Counting Down the 10 Most Exciting Stories at the 2022 World Championships

By Jonathan Gault
July 6, 2022

The 2022 World Athletics Championships begin next week in Eugene, Ore. More than seven years have passed since Eugene was awarded the championships via a special vote bypassing the usual bidding process, during which time Hayward Field was torn down and rebuilt and the meet was delayed a year due to a global pandemic. Now we are just nine days away from the first-ever World Athletics Championships on American soil. This is really happening.

It still feels a little weird. A 12,650-seat stadium that was barely a third full during the US championships two weeks ago is hosting the biggest meet of the year. The 151st-largest city in America (with a population of 175,000, Eugene trails booming metropolises such as Peoria, Ariz., and Elk Grove, Calif.) is going to follow in the footsteps of global capitals like Paris, Tokyo, and London in hosting the World Championships.

But once you get over the weirdness, you realize that, like every World Championship, this is going to be an incredible track meet. I’m not crazy enough to write a preview of all 49 events (and god bless you if you’d be willing to read it), so let’s try a shorter list. How about we stick to the top 10 things I’m looking forward to in Eugene?

As always, any comments are welcome but if your favorite event was left out, remember that this is inherently a subjective exercise. Sometimes our tastes won’t overlap. And sometimes, an event just stinks. The mixed-gender 4×400 is silly and unnecessary, and you cannot force me to care about it.

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Also, if you’re the kind of person who only sort of follows pro track during the regular season but always tunes into Worlds (which is totally fine!), consider this your refresher on the 2022 season/viewing guide for Worlds. Counting down from least to most exciting, here are the 10 storylines I’m most looking forward to at the first outdoor Worlds in the US.

(Come back to LRC every day for your complete Worlds Coverage as we’ll be previewing all the distance events and providing on-site coverage from Eugene).

#10. Sub-8:00 men Soufiane El Bakkali & Lamecha Girma battle for the steeple title…or will Conseslus Kipruto secure an unlikely three-peat?

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After the annus horribilis that was 2021, the men’s steeplechase is back with a vengeance this year. The first six months of 2022 saw as many sub-8:00 steeples (four) as the years 2013-21 combined, three of those belonging to 21-year-old Ethiopian Lamecha Girma, the first man born outside of Kenya or Morocco to break through the 8:00 barrier.

Girma has been operating at an incredibly high level, ripping off all three of his sub-8:00’s in a 10-day stretch in May and June. But he won’t enter Worlds as the favorite. Girma is great at pushing the pace, but he’s not known for his kick, which may explain his burgeoning reputation as a nearly-man — he’s taken silvers at the 2019 Worlds and 2021 Olympics in the steeple as well as at 2022 World Indoors in the flat 3,0000. His biggest rival, Olympic champion Soufiane El Bakkali of Morocco, does know how to close, which we saw in one of the races of the year in Rabat in June when El Bakkali beat Girma, 7:58.28 to 7:59.24.

Reigning world champ Conseslus Kipruto adds another dose of intrigue. After failing to finish a single race in 2020 or 2021, Kipruto returned to action this year, and though his results haven’t turned many heads, he did run 8:08 in Rome on June 9, putting him in a conversation for a medal — perhaps gold — at Worlds. If that sounds like wishful thinking, you need to remember who we’re talking about. Kipruto possesses one of the best kicks in the history of the event and overcame injury-plagued buildups ahead of the 2017 and 2019 Worlds to take gold both times. A third straight title is not out of the question. Heading into Worlds in 2019, Kipruto hadn’t broken 8:13 in two tries on the DL circuit but got the win in 8:01.35.

#9. McLaughlin/Mondo/Crouser/Rojas world record watch

The last time I proclaimed there were four superstars in a global championship who couldn’t lose, two of those athletes proceeded to, in fact, lose. At the risk of jinxing another quartet, I’m doing it again: Sydney McLaughlinMondo DuplantisRyan Crouser, and Yulimar Rojas will all head to Eugene as a world record holder on the way to becoming the GOAT of their events — Crouser and Rojas are probably there already.

If you’re in Eugene and one of these athletes is on the track or in the field, you need to pay attention. It’s not often you get the opportunity to see the best to ever do something in person, and though each will be heavily favored in their event, only Rojas has won a world outdoor title before. And if one of them happens to lose? Well, that’s exciting in its own way. After all, what’s a World Championships without an upset or two?

