WTW: Counting Down the 7 Biggest Storylines From the 2023 Pro Track Season

The Week That Was in Running, September 11 – 17, 2023

The 2023 track & field season is in the books, coming to a tremendous close at the Prefontaine Classic last weekend in Eugene, Ore. I share one thought on that meet below but devote most of this week’s column to the seven biggest storylines from 2023 track season as a whole. I ranked them in terms which will be the most significant 10 years from now from an LRC perspective, counting down from least (#7) to most (#1) significant.

If you missed our extensive coverage from Eugene, catch up now (2023 Prefontaine Classic coverage). Here’s one more quick point about Prefontaine before we start the countdown.

Josh Kerr May Have Been Too Tired For the Diamond League Final, But Many Other Stars Brought Their ‘A’ Games

Each year when the Diamond League final is held after the Worlds or Olympics, a few of the top athletes bring out the same old excuses about how they are too tired to bother with the meet, how the track season is too long, and how it’s difficult to get up for a meet after Worlds.

The 2023 Nike Prefontaine Classic proved that argument is a falsehood as the quality of competition was super high.

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In the men’s competition eight of the nine running events were won by someone running a season’s best, including six world leaders and four meet records. Four of the men’s eight field events were won with a season’s best, including three national records and one world record.

For the women, four of the nine running events were won in season’s bests. Three of those were also meet records, including two world leads and one world record. Additionally, Faith Kipyegon set a meet record in the women’s 1500 and Femke Bol set one in the women’s 400 hurdles. In the women’s field events, there were three world leads and three meet records.

Physiologically, this makes sense. Training isn’t scientific enough that you peak your body for a single day. If you are trying to peak for Worlds, that fitness is going to last for a number of weeks. After Worlds, Athing Mu said she was done and needed a break and was going on vacation. Thank God she didn’t. She’s now the 8th woman in history under 1:55 in the 800 and potentially the first ever to do so without benefitting from internal testes or PEDs.

Athing Mu had reason to smile in Eugene. Photo by Kevin Morris.

Ok, on to my seven biggest storylines of 2023.

7) An Ethiopian Man Broke the Steeplechase World Record

With the invention of super shoes and super spikes, distance world records have been falling like flies in recent years. In addition to Kipyegon’s world records this year, the women’s 5,000 world record was broken twice and the men’s steeplechase record once. But the steeple record being lowered from 7:53.63 to 7:52.11 by Lamecha Girma was the more significant development for me.

Lamecha Girma Steeplechase World Record 7:52.11 Credit: KMSP / FFA

Why? Because a Kenyan-born man had held the record for 45 straight years. 

On May 13, 1978, Henry Rono ran 8:05.4 to break the world record of 8:08 set by Sweden’s Anders Gärderud. After Rono, six more Kenyan men would break the record a total of seven times but now the for the first time ever the record belongs to Ethiopia.

(Technically Brahim Boulami of Morocco held the world record from 2001-04 but he was banned for EPO one year after setting the WR).

6) Jakob Ingebrigtsen Has a Season For the Ages But Loses the 1500m World Title

Olymic 1500 and two-time world 5000 champ Jakob Ingebrigtsen had an amazing season in 2023.

The times he produced were staggering as he ran European records in the 1500 (3:27.95) and mile (3:43.73) and world records or bests in the 2000 (4:43.13) and 2-mile (7:54.10). He also ran 7:23.63 for 3000 and won a world title in the 5000 and Diamond League titles in the mile and 3000.

The one blemish was his lone loss of the year in the event he cares the most about: the World Championship 1500 final where Josh Kerr beat him and Narve Nordas almost did.

LRC Josh Kerr Follows His Instincts to Incredible Upset in 1500m at 2023 World Championships

Ingebritsen is far from content. He wants a repeat Olympic 1500 title in 2024 and a historic three-peat in 2028, but he’s also said he wants more world records — actually all of them, including the marathon and steeplechase.

“If some people can do something, I believe I can do it better. That’s just my way of thinking and my way of staying motivated,” said Ingebrigtsen on Sunday.

5) Noah Lyles Wins the 100/200 Double

Ever since Usain Bolt retired in 2017, track & field has been looking for a new undisputed sprint king. Noah Lyles took that moniker this year as in his first trip to Worlds in the 100 in Budapest, he did something may thought he’d never do — win the 100m world title. He then backed it up with this third 200m title.

