The 2022 Track Season That Was: Awards, Reflections, & Trivia
By Jonathan Gault
September 19, 2022
With the European track season wrapping up a week ago with the Gala dei Castelli in Bellinzona, Switzerland, I’m afraid to say we’re out of meets. Didn’t get that PR or World Championship standard? It will have to wait until next year. The weather is cooling off, athletes are going on vacation, and track & field journalists are trying to catch their breath before switching into fall marathon mode which begins in earnest this weekend with the BMW Berlin Marathon.
But before we turn our attention completely to the roads, it’s worth revisiting a summer of track & field unlike any other. For the first time, we had a World Championships, Commonwealth Games, and European Championships in the same year and it worked surprisingly well. Not well enough to become an every-year thing, but for a one-off, it was great. It was a summer of Mondo Duplantis smashing records, Noah Lyles reclaiming his crown, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce cranking out world leaders, and Sydney McLaughlin taking an event to unforeseen heights.
All in all, it was pretty awesome, and it’s time to make a few observations and hand out some awards for the season that was.
Jakob Ingebrigtsen becomes the fifth man to break 3:30 three times in one year
Jakob Ingebrigtsen may not have won either of the global 1500m titles he tried for this year, settling for silver in Belgrade and Eugene, but he still had a pretty incredible middle distance campaign. Check out his season results in the 1500/mile:
|Date||Meet||Distance||Time||Place||Margin of victory|
|February 17||Lievin||1500||3:30.60 (WR)||1st||3.10|
|March 20||World Indoors||1500||3:33.02||2nd||N/A|
|May 28||Pre Classic||Mile||3:49.76||1st||0.89|
|June 16||Bislett Games||Mile||3:46.46||1st||1.02|
|July 19||World Outdoors||1500||3:29.47||2nd||N/A|
|August 26||Lausanne DL||1500||3:29.05||1st||0.88|
|September 8||DL Final||1500||3:29.02||1st||1.25|
That’s a lot of fast times. His 3:30.60 for 1500m indoors was a world record. His 3:46.46 at Pre was the fastest mile in the world for 21 years. And perhaps most impressively, he broke 3:30 three times in 2022 – making him just the fifth man to do it three or more times in one year. You may recognize the names of the other members of the club.
Men who have broken 3:30 three or more times in one year
Noureddine Morceli: 1995 (3)
Hicham El Guerrouj: 1997 (5), 1998 (6), 1999 (3), 2001 (4), 2002 (6), 2003 (3)
Noah Ngeny: 1999 (6)
Timothy Cheruiyot: 2019 (3)
Jakob Ingebrigtsen: 2022 (3)
And of course, Ingebrigtsen also won European and world titles in the 5,000 meters as well. Not bad for a 21-year-old.
(Fact check by LetsRun.com co-founder Robert Johnson: It was a great year for Ingebrigtsen but I will point out that he didn’t PR in the 1500 or 5000 this year for the first time in his life. He also failed to break 3:29 for the first time since 2019.)
Rough year for US men’s middle-distance runners
While Grant Fisher broke four American records from distances ranging from 3,000 to 10,000 meters, many of America’s middle-distance stars struggled for one reason or another. Here are a few dispiriting stats from what was largely a year to forget.
- No American men medalled at Worlds in the 800 through 10,000. That had only happened at one of the previous eight global championships (2015), with the US men collecting an average of 1.9 medals per champs in that span.
- No American men made the Worlds final in the 800. This was the first time that happened since 2017.
- No American men made the Worlds semifinals in the 800. This had never happened before.
- The fastest 800 by an American this year was Bryce Hoppel’s 1:44.60. That was the slowest US leader since 2005.
- Only one American made the 1500 final at Worlds (Josh Thompson, 12th). You’d have to go back to the 2008 Olympics – when no Americans made the final – to find a worse result by the top American in the World/Olympics 1500.
There’s a good reason for those struggles: many of America’s top distance talents missed some or all of the year with injury. Yared Nuguse, Cole Hocker, Cooper Teare, Donavan Brazier, and Matthew Centrowitz were all forced to take time off this season. Nuguse, Hocker, and Teare are all 23 or younger and US distance fans should still be excited about them heading into 2023.
It’s a little harder to be optimistic about Brazier and Centrowitz. Both men are immense, world-beating talents when healthy, but Brazier, 25, has had three of his last five seasons derailed by injury and Centrowitz, who has battled injuries throughout his career, turns 33 next month. Though it would be hard for 2023 to go much worse than 2022, when Centrowitz missed the entire year after undergoing knee surgery in May.
