The Top Races to Watch at the Track and Field World Championships
The World Athletics Championships open Friday in Eugene, Ore., the crunchy university town that calls itself TrackTown, U.S.A.
It’s the first time the most important track and field event outside the Olympics is being held in the United States, and there should be no shortage of American stars celebrating at Hayward Field in front of the hometown fans.
Noah Lyles and Erriyon Knighton should light up the sprints. Sydney McLaughlin is the best women’s 400-meter hurdler ever. Galen Rupp, who grew up in Portland, Ore., and went to college in Eugene at the University of Oregon, will go for the men’s marathon title as a local favorite.
This is truly a world championship, though. Will anyone be able to break Jamaica’s grip on the women’s sprints? Norway, known for producing the world’s best cross-country skiers, suddenly has two track stars in Karsten Warholm and Jakob Ingebrigtsen.
World Athletics, the international track and field governing body, has barred Russians and Belarusians from participating in the event because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but everyone else is coming, including Allyson Felix, America’s most decorated Olympian in track and field history, who will run in her final world championship.
It’s 10 days of racing, jumping, javelin-throwing and shot-putting that almost never disappoint.
Here’s are the races we’ll be watching
- The Sprints
- Middle Distance Events
- Distance Events
- Field Events
Men’s 100 meters:
American men could sweep this event for the first time since 1991. Fred Kerley and Trayvon Bromell have the two fastest times in the world this year, and Marvin Bracy’s 9.85 is tied for third. Kerley, a former 400 specialist, is the only man to run sub 9.80 in 2022.
Christian Coleman, another American and the defending world champion, is back after a suspension for whereabouts violations and will also be among the favorites to win this race, though he hasn’t performed up to his 2019 form yet.
Women’s 100 meters:
The biggest question surrounding this event: How will the top three Jamaican women finish? It seems inevitable that Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Elaine Thompson-Herah and Shericka Jackson will sweep the medal stand. Fraser-Pryce, 35, has ruled the 100 meters this season; she is the only woman to run sub 10.70, and the only athlete to win this event four times.
Men’s 200 meters:
Lyles stuck his tongue out and pointed at Knighton in celebration as he won the 200 at the U.S. championships last month, sparking a fiery postrace interview. Lyles is the reigning world champion and won bronze at the Tokyo Olympics, but his personal best time is slower than Knighton’s.
Knighton, 18, ran the 200 on April 30 in 19.49 seconds, the fourth-fastest 200 time ever, breaking Usain Bolt’s same-age record by nearly a half-second. Lyles is just behind Knighton on the all-time list with a personal-best 19.50, but how these two finish and, more important, how fast they run, will be the focus of this race.
Women’s 200 meters:
Jackson of Jamaica is the favorite in this event. She sped past Thompson-Herah, the reigning Olympic champion, and Fraser-Pryce at the Jamaican national championships to run 21.55 seconds in the 200, the third-fastest time in history. Her time is just behind Thompson-Herah’s 21.53 from last year’s Tokyo Games, and though Thompson-Herah has not looked up to her Olympic form yet this season, she typically runs fast at championship meets, so she can’t be counted out.
Middle Distance Events
Men’s 400 meters:
Michael Norman, 24, is arguably one of the most talented sprinters in the history of this distance, but doesn’t have any individual Olympic or world Championship medals to show for it. His personal best in the 400 of 43.45 seconds is tied for the fourth-fastest time ever, but Norman hasn’t been able to put the pieces together at major meets as a professional. This season, Norman has looked his best since running 43.45 in 2019, delivering multiple sub-44-second performances. He ran away from the field at the U.S. championships, winning in 43.56 seconds. If healthy, Norman should be the first American world champion in the 400 since LaShawn Merritt in 2013.
Women’s 800 meters:
Athing Mu hasn’t lost an 800 yet as a professional, and at last year’s Olympics she used the long strides produced by her 5-foot-10 frame to become the first American since 1968 to win gold at the distance. She finished the race in 1:55.21, setting an American record at just 19 years old. Mu is the heavy favorite to win gold and would become the first American 800 women’s world champion.
The only person who could seemingly challenge Mu is Keely Hodgkinson, who was also 19 at the Summer Games; she finished behind Mu in a British record of 1:55.88.
Men’s 800 meters:
One of the biggest story lines surrounding this event is if Donavan Brazier will regain his championship form. He won at the 2019 world championships, finishing in 1:42.34 to set a national record and become the first American athlete to win the event. But he hasn’t returned to that form since. Brazier failed to make the U.S. Olympic team and he finished sixth in his only 800 race of 2022, in May. In a race with winds reportedly blowing at up to 30 miles per hour, which slowed all the athletes, Brazier was never quite in the race, running 1:50.58.
Men’s 1,500 meters:
All eyes will be on Ingebrigtsen, already an Olympic champion and still a phenom at the tender age of 21. It seems he keeps improving by the month. In February, he set the world record in the indoor 1,500 meters. Then, a few weeks ago, before an enthralled crowd in Oslo, he ran the fastest mile anyone has run in nearly 21 years.
In Eugene, he will have his share of challengers, including Timothy Cheruiyot of Kenya, the reigning world champion, who finished second behind Ingebrigtsen in Tokyo. Samuel Tefera of Ethiopia upset Ingebrigtsen at the indoor world championships this year, but he has not raced much lately. Abel Kipsang of Kenya, Ollie Hoare of Australia, and Jake Wightman of Britain are also expected to vie for spots on the podium.
