Handing Out the 2023 LetsRun.com Awards
From race of the year to breakthrough of the year to quote of the year, we revisit the wacky and wonderful from 2023 in track & fieldBy Jonathan Gault and Robert Johnson
Welcome to LetsRun’s Best of 2023. We kicked things off Monday by honoring Kelvin Kiptum and Faith Kipyegon as LetsRun’s Athletes of the Year and we’re back today to hand out a bunch more awards, from comeback of the year to race of the year to quote of the year and more. We even included a few crazy statistics and things we totally forgot happened this year until we sat down to write this article. Consider this part awards piece and part trip down memory lane as we say goodbye to 2023 and hello to the Olympic year of 2024.
Now, onto the awards…
Comeback of the Year – Sha’Carri Richardson
Sha’Carri Richardson’s talent was never in doubt. The question, rather, was whether Richardson would be able to get out of her own way long enough to allow that talent to shine on the track. She had dazzled at the 2021 Olympic Trials only to be kicked off the Olympic team after testing positive for marijuana. In 2022, Richardson went AWOL early in the season, withdrawing from a series of meets without explanation. She raced her way into shape and looked poised to earn a berth for the 2022 World Championships in Eugene, only to bomb out in the first round of the 100 meters at USAs. As 2023 began, she was once again in the headlines for the wrong reasons, getting kicked off a flight following an altercation with a flight attendant.
Since then, however, Richardson has hardly put a foot wrong – and in the process, made LetsRun’s Weldon Johnson look like a genius. Richardson won three Diamond Leagues in 2023, her first (official) US title, and three medals at the Worlds in Budapest – gold in the 100 and 4×100, bronze in the 200.
The 100m gold was impressive not just for Richardson’s time – 10.65, a personal best and world leader – but for how she accomplished it. Richardson got a poor start in the semifinal, needing a time qualifier just to make the final. In the final, Richardson was forced to run away from her rivals on the outside in lane 9. It did not matter. Richardson ran the greatest race of her life in the biggest race of her life (so far) to cap a year during which she finally began to realize her vast potential.
World Championships MVP – Noah Lyles
Since turning professional in 2017, Lyles has dominated the 200 like few athletes in history, but he knows better than anyone that no event draws eyeballs like the 100 meters. Having mastered the 200 and spent the last two winters refining his start, Lyles felt he was finally ready to win both short sprints at the World Championships in Budapest.
It did not look that way entering Worlds. On April 26, Lyles was beaten over 100 meters by a high schooler (granted, a very good one and one that would later be suspended for an anti-doping violation). At USAs in July, he barely made the 100 team, finishing 3rd behind Cravont Charleston and Christian Coleman. Though Lyles did win a Diamond League in Paris, he arrived in Budapest having won just two of his five starts in the 100 with a season’s best (9.94) ranked outside the top 20 in the world.
But what’s that saying? Cometh the hour, cometh the man. Lyles ran 9.87 in the 100m semis at Worlds, his fastest time in four years, then went one better with a 9.83 pb in the final to take gold. Another gold in the 200 – his third straight – made Lyles the first man since Usain Bolt and Mo Farah in 2015 to win two individual running events at a single World Championships. And for good measure, he anchored the US 4×100 relay to victory as well.
Lyles did not break any world records in 2023, but for nine days in Budapest, he owned the World Championships like no other athlete.
Breakthrough Performer of the Year – Yared Nuguse
Two things stand out about Yared Nuguse’s 2023 season. The first is his consistency. Nuguse ran a stunning 7:28.23 American record for 3,000 meters on January 27. On September 16, he ran a 3:43.97 American record in the mile. In between, he set two more American records, won a US title, and became the first American man since 2011 to win a Diamond League 1500. For almost eight months, Nuguse maintained a level of performance few American milers have ever touched. How good was Nuguse? His worst race of the season was finishing 5th in the World Championship 1500m final – the best result by an American man in that event since 2013.
The other incredible thing about Nuguse’s campaign is that he somehow broke through twice in one year. While Nuguse was one of the world’s top milers throughout 2023, it was clear that Jakob Ingebrigtsen was on another level…until the Bowerman Mile, when Nuguse leveled up again. After Ingebrigtsen told him to “stick to me as long as you can” in the pre-race press conference, Nuguse did just that, finishing .24 behind the Norwegian to set up an intriguing Olympic year in 2024.
“I have goals that I feel like are achievable and then I get to a certain time and it’s like, nah, we’re not going to do that yet,” Nuguse said after running 3:43 at Pre. “I always think it will come later and it always ends up coming way sooner than I think. That’s basically been this entire year.”
WTF Performance of the Year – Tigist Assefa’s 2:11:53 marathon world record
Sometimes you see a result so outlandish that you can only stare at your computer screen and ask, WTF? There was no more WTF performance in 2023 than Tigist Assefa’s 2:11:53 at the Berlin Marathon, which shattered Brigid Kosgei’s 2:14:04 world record by more than two minutes.