Duplantis vs. Bubka
22-year-old Mondo Duplantis closed out the best season of his career to date by clearing 6.07 meters to win the Diamond League final in Zurich on September 8. Duplantis broke the world record three times, including world records at both the World Indoor and World Outdoor Championships. No man has dominated the pole vault so convincingly since the legendary Sergey Bubka in the 1980s and 1990s.
It’s natural to compare the two. Did Bubka ever have a year like Duplantis?
Yes. There were two years in which Bubka jumped the highest distance ever three or more times (the indoor and outdoor world records were considered separate records until 2000). In 1984, Bubka broke the overall world record four times outdoors in addition to breaking the indoor world record three times (at the time, the outdoor WR was higher). In 1991, Bubka broke the indoor world record four times and the outdoor world record four times (by then, the indoor record was higher). Here’s how those two seasons compare to Duplantis’ 2022 campaign.
|Athlete||Year||Indoor WRs||Outdoor WRs||Overall WRs||Overall W-L record||6m vaults||Champs|
|Bubka||1991||4||4||4||23-2||10||1st World Indoors, 1st World Outdoors|
|Duplantis||2022||2||2||3||18-1||15||1st World Indoors, 1st World Outdoors|
*tied overall WR once indoors
Notes: “Indoor WRs” mean the highest vault ever indoors, “Outdoor WRs” mean the highest vault ever outdoors, “Overall WRs” mean the highest vault ever, anywhere, “6m vaults” mean the number of competitions in which the athlete cleared at least 6m. Bubka did not compete at the 1984 Olympics due to the Soviet boycott.
So was this the best year ever by a male pole vaulter? There’s a strong case to be made. Duplantis only lost once all season, and he cleared 6 meters 15 times, which is five more than Bubka in 1991. He also broke the world record at a global championship on two occasions, something Bubka never did in his career. And looking at the numbers through an absolute lens, Bubka’s best jump in 1984 was 5.94m – a mark Duplantis eclipsed 15 times in 2022. Bubka’s best jump in 1991 was 6.12m – a mark Duplantis eclipsed four times and tied twice more in 2022.
But Bubka also broke the world record more times than Duplantis did this year in both 1984 and 1991, and he was limited from realizing his true potential because he chose to break the world record by only one centimeter at a time (of course the same is true of Duplantis).
Given Duplantis recorded the four highest clearances in history this year and cleared 6 meters a record 15 times in 19 competitions (79%), this probably should go down as the greatest season ever by a men’s pole vaulter.
The Redemption Award
To US men’s sprinting for bouncing back from a horrific 2021 Olympics with a historic 2022 World Championships. Last year when the American men failed to win a single individual track final for the first time in Olympic history, there was a rush to figure out what was wrong with American sprinting.
But there was never a major problem (well, perhaps except for the 4×100 relay). The US still claimed silver in four of the five individual men’s sprint/hurdle events, but a few things held them back from the biggest prize: 100m favorite Trayvon Bromell melted down in Tokyo, 200m favorite Noah Lyles’ form dipped at the worst time, and Rai Benjamin ran the second-fastest 400m hurdle time ever only to be defeated by the fastest 400m hurdle time ever.
In Eugene, a red-hot Fred Kerley led a 1-2-3 sweep of the men’s 100; five days later, an entirely different US trio swept the 200, powered by a rejuvenated Lyles. Grant Holloway ran a little faster (13.03 vs. 13.09) in the 110 hurdles to take the gold, and Michael Norman lived up to his potential in the 400. The US was only denied gold in the 400 hurdles, and even then it took the #3 performance ever by Alison Dos Santos (46.29) to defeat a banged-up Benjamin (46.89).
Yes, the US caught more than a few breaks. All five of the men’s Olympic sprint champs from last year were injured at some point this year. Steven Gardiner (400) had to withdraw from the meet entirely, Andre De Grasse pulled out of the 200 after struggling in the 100, Marcell Jacobs and Hansle Parchment were forced to scratch before the semis and final, respectively, and Karsten Warholm was clearly not 100% in taking 7th at Worlds.
But that is the sort of thing that can happen in professional sports. Events do not remain static. Athletes rise, fall, get hurt, get healthy. At every meet, there is a range of possible outcomes. Tokyo 2021 was very close to the worst-case scenario for US men’s sprinting. Eugene 2022 was very close to the best-case scenario, and the men who made it so deserve credit for showing up and performing on home soil.
