2023 USAs W800/1500 Preview: Will Sinclaire Johnson Repeat & How Does Athing Mu Do in the 1500?

The 2023 Toyota USATF Outdoor Championships begin on Thursday in Eugene, Ore., and LetsRun.com will have wall-to-wall coverage with boots on the ground for all four days. To get you ready for the meet, we’re previewing all the distance events. Below, we analyze the women’s 800 and 1500, featuring Ajee’ WilsonRaevyn RogersAthing MuSinclaire JohnsonCory McGee, and more.

Women’s 800: Who joins Athing Mu on Team USA?

(prelims Thursday, 6:18 p.m. ET; semis Friday 10:59 p.m. ET; final Sunday 9:18 p.m. ET)

Top entrants (athletes with 1:59.80 Worlds standard in bold)

Name Affiliation SB
Ajee’ Wilson adidas 1:58.16
Sage Hurta-Klecker On Athletics Club 1:59.01
Michaela Rose LSU 1:59.08
Allie Wilson Atlanta Track Club 1:59.24
Charlene Lipsey Under Armour 1:59.26
Nia Akins BROOKS Beasts TC 1:59.37
Brenna Detra 1:59.57
Raevyn Rogers Nike Union Athletics Club 2:00.00

The women’s 800 has been the United States’ best middle/long distance event for the last decade, and it’s not close. Since the start of 2013, American woman have combined to win eight world/Olympic medals (two gold, two silver, four bronze) and four more World Indoor medals (two gold, two silver — did you remember Chanelle Price?). No country has more depth in the event — so far, nine Americans have broken 2:00 during the 2023 outdoor season. No other country has more than four. If you make the USA women’s 800 final, you are good enough to make pretty much any other national team on Earth.

Fortunately for the Americans, it’s a little easier to make the Worlds team in 2023 as the US gets an extra spot thanks to Athing Mu‘s bye as defending champion. Mu, who has won the last two US titles, is running the 1500 in Eugene, so the top three finishers in the 800 will be on the team.

Ajee’ Wilson & Raevyn Rogers always make the team…but is there reason to be worried in 2023?

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Until last week, reigning World Indoor champ Ajee’ Wilson was the clear favorite to win her fifth US outdoor title. The 29-year-old Wilson has made every US team, indoors and out, since 2013, and her 1:58.16 at the Paris Diamond League on June 9 is #3 in the world this year and almost a second faster than anyone else in the field at USAs.

But Wilson bombed her final race before USAs, fading from 3rd to dead last over the final 250m to run 2:07.97. It was a stunning result, particularly because Wilson, who races a ton, very rarely has an off day. It was just the second time since 2016 that Wilson had failed to break 2:03 in an 800m final; the other was last year in Bermuda, where Wilson ran 2:03.09 in extremely windy conditions (and still won the race).

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Wilson said after the race she’s been training well and did not appear to be overly concerned about her race in New York, chalking it up to a bad day. “My body wasn’t feeling good, wasn’t feeling like myself,” she said. Don’t expect a repeat at USAs. Wilson is less than a month removed from running 1:58, and has shown time and again that she knows how to make teams. As long as her body is feeling back to normal at USAs, she’ll make this team too and with no Mu, has a great shot to claim her first US title since 2019.

Normally it would be an easy decision to pencil Raevyn Rogers onto the team as well. The 26-year-old has made the last three US teams and has finished 2nd, 3rd, and 6th at the last three global championships. When she’s on, Rogers is one of the best 800-meter runners in the world.

But she hasn’t looked that way in 2023. Rogers won her first two 800s of the year, low-key races in Portland, in 2:03, but was surprisingly dusted by Nia Akins over the final 100 meters in race #3 at the Portland Track Festival on June 4. After that, Rogers flew to Paris where she finished 10th in an 11-person field, almost a full second back of fellow American Sage Hurta-Klecker.

Rogers has made the last three US teams (Kevin Morris photo)

There are two reasons to be optimistic about Rogers. One is that she ran a 1500 pb of 4:11.16 in her last race on June 24. That’s not a world-class time but a PR is a PR. The other reason is her track record. In 2021, Rogers was in a similar spot, finishing 5th and 6th in her last two 800s before the Trials before ripping a pb in the Trials and another one in Tokyo to earn Olympic bronze. Rogers consistently comes up big on the biggest stages and if she’s close with 100 to go it’s usually bad news for the rest of the field.