The NBC hype machine will be out in full force in 2024. Can Lyles become an Olympic legend and become just the 10th man to win the 100/200 gold at the same Olympics and just the third in the last 50 years? Or did he miss his chance at Olympic glory in 2020 due to COVID and might he end his career with no Olympic golds as one idiot distance expert suggested?

It’s worth noting that while Lyles had his best season in the 100m this year, his 200m running did suffer a bit.

Last year, he broke 19.7 seven times. This year, he only did it three times. Last year, his top five 200m times averaged out to 19.49; this year it was 19.64. Though it should be noted he ran more 200s in 2022 (eight) than 2023 (six).

4) Sha’Carri Richardson Wins the 100m World Title

The medal count may say differently but Sha’Carri Richardson had an even bigger 2023 than Noah Lyles. In her first appearance at a global championship, she won the women’s 100 title in Budapest out of lane 9. I rank this higher than Lyles winning two individual golds as Lyles already was an established winner on the pro circuit. Richardson was not.

Before 2023, Richardson moved the needle media-wise in the US but now she’s moving the needle for all the right reasons. Always a precocious talent, Richardson matured immensely both on and off the track in 2023.

Richardson won the 100 in Zurich in August

Most importantly, performance-wise, she peaked when it mattered most for the first time as a professional.

This year she ran her seasonal best time of 10.65 into a headwind (-0.2) in the World Championship final on August 21. In the previous three seasons as a pro where there was a global outdoor championship, she peaked much earlier as she ran her 100m sb on June 8 in 2019, April 10 in 2021, and June 12 in 2022.

Oh, and she also ran great on the circuit, picking up Diamond League wins in Doha, Silesia, and Zurich.

The Olympic women’s 100 in Paris next year has the potential to be an all-time classic. It hopefully will feature the greatest female sprinter in history in SAFP, plus the best Olympic female sprinter in history in Elaine Thompson-Herah, the best 200m woman in history in Shericka Jackson, and Richardson.

The upcoming offseason will be telling as that’s where Richardson has often struggled in the past. Remember, in January 2023 Richardson was tossed off a plane and the year before that she revealed she’d been abused by her girflriend Janeek Brown.

3) Yared Nuguse Breaks Out

No one in the world — and that includes Yared Nuguse and On Athletics Club coach Dathan Ritzenhein — could have predicted at the beginning of the year the season that Yared Nuguse just had.

In 2023, he ran big pbs at 800, 1500, mile, and 3000. In the 800, he improved from 1:48.29 to 1:46.30. He lowered his 1500 pb by 4+ seconds, from 3:33.26 to 3:29.02, and his mile pb by 9.37 seconds, from 3:53.34 to 3:43.97. In the 3000, he improved by 9.90 seconds, dropping from 7:38.13 to 7:28.23.

Remember when we thought Nuguse running 3:47 in the mile was good?

Along the way he picked up three indoor American records (3:33.22 for the 1500, 3:47.38 for the mile, and 7:28.23 for the 3000) and two outdoor American records (in the 1500 and mile) and won two Diamond League meets.

All told, he ran five Diamond League meets and in one season easily surpassed a career’s worth of finishes for past US mile greats like Alan Webb or Matthew Centrowitz as he finished 2nd, 3rd, 1st, 1st, and 2nd in those meets.

His only non-top 3 finish of the year came in the biggest race of the year — the world final, where he just 5th. Ritzenhein revealed to us over the weekend that Nuguse was a little under the weather in the first two rounds of Budapest. He made a point of telling us he felt fine in the final and didn’t want to use that as an excuse for him.

Well, if Ritz won’t use it as an excuse I’ll have to do it for Nuguse. If you watched him run 3:43 on Saturday, it’s hard to fathom that Nuguse wasn’t a little under the weather in the Budapest final even if he didn’t feel sick.

2) Niels Laros Breaks Out

In sports, whenever we see the greatest ever, it’s easy to think nothing like them will ever come along again. That’s true whether it’s Babe Ruth, Roger Federer, Michael Jordan, or Tom Brady. The reality is, someone else always eventually comes along similar to that level, whether their name is Shohei Ohtani, Novak Djokavic, LeBron James or Patrick Mahomes.

