The Fan’s Guide to the 2023 World Athletics ChampionshipsBy Jonathan Gault
The 2023 World Athletics Championships (that’s track & field here in the United States) begin on Saturday in Budapest, Hungary. It’s a very big deal. Outside of the Olympics, there is no bigger or more important track meet than Worlds, and Budapest is going all-out. They’ve built a beautiful new 36,000-seat stadium on the eastern bank of the Danube River specifically for this meet — check out the pictures, it looks awesome — and have already allegedly sold more than 300,000 tickets.
That’s great news for the athletes, because there have been attendance issues at the last several major championships. The 2019 Worlds in Doha had a ton of empty seats before attendance picked up in the second half, the 2021 Olympics in Tokyo took place behind closed doors due to COVID, while last year’s Worlds were held at Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore. (capacity: 15,000) and still failed to sell out for multiple sessions. But given Budapest is easily accessible from most of Europe — the beating heart of the sport — the crowds should be strong.
Here at LetsRun.com, we’ll have boots-on-the-ground coverage starting on Friday and running through the duration of the championships (August 19-27). That content will include post-race athlete interviews from the mixed zone, recaps and analysis of the major races, and a live daily post-meet video recap show at 7 p.m. ET most nights (if you want on-demand access to the show in podcast format, be sure to join the LetsRun Supporters Club today).
If you’re a track diehard, you can prep for the meet by reading our detailed previews for all of the distance events right here:
Additional event previews for the sprints and field events written by World Athletics can be found at the top of the LetsRun home page.
But if you’re new to the sport or a casual fan who hasn’t been paying attention much in 2023, you’re in the right place. The 2023 regular season has been one of the most exciting in years, with so many storylines that we could not fit them all into one preview. A few topics that didn’t make the cut: Lamecha Girma breaking a 19-year-old world record in the steeplechase (and going into Worlds as an underdog to Soufiane El Bakkali), six men running 12:42 or faster for 5,000 meters this year, and the continued dominance of Mondo Duplantis in the pole vault and Ryan Crouser in the shot put, two future GOATs who have redefined what is possible in their events.
Below, we’ve put together the five most important things to know at Worlds, from Sha’Carri Richardson‘s quest for her first gold medal to Jakob Ingebrigtsen and Faith Kipyegon‘s double attempts in the 1500/5000 to Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone (and maybe Athing Mu) skipping the meet entirely. If you have a spouse, friend, or sibling you’ve been trying to convert into a track fan, this is the article they need to read before hopping on the track bandwagon (don’t worry, there’s plenty of room!).
1) Sha’Carri Richardson goes for gold in a loaded women’s 100 meters
Even if this event was lousy, it would still be a big deal because Sha’Carri Richardson is in it. With more than 2 million Instagram followers, Richardson is the biggest star in American track & field and the closest thing the sport has to a household name in the United States. Which is somewhat remarkable considering Richardson, 23, has never competed at a World Championships or Olympics. Richardson famously won the US Olympic Trials 100 meters in 2021 only to miss the Olympics after testing positive for marijuana. Last year, Richardson was expected to make the US team for the World Championships in Eugene but imploded at the US championships, exiting the 100 in the first round. Richardson, who went AWOL during the first half of 2022, was in danger of squandering her immense talent.
If you’ve watched Richardson at all this year, you’ve probably heard her say her new favorite phrase: “I’m not back, I’m better.” And it’s true. On the track, she has not put a foot wrong. Richardson has won both of her Diamond League appearances this summer, both over reigning Worlds silver medalist Shericka Jackson of Jamaica, who is the 2023 world leader at 100m at 10.65. At the US champs, she ran a personal best of 10.71 in the prelims (#7 all-time) and breezed to a win in the final despite a subpar start. And since being kicked off a flight in January, Richardson has avoided any off-the-track drama. She appears ready to roll in Budapest.
Richardson has the talent to become the first American woman to win 100m gold since the late Tori Bowie in 2017. But the women’s 100 is such a deep event this year that it’s conceivable Richardson misses the podium entirely. Jackson is 0-4 in Diamond Leagues this year but ran 10.65 to win the Jamaican championships, a personal best that moved her to #5 on the all-time list. She’s also a proven championship performer, earning Olympic 100m bronze in 2021 and winning the 200m world title last year.
