WTW: Why Are We Obsessed With Jakob Ingebrigtsen, Why Noah Lyles Should Be Worried, & Shericka Jackson > Flo-JoBy Robert Johnson
The Week That Was in Running, August 28 – September 3, 2023
The Worlds That Were – 2023
Normally each week, I try to make the sport more fun to follow by putting the prior week’s action in perspective for you. This week I take a step back and give you three big takeaways from the fantastic 2023 World Athletics Championships that took place in Budapest and ended nine days ago.
Past editions of our Week That Was weekly recap can be found here. Got a tip, question or comment? Please call us at 844-LETSRUN (538-7786), email us, or post in our world-famous messageboard/fan forum.
Why Are Distance Fans So Obsessed With Jakob Ingebrigtsen?
On our messageboard last week, there was a thread about how Jakob Ingebrigtsen gets so much attention on LetsRun: MB: Why is LRC so Jakob-pilled? It’s certainly true. We’ve joked that we could devote the majority of every podcast from now until Paris 2024 about Ingebrigtsen and it wouldn’t get old.
The fact that he’s the Olympic champion in the 1500 — one of track & field’s glamour events — certainly helps. The 1500 is always must-see TV. It’s short enough to keep casual fans’ attention but long enough for drama to build. It’s also a rare event in our sport where tactics are critical. What tactics are there in the sprints? Or the discus? In the 1500, there are plenty.
But the reason why LetsRunners are obsessed with Ingebrigtsen is simple — he represents a seismic shift in the sport.
Do you know what happened exactly 36 years ago today in Rome — September 5, 1987? On that day, at the second World Championships, Italy’s Francesco Panetta won the men’s steeplechase gold medal. At the time, there was nothing unusual about a European man winning a distance gold. At the first Worlds in Helsinki four years earlier, a European-born man won all four of the distance golds on the track (1500 on up).
However, after Panetta won his gold in Rome, an African-born man won the 1500 (Abdi Bile) and the 5000 (Saïd Aouita). In 1991, African-born men swept all four distance golds. The trend repeated itself at Worlds after Worlds as African-born men swept all four distance golds on the track for a total of fifteen straight Worlds — ’91, ’93, ’95, ’97, ’99, ’01, ’03, ’05, ’07, ’09, ’11, ’13, ’15, ’17, and ’19. They won the first two at the 2022 Worlds as well. In case you are counting, African-born men won 64 straight global distance golds at Worlds.
Would the trend continue forever?
Before Ingebrigtsen came along, I can understand if you thought it might. But Jakob changed everything. The youngest sub-4 miler in history at age 16, the guy who ran 3:31 for 1500 at age 17, 3:30 at age 18, 3:28 at 19 and won Olympic gold at age 20, entered the 2022 Worlds as the Olympic champ and favorite in the men’s 1500. You likely had to go back 30+ years to find a time when a non-African-born man was heavily favored to win a men’s distance gold like Ingebrigtsen was.
In the end, Ingebigtsen didn’t win the 1500 but another European did — Jake Wightman. Ingebrigtsen then took home the 5000 gold. The process repeated itself in Budapest this year.
After going 0 for 64 in men’s distance finals, men born outside of Africa have now won 4 of the last 8.
What explains the shift?
Drug testing? Coaching? Luck? Genetics?
If you’ve got a good theory on it, weigh in on the LetsRun messageboard. MB: Heading into last year’s Worlds, African-born-runners had won 64 straight men’s distance finals, they’ve now lost 2 of 4, why?
But Ingebrigtsen’s popularity on LetsRun.com makes sense when you think about it. Most of our visitors are distance runners not born in Africa and they’ve been waiting a generation and a half to see one of their own consistently vie for world distance supremacy.
Shericka Jackson’s Run in Budapest Was Better Than Flo-Jo’s World Record
Women’s sprint fans, particularly American ones, will likely remember the 2023 Worlds for Sha’Carri Richardson‘s exploits in the women’s 100, which she won after qualifying for the final on time. But Shericka Jackson‘s exploits should not be forgotten.
Jackson was sensational in the women’s 200, which was full of quality. In the final, the top three women all broke 22.00 — the only other time that happened was in 2015 — yet Jackson DOMINATED as her 0.40 margin of victory was the third-largest in history (behind Inger Miller‘s 0.45 in 1999 and Allyson Felix‘s 0.53 in 2007). That’s because her winning time of 21.41 (+0.1) was the second-fastest women’s 200 ever run, behind only Flo-Jo’s world record of 21.34 from the 1988 Olympics.
But what hasn’t gotten enough play is if you plug the two times into Jonas Mureika‘s wind/altitude/lane converter, Jackson’s run in Budapest was better than Flo-Jo’s world record. Jackson’s run is equivalent to 21.43 in still conditions at sea level while FloJo’s world record is worth 21.45 (Flo-Jo had a +1.3 wind in lane 5 while Jackson had +0.1 in lane 6).
Noah Lyles Wins 100 & 200m Gold, But Don’t Sleep on Erriyon Knighton
On April 23, when Noah Lyles lost to a high schooler in the 100, the idea that he’d end up as the 2023 world 100-meter champion seemed remote. On July 7, when Lyles only ran 10.00 at USAs to place third, the idea that he’d end up as the 2023 world 100-meter champion seemed remote. On August 20, when Lyles ran 9.87 in his semi at Worlds, it didn’t seem remote and less than two hours later, it had happened: Noah Lyles was your world 100m champion. Five days later, Lyles won his third straight 200m world title.
Now what seems remote is the idea that anyone who said he’ll never win Olympic gold will be proven correct.
And I’ll admit, it certainly looks like Noah Lyles will win a gold medal in 2024.
But when I said I thought Lyles would never win Olympic gold, it wasn’t because I thought he wasn’t a great sprinter. I just thought the pandemic cost him a gold in 2020 like it did Timothy Cheruiyot and that one of the greatest sprint prodigies in the sport’s history was lying in wait.
And that prodigy — Erriyon Knighton — is still lying in wait.
Last year, at the 2022 Worlds, Knighton lost to Lyles by 0.49 in the 200. In 2023, he lost by .23. So the gap narrowed by 0.26 of a second. Do that again next year and the gold will go to Knighton.
And can I take you back to the year 2007?
At the end of that season, no one was predicting that a tall, lanky, young 200m specialist with a season’s best in the 19.7s and a 100m pb of 10.03 who just won 200m silver would become an Olympic legend a year later. But that’s exactly what happened to Usain Bolt in 2008 at the age of 21. Could it happen again for another tall, lanky, young 200m phenom with a seasonal best in the 19.7s and a 100m pb of 10.04 who just won 200m silver ?
We’ll have to wait and find out.
P.S. Yes, so far this year, Knighton, 19, hasn’t run as fast as he did in 2022 (19.49, +1.4 last year vs 19.72, -0.1 this year), but Bolt kind of stagnated a bit between 2004 and 2007 himself, only improving from 19.93 to 19.75 before breaking out in 2008 (19.30).
Last Week’s Home Pages
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