The Casual Track Fan’s Guide to the 2019 World Track and Field Championships: 6 Storylines To Follow At Worlds
By Jonathan Gault
September 25, 2019
We know you’re out there. You used to be on LetsRun all the time in college, or maybe the DyeStat messageboard when you were in high school. Your high school friends still know you as “The Runner,” even though you don’t run much anymore. You used to watch NCAAs and USAs every year, but then you got married, had a kid, and suddenly trying to find a sketchy stream of that Diamond League meet was no longer as important. You are now a Casual Running Fan (and Hobby Jogger?).
But now it’s IAAF World Championship week, and you’ve found your way back to LetsRun.com because you want to know what’s going on — which races to watch, which new stars have emerged since the last Worlds, that sort of thing.
Welcome back. We’re happy to have you. We love all running fans here at LetsRun, and since we nerd out about track/athletics 24/7, we put together this viewing guide to get you up to speed with what you may have missed so far this year. So read it, then enter our free prediction contest (we’re giving away Running Warehouse gift certificates and three pairs of HOKA ONE ONE Rincons), and, if you really want to go deep, check out our detailed event previews. And then grab your favorite beverage, head to the couch, and strap in for the best track meet of the year.
And if you are diehard running fan reading this anyway, please share it with your non-die-hard friends or significant others.
1) Yes, The Worlds Are In Qatar This Year. It Could Be a Problem.
You may have noticed, but it’s currently September 25, and the World Championships still haven’t started. That’s because they’re being held in Doha, capital city of Qatar. Since Qatar in the summer is excruciatingly hot, the IAAF decided to push the meet back by a month, which means that, for the first time ever, Worlds will stretch into the month of October.
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The only problem: it’s still freaking hot in Qatar in the fall.
— Molly Huddle (@MollyHuddle) September 25, 2019
The heat shouldn’t be a problem for most events — even though Khalifa International Stadium has no roof, it has high-powered air conditioning vents that should keep on-track temperatures in the 70s.
The marathons, however, could be an issue. The races are already set to start at midnight to keep the athletes out of the sun, but the humidity is still bad at night, and the dew point is even worse (anything in the 80s is truly miserable).
Current weather in Doha. Women's marathon is set to begin 20 minutes from this time, 3 days from now.
All those numbers are intimidating, but a dew point of 83 is downright oppressive. pic.twitter.com/if1VQlt0Sf
— Jonathan Gault (@jgault13) September 24, 2019
There have been rumors that the women’s marathon could be cancelled due to the heat (the IAAF says it hasn’t considered that option). If it is run, the conditions will be brutal.
In the stadium, organizers face another problem: Qatar isn’t exactly a hotbed of track & field. The Guardian reported on Monday that just 50,000 seats have been sold across all 10 days of competition and that organizers will be busing in migrant workers and children to fill some of the empty seats.
So why is Doha hosting the meet, anyway? Ask IAAF president Sebastian Coe and he’ll tell you that it’s important for the IAAF to visit new places and spread its showcase events around the world to grow the sport. The outdoor Worlds have never been held in the Middle East before.
The real reason may have more to do with the fact that Doha was awarded the Worlds in 2014 before Coe took charge, when the notoriously corrupt Lamine Diack was head of the IAAF. There is evidence linking Diack’s son to deals with a high-ranking Qatari businessman and a member of the Qatari royal family, which is being investigated as part of a bribery scheme.
However they got them, Doha is hosting the Worlds. Now let’s talk about the fun stuff.
2) The 400 Hurdles Is The Most Exciting Event In Track & Field
A few years ago, the only people looking forward to the 400 hurdles were 400 hurdlers. Diamond League organizers forced to include the event would stick it at the start of the meet to get it over with. It was utterly forgettable.
Now, thanks to an explosion of young talent, it’s the most exciting event in track and field for both the men and women.
On the men’s side, there’s a very real possibility that not one, not two, but three athletes could break Kevin Young‘s 27-year-old world record of 46.78. In the Diamond League final, Norway’s Karsten Warholm and the USA’s Rai Benjamin ran 46.92 and 46.98 to finish first and second — and in the process, double the membership of the sub-47 club from two to four. Abderrahman Samba, who was born and raised in Saudi Arabia but now represents Qatar, was already in that club thanks to his 46.98 from last season. He’ll be running Worlds as well in front of the home fans, but he may not be 100% as he hasn’t run a hurdles race since May.
Warholm, who is undefeated in 2019 and enters as the reigning champion, is the favorite. He’s also the most charismatic of the three — his celebration after winning the world title two years ago in London was iconic. Samba, at 24, is the oldest of the trio, so these guys should be around for some time.