#8. Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce attempts to win global titles 14 years apart

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The women’s 100 was insanely competitive in 2021, and the three protagonists from last year’s Jamaican Olympic sweep are all back at Worlds in 2022: Elaine Thompson-HerahShelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, and Shericka Jackson. Olympic champ Thompson-Herah was 3rd at the Jamaican trials, has “only” run 10.79 this year, and has never won a world title, but you never know when she’s going to go nuclear: at this point in the 2021 season, she hadn’t run faster than 10.82 but went on to break 10.7 four times later in the summer.

Jackson is coming off an incredible double at the Jamaican champs, winning the 100 in 10.77 before ripping a 21.55 to win the 200, the #3 time in history.

The biggest storyline may be Fraser-Pryce, however. She won her first global 100m title in 2008, the same year as another Jamaican you may have heard of. But while Usain Bolt is five years into his retirement, the 35-year-old Fraser-Pryce is as good as ever, running 10.67, 10.67, and 10.70 in her three races this year. Should SAFP win in Eugene — she will be favored to do so — it would give her global titles in the same event 14 years apart. That’s something only two people  (and no women) have ever done.

Longest Gaps Between 1st and Last World Title
Athlete Country Event First title Last title Gap
Yuriy Sedykh USSR Hammer 1976 1991 15 years
Sergey Bubka USSR/Ukraine Pole vault 1983 1997 14 years
Carl Lewis USA Long jump 1983 1996 13 years
Justin Gatlin USA 100m 2004 2017 13 years
Al Oerter USA Discus 1956 1968 12 years
Ulrike Meyfarth West Germany High jump 1972 1984 12 years
Anita Wlodarczyk Poland Hammer 2009 2021 12 years
Edwin Moses USA 400m hurdles 1976 1987 11 years
Jefferson Perez Ecuador 20k race walk 1996 2007 11 years
Felix Sanchez Dominican Republic 400m hurdles 2001 2012 11 years
Ezekiel Kemboi Kenya 3000m steeple 2004 2015 11 years
Tianna Madison USA Long jump 2005 2016 11 years
Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce Jamaica 100m 2008 2019 11 years

(Also worth noting: Eliud Kipchoge won the 5,000m at the 2003 Worlds and the marathon at the 2021 Olympics 18 years later!)

From an American perspective, it will be interesting to see if US champ Melissa Jefferson, coming off a 10.82 pb at USAs and still just 21 years old, can challenge for a medal.

#7. Can Grant Fisher medal?

Photo by Phil Bond

Our international visitors may quibble with this selection, but as a US-based reporter for a US-based publication, this excites me. America having a medal threat in the distance events is hardly new — heck, Paul Chelimo medalled in the 5,000 just last year. But in many ways Fisher is the perfect runner. LetsRun readers love nothing more than discovering a phenom and projecting out their career, and Fisher has been hyped as the Next Great American Distance Runner ever since winning Foot Lockers as a 16-year-old junior in 2013.

Since then, Fisher has passed every checkpoint. Sub-4:00 in high school (back when it was still a big deal). NCAA champ as a sophomore at Stanford. American records indoors and out. A US title. All that’s left is a global medal, and it would be huge for Fisher and American distance running. No male athlete who came up through the US high school and college system like Fisher has ever won a 5,000 or 10,000m medal at the World Championships.

The 25-year-old Fisher should have a number of medal opportunities in the coming years. In Eugene, the 5,000 is going to be absurdly stacked (Joshua CheptegeiJakob IngebrigtsenBerihu Aregawi). And now it has been announced that the Ethiopian federation is allowing Selemon Barega to double. Which means that if Fisher is going to medal in the 5,000, he’ll have to beat at least one Olympic champion.

The 10,000, with Cheptegei, Barega, Aregawi, and Jacob Kiplimo, won’t be much easier. And remember Fisher didn’t even win the 10,000 at USAs — that honor went to Joe Klecker.

#6. Who wins the men’s 100?

You don’t need to know anything about sprinting to appreciate a 10-second race crowning the world’s fastest man. But more than usual, there are some juicy backstories behind the main contenders in 2022. Here are some of the favorites for the title and what a win would mean for each.

Fred Kerley, USA (9.76 sb)
Kerley was a 400-meter runner (bronze at 2019 Worlds) until last year when he took up the 100 and surprisingly earned the silver medal at the Olympics. He just had an unreal meet at the US championships by running 9.83, 9.76, and 9.77 in the span of 26 hours (the three fastest times of his life) and will head to Worlds as the favorite.