When LRC co-founder Robert Johnson opened up the LetsRun.com homepage on the morning of September 24, he expected to see a headline about Eliud Kipchoge. Instead, he saw the numbers 2:11 and was confused for a second as to why that was a splash page, until realizing, wait, that’s a women’s time. He could be forgiven for the confusion. The great Abebe Bikila, the two-time men’s Olympic champion and father of Ethiopian distance running, never ran faster than 2:12:11.
The We’ll Never See That Again Award – Sifan Hassan
Hassan didn’t run the fastest marathon of the year. She did not win a single gold medal at the World Championships. Yet her achievements, taken collectively, may never be repeated in a single year.
In the span of six months, Hassan accomplished the following:
April 23: Won her marathon debut in London in 2:18:33
August 19: Nearly won the 10,000 at Worlds before she fell meters before the line
August 22: Earned World Championship bronze in the 1500m
August 26: Earned World Championship silver in the 5000m
October 8: Won Chicago Marathon in 2:13:44 (#2 time ever)
Hassan could have earned this award for her first two races alone. No woman (or man) had ever won a major marathon and medalled in the 1500 meters in the same year. It was not supposed to be possible to possess that combination of endurance and speed simultaneously. Until Hassan proved that it was. Quite simply, she has redefined what is possible in distance running.
But it wasn’t just what Hassan did, but how. In London, she broke every rule of marathoning yet still managed to defeat one of the greatest marathon fields ever assembled. Hassan’s final month of London prep came during Ramadan, meaning she fasted during the day (and often, after workouts). She stopped twice during mile 12 to stretch out a bothersome calf, causing her to fall 28 seconds behind the leaders. And she was almost run over by a motorcycle while going for her drink at 40k.
In the fall, Hassan went to Chicago and ran the second-fastest time ever (two weeks earlier, it would have been a world record). It came just six weeks after a 1500/5k/10k triple at the World Championships in Budapest (and even that was not enough – Hassan ran a track workout after the 1500 final to keep her volume up for Chicago).
More and more former middle distance athletes are blossoming into women’s marathon stars. Boston/NYC champ Hellen Obiri ran 3:57 for 1500. Former 1500 WR holder Genzebe Dibaba is now a 2:18 marathoner. Marathon WR holder Tigist Assefa was an Olympian at 800m. But those athletes compiled those achievements across the course of years. Hassan earned 1500 bronze at Worlds and ran a 2:13 marathon in the span of 47 days. That’s not happening again anytime soon – if it ever does.
Underdog of the Year – Cravont Charleston
There is not a ton of money in elite track & field, which means it’s not uncommon for an unsponsored athlete to become one of the best in the United States. It’s just that those stories usually play out in an event like the hammer throw or triple jump – not the men’s 100 meters.
The US went 1-2-3 in the men’s 100 at the 2022 World Championships in Eugene, yet somehow the 2023 US champion was Cravont Charleston, a man who had never made an NCAA or US final and who headed to USAs without a shoe contract (Charleston did have an apparel deal with Tracksmith, which helped cover travel and expenses).
Usually an athlete with Charleston’s talent would sign some sort of shoe deal out of college, but some bad luck – the COVID cancellation in 2020, an injury in the spring of 2021 – meant he left NC State having been unable to fully demonstrate his talent. The nice thing about running is that it’s not hard to show that you belong. Run fast enough, and you will eventually be given the chance to prove yourself against the best. That’s exactly what Charleston did, defeating world champions Christian Coleman and Noah Lyles to become the 2023 US 100m champion.
Quote of the Year – Jakob Ingebrigtsen: “I am the pacemaker”
We could write an entire article on Ingebrigtsen quotes from 2023. There was the time he referred to Josh Kerr as “just the next guy” after Kerr beat an under-the-weather Ingebrigtsen in the World Championship final. Or the time Ingebrigtsen told Yared Nuguse before the Bowerman Mile, “stick to me as long as you can and we’ll get you sub-3:46” – and then did exactly that, dragging Nuguse to a 3:43 American record the next day. Or when Ingebrigtsen revealed his goal is to break every world record from 1500 meters through the marathon. “If some people can do something, I believe I can do it better,” Ingebrigtsen said.
But the one that stands out is what Ingebrigtsen said after his win at the Silesia Diamond League, where he ran 3:27.14 to become the fourth-fastest 1500 runner in history. LetsRun’s Robert Johnson asked Ingebrigtsen in the virtual mixed zone whether he would consider asking a Diamond League event to remove the pacemakers so that he could simulate racing under championship conditions. Upon hearing the question, Ingebrigtsen scoffed as a smile spread across his face.
“Who asked that question?” Ingebrigtsen said. “I’m pacing every race. When the pacemakers drop out, I’m the pacemaker, so every race is practice.”
It’s true: Ingebrigtsen is the pacemaker. He shows up to Diamond Leagues, tucks in right behind the rabbits, and once they’re done, he keeps pushing the pace. And because he is such a strong athlete, he can do this and still win: since the start of 2022, he is 22-3 in races of 1500m or longer.