Niels Laros after winning 1500m and 3000m gold at U18 European Champs (photo via @niels.laros instagram)

The athletics world had been waiting for 35+ years for someone like Jakob Ingebrigtsen to come around — a European-born man that could consistently battle for distance golds and world records. And now it looks like we may have another one just a few years later.

At the start of the year, LetsRun.com messageboarders knew who Dutchman Niels Laros was, but the average track fan did not. Now they do.  

The 18-year-old Laros had a PHENOMENAL 2023. He lowered his 800 pb from 1:46.3 to 1:44.78, his 1500 pb from 3:39.46 to 3:31.25, his 3000 pb from 8:17.52 to 7:48.25, and his 5000 pb from 13:57.07 to 13:23.01. He also ran 4:49.68 for 2000 and on Saturday, on the very same track where Alan Webb ran a 3:53.43 mile at the age of 18 years and 4 months, Laros ran 3:48.93 in the mile at the age of 18 years and 4 months.

If Laros was an American, he’d hold the US high school records at 800, 1500, mile, 3k, and 5k. 

Want to know more about Laros? He appeared on our podcast earlier this summer: Meet Niels Laros, The 18-Year-Old Dutch Sensation Who Has Run 1:45.8 for 800m and 13:23 for 5,000m. In Budapest, his parents told us that just a few summers ago Laros was in the back seat of the car listening to the podcast dreaming of being great. Now, at 18, he is great…and could get even better in the years to come.

Niels Laros’ parents (centered) listen to our podcast – do you?

1) Faith Kipyegon Takes Her Brilliance To Another Level

Coming into the year, Faith Kipyegon was already the greatest women’s 1500 runner ever as she’d won two world and two Olympic titles in the event. The only thing missing from her resume was a world record, and in 2023 she broke them in the 1500 (3:49.11) and mile (4:07.64). Ten of the 20 fastest 1500 times ever recorded belong to Faith Kipyegon.

Kipyegon celebrates her 1500 title in Budapest. Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images for World Athletics)

And she’s now picked up a new event, the 5000, where she set a world record (14:05.20, since broken) and won a world title in 2023. The only question now is was this the greatest season ever for a distance runner (h/t to the House of Run podcast), male or female, and is she the greatest female distance runner ever?

As for the first question, Haile Gebrselassie had a number of crazy good years. Which of the three years where set both 5,000 and 10,000 WRs was the best? It’s hard to say.

In 1995, Haile G went 9-0 on the track (4th at World XC), won the 10,000 world title and destroyed the world records in the 5,000 (which he took down by 10+ seconds, from 12:55.30 to 12:44.39) and 10,000 (he lowered it from 26:52.23 to 26:43.53), plus set a world’s best in the 2 mile (8:07.46). 

His 1997 season was eerily similar to 1995 but he ran even faster. He went 11-0 in events between 3,000 and 10,000 and set an indoor 5,000 WR (12:59.04), outdoor 5,000 WR (lowering it from 12:44.39 to 12:41.86) and outdoor 10,000 WR (lowering it from 26:38.08 to 26:31.32). He also set a world’s best at 2 miles (8:01.09) and won the 10,000 world title.

Which year was better for Haile: 1995 or 1997? It’s hard to say as while he ran much faster in 1997, he didn’t bring the WRs down as much. 

But 1998 was Geb at his absolute peak in terms of times although there was no Worlds/Olympics to win. Undefeated in races above 800m (15-0), indoors he ran 3:31.76 for 1500, a 4:52.86 world record for 2k, and a 7:26.15 WR in the 3k. Outdoors, he ran WRs at 5,000 (12:39.36, previous record of 12:39.74) and 10,000 (26:22.75, previous record of 26:27.85) plus ran 7:25 twice in the 3,000.

He also was undefeated in 1999 and 2000.

As for the latter question, Tirunesh Dibaba has had a pretty good career, winning three Olympic golds, five Worlds golds, and four World XC titles (one short course) and the Chicago Marathon in 2017. Her marathon pb of 2:17:56 was the third-fastest in history when she ran it in April 2017, plus she held the 5,000 WR for 12+ years.

Talk about this article on our  messageboard: MB: Counting down the 7 biggest storylines from the 2023 pro track season: What do you think of this list? 

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