9 Things I Can’t Believe Happened at the 2022 World Athletics Championships

by Robert Johnson
July 29, 2022

The 2022 World Atheltics Championships – the first outdoor track and field world champs to be held in the US – are in the books. The action at Hayward Field in Eugene was capped by Tobi Amusan and Sydney McLaughlin breaking the women’s hurdles by demolishing the world records in their specialties and then Mondo Duplantis sending everyone home happy by recording the highest vault in history.

Attending and reporting from Worlds was great. Now it’s time to try to put in perspective. But it’s difficult to put a sporting event with more than 40 events into perspective. So I thought it might be better to go back in time. Let’s compare what happened at Worlds to what we expected to happen. 

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Let’s go back in time, but first not to two weeks ago before the start of Worlds, but back to April 16,  2015 – the day Worlds was abruptly awarded you Eugene without the normal bidding process.

I present to you the top 8 most shocking things that happened at Worlds, that no one would have expected in 2015.

Top 8 Most Surprising Things at Worlds

1. Track Town USA struggling to attract 15,000 fans a night to a Worlds in Eugene

Crowd for 100m final at Worlds

Crowd for 100m final at Worlds (Kevin Morris)

The atmosphere in Eugene was great and most nights the crowd was mostly full, but if you’d told anyone in 2015 that Eugene would struggle to fill a 15,000 seat stadium for Worlds, no one would have believed you. The reality is the US Olympic Trials in Eugene in 2008, 2012 and 2016 regularly attracted more than 20,000 fans each day.  People assumed the demand for Worlds would be even greater.

For reasons TBD, whether it was high ticket prices, Eugene fatigue for US fans, the fact the Worlds aren’t tied to the Olympics, too many meets on the caldear this year (CGs and Europeans), Covid fears/restrictions, greedy ticket brokers trying to make a killing, etc., the attendance wasn’t close to what people expected to it be 7 years ago. Friday night the final weekend of Worlds, US sensation Sydney McLaughlin obliterated the world record in the 400m hurdles. Ticketed attendance that night: 12,054. 

2. The US women medalling in all 4 throwing events

When the Worlds were awarded to Eugene, a medal in the throws for the US women was something that almost never happened, literally. As of April 2015, there had been 50 throws competition in world championship history (the women’s hammer was only added in 1999). In those 50 competitions, the US had earned a medal in only one of them – Jillian Camarena-Williams had earned a bronze in the women’s shot in Daegu in 2013.

The women’s medals went almost exclusively to women from former or communist countries like China, Russia, Cuba, etc. Now the US women lead the way in the throws as they won 5 medals and two golds in Eugene.

3. The Ethiopian men winning only one medal on track and that medal came in the steeplechase

Since the start of the new millennium up until 2015, the Ethiopian men had always won at least two distance medals on the track at Worlds with the average being 3 per year in the 7 worlds held from 2001-2013. And none of those 21 medals came in the steeplechase as the Ethiopian men had never medalled in the steeple until the 2019 worlds.

This year, Ethiopia won only a single medal on the track (they also went 1-2 in the marathon) and it came in the men’s steeplechase as Lamecha Girma earned the silver for the second straight Worlds.

It also means that in 3 of the last 4 Worlds, the Ethiopian men have only earned one medal on the track.

Ethiopian Men’s Medals At Worlds
Yr Track Events Marathon
1983 0 1
1987 0 0
1991 1 0
1993 3 0
1995 1 0
1997 1 0
1999 2 0
2001 3 1
2003 4 0
2005 3 0
2007 2 0
2009 3 1
2011 3 1
2013 3 2
2015 1 1
2017 1 1
2019 4 2
2022 1 2

4. The champs of the Kenyan Trials in the women’s 5000 (Selah Busienei), men’s 10,000 (Kibiwott Kandie) and men’s steeple (Amos Serem) were all be left off the Worlds team.

Considering Kenya medalled in all three of those events at Worlds, it’s hard not to wonder, “Well how would the Kenyan champs have done if they’d been allwoed to run?” Kandie didn’t have the standard and presumably the 17-year old Serem and 30-year old Busienei didn’t have the required amount of out-of-competition drug tests.