Rogers’ team, the Nike Union Athletics Club, could really use a win at USAs as it’s been a rough year for coach Pete Julian‘s group. Konstanze Klosterhalfen switched sponsors and joined Puma Elite in North Carolina, while Jessica Hull, who has been on fire lately, left the team to spend more time in her native Australia. With Craig Engels leaving at the end of 2022 and Donavan Brazier unlikely to race this year, it’s up to Rogers and Sinclaire Johnson to carry the banner for UAC at USAs/Worlds.

Just in case something really crazy happens, it’s worth noting that Rogers also doesn’t have the World Championship standard of 1:59.80, and is not currently in line to qualify via world ranking as she has only four 800s within the qualifying window and you need five for a ranking. Rogers will have a ranking after USAs which probably would be high enough to get in (and it will almost certainly take faster than 1:59.80 to make the team anyway) but we just want to put that out there.

Who else could make it?

The On Athletics Club’s Sage Hurta-Klecker has the #2 sb in the field at 1:59.01 from Paris and finished 2nd behind Mu at the NYC Grand Prix on June 24, besting a number of domestic rivals in the process. Last year, she ran 1:57.85, finished second in multiple Diamond Leagues and 3rd in the DL final in Zurich. But the US championships have not treated her well. In 2021, she fell in the 800 semis and broke her wrist. She made the final last year but was only 7th in 1:59.43 — a performance not commensurate with her fitness considering she had run 1:58.30 in the semis.

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In the 800, there’s usually a collegian in the mix for a spot on the team and this year the one with the best shot is NCAA champ Michaela Rose of LSU. Rose’s sb of 1:59.08 is just a hair slower than Hurta-Klecker’s, and she has consistently run fast, soloing a 1:59.73 at SECs and a 1:59.83 to win a windy NCAAs — the first sub-2:00 in an NCAA final since Rogers in 2015. At 20 years old, Rose does not lack for confidence — at NCAAs, she boldly predicted she’d break Mu’s 1:57.73 collegiate record — but she has limited experience against the pros at 800 as she’s never run senior USAs before (though she did earn a bronze in the 400 hurdles at World U20s last year).

If you value winning, the Brooks Beasts’ Nia Akins has been doing a lot of it in 2023. She won the US indoor title in February and has won both of her outdoor 800s this season — a 1:59.37 over Rogers at the Portland Track Festival and a 1:59.76 in Portland on June 24. The caveat: the competition hasn’t been great. The big guns skipped USA Indoors and the Rogers Akins faces at USAs should be improved from the version she beat. But Akins, who ran 1:58.78 last year, has room for improvement, too.

The Atlanta Track Club’s Allie Wilson has had some near-misses, finishing 4th last year and 2nd at USA Indoors this year, and was only .03 behind Hurta-Klecker in New York on June 24. She’s definitely in the mix as well. So is Charlene Lipsey, who has run 1:59.26 this year — her fastest time since that unlikely two-year run in 2017-18 where Lipsey suddenly became one of the best 800m runners in the world.

Stanford teenage superstars Roisin Willis (World U20 champ, NCAA indoor champ) and Juliette Whittaker (1:59.04 high school record, NCAA indoor runner-up) are both entered but both have tailed off toward the end of a long freshman year, with Willis citing insomnia and depression. Both have the talent to make a team one day but it won’t be in 2023.

Who wins the women's 800 at USAs?

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JG prediction: 1) Wilson 2) Rogers 3) Akins

Wilson ran 1:58.16 three weeks ago. You don’t magically lose nine seconds of fitness in two weeks, so unless Wilson is hurt — she has offered no indication that is the case — I’m writing off her NYC disaster and putting her on the team. Rogers has not been impressive this year, but she’s far more talented than the rest of the field and knows how to get it done at USAs. I’m not betting against her.

That leaves one spot, and it’s a tough call. Hurta-Klecker, Rose, and Akins all have a strong case and it could very well come down to who is feeling better on the night of the final. Akins because has been winning and I think she can still go up a level, but you could say the same thing about Rose, and Hurta-Klecker has been running well against much stronger competition. I’ll go with Akins, but all of them are good enough to go to Worlds, and if they were born anywhere else, they probably would be.

Women’s 1500: Is Sinclaire Johnson still the woman to beat?