The Ivory Coast’s Marie-Josée Ta Lou has a reputation for coming up just short in the biggest races — she has finished 4th at the Olympics three times — but has had the best year of her career in 2023 at 34, winning her last seven races and breaking 10.80 three times. And the Julien Alfred of St. Lucia/the University fo Texas almost broke Richardson’s 10.75 NCAA record multiple times this year (Alfred ran 10.72, 10.72, and 10.74 wind-aided) and is the only woman to beat Richardson head-to-head, prevailing in Székesfehérvár on July 18. She is undefeated on the year at 100mand also is a legitimate threat for gold.
Of course, this preview would not be complete without mentioning the GOAT, Jamaica’s Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce. SAFP, now 36, has won seven global titles in the 100 meters — one more than Usain Bolt — and is the defending champion since last year. She has admitted she is not 100% this year due to a knee injury and did not race at all until July 8. But she has won both of her 100s this year in pretty quick times — 10.82 in Lucerne, 10.83 in Madrid. Discount her at your peril.
The Fastest Women In The World In 2023
|3||10.75||+0.9||Marie Josée Ta Lou||CIV|
2) Jakob Ingebrigtsen and Faith Kipyegon attempt historic doubles
There’s a reason why every episode of the LetsRun.com Track Talk Podcast inevitably includes a discussion of Jakob Ingebrigtsen: the 22-year-old Norwegian is one of the most compelling figures in the entire sport. The younger brother of elite 1500m runners Henrik and Filip, Jakob began training like a professional at age 10 under his father, Gjert. At 16, he became the youngest human to break 4:00 in the mile. At 17, he was the European champion. At age 20, he won the Olympics.
Last year, Ingebrigtsen added the 5,000-meter world title to his CV in Eugene — the first non-African-born man to win that event in 39 years — and now everyone is trying to figure out how a pale, tall kid from Norway is dominating the world’s best distance runners. Ingebrigtsen’s success with double threshold training inspired coaches and athletes around the world to start adopting it. Ingebrigtsen is rumored to use sodium bicarbonate before races; now many of the world’s top 1500 runners do the same. Pretty soon, someone is going to show up to a start line with dozens of tiny tattoos on their arms and legs. If it’s good enough for Jakob…
There is no denying Ingebrigtsen is great for the sport. Whether you think Ingebrigtsen is cocky or merely confident, his interviews are thoughtful and candid — he said he was “embarrassed” by his silver medal in the 1500 at Worlds last year. And he competes a ton. Indoors, outdoors, cross country — if there’s a race, Ingebrigtsen wants to be there, and he wants to run fast. His 2023 campaign has been his best yet, highlighted by personal bests of 3:27.14 for 1500 (#4 all-time) and 7:54.10 for 2 miles to smash the world record.
In Budapest, Ingebrigtsen is trying to win gold in the 1500 and 5000, something that has only been accomplished three times in the history of track & field (Paavo Nurmi at the 1924 Olympics, Hicham El Guerrouj at the 2004 Olympics, Bernard Lagat at the 2007 Worlds). He’ll go off as the heavy favorite in both events, but he was beaten in the 1500 last year and the 5000 has never been deeper. One of the men with the best chance of upsetting Ingebrigtsen at 1500 is Yared Nuguse, the budding On Athletics Club star who last month became the first American to win a Diamond League 1500 in 11 years.
One more thing: after winning the Olympics, Jakob Ingebrigtsen parted ways with his father Gjert, and while he has been reluctant to discuss the issue in the media, it has been an uncomfortable split. Now Gjert Ingebrigtsen is coaching another top 1500 runner: Narve Gilje Nordås who, unlike Jakob, was not a star as a youngster and has improved from 3:36 to 3:29 this year. Nordås has never beaten Jakob but he will enter Budapest as a legitimate medal contender.
On the women’s side, Faith Kipyegon of Kenya will attempt to do the same 1500/5000 double. After winning four world/Olympic titles from 2016-22 (two pre-baby, two post-baby), Kipyegon had already cemented herself as the GOAT of the women’s 1500 entering 2023. The one missing line from her resume was a world record, but Kipyegon has remedied that this year, smashing the 1500 WR on June 2 by almost a second. A week later, she decided it might be fun to try a 5000 and broke the world record in that event too — even though she hadn’t raced the distance for eight years. Most recently, she ran 4:07.64 to take five seconds off the mile world record in Monaco.