Women’s 1,500 meters
Faith Kipyegon of Kenya, arguably the greatest middle-distance runner ever, will look to build on her back-to-back Olympic titles in the distance. Her only blemish in recent years was a runner-up result at the 2019 world championships, but she has otherwise been indomitable. At the Prefontaine Classic in May, she demolished a high-quality field that included Gudaf Tsegay of Ethiopia.
Women’s 5,000 meters:
Hellen Obiri of Kenya, the two-time reigning world champion in the event, is notably absent from the field, which means this could be a wide-open race, especially given some uncertainty with Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands. After winning three medals at the Tokyo Olympics, including two golds, Hassan only recently returned to competition after a lengthy break, and it is not certain whether she will even test her luck in the 5,000. Ejgayehu Taye of Ethiopia has run the fastest time in the world this year.
Men’s 10,000 meters:
This race could be a doozy. Joshua Cheptegei of Uganda, who holds the world records in the 5,000 and the 10,000, had to settle for second behind Selemon Barega of Ethiopia in the 10,000 at the Tokyo Olympics. In Eugene, their rematch will be highly anticipated. Also, keep an eye on the American Grant Fisher, who placed fifth at the Olympics and set an American record in March.
Women’s 400-meter hurdles:
This event should be a race between McLaughlin and the clock. McLaughlin easily broke her world record at the U.S. championships, running a mind-boggling 51.41 seconds that would have qualified her for the regular 400 final. The world championships should not be as easy, with fellow American Dalilah Muhammad, the 2019 world champion, and Femke Bol of the Netherlands both in the field, but they will most likely push McLaughlin to run even faster.
Men’s 400-meter hurdles:
Last summer’s Olympic 400 hurdle final was one of the most impressive races in Olympic history. Warholm won the gold in 45.94 seconds, breaking his own world record, and Rai Benjamin of the United States came in second in 46.17 seconds, which also beat Warholm’s previous world record. With gold this year, Warholm would become the only person to win three world titles in the 400 hurdles, but currently, that seems unlikely. Warholm has raced only once in 2022, suffering a hamstring tear early in the race on June 5.
Mixed 4×400-meter relay:
All eyes will be on Felix, the most decorated track athlete in U.S. history, who will compete in one of her final races. Felix is the most accomplished athlete in the World Championships’ history.
Men’s 4×100-meter relay:
The 4×100 relay is one of the most exciting events in track and field, but for the United States it comes with equal amounts of worry. The U.S. often fields a team capable of winning a medal at the world championships or the Olympics. But the relay has become notorious for botched handoffs, falls and other technical issues for the Americans. With four of the 10 fastest men in the world, the U.S. should be a shoo-in for gold this year, but with this relay, it is hard to ever be certain.
Women’s 4×400-meter relay:
The U.S. has an embarrassment of riches, with some of the fastest 400 runners in the world who don’t run the individual race in Mu, McLaughlin, Muhammad and Abby Steiner, who have all split sub-50 seconds in the 400. So whoever trots out for the relay should easily win the United States’ third straight gold medal. The world record of 3:15.17, set by the Soviet Union in 1988, could be in their sights.
There are so many factors that determine who is going to win a marathon, but the biggest one comes down to who decides to show up on the starting line. Top marathoners not named Sara Hall generally run only two marathons each year, and many of them will choose to run one of the six world marathon majors, which provide the biggest appearance fees.
Hence, there is no Brigid Kosgei of Kenya, the women’s world-record holder, but there are plenty of very fast women in the field, including Ruth Chepngetich of Kenya and Ashete Bekere of Ethiopia, who have run marathons this season in under 2 hours 18 minutes. But a world championship race is unlike other marathons. It takes place in the summer rather than the spring or fall. It’s usually hotter and on a course that few of the runners have been on. In other words, this is a wild card. And it may even be the kind of race where an American like Hall or Keira D’Amato, the American record-holder, can run at the front of the lead pack with women who have better times than they do.
This race has a big X factor, and his name is Galen Rupp.
Rupp is not the fastest runner in the race. That would be Mosinet Geremew of Ethiopia, who in 2019 ran the London Marathon in 2:02:55 — and did not win. Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya did, and he’s not in the field. But Rupp is the hometown hero, who grew up in Portland, Ore., ran for the University of Oregon and has made his home in the state. He has targeted this race all year. He desperately wants to win at home. On paper, he is two minutes or more slower than the best runners in the race, but Rupp has proved that he is a massive competitor, and he knows the terrain and the climate better than anyone. He wants this badly.
Women’s high jump:
There will be a new world champion for the first time since 2015 in this event, after Mariya Lasitskene of Russia was barred from competing this year, along with all other athletes from Russia and Belarus. Lasitskene wrote an open letter expressing her frustration with the decision and denouncing the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Lasitskene, who won gold at last summer’s Olympics, was also barred from competing at the 2016 Rio Games because of state-run doping in Russia.
With Lasitskene out of the picture, keep an eye on the U.S. champion Vashti Cunningham, the daughter of the former quarterback Randall Cunningham and the 2016 world indoor champion. There is also Yaroslava Mahuchikh of Ukraine, the world indoor champion.
Men’s pole vault:
Mondo Duplantis of Sweden — who spent his college days at Louisiana State — has set the standard in this event. He holds the world record of 6.20 meters and won Olympic gold last summer. He is the heavy favorite to take gold, and he could break his world record.
Ryan Crouser of the United States holds the indoor and outdoor records in the shot-put and has won the last two Olympic gold medals. Crouser will be looking for his first world title. He finished second in 2019 behind the American Joe Kovacs, whom he will face off with again this year.