The Best Track & Field Moments of 2022

By Jonathan Gault
December 29, 2022

2020 was…weird. 2021 wasn’t all that normal either, what with the “2020” NCAA Cross Country Championships being held with no spectators in March and the “2020” Olympics taking place in an empty stadium in Tokyo.

In 2022, though, order was mostly restored (RIP Shenzen Diamond League, we hardly knew ye). We had a Boston Marathon in April for the first time in three years. We had a World Indoor Championships for the first time in four years. And we had a World Outdoor Championships in the United States for the first time ever.

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The events, however, merely provide the stage for the real stars of the show: the athletes. And man did they step up this year. From Sydney McLaughlin‘s 50.68 in Eugene to Eliud Kipchoge‘s 2:01:09 in Berlin, it’s impossible to fit everything that happened in 2022 into just one article. But I did my best to hit the highlights. Below, in chronological order, one man’s selections for the best track & field moments of 2022.

January 16: Keira D’Amato breaks the American record in the marathon

In January 2020, most running fans did not know anything about Keira D’Amato. And why would they? D’Amato was 35 years old, owned a 2:34:55 marathon best, and was more than 14 years removed from her most notable running accomplishment, a 6th-place finish at the 2005 NCAA Cross Country Championships for American University.

Two years later, when D’Amato broke Deena Kastor’s legendary 2:19:36 American record which had stood since 2006 by running 2:19:12 at the Houston Marathon, we knew a lot more about D’Amato. That she was a mother of two. That she balanced running while working her job as a realtor. That she had run 3:49 in her debut marathon. And that she loves a good joke (and bad ones too).

It still seems strange that D’Amato was the one to break Kastor’s record, which had stood for almost 16 years. Not major marathon champions Shalane Flanagan or Des Linden. Not Olympic medalist Molly Seidel or World Championship medalist Amy Cragg. Not Molly Huddle, who broke every other US distance record, or Jordan Hasay, the phenom hyped since she was a freshman in high school. No, it was D’Amato, the woman no one saw coming.

But one of the beautiful things about our sport is that the clock doesn’t care who you are. Records don’t always go to the people who are “supposed” to break them. They go to the athletes who put in the work and actually run the time. D’Amato’s reign as American record holder may have only lasted nine months, but her unlikely rise to the top will live on as one of the great underdog stories in the history of US distance running.

LRC Keira D’Amato Runs 2:19:12 to Break Deena Kastor’s American Record in the Marathon

March 19: Jacobs beats Coleman at World Indoors by .003

One of the coolest things about this race is that it happened at all. The Olympic 100-meter champion does not typically run World Indoors seven months after winning the Olympics. Especially when he has to face the reigning world 100-meter champion and world record holder in the 60 meters. But Italy’s Marcell Jacobs and the USA’s Christian Coleman both made it to Serbia in March.

Their showdown packed as much drama as possible into 6.41 seconds. Coleman, racing in his first global championships since serving his ban for whereabouts failures, got his typical lightning start, but Jacobs never lost his cool and timed his lean perfectly. After a minute and a half, the scoreboard revealed that Jacobs had won his first World Indoor title, set a European record, and handed Coleman his first loss at 60 meters in six years. 

It was everything a track fan could have wanted – and a reminder of how great World Indoors can be when the stars show up.

LRC Marcell Jacobs Edges Christian Coleman By .003 in Dramatic Men’s 60m Final at 2022 World Indoor Championships

March 20: Ajee’ Wilson gets her world title

Ajee Wilson’s prime happened to coincide with an era in which her event, the women’s 800 meters, was dominated by intersex athletes Caster Semenya and Francine Niyonsaba. Like it or not, XX athletes don’t very often emerge on top against talented XY athletes. World Athletics would ultimately change its rules in 2019, preventing XY athletes like Semenya and Niyonsaba from running the women’s 800 without reducing their testosterone, but Wilson would struggle at that year’s World Championships in Doha, finishing 3rd. COVID hit in 2020, and 2021 saw the emergence of one of America’s greatest mid-distance talents, a 19-year-old named Athing Mu who would end the year as Olympic champion and American record holder.

As 2022 dawned, it was looking as if Wilson, who was the top non-XY finisher at the 2016 and 2018 World Indoors and 2017 World Outdoors, would never win a global title. But this year, Wilson finally caught a break. On the eve of the 2022 World Indoors in Belgrade, the top seed, Great Britain’s Keely Hodgkinson, withdrew due to injury. With Mu not running either, Wilson had one more chance at a gold medal and took advantage, ripping a 29.55 final lap to crush the field and become a world champion at last. Few athletes have been more deserving of the title.

LRC Ajee’ Wilson Wins 800m Gold at World Indoor Championships

July 19: Wightman takes down Ingebrigtsen with dad on the mic

Can they do it?