Usually when someone is smashing world records left and right, there are whispers of doping — particularly in the women’s 1500, where the all-time list is full of questionable performances. But Kipyegon is beloved by her competitors, who have joined in her world record celebrations this year.
In the 1500, Kipyegon is one of the biggest locks of the meet. She’ll be the favorite in the 5000 too, but she has never run the event at a global championship and that race is absolutely loaded. MB: The women’s 5000 at Worlds will have 4 gold medallists in it, has this ever happened before in track and field history?
Kipyegon would be the first woman to win both events at a Worlds/Olympics.
3) Noah Lyles tries to become a legend with 100/200 double
Noah Lyles won his first career Diamond League 200-meter race as a 19-year-old in 2017 and since then he has been largely unbeatable at that distance. Lyles, famously, could only earn bronze in the 2021 Olympic final, but that is the only 200m race he has lost in the last four years — a period which includes a pair of world titles and an American record of 19.31 last year.
But Lyles wants to transcend the sport, and you don’t do that as a 200-meter specialist. The men’s 100 meters is the most glamorous event in track, and this year Lyles has set the ambitious goal of becoming the first man to sweep the 100/200 at a Worlds or Olympics since Usain Bolt in 2016. Lyles tried the same thing in 2021 but failed to make the US Olympic team in the 100. He almost missed the team this year, too, finishing 3rd in the 100 at USAs after getting COVID the week before.
Lyles’ greatest skills as a sprinter — his top-end speed and his ability to hold it — help him more in the 200 than the 100, where the start holds greater importance. Lyles is rarely one of the fastest men to 40 meters, but in the 200 he has plenty of time to catch his opponents. In the 100, he has less time, which could make for a dramatic final in Budapest: if Lyles is to run down the likes of Fred Kerley and Akani Simbine, he may not pass them until a step or two before the finish line.
NBC would love nothing more than for Lyles to win the double as they have been trying to make him one of the American faces of their 2024 Olympic coverage (after doing the same thing in 2021), even producing a two-part documentary on Lyles’ 2023 season that will air on Peacock (part one premieres on Friday). In many ways, Lyles is an inspired choice and much better suited to the role than one of NBC’s other darlings, Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone. Unlike McLaughlin-Levrone, Lyles loves the spotlight, loves competing, and is not afraid to show some personality. But right now, only one of them has an Olympic gold medal.
Lyles has not been shy about his goals in the sport. He is openly targeting Bolt’s 200-meter world record of 19.19, predicting he will run 19.10 in Budapest. Breaking that record could be the boost he needs to push Lyles from a track star into mainstream American sports star.
4) The Warholm-Benjamin rematch in the 400m hurdles
Not too long ago, the men’s 400-meter hurdles was one of the least interesting event in track & field. Then Karsten Warholm and Rai Benjamin arrived on the scene and started running crazy fast times and it arguably became the best. Suddenly track had its own version of the Rafael Nadal-Roger Federer rivalry. Warholm is Nadal, all intensity and blood and guts; the elegant Benjamin is Federer, making the impossible look easy. There’s even a Novak Djokovic-like interloper who could eventually surpass both of them in the form of 23-year-old Brazilian Alison dos Santos, who won the world title last year over an injured Warholm and Benjamin. Dos Santos is a lot more likable than Djokovic, though — after winning Worlds last year, he celebrated with a dance-off against a mascot.
The new era of the 400 hurdles reached its peak at the 2021 Olympic final in Tokyo, where Benjamin obliterated the 46.70 world record by running 46.17, only to be beaten by Warholm’s 45.94. It was immediately hailed as one of the greatest races in the history of the sport.
The World Championship stage is not as grand as the Olympics, but based on how they have been running in 2023, this year’s World Championship final has the potential to be even better. Warholm has been running faster than he did in the leadup to the Olympics, clocking 46.52 in Oslo and 46.51 in Monaco, plus a 46.76 at the Norwegian championships in which he finished a full hurdle ahead of the rest of the field.
Karsten Warholm just ran 46.76 to win the 400m hurdles at the Norwegian championships. He now owns four of the seven fastest 400m hurdle times of all time.