While the men will be hoping for a world record, we’ve already seen one on the women’s side in 2019, with Dalilah Muhammad running 52.20 to win the US title in Des Moines in July. Though Muhammad, 29, is the Olympic champion, the time came as a surprise: she wasn’t even expected to win the race.
That’s because of Sydney McLaughlin. Even for a casual fan, McLaughlin is hard to miss — she qualified for the Olympics as a 16-year-old in 2016 and since then has been hyped as the next great American star, inking a sponsorship contract with New Balance that’s estimated to be worth well over $1 million annually (that’s virtually unheard of for a track athlete).
The hype is not undeserved. In 2018, McLaughlin ran a world U20 record of 52.75 seconds, the fastest time in the world last year. In 2019, McLaughlin, now 20, has beaten Muhammad twice, including their most recent encounter in the Diamond League final, with her only defeat that world record race at USAs. It may take another WR to beat her in Doha.
3) A 19-Year-Old From Norway Is the Betting Favorite In the Men’s 5,000
Not since the inaugural World Championships in 1983 has a man born outside of Africa won the men’s 5,000 meters. Heck, only one man born outside of Africa has even medalled at Worlds in the last 30 years (Australia’s Craig Mottram in 2005).
Yet as it stands, the betting favorite for the 2019 world 5,000m title is 19-year-old Jakob Ingebrigtsen of Norway, who is listed at 5/2 by oddsmaker 888sport.
With Mo Farah now running marathons and the top two from the Diamond League final 5000 running just the 10,000 most likely (the 5,000 is being held before the 10,000 for the men this year), the 5k is wide-open, which explains why no one is better than 5/2 odds. But Ingebrigtsen is the real deal: he ran 13:02 in London in July, closing his last lap in 53.6 seconds. That’s a close worthy of a medal at Worlds — perhaps gold.
And though Ingebrigtsen is only 19 years old, he’s already accomplished plenty in his young career. At 16, he became the youngest person in history to break 4:00 in the mile. At 17, he ran 3:52 and won European titles in the 1500 and 5k. He is 5-0 in his career against Olympic champion Matthew Centrowitz.
Ingebrigtsen also has some pretty talented older brothers. 26-year-old Filip earned bronze in the 1500 at Worlds in 2017; 28-year-old Henrik finished 5th in the 2012 Olympics in the 1500. All three men are coached by their father, Gjert (they have their own reality show back in Norway), and all three will run the 5k in Doha (Jakob and Filip will double back in the 1500).
4) Sifan Hassan Ponders a Legendary Distance Double
Back in 2001, the Nike Oregon Project was founded to promote American distance running. At some point in time, coach Alberto Salazar realized he wanted to win and thus started importing international athletes like Mo Farah, who won 10 global golds for the NOP. With Farah having left the NOP and moved up to the marathon, Salazar has reloaded with two Ethiopian-born stars in Sifan Hassan and Yomif Kejelcha.
Hassan of the Netherlands has already enjoyed a season for the ages. So far in 2019, she’s broken world records in the mile on the track (4:12.33) and the 5k on the roads (14:44) and ran another time (8:18.49 for 3000) that most people view as a WR considering the only women who ran faster all did it are Chinese women from September 1993 that are widely assumed to have been doping.
Hassan has been so good that she now faces a difficult decision: which events to run at Worlds? Hassan wants to double, but the logical double — 1500/5k — is impossible because the IAAF foolishly scheduled the two finals just 30 minutes apart. So Hassan can either do the 10k/5k or the 10k/1500 (she’s entered in all three events but has yet to make a final decision on which ones she’ll run). The first has been attempted countless times before. Two golds in those events would be impressive, but not unprecedented.
The 10k/1500, though? The first World Championships were held in 1983, and since then, no one in history has earned medals in both events. Not only could Hassan medal in both in the same year; she could conceivably win gold in both events. She is currently the betting favorite for all 3 events.
Back in 2013 and 2015, Mo Farah ran 3:28 for 1500 and won the world title at 10,000, but there’s a difference between running a fast 1500 in a time-trial race like Monaco and winning a championship medal. For years, the skillset between an elite 10k runner and an elite 1500 runner was viewed as too diverse for one athlete to simultaneously master both. If Hassan were to successfully pull off the 10k/1500 double, she wouldn’t just rewrite the history books; she’d redefine what is possible for a distance runner.