The drama of a great upset lies in the uncertainty of those four words. Can this thing, which seemed unlikely but is all of a sudden happening, actually come to fruition? It was something we asked ourselves when Matthew Centrowitz hit the bell in the lead in Rio and when Jenny Simpson swung wide on the straightaway in Daegu. And it happened again in the men’s World Championship 1500-meter final in Eugene, when Great Britain’s Jake Wightman took the lead from Olympic champion Jakob Ingebrigtsen entering the final turn. Wightman had 200 meters to run and empty track in front of him. Can he do it?

Wightman did, holding off Ingebrigtsen to become the first British man since Sebastian Coe to win a global 1500 title. Stripped of context, it was still a dramatic race, but the details transformed it into a classic. Not just who Wightman beat – a great upset requires a great opponent – but also who was calling the race on the stadium PA from high above: Wightman’s coach and father, Geoff, who handled it all like a pro until it was time to break down. 

This year, Jake Wightman lived every miler’s fantasy. Yes, he did it.

LRC Dreams Become Reality: Jake Wightman Stuns Jakob Ingebrigtsen to Win World 1500m Title

(Are you enjoying this article? Then we imagine you’ll love the year-end edition of the LetsRun.com Track Talk Podcast: The Best and Worst of 2022: Year in Review Podcast + LetsRun.com Awards)

July 21: Noah Lyles, the showman

It’s no surprise that the 25-year-old Lyles was at the center of two of the most exciting moments of the track & field season. Lyles captures our attention with his athletic brilliance, and once he has it, he never wants to give it up. Running down Erriyon Knighton in the US 200-meter final was dramatic enough. But firing off a finger pistol past Knighton – in a race Lyles only won by .02! – made a great race iconic.

(LRC Noah Lyles Three-Peats as US 200m Champion, Sending a Message to his Doubters – and to Erriyon Knighton)

His encore was even better. It should not be possible to turn a World Championship sprint final into a blowout. Yet during the final 50 meters in Eugene, it seemed as if Noah Lyles was the only man on the Hayward Field track. Only legends make you feel that way.

Lyles ran 19.31 to shave .01 off Michael Johnson’s 26-year-old American record. Kenny Bednarek, the runner-up, finished .46 of a second behind Lyles. Here were the other winning margins in the flat track finals, for reference: .02 (100m), .19 (400m), .43 (1500), .74 (5k), .47 (10k). (Hat tip LRC web guru Erik Westlund for the stat).

Yes, Lyles nearly put more time on the field in half a lap than Joshua Cheptegei did over 25. In his last six 200m finals of the year, he ran 19.61, 19.67, 19.31, 19.46, 19.56, and 19.52. Overall, Lyles broke 20 seconds in all 12 of his races (all wins). And yes, that includes rounds – did you forget he ran 19.62 in the semis at Worlds? Lyles vs. Knighton should be a great debate as we count down to Paris 2024. But in 2022, there was no debate. Noah Lyles stood alone atop the 200 meters.

LRC Noah Lyles Three-Peats as US 200m Champion, Sending a Message to his Doubters – and to Erriyon Knighton
LRC Noah Lyles (19.31) Breaks Michael Johnson’s 200m American Record to Lead US Sweep at 2022 Worlds

July 22: Sydney McLaughlin BREAKS the 400m hurdles

In 2021, Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone twice broke the world record and won her first Olympic gold in 51.46, but she still had genuine competition – heck, Dalilah Muhammad was leading the Olympic final off the last hurdle and finished just .12 behind her in Tokyo. In 2022, McLaughlin-Levrone separated from Muhammad and every other women’s 400m hurdler in history. She lowered the world record twice more – first to 51.41 at the US Championships, then to a mind-blowing 50.68 at the World Championships in Eugene.

Five months later, 50.68 is still hard to comprehend. As recently as last year, no woman had ever run under 52 seconds. Now McLaughlin-Levrone has run under 51. It was a performance so fast, so superior to anything that came before it, that the track world quickly reached the consensus that McLaughlin-Levrone had to start running a different event because she had just destroyed this one.

(Editor’s note: Let’s hope she starts doubling at future meets. As great as she is, the biggest drawback to SML is that she doesn’t do many meets – only five this year.)

Who knows what McLaughlin-Levrone will do for an encore. But at just 23 years old, I can confidently say that she’s not done yet.

LRC Sydney McLaughlin Runs 50.68 to Destroy 400m Hurdles World Record & Win 2022 World Title

July 24: Mondo Duplantis walks it off (twice)

At both the World Indoor Championships in Belgrade and the World Outdoor Championships in Eugene, the men’s pole vault took place during the final session of the final day. In both cases, Mondo Duplantis was the last man standing – not just in the pole vault, but the last athlete competing in the entire meet. Every pair of eyeballs remaining in those stadiums were trained to one thing: Duplantis versus the bar.

Both times, Duplantis prevailed. In Belgrade, he cleared 6.20 meters, which was the highest jump ever, indoors or out…until he cleared 6.21 in Eugene four months later. Duplantis wasn’t just a transcendent pole vaulter this year; he was the consummate performer who unleashed his absolute best on the biggest stages. What an athlete.