Trayvon Bromell, USA (9.81 sb)
A teen phenom (Bromell was the youngest man ever under 10 seconds when he did it as an 18-year-old in 2014), Bromell earned bronze at Worlds in 2015 as a 20-year-old but tore his Achilles at the 2016 Olympics and barely raced for the next four years. It’s virtually unheard of for a sprinter to miss that much time and return to the top of the sport, but Bromell did so, winning the US Olympic Trials last year only to bomb in Tokyo and fail to make the Olympic final. He’ll head to Eugene with redemption on his mind.

Christian Coleman, USA (9.87 sb)
Coleman seemed destined to own the event after running 9.76 to win the 2019 world title in Doha as a 23-year-old. Then he missed three drug tests, triggering an 18-month suspension that kept him out of the Olympics. After a year away from racing, Coleman hasn’t looked as sharp in his return in 2022 but he did manage a season’s best at the US championships.

Marcell Jacobs, Italy (10.04 sb)
The surprise Olympic champion backed up that gold by defeating Coleman to win the world indoor title at 60 meters in March, but an injury in his upper hamstring has limited him to just two meets this year. His health a major question mark, but his talent and championship pedigree mean he has to be respected at Worlds.

One of the four men above is likely your champion, but Kenya (yes, Kenya) has a gold-medal threat in Ferdinand Omanyala (9.85 sb), who beat Kerley earlier this year in Nairobi. And after a post-Bolt lull, Jamaica could be competitive again. 2011 world champ Yohan Blake ran 9.85 to win the Jamaican trials, his fastest time in a decade, while 21-year-old Oblique Seville (9.86 sb) could be the next big thing.

#5. The bloodbath in the men’s 110m hurdles

This event gets more interesting by the week. There’s reigning world champion Grant Holloway, the second-fastest man in history (12.81) and the man who beat him at last year’s Olympics, Jamaica’s Hansle Parchment (who hasn’t lost all year). Then add the new kid on the block, recent Florida State grad Trey Cunningham, who ran 13.00 to win the NCAA meet.

That’s where the event was a month ago. Then Devon Allen — with zero global medals at age 27 — ran 12.84 to beat Holloway in New York, the #3 time in history. New favorite for the world title? Not quite. Allen barely even made the team at USAs — he was just .003 ahead of fourth-placer Jamal Britt — as Daniel Roberts asserted himself by winning the US title in 13.03. (It was later revealed that Allen’s father, Louis, died shortly before the final at USAs. It’s unclear if Allen was aware at the time.)

So now we have four Americans at 13.03 or faster on the year (the US is 1-4 on the world list currently), all of whom will be at Worlds, plus the fast-closing Olympic champ from Jamaica who is in great form. In an event where one mistake can mean death, this should be one of the best finals of Worlds. Oh, and it just might take a world record to win it.

#4. Can Jakob Ingebrigtsen win the 1500/5000 double?

Ingebrigtsen after his world-leading 3:46 mile in Oslo on June 16. Courtesy Diamond League AG.

Only three men in history have won the 1500 and 5000 at the same World Championships or Olympics: Paavo Nurmi (1924), Hicham El Guerrouj (2004), and Bernard Lagat (2007). It requires a special skill set. To win a global 1500, you need to be fast enough to run about 1:44 for 800 meters. And to win a global 5000, you need the strength to run well under 13:00. Few men possess both traits.

Ingebrigtsen’s 800 pb is only 1:46 (he doesn’t race the 800 much seriously; that time is from two years ago) but we already know he can win the 1500. And considering he won the fastest 5000 of last year (12:48 in Florence), he has the strength to succeed in the 5000. But he’ll have to overcome an absolutely loaded field in that one, featuring fellow Olympic champs Selemon Barega and Joshua Cheptegei.

Regardless of how Ingebrigtsen’s quest ends, the 21-year-old deserves props for attempting the double. The sport is at its best when the top athletes challenge themselves.

#3. What happens in the men’s 400 hurdles?

We’re (probably) not going to get a race better than last year’s Olympic final. But considering that may have been the greatest race in the history of the sport, that’s okay. Last year, with the way Karsten Warholm and Rai Benjamin were running, practically everyone expected a world record in Tokyo. This year, no one knows what to expect.

Benjamin missed a chunk of training in late spring due to COVID and a hamstring injury; he didn’t run over a single hurdle between the Doha Diamond League on May 13 and the first round of USAs on June 24, though he showed he’s still fit by running 47.04 in the USA final. Warholm has cleared just one hurdle in competition all year, injuring his own hamstring early in the Rabat Diamond League on June 5.