— Jonathan Gault (@jgault13) July 6, 2023
Benjamin’s season’s best of 46.62 is his #2 time ever and just .11 behind Warholm’s — and he ran it at USAs after a back/quad injury had prevented him from hurdling for eight weeks. Benjamin is one of the greatest 400m hurdlers ever but has never won a global title because he has competed during the age of Warholm. If he has stayed healthy since USAs, this year could be his best chance yet to win it all.
The only thing that could make this race better is if we had a full-strength dos Santos, but he underwent meniscus surgery in February. He’ll be at Worlds, but he finished more than a second behind Warholm when they raced in Monaco on July 21 and it seems unlikely he’ll have enough time to reach peak shape and challenge the other titans of the event.
5) Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone isn’t running — and Athing Mu might skip the meet, too
One of the biggest stories of the 2023 World Championships is who won’t be there. Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone, the US champion in the 400 meters, announced last week she won’t be at Worlds due to a “minor knee issue.” Her teammate Athing Mu, the American record holder in the 800, may soon join her as her coach Bobby Kersee revealed that Mu is considering skipping Worlds — even though she is completely healthy.
How is the 2028 LA Olympics going to jump-start track & field’s popularity in the US if its two LA-based stars don’t compete?
Over the past three years, McLaughlin-Levrone and Mu have been two of the most dominant runners on the planet. Between 2021 and 2022, McLaughlin-Levrone set four world records in the 400-meter hurdles, winning world and Olympic titles in the process. In her last 400 hurdles race, she set a world record of 50.68 — one of the greatest performances in track history — and then decided to switch to the flat 400 because she had nothing left to accomplish. Turns out she’s pretty good at that race, too — she ran 48.74 to win the US title this year, just .04 off the American record. Mu, meanwhile, won the Olympic 800 title at age 19, the world 800 title at 20, and has yet to lose an 800 as a professional.
Yet for all of their success, McLaughlin-Levrone and Mu do not appear to enjoy racing very much (Mu raced plenty in 2022 but that changed after she switched coaches to Kersee — who also coaches McLaughlin-Levrone — after last season). McLaughlin-Levrone has competed at just four meets in 2023 (and one of those was an indoor 60 at her sponsor’s meet where she was going through the motions). Mu has competed even less: just two meets all year.
Both women have been in the spotlight since their teenage years (SML made her first Olympic team as a 16-year-old) and because they have accomplished so much at such a young age, expectations are high whenever they run a race. And recently, Mu and McLaughlin-Levrone have admitted they are have felt the weight of those expectations.
“This year has been so great for me, mentally,” Mu said at USAs in explaining why she has only raced at two meets in the last 12 months. “It’s just been such a relief, I haven’t really put myself out there as much. Coming into these meets, whether it’s a small competition, big competition, there’s just so much pressure just overall.”
McLaughlin-Levrone, in a video released after her 2023 season opener, said, “I literally loathe race days,” adding, “[My husband] Dre will tell you. It’s not the actual race itself that stresses me out. It’s the waiting, the process, the days leading up, all of this anticipation.”
All of this has created a vicious cycle: Mu and McLaughlin-Levrone don’t race much because of the stress, which in turn heaps even more pressure on them when they do compete.
Kersee told the LA Times that McLaughlin-Levrone’s medical team cleared her to compete at Worlds but acknowledged that if she did, there was a risk that her minor knee injury could develop into something major. Most track athletes would take those odds — it’s the World freakin’ Championships — but most track athletes don’t already have two gold medals and a guaranteed seven-figure salary from New Balance.
McLaughlin-Levrone is already out, but every track fan should be rooting for Athing Mu to run Worlds. She’s one of the most talented American athletes ever, one of the only women in history who is legitimately world-class in the 400, 800, and 1500 meters. And she has a top opponent in British phenom Keely Hodgkinson, who offers the potential for a decade-defining rivalry — Hodgkinson finished 2nd to Mu at the Olympics and Worlds and would love nothing more than to beat her to gold in Budapest. The sport needs Athing Mu. The question now is whether Athing Mu needs the sport.
Did you enjoy this article? Do you know a casual track fan? Email it or text it to them and encourage them to watch the action as a more-informed fan will get more enjoyment out of the World Championships.