The “Thank You For Racing” Award
To Femke Bol of the Netherlands. The 22-year-old Dutchwoman was everywhere in 2022, racing 29 times in total (including prelims) in 12 countries. Bol’s specialty event is the 400 hurdles, where she went undefeated save for a defeat to Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone in the World Championship final, winning five Diamond Leagues (including the final) along the way. But she also ran the flat 400 at six different meets in 2022, setting the Dutch record indoors (50.30) and out (49.44).
Bol took on a huge workload at championship meets. Check it out:
World Indoors: silver in 400 (3 races), silver in 4×400 (1 race)
World Outdoors: silver in mixed 4×400 (1 race), silver in 400H (3 races), DQ in 4×400 (1 race)
Euro Outdoors: gold in 400 (2 races), gold in 400H (2 races), gold in 4×400 (1 race)
Proof that you can run a full indoor season, double at major championships, and still put up incredible performances.
Honorable mention: Alison Dos Santos, who ran and won seven of the eight Diamond League men’s 400m hurdle races this season (all except Rabat), making trips to Doha, Eugene, Oslo, Stockholm, Chorzow, Brussels, and Zurich.
The Harry Houdini Award
To Norah Jeruto and Athing Mu, both of whom won world titles in Eugene and then did not compete in the rest of 2022 without providing an explanation. Jeruto’s agent Gianni Demadonna told us he was not able to answer the question when we asked him why Jeruto stopped racing, while Mu’s agent Wes Felix did not respond to an email asking why Mu ended her season in July.
Breakthrough of the Year
To Nigeria’s Tobi Amusan, the new world record holder in the 100m hurdles. Amusan entered 2022 as one of the top high hurdlers in the world, having finished 4th at the last two global championships. But there was nothing to suggest that the world record would be under threat entering her age-25 season; at the start of the year, Amusan’s pb was 12.42, putting her in a tie for 21st on the all-time list.
Though she lowered that pb to 12.41 in Paris on June 18, that only put her at #4 on the 2022 world list. She had already been beaten six times this year when she arrived in Eugene for Worlds in July.
Then Amusan reached an entirely new level. She ran a small pb of 12.40 in the first round at Worlds before stunning everyone with a 12.12 in the semis, taking .08 off Keni Harrison’ world record. It was a performance so shocking that it had the great Michael Johnson wondering if something was wrong with the timing system (and he was hardly alone). Two hours later, she went even faster, running a wind-aided 12.06 to win the world title by a huge .17 margin.
Since Worlds, Amusan has stayed hot, winning the Commonwealth Games and Diamond League final, both in quick times (12.30 and 12.29, respectively). A woman who began the year struggling to get on the medal stand is now the fastest woman in history – and by some margin.
Performance of the Year
How could it be anything other than Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone’s 50.68 world record in the 400m hurdles? When McLaughlin-Levrone took the world record from 52.16 to 51.46 in 2021 – more than the record had been lowered in the preceding 28 years – it was clear we had entered a new era in the women’s hurdles. But that era – of a world record in the 51-second range – lasted barely a year.
Just 13 months after becoming the first member of the sub-52 club (a club whose membership currently totals two), McLaughlin-Levrone founded the sub-51 club at the World Championships in Eugene on July 22.
Two months later, it’s still stunning to comprehend how far ahead McLaughlin-Levrone is of every other woman in history.
If you take the pb of the second-best performer in every women’s running event as a percentage of the world record, McLaughlin-Levrone’s dominance stands out. Dalilah Muhammad’s 51.58 is 1.78% slower than McLaughlin-Levrone’s 50.68 WR. That’s the largest margin of any record and more than double the difference of every other event save for the marathon and steeple.
|Event||#1 performer||#2 performer||Difference|
Dominance, visualized: the three fastest female hurdlers of all-time were all in this race.— Jonathan Gault (@jgault13) July 23, 2022
Sydney McLaughlin is at the front.
Femke Bol — the 3rd-fastest ever — is a distant second.
Dalilah Muhammad — the 2nd-fastest ever — isn't even in the shot. pic.twitter.com/ROUJgkD6qw
And Muhammad, for one, believes the record McLaughlin-Levrone can go faster still. Reminder: she’s still only 23 years old.
“After that race, I think 49 is possible,” Muhammad said. “For Sydney.”