That leaves 22-year-old Alison dos Santos of Brazil as the World Championship favorite. dos Santos, like Warholm and Benjamin, is an all-time talent — he ran 46.72 in last year’s Olympic final to move to #3 on the all-time list and clocked 46.80 (#6 time in history) in his pre-Worlds tuneup in Stockholm on June 30.

Warholm hasn’t lost a hurdle race since 2018, which means Benjamin and dos Santos have never beaten him. Is Eugene where the streak ends, or will the world record holder summon yet another epic performance at a global championship?

#2. Athing Mu, Ajee’ Wilson, and a dramatic women’s 800

Photo by Phil Bond

The women’s 800 at USAs was one of the best races of the meet, with World Indoor champion Ajee’ Wilson passing Olympic champion Athing Mu in the final straight only for Mu to respond and pass Wilson back just meters from the finish line. Worlds could be even better. Mu and Wilson will be back, joined by the third member of Team USA, Raevyn Rogers (silver and bronze at the last two global championships). Add in 20-year-old Olympic silver medalist Keely Hodgkinson of Great Britain (1:55 pb) and emerging Kenyan star Mary Moraa (who ran 1:57.45 to win the Kenyan trials and beat Hodgkinson in Stockholm on June 30) and this event is stacked.

Mu hasn’t lost an 800 since graduating high school in 2020 and will be favored, though she hasn’t run as quickly as 2021, when she ran 1:56.07 to win the Olympic Trials followed by American records of 1:55.21 at the Olympics and 1:55.04 at Pre. If she can reach that level again, she’ll be golden in Eugene. If not, all four of the women above will have a shot.

For Wilson, a win would be especially sweet. After being blocked from gold by DSD athletes Caster Semenya and Francine Niyonsaba in 2016 and 2017, Wilson faltered as the favorite at the 2019 Worlds in Doha. When Mu won the Olympics as a 19-year-old last year, Wilson didn’t even make the final; it looked as if her time had passed. But now, at 28, she has a genuine shot at adding world outdoor gold to the world indoor title she won back in March.

#1. Knighton vs Lyles in a 200m grudge match

When Noah Lyles gunned down Erriyon Knighton at the line to win the US 200-meter title on June 26, 19.67 to 19.69, he made a number of statements. The one delivered with his feet was unambiguous: Lyles, the reigning world champion and fifth-fastest man in history, isn’t going anywhere. He may have endured a “down year” in 2021 (one in which he still won a US title, an Olympic bronze, and ran 19.52) but he has come out firing on all cylinders in 2022, running 19.72 or faster on three occasions and looking very much like the man who dominated this event globally from 2017-20.

Photo by Phil Bond

The statement Lyles made with his right thumb and index finger as he crossed the finish line was not quite as clear. Pointing across Knighton’s chest, it seemed to say, “Not quite yet, young buck,” but Lyles later clarified that the gesture was intended for his doubters — many of whom sprung up after the 18-year-old Knighton ran 19.49 (#4 all-time) in April.

Just minutes later, however, Lyles made yet another statement — this one with his words on the NBC broadcast as Knighton looked on to his left:

Erriyon got the best of me on the turn. I ain’t worried about that. I saw him reach his top speed and I said mine’s faster. I said I’ma catch him, but it’s going to take the whole rest of the 100.

Knighton responded by telling NBC’s Lewis Johnson, “job not finished, it’s never finished” before leaving the interview early. He did not offer an answer when questioned about Lyles’ finish-line point — in fact, he was offended by the question — but it’s safe to say Knighton was not thrilled about how things played out that day.

It remains to be seen whether the episode triggered any lingering bad blood between the two sprint stars (though that would not be a bad thing for the sport!) but Knighton will not forget what happened at 2022 USAs anytime soon. Knighton takes every loss hard. Remember, this is a guy who was disappointed with his race at the Olympics when he didn’t win a medal as a 17-year-old. Knighton won’t care that Lyles had won the last two US titles or the 2019 world title. Or that Knighton himself is still a teenager. All he knows is that Lyles beat him. Knighton gets a chance to avenge that in Eugene. And if their first encounter this year is any indication, every fan of the sport should be glad that he does.

Oh and there’s also a chance Knighton, the most talented sprint prospect since Bolt, runs an absolutely insane time and announces himself as the sport’s next global superstar. So yeah, should be a pretty good final on July 21.

What are your top 10 storylines at Worlds? Tell us on our world-famous messageboard / fan forum: MB: It’s less than 10 days to 2022 Worlds. Here are JG’s top 10 storylines. What events are you most into?

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