5) A New Generation of American Sprint Stars Is Set to Take Over
In case you missed it, Usain Bolt retired two years ago. In his place, a crop of young Americans have taken over and look set to own the sprints for the next several years.
In the 100, it’s Christian Coleman. Coleman, 23, almost didn’t make it to Doha (in a nutshell: Coleman didn’t fail any drug tests, and there was no suggestion that he was doping, but he was almost banned for missing three tests before being cleared on a technicality), but he will be here and is the heavy favorite. It helps that the rest of the field hasn’t been running that fast recently– 37-year-old defending champ and convicted doper Justin Gatlin is his biggest competition, and Gatlin pulled up lame with a hamstring issue in his most recent race — but Coleman has also been very, very good. Last year, he became just the 10th man in history to break 9.80 seconds (and only the third to have never served a ban), and he has one of the fastest starts in history — he’s the world record holder at 60 meters indoors.
Noah Lyles has owned the 200 for the last two years. Lyles, who turned pro out of high school — an unprecedented move for a male US sprinter — would have been favored to win Worlds as a 20-year-old in 2017 but had to withdraw from USAs that year with a hamstring injury. Since then, he’s been nearly unstoppable, losing just once in a 200 and routinely obliterating Diamond League fields thanks to his tremendous ability to hold his speed at the end of the race. He ran 19.50 in Lausanne in July to become the fourth-fastest man in history and there are whispers that he could challenge Bolt’s 19.19 world record in Doha. That probably isn’t happening, but a time in the 19.3s or 19.4s is certainly within the realm of possibility.
Coleman will also be doubling back in the 200. While Lyles is viewed as the superior 200 runner, it should be an interesting matchup, especially because neither is particularly fond of the other.
America has two stars in the 400: 21-year-old Michael Norman (43.45 pb) and 24-year-old Fred Kerley (43.64), who sit 4th and 7th on the all-time list. Norman is the favorite here and beat Kerley in the Diamond League final, but Kerley beat a banged-up Norman at USAs and is a stud in his own right. With world record holder/Olympic champion Wayde Van Niekerk still sidelined after tearing his ACL in 2017, there will be a new champion in Doha.
(Note: Point #6 is an addition by LetsRun.com co-founder Robert Johnson)
6) An American Could Win Gold In Both The Men’s and Women’s 800
No American male or female has ever won a gold medal at Worlds outdoors in the 800, but that is expected to change this year as the US should win at least one 800 gold and could win two. The last global title in the 800 for the US men came at the 1972 Olympics (Dave Wottle) and 1968 Olympics for the women (Madeline Manning) but the Diamond League winners in both the men’s and women’s 800s this year were American.
25-year-old Ajee’ Wilson, who won World bronze in 2017, won the women’s DL title, which wasn’t a surprise as she has proven herself to be basically unbeatable when she’s not racing women with XY chromosomes. Since the start of 2017, Wilson has finished as the top non-XY DSD athlete in 28 of her 29 races. We mention that because it is believed all of the women’s Olympic medallists in 2016 had XY chromosomes with high testosterone and they have been banned for the 2019 Worlds due to a recent IAAF rule change. As a result, it would be a big surprise if Wilson doesn’t win gold. She’s the biggest favorite of any women’s runner according to the bookies.
(Related: The most read article in LRC history: What No One Is Telling You About Caster Semenya: She Has XY Chromosomes).
For the men, Donavan Brazier won the Diamond League title in 1:42.70 — just .10 off the American record — but a win at Worlds is by no means a lock. Botswana’s Nijel Amos, who trains with the Oregon Track Club, has twice run 1:41 in his career, including once this year. Yes, he lost the Diamond League title, but that was only after he tied up after going out in 48.4 for 400 and 1:14.43 for 600.
If you haven’t been paying attention for a number of years and are stunned that the US has major medal threats in the 800, please realize a lot has changed over the last 10 years or so. Two years ago at Worlds, the US women went 1-2 in the steeple as Emma Coburn won gold and Courtney Frerichs won silver. They both are back this year but the favorite is world record holder Beatrice Chepkoech of Kenya, who helped the Americans out two years ago when she momentarily forgot to cut in and go over the first water jump.
At the 2016 Olympics, the US won 7 medals in the mid-d and distance events (the most in 104 years) including gold from Matthew Centrowitz in the men’s 1500.
Centrowitz didn’t win the US title this year in the 1500 but we’re expecting him to do big things in the 1500 as he recently showed great fitness by running 13:00 for 5000. One more thing about Centrowitz: he’s no longer coached by Alberto Salazar, he switched to Bowerman Track Club and is coached by Jerry Schumacher.
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