(prelims Thursday, 10:26 p.m. ET; final Saturday 9:34 p.m. ET)

Top entrants (athletes with 4:03.50 Worlds standard in bold, athletics in italics are within world ranking quota)

Name Affiliation SB
Cory McGee New Balance/Team Boss 4:00.61
Sinclaire Johnson Nike Union Athletics Club 4:00.77
Nikki Hiltz lululemon 4:01.42
Emily Mackay New Balance Boston 4:01.52
Helen Schlachtenhaufen NIKE 4:01.55
Addy Wiley Huntington University 4:03.22
Alexina Teubel Tracksmith 4:05.79
Dani Jones New Balance/Team Boss 4:06.57
Elise Cranny Nike Bowerman Track Club 4:07.07
Heather MacLean New Balance Boston 4:10.63
Athing Mu Nike/Formula Kersee None

While the women’s 1500 at USAs does not boast quite the same star power as the men’s event, and no American woman has broken 4:00 yet this year (four did it in 2022, two have broken it in the mile equivalent), it does offer a deep, even field (the top five entrants have all run within a second of Cory McGee‘s US-leading 4:00.61) as well as some intriguing wild cards in 19-year-old Addy Wiley and world/Olympic 800m champion Athing Mu. A couple of major names won’t be running, however, as 2021 US champ Elle St. Pierre is taking the year off after giving birth and Josette Andrews, whose 4:00.77 sb is tied for #2 in the US this year, is running the 5000 in Eugene instead.

Johnson won her first US title last year (Kevin Morris photo)

Sinclaire Johnson was the dominant winner of this race a year ago, and at 25 she is in her prime. She didn’t race at all between April 25 and June 16, hinting at an issue in between, but on June 24 she ran 4:00 in a race where second place was 4:08. She’s fit, she’s the most talented miler in this field, and she should be viewed as the favorite.

Johnson’s biggest competition figures to be Cory McGee and Nikki Hiltz, both of whom have made teams in the past and are in great form. The consistent McGee has made the last two US teams and is coming off one of the best races of her life, a 4:18.11 mile in Oslo where she passed 1500 in 4:00.61, just .27 off her pb. Hiltz, who was a World Championship finalist in 2019, was just behind McGee in Oslo (4:18.34), and their 1500 split of 4:01.42 was a personal best (Hiltz has also run an impressive 800 pb of 1:59.03 this year, when they came from way behind to nip Michaela Rose at the line).

Between 2021 and 2022, 50% of the last two US 1500 teams have been comprised of New Balance Boston athletes, and even with St. Pierre sidelined, coach Mark Coogan has two women capable of making it to Budapest. The first is familiar — Heather MacLean, a 2021 Olympian and the 2022 US indoor champ. Though MacLean didn’t make the team last year, she had a terrific summer on the circuit, running 3:58 twice (including a runner-up finish in Monaco) and winning the NACAC title.

However, MacLean dealt with a nagging IT band injury this spring and as a result has only raced once since February, a 2:01 800 in New York on June 24. Coogan told LetsRun she has been healthy for the last month and feels she is ready to go for USAs.

“We simulated a 1500 the other day and I’m sure she can break 4:00 right now,” Coogan said. “I would say she’ll be right there. Obviously, there’s no guarantees making the team. There’s a lot of good women.”

Mackay has had a breakout 2023 campaign (Kevin Morris photo)

NB Boston has found success with runners from the Northeast who did not attend traditional powers, starting with Abbey Cooper (Dartmouth), followed by St. Pierre (UNH) and MacLean (UMass). Emily Mackay, who finished 7th at USAs last year as a senior at Binghamton University may be the next in that line as she has PR’d in all distances this year — 2:00.17 for 800, 4:01.52 for 1500, 8:40.75 for 3000, and 15:14.31 for 5000. Coming into the year, she had a 4:08.97 pb. That’s some big-time improvement.

“She’s a combination of Elle and Heather,” Coogan says. “She’s super athletic, super healthy, does the right things.”

Helen Schlactenhaufen was right behind Mackay when she ran her 1500 pb, clocking 4:01.55, and should also be in the mix. And if you’re going on pure talent, teenager Addy Wiley is one of the most talented middle distance prospects the US has ever seen. On June 3, Wiley ran 4:03.22 in Nashville, which is more than two seconds faster than any US collegian in history not named Jenny Simpson. For reference, the #3 time in collegiate history is 4:05.98, which is what Sinclaire Johnson ran to win NCAAs in 2019 at the end of her junior year; Wiley ran her 4:03.22 as a true freshman. Wiley competes for Huntington University, the scandal-plagued NAIA program formerly coached by Nick and Lauren Johnson, the latter of whom also coached Wiley in high school. Though 4:03 is an exceptional time for a 19-year-old, there are plenty of women in this field who can run that time. Wiley may still be a year or two away from being able to make the team.

Reigning US 5000 champ Elise Cranny, who ran 3:59 last summer, is declared for the 1500 but she has not been in good form in 2023 and is also declared in the 5k and 10k so she may not even run this event in Eugene.