5. An American man finished as the top combined finisher in the 5,000 and 10,000 and yet left the meet disappointed.

Grant Fisher at 2022 Worlds

Grant Fisher at 2022 Worlds

That’s exactly what happened in Eugene as Grant Fisher was 4th in the 10,000 and 6th in the 10,000 and went home disappointed. Had he not strumbled on the rail with 120 meters left, would he have medalled in the 5000? We’ll never know.

Fisher tied Joshua Cheptegei (1st 10,000, 9th in 5000) for the lowest combined placing in the 5,000/10,000.

6. Max Siegel – the head of USATF – scheduled a press conference in the middle of the meet while the competition was taking place

Last Thursday evening USATF head Max Siegel held a press conference with Olympic and civil rights icons John Carlos and Tommie Smith, while the competition was going on. And it was announced only 50 minutes before it took place. I still can’t believe it. 

Yes, it was ‘only’ the semifinals of the men’s 5000 and the qualifications rounds of the javelin and triple jump, but give me a break. If we are wondering why roughly only 10,000 people worldwide wanted to pay and travel to the Worlds each night in Eugene, isn’t this the perfect example of it? The head of USATF doesn’t even want to watch the competition.

At the same time, he was making it clear that he had zero PR plan to try to use this meet as a springboard to elevate the sports of track and field / athletics in the US. 

Shouldn’t Smith and Carlos’ appearance in Eugene have been trumpeted up and promoted to the press weeks or months in advance, not minutes? 

That’s not the actions of a halfway competent CEO, let alone a ‘visionary’ who received more than $4.2 million dollars in compensation in 2018 even though he leads a non-profit with a modest budget of less than $40 million. Many SEC Athletic Directors run programs with budgets north of $120 million and don’t even make a million a year

7. Alberto Salazar wasn’t allowed to attend the meet as he’s in the midst of a 4-year drug ban and lifetime SafeSport ban

The Worlds went to Eugene as the result of one thing – Phil Knight wanted them in Eugene. And Phil Knight was always one of Alberto Salazar‘s biggest fans and supporters. Yet Salazar wasn’t at Worlds this year as he’s banned by two different entities. Back in April of 2015, that would have been hard to believe as David Epstein‘s ProPublica piece on Salazar wasn’t published until June of 2015.

8. Galen Rupp ran 2:09:36 and finished 19th in the men’s marathon

In this point, I could just as well cite the super fast hurdle times as being shocking but the marathon is perhaps the easiest place for one to see how big of an impact shoe technology has had on the sport in the last 7 years. The super marathon shoes didn’t come out until 2016 but the times they have produced are mind blowing.

(By Wearing Vaporfly Prototypes, Eliud Kipchoge, Galen Rupp, & Shalane Flanagan Are All Guilty of Mechanical Doping in 2016 – Will Anything Be Done About It?)

Consider this stat from our friend David Graham. At Worlds Galen Rupp ran the marathon in 2:09:36, a time that would have won all but four world championships marathons, but in Eugene he finished…19th.  That’s wild.

For the women, only twice in WC history had the winning time been under 2:25:00 and yet 9 women ran 2:23:49 or faster in Eugene.

Short Terms Disappointments

Raevyn Rogers and Ajee Wilson before start of 800m final (Kevin Morris)

In terms of short term disappointments on the track at Worlds, one stands out. If two weeks ago, I’d told you that neither Raevyn Rogers now Ajee Wilson would place higher than 6th in the 800, I don’t think you would have believed me.

Rogers medalled last year in Tokyo and had run 1:58 or better in all of her competitions so far in 2022, never finshing lower than 3rd. So for her to finish 6th on the track where she became a legend was a big letdown – although it should be pointed out that she did run 1:58 in the final.

Wilson won world indoors and finished 1st or 2nd in all of her competitions in 2022, including USAs where she pushed Athing Mu to the line and ran 1:57.23. 1:57.23 wouldn’t have medalled in Eugene (It took 1:56.71 to medal) but Wilson was never a factor in the final and finished last in 2:00.19

 

 

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