidad & Tobago.
Not only did it include stunning displays of elite-level speed, endurance, power, agility and technique, but it also showed why track and field is capable of reaching a new zenith as it approaches the 2024 Olympics in Paris and, more prominently for a U.S. audience, the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles. And that’s especially true from an American point of view. Team USA won a championship record 33 medals in Eugene—including 13 gold—and showed potential to gobble up even more hardware at next year’s world championships in Budapest.
Yes, the event was that exceptional. If you’re a track geek like me, you watched every single moment of every single event. I found my way to Eugene for the first several days of the meet, then tuned into every live broadcast session thereafter via the NBC livestream and the NBC Sports app, as well as a couple of tape-delayed network sessions on NBC. But if you’re a casual fan, you understandably might not have even known it was happening.
As amazing as the event was, there were plenty of unsold seats at Hayward Field each day, it barely made the nightly highlights on ESPN’s SportsCenter, and it might not have made its way into your Instagram feed. Here’s a quick summary of the show-stopping results.
* McLaughlin ran away from the fastest women’s 400 hurdles field in history on Saturday night, shattered her own world record and won gold in an eye-popping 50.68 seconds. A year after she won gold at the Tokyo Olympics in a record-fashion, the 22-year-old faith-driven athlete from New Jersey outdid herself and what close observers to the sport thought was possible with an impeccable display of speed, timing, and technique.
To put that into perspective, that time would have placed sixth in the open 400-meter race (without hurdles) held earlier in the day. She added to her superstar status in the closing race of the meet, anchoring Team USA’s 4×400-meter relay with an eye-popping 47.90-second anchor leg, one of the fastest times ever recorded for a one-lap sprint around the track.
Expect McLaughlin to challenge the 37-year-old record in the open 400 of 47.60 as soon as this summer and continue to elevate her status as one of track’s all-time greats.
“It was unreal,” McLaughlin said of the relay. “We had such a young team. All these girls are from teams out of college. It was put together at the last-minute, and to see them all come together after such a long collegiate season, I am so grateful to be part of it.”
* Mu, a 20-year-old sensation from New Jersey, also followed up her commanding Olympic victory in the 800 meters with a resounding world championship win. In what was a stunning display of young stars, Mu was challenged by 20-year-old British runner Keely Hodgkinson down the homestretch and had to lean at the line to win by .08 seconds in a world-leading 1:56:30. Although she’s yet to reach her potential in the 800 or the 400, Mu hasn’t lost an individual race on the track in nearly three full years.
* Kerley, a flamboyant 27-year-old sprinter from Texas, continued one of the most amazing transformations in recent track and field memory, winning the 100-meter world championship (9.86 seconds) to earn the unofficial claim to the title of world’s fastest human. What’s so surprising is that he did it after starting his career as an elite 400-meter runner who took bronze in the longer event at the 2019 championships in Doha, Qatar. He’s one of only three men in history to run the 100 under 10 seconds (9.76), the 200 under 20 seconds (19.76) and the 400 under 44 seconds (43.64), and he’ll likely next take aim at Usain Bolt’s world record in the 100 (9.58 seconds).
* Felix, who has been an American track legend for years, earned a bronze medal in the mixed (co-ed) 4×400-meter relay to start the meet, then earned gold as part of the U.S. women’s 4×400 relay to close the meet. That extended her career record haul of 20 world championship medals (to go with 11 Olympic medals) and wrap up one of the most decorated careers in the history of track and field.
After that first race—which she thought would be her only event—she had returned home to Los Angeles, where she was eating hot wings with a root beer float, and got a call from U.S. coaches to come back for the preliminary heat of the all women’s relay. She jumped at the chance to run again in front of a home crowd and ran a sterling 50.61 split to help the U.S. team qualify for the finals, eventually earning her final medal. She’ll conclude her outstanding career with a unique street race on August 7 in Los Angeles.
