It was a crowded week on the schedule in the world of track and field. The IAAF World U20 Championships spanned six days, the Athletics World Cup occupied the weekend, and Rabat Diamond League took place on Friday.
I’ll dive more into the World Cup tomorrow, but today I wanted to focus on Rabat and the U20 Championships.
There is a full recap of the racing in Rabat that you can dive into here. Here are a few more takeaways from the meet.
The U.S. Men’s 100m Is Putting More Distance On The Rest Of The World
Sure, this is happening in a “dead” year, but it’s remarkable how quickly the landscape of the men’s 100m changed. The rise of U.S.’s young stars combined with the decline of the Jamaican men in the event has given way to American dominance.
Between Ronnie Baker and Christian Coleman, the United States has won all but one of the Diamond League 100m races (the one that they didn’t lose didn’t feature Baker, Coleman, Lyles, or Mike Rodgers). Baker, Lyles, and Rodgers have combined for the five fastest times of the year and, after Coleman’s showing in Rabat, it’s clear he’s ready to break 9.90 very soon.
Genzebe Dibaba Leads The World In World Record Attempts
This is an unofficial stat, but I can’t think of someone in the current era who has floated more attempts at a world record than Dibaba. To her credit, she’s delivered on plenty of them, which is why meet directors (and Dibaba herself) can credibly make the claim that she is going after a record.
Sometimes these attempts are stated outright; on other occasions, it’s more of an implication, with some pre-race rumblings about a target time or the release of projected splits for the pacemakers.
The Rabat 5000m was more of the latter. But after seeing the pacing in the first few laps, it was clear that the race would be fast but not world-record fast. Dibaba herself didn’t look to be anywhere near sub-14:20 form. She fell off the pace when there were still five other women in contention. Two of Dibaba’s top rivals—Hellen Obiri and Sifan Hassan—went on to finish one-two as Dibaba faded to sixth. But the fast pace wasn’t a complete loss. Places second through fifth all set personal bests—the byproduct of being in a Dibaba race.
Noah Lyles Pre-Race Is As Good As Noah Lyles Post-Race
In the rare instance that Lyles loses, we are still guaranteed dancing of some sort. This is good to know.
The Incredible Depth Of Kenyan Steepling Continues
Just as the U.S. women are to the 100m hurdles, the Kenyan men are to the steeplechase. Benjamin Kigen is the latest Kenyan in the never-ending string of Kenyans to win a Diamond League steeplechase, taking victory in Rabat in 8:06.19. Earlier this year he won the Prefontaine Classic in 8:09.07. Neither time is otherworldly by Kenyan standards, but at only 25 years old and in just his second year racing as a professional he looks to be their next star.
Kenya men have won every gold medal at the global championships since 2005 (if you exclude Kenyan-born Saif Saaeed Shaheen, who competed for Qatar when he won the 2003 and 2005 World Championships, Kenya’s dominance goes back to 1988).
Rabat Results Set Up Monaco
Lyles didn’t get the win in Rabat, but another sub-10-second run (and a ridiculous last 30 meters) position him well for Monaco. Maybe this is the meet where he gets that 19.4 that he’s been looking for.
If not for Lyles, Shaunae Miller-Uibo’s finish in the 200m would have been the close we were talking about in Rabat. She flew past Jenna Prandini and Dina Asher-Smith to take the win in the 200m. Now she gets a chance to race Salwa Eid Naser for only the third time in her career. The last time those two met, Miller-Uibo stumbled in the final meters of the 2017 World Championships allowing Phyllis Francis, Naser, and Felix to go past. This year, Naser has broken 50 seconds on four different occasions and has a season’s best of 49.55. Miller-Uibo leads the world right now with a 49.52.
Caster Semenya’s world record attempt in the 1000m didn’t go as planned, but she still dominated the field and ran the sixth-fastest mark of all time. More importantly, the over-distance work of the past two Diamond Leagues (she ran the 1500m in Lausanne) should set her up nicely for the 800m in Monaco. It was only two weeks ago that she ran 1:54.25 to set a lifetime best and get within a second of the world record.
Making Sense Of U20s
As a whole, the U.S. team had a bit of a rocky time at the U20 Championships in Tampere, Finland.
The first gold medal for the U.S. came on the second to last day and the American squad was felled by baton mishaps, some surprise performances (read Indonesia’s Lalu Muhammad ZOHRI in the men’s 100m) and the presence of Diamond League-caliber athletes from other countries. But an off-championship is to be expected, especially when considering the timing of the meet and its importance relative to another meets on the calendar.
The U20 Championships will never be the focus of the season for American athletes. Nor should it be. There are obvious exceptions, but by and large athletes in this age range in the United States are peaking for the NCAA Championships or postseason high school national championships. Sure, the United States will often still make it to the top of the medal table, but that is due to the country’s sheer depth and overall strength in track and field.
In Tampere, despite an off-meet the United States tied for the third most gold medals and earned 18 medals overall, six more than any other country.
For the United States, the U20 roster is typically split between high school superstars and stand out collegiate freshmen. In that age group, it’s rare for the U.S. to send an athlete that would be top three in a senior championship. The obvious exceptions (Sydney McLaughlin, Lynna Irby, etc.) didn’t compete in Finland this year.
But that’s not the case for the rest of the world. Some of their top athletes are still eligible to compete in U20 meets and without an overarching system—like the United States has with the collegiate championships—they can focus their full attention on an event like the U20s.
This is why two of Ethiopia’s best in the distance events, Samuel Tefera and Selemon Barega, were racing in Finland and not at the Diamond League. Both men have global medals already and are included in any discussion involving the best in the world.
Neither, however, finished in the top three at U20s. Barega was fourth in the 5000m and Tefera took fifth in the 1500m, both snowed under by the incredible depth of the meet.
But that same depth wasn’t able to prevent Celliphine Chespol in the women’s steeplechase. Chespol, who has the third-fastest mark ever in the event, rolled the competition. It turns out that if you are on the best all-time in your event, then you are definitely the best in a U20 competition.
These championships are about projecting the future. As a result, the biggest story to come out of Tampere was Jamaica’s Briana Williams. At just 16 years old she swept the 100m and 200m, beating women three years her senior. She isn’t competing in Diamond League races like some of the names listed above, so for many in the track world, this was their first time seeing Williams. Predicting which teenagers become stars in their 20s is always problematic, but Williams looks like she has staying power.
Meanwhile, In Belgium
A pair of NCAA champions scored big personal bests in the 1500m in Kortrijk, Belgium. Karissa Schweizer ran 4:06.77 to win the women’s fast heat by almost three seconds. Her fastest mark entering the weekend was a 4:12.83 (she also ran 4:10.68 en route to her 4:27.34 mile at the Millrose Games). This mark tops all of them and is particularly impressive after such a grinding NCAA season.
Sean McGorty, who won the 5000m for Stanford at the NCAA Championships, chopped almost four seconds off his personal best to win the men’s race. McGorty, who like Schweizer signed a with Kimbia Athletics after the NCAA meet, ran 3:36.61 to win by nearly two seconds over France’s Sammy Kirongo. It’s the latest pleasant surprise in a season that was full of them for McGorty.
After missing 2017 with an injury that threatened the longevity of his career, McGorty returned to the top during the outdoor season—upsetting Justyn Knight and Grant Fischer in a dramatic victory at Hayward Field.