September 2: Grant Fisher’s record spree

Running loves a prodigy. And as Grant Fisher began stacking accomplishments as a high schooler – back-to-back Foot Locker titles in 2013 and 2014, a sub-4:00 mile in 2015 – the expectations began to build. How good could this kid be one day? Could he break an American record? Win an Olympic medal? More?

Those possibilities are rife with “ifs.” If he keeps improving. If he has the desire and work ethic to be great. If he stays healthy. Few athletes make it past all of those hurdles.

So it’s worth acknowledging when someone does. Grant Fisher “made it” in 2021 when he finished 5th in the Olympic final. This year, he went further. By breaking four American records (indoor 5k, outdoor 3k, 5k, 10k), Grant Fisher left his imprint on American distance running forever. He was the first American to break 26:40 in the 10,000 and the first to break 12:50 in the 5,000. Any discussion of the greatest seasons ever by an American distance runner must include Fisher’s 2022 campaign.

It’s hard to pick just one moment to highlight, but the race that stands out most is Fisher’s 5,000 AR in Brussels. For years, Americans were left in the dust in a fast Diamond League race like that. Not Fisher. As Kenya’s Jacob Krop dropped the rest of a world-class field, Fisher stubbornly held on, the two going head-to-head over the final 400 meters. Ultimately, Krop prevailed, but Fisher ran 12:46.96 to take more than six seconds off the American record, expanding the potential of US distance running one more time.

LRC Grant Fisher Runs 12:46.96 to Smash American 5000m Record

September 25: The greatest ever

Eliud Kipchoge likes to say that “no human is limited.” Like any motivational slogan, it can start to wear on you if you hear it enough. But let’s give the guy credit: he practices what he preaches. Kipchoge’s legacy, first and foremost, will be as the greatest marathoner the world has ever seen. But he will also go down as the athlete who, more than anyone else in history, tested the limits of what is possible in the 26.2-mile event. By 2017, Kipchoge was so much better than every other marathoner in the world that he had to find a new challenge. That was Breaking2, and while his initial attempt fell short, he achieved what had seemed impossible in 2019 by running 26.2 miles in under two hours in Vienna. In between, he set the official world record in Berlin for good measure.

This year, Kipchoge returned to Berlin and pushed his limits again. How long could he stay on sub-2:00 pace in a legitimate marathon? He went out in a ridiculous 59:51 for the first half and made it almost 25 kilometers on sub-2:00 pace; he may have gone farther if he had a pacemaker capable of hanging with him. As it was, Kipchoge still ran 2:01:09, shaving 30 seconds off his own world record.

Many, including myself, wondered why Kipchoge returned to Berlin this year. Maybe it was simple. Maybe Kipchoge knew he could run faster than 2:01:39 and got tired of looking at that number as his personal best – and, by extension, the limit for humanity.

LRC Eliud Kipchoge (2:01:09) Smashes World Record; Tigist Assefa (2:15:37) Stuns World at 2022 Berlin Marathon

November 19: The Greatest NCAA Cross Country Championships Ever

Ten years from now, what will the 2022 NCAA XC meet be remembered for? The historic finish in the men’s race – which featured the first-ever NCAA XC title decided on tiebreaker? Or the duel between NC State’s Katelyn Tuohy and Florida’s Parker Valby in the women’s race, one that was hyped all season long and completely delivered?

In the moment, the tie was insane. The scoreboard in Stillwater first showed OK State on top, greeted with raucous cheers from the home fans. A few seconds later, the scoreboard updated with NAU on top. A minute after that, they were tied. It was hard to know what to believe. Oklahoma State coach Dave Smith joked after the race that he would protest for the next 364 days, but this one is decided: NAU won its third straight national title in the most dramatic fashion imaginable.

And yet you can make a case that was not even the most memorable moment of the meet. Tuohy and Valby, both of whom are just 20 years old, represent the present of the sport at the NCAA level and the future of American distance running at the professional level. There aren’t many more exciting ways to win an NCAA title than digging yourself out of a 12-second hole with 2k to go.

Whatever your favorite moment, this was the NCAA Cross Country Championships at its absolute best.

LRC Katelyn Tuohy Runs Down Valby, Leads NC State to 2022 NCAA XC Title
LRC Dynasty: NAU Wins on Tiebreaker over Oklahoma State, as Charles Hicks Gets Individual Title #1 for Stanford

Talk about the best moments of 2022 on the LRC messageboard. MB: Here are Jonathan Gault’s Best track and field moments of 2022 – What say you?

Did you enjoy this article? Then we imagine you’ll love the year-end edition of the LetsRun.com Track Talk podcast:

Fast races, great celebrations, controversies: another great year of track and field is in the books and Jon, Rojo, and Wejo try and put it in perspective.


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