* Crouser, who grew up in Oregon, added to his legacy as the greatest shot-putter of all-time with a championship record throw of 22.94 meters (75 feet, 3 1/4 inches) to earn gold. He already owns the world record (23.37m or 76-8) and an Olympic gold medal from last summer in Tokyo, but he’s only 29 and still on his way up despite a strong group of Americans—most notably silver medalist Joe Kovacs and bronze medalist Josh Awotunde—in hot pursuit.
* Duplantis, a Louisiana-born pole vaulter who competes for Sweden (because of his family heritage), set his second world record of the summer, upping the mark to 6.21 meters (or 20 feet, 4.4 inches) on the final jump of the night after he defeated American Christopher Nilsen for the gold medal. Pole vault is the most obscure and difficult event in track and field and one of the most technically demanding disciplines of any sport, and the 22-year-old Duplantis is an athletic craftsman well beyond his years.
Those are just some of the many top-tier highlights, but there are plenty of other performances worthy of praise both from athletes who earned gold and those who made significant breakthroughs:
Nigeria’s Tobi Amusan set a 12.12 world record in the 100-meter hurdles in the prelims, en route to winning her country’s first gold medal; Unsung British athlete Jake Wightman upset favorite Jakob Ingebrigtsen in the men’s 1,500 meters; China’s Wang Jia’nan won the men’s long jump competition with an 8.36-meter jump (27 feet, 5 ¼ inches) on his final attempt.
For Americans, it was as much of a celebration of champions—Brook Andersen becoming the first U.S. woman to win the hammer throw and the women’s 4×100 relay taking gold over heavy favorite Jamaica—as it was feel-good stories and the rising potential in the coming years.
On the last throw of her career, 36-year-old American Kara Winger uncorked one of the best javelin throws in the last attempt of her career (64.05 meters or 210 feet, 1.5 inches) to earn the silver medal behind Australia’s Kelsey-Lee Barber.
Americans Sara Hall (5th, 2:22:10), Emma Bates (7th, 2:23:18) and Keira D’Amato (8th, 2:23:34) were the strongest trio in the women’s marathon, earning the first-ever world championship team title for the event.
After years of competing at an international level, American Zachery Ziemek earned bronze in the decathlon with a stirring, empty-the-tank effort in the 1,500-meter run that concluded the 10-event, two-day event.
On the track, American Grant Fisher ran the race of his life in the 10,000m, finishing fourth just 0.17 seconds away from a bronze medal, and then was in position to earn a medal in the 5,000m, but was disrupted amid jostling with 100 meters to go, lost his momentum and wound up sixth, 1.4 seconds from the bronze. The 25-year-old Michigan-born runner didn’t earn a medal, but did show he’s poised to run with the best in the world at those events for years to come.
OK, let’s be real for a moment. It wasn’t a perfect event by any means. There were far too many empty seats on most days and nights at Hayward Field, marketing efforts to reach casual fans were lacking, and an inane disqualification rule for sprinters and hurdlers needs to be remedied immediately.
American hurdler and Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Devon Allen—the fastest 110-meter high hurdler in the world this year—was disqualified from the finals for having a near-perfect start. Keep in mind he didn’t jump the gun, but the electronic sensors in the starting blocks determined that Allen left the blocks in 0.099 seconds after the starting gun—1/1000th of a second faster than the allowable 0.1 time—and officials disqualified from the gold medal race. The standard should become 0.0 seconds and outlaw only athletes who leave the blocks too early. (Allen’s unfortunate DQ was one of several in the meet.)
Still, the future is bright, both for track and field and for American athletes in the sport. Many of the top performers in Eugene already are international stars (and will be for years to come) but if all goes well, they’ll become household names along the way.
“This was a good step in the right direction for us in the U.S.,” said NBC Sports commentator Kara Goucher, who was the world championships silver medalist in the 10,000 in 2007. “We won the most medals as a team, yet we have a hard time filling stands and getting people out to track meets. It was an important event for the U.S. and now we need to carry this momentum forward. We need to think outside of the box and find a way to inspire the next generation and keep fans involved.”