Plenty of unknowns surrounding Athing Mu

For a number of years now, World Athletics has said that any athlete who wins a world title is granted an automatic entry into the next World Championships. But because USATF is ultimately in charge of the Team USA roster and USATF did not want its biggest stars skipping the national championships, it instituted a rule: any reigning world champion would automatically be named to that year’s Worlds team as long as they ran at least one round of any event at USAs.

That was the rule until last year, when reigning 400m hurdles world champ Dalilah Muhammad and reigning 400m Diamond League champion Michael Cherry skipped USAs but were granted waivers and named to the Worlds team anyway. This year, USATF quietly removed the rule entirely. Compare USATF’s 2022 Worlds selection policy to 2023 (italics ours):

2022: A reigning 2019 World Athletics Champion who competes at the Selection Event receives an automatic wild-card bye into the World Championships for the event in which he or she is the reigning World Champion

2023: A reigning 2022 World Athletics Champion receives an automatic wild-card bye into the World Championships for the event in which he or she is the reigning World Champion

Why is that important? It means Athing Mu, who has raced once since winning the 800m world title in July 2022, doesn’t even have to compete in Eugene to earn her bye. Indeed, when asked about her plans for USAs after her return at the NYC Grand Prix on June 24, Mu said she was still not sure whether she would compete.

“If [coach] Bobby [Kersee] wants me to just to get some races under my belt even more, then I will,” Mu said.

Mu won her return at the NYC Grand Prix on June 24 (Kevin Morris photo)

Mu is entered in the 1500 at USAs, even though she has no qualifying mark and has not competed in the event since 2021, when she she ran a personal best of 4:16.06 (the entry standard is 4:05.00). But while Mu does not meet any of the qualifying criteria under USATF rules, USATF told LetsRun that the field is ultimately at the discretion of USATF Women’s Track & Field Committee Chair Rose Monday. Mu was accepted into the meet on Friday morning.

It’s a no-brainer to let Mu into the 1500. USATF has a history of allowing big-name athletes into the meet without a qualifying mark, and Mu is clearly fit as she just ran 1:58 for 800 in New York. If Mu, who does not compete often, wants to run the 1500 at USAs, USATF would be foolish to stand in her way.

All of that aside, how will Mu do in the 1500, assuming she runs?

It’s extraordinarily rare for someone with Mu’s 400 speed to even consider running a 1500. Mu’s 400m pb is 49.57. Of the 104 other women to have broken 50.00 in the 400, only two have a 1500 pb listed on the results database website Tilastopaja — and one of them is Caster Semenya, who benefited from testosterone levels well above the normal female range. The other, Ana Fidelia Quirot of Cuba, had a pb of 4:13 in the 1500. If Mu finds any success at all in the 1500, she will be a historical unicorn.

Mu already has some history in the event. In 2018, as a sophomore in high school, Mu ran 4:34 for 1500 and won the AAU Junior Olympic national title. She ran that 4:16 1500 in college at Texas A&M and a 4:37 mile in 2022. And while Mu dropped out of the mile at last year’s Millrose Games with a lap to go, she hit 1400 in 3:50 — which is 4:07 1500 pace if she could have held it for another 100m. 4:07 would be an incredible time for a woman with 49-second 400m speed.

Because Mu has raced this event so sparingly, the range of outcomes is wide. The field is deep enough this year that even making the final is not a given. But 4:07 is fast enough that if Mu does make the final, the top women at USAs shouldn’t let the race go too slow — the last thing you want is Mu hunting you down over the final 200. Worst-case scenario, Mu goes home in the heats. Best-case, the pace is slow enough for long enough that she is kicking for a top-five spot (and maybe more). Most likely, the outcome is somewhere in the middle. I expect Mu to make the final but lack the strength to hang with the true 1500 women and finish somewhere in the middle of the pack.

It’s also possible that Mu decides not to run the final even she makes it, but that would be a huge missed opportunity. Running the 1500 final at USAs won’t have any impact on Mu’s 2023 season, but if Bobby Kersee is serious about the 800/1500 double at the Olympics next year, the race would offer valuable information about whether she can be competitive enough to contend for the US team.

Who wins the women's 1500 at USAs?

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How will Athing Mu do in the 1500 at USAs?

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JG prediction: 1. Johnson 2. McGee 3. Hiltz

Johnson was way better than everyone else last year. She has the highest ceiling and her 4:00 in Portland was proof that she’s fit right now. Meanwhile McGee and Hiltz both have championship experience and have been running consistently well on the circuit. I’m not discounting the chance that MacLean or Mackay could run their way onto the team, but I feel good about this trio.

Have your read our men’s 1500 previews?

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