But it’s not quite true that “every race is practice.” Ingebrigtsen’s only three losses above 800m in the last two years came in three of the biggest races: World Indoors in 2022, World Outdoors in 2022 and 2023. And there’s one big difference between those races and Diamond Leagues. In Diamond Leagues, Ingebrigtsen gets a pacer of his own for 2.5-3 laps. Not so at Worlds, where Ingebrigtsen tried to win from the front in Belgrade, Eugene, and Budapest before being passed in the final 200 meters. When Ingebrigtsen said his “I’m the pacemaker” line, he meant it as a projection of strength. But Josh Kerr – the most recent man to defeat Ingebrigtsen – saw it as a weakness.
“I was like, oh, you have no idea,” Kerr told the Sunday Plodcast. “You’ve won so many races, you’ve run fantastic all season, but you must be surrounded by so many yes-men that you don’t realize that you have weaknesses. And I think that was part of his downfall.”
In reality, Ingebrigtsen’s front-running is a strength and a weakness. It’s a strength because it allows him to dictate the terms of engagement and may well be his best strategy to win the race. But in championship races, leading is also a weakness – unless you’re way fitter than everyone else, you can wind up setting the pace for the rest of the field only to be overhauled at the end. How Ingebrigtsen manages that balance in 2024 could determine who wins Olympic gold in Paris.
Races of the Year – Mixed & women’s 4×400 at Worlds
These races were inextricably linked and impossible to separate, so we’re giving this award to both of them. No two races did a better job of demonstrating the highs and lows of championship sport – and both happened to feature incredibly dramatic finishes.
The mixed 4×400 was the final event of the first night of the World Championships, and when the Netherlands’ Isaya Klein Ikkink handed off to Femke Bol a step ahead of the United States at the final exchange, the outcome seemed predetermined. Bol had set an indoor world record of 49.26 earlier in the year. The American anchor, Alexis Holmes, had a personal best of 50.32 and had not even made the US 400m final. In fact, Holmes wasn’t even supposed to be running anchor – Gabby Thomas was meant to sub in. But Ryan Willie had struggled in the prelims, and under championship rules, the US could only change one leg from the prelims to the final. The US chose to sub out Willie for Matthew Boling rather than Holmes for Thomas.
That left us with Bol vs. Holmes. On paper, a mismatch. As Bol took the baton, NBC announcer Ato Boldon summed up the thoughts of every track fan: “This is not going to be close.”
Yet Holmes summoned the relay leg of her life, splitting 48.82 on the anchor. She hung with Bol, and as she went for the pass in the dying meters, a shocked Bol could not hold on, collapsing to the track in despair as the Americans took an unlikely gold. The US’s time of 3:08.80? A world record.
Flash forward eight days, to the final race of Worlds: the women’s 4×400. The Americans, who always win the 4×400, were not even in the final because Holmes, of all people, left the zone without the baton during the heats. That made for a wide-open final, and with 100 meters to run, it looked as if Jamaica would take the victory. But Bol, sitting in a distant third, would not be denied, timing her kick perfectly to outsprint Great Britain and Jamaica in the dying meters and deliver the Netherlands their first women’s 4×400 title thanks to a 48.75 split.
In the span of nine days in Budapest, Holmes went from unknown to hero to goat and Bol from superstar to goat to hero. That is life as an elite athlete. Sometimes you’re the best and sometimes you’re not, but you keep showing up. Because you never know what is going to happen.
Beatrice Chebet wins World XC as Letesenbet Gidey collapses in final meters
Kenneth Rooks wins USA steeple final after falling 800m into the race
Josh Kerr upsets Jakob Ingebrigtsen in Worlds 1500 final
Jakob Ingebrigtsen and Yared Nuguse both run 3:43 in Bowerman Mile
Debacle of the Year – US Olympic Marathon Trials
USATF announced in November 2022 that Orlando would host the 2024 US Olympic Marathon Trials and it did not take long for the event to become shrouded in controversy. First came the news that USATF CEO Max Siegel had awarded the Trials to Orlando despite the USATF Board unanimously recommending Chattanooga. The ostensible reason for the switch? Siegel had DQ’d Chattanooga’s candidacy for a nebulous conflict of interest involving USATF Board member Jim Estes, who is now suing Siegel and USATF for defamation and negligence as Estes properly declared his conflict of entrance to USATF ahead of time.
Then, in August, USATF announced the Trials would start at noon on February 3. Citing heat concerns, many athletes pushed for an earlier start time, only to be told that the local organizing committee, GO Sports, was unwilling to change. That made GO Sports look like the bad guys…until it emerged that USATF had required a “non-negotiable” noon start time as part of Orlando’s agreement to host the Trials. In December, with just two months to go until the Trials, USATF finally published its selection policy – only for them to realize the document was so unclear that it needed to be taken down and reworded.
Not exactly the smooth, positive lead-in you’d like to see ahead of America’s greatest marathon.
Most Depressing Stat of Year
Most Mind-Blowing Stat of the Year
From 1987 to 2022, African-born men won 64 straight gold medals in the 1500 through 10,000 at the World Championships. In 2023, European-born men won two of those four events at Worlds, and the same was true last year.
What-If of the Year
Down the road, 2023 may be remembered as the year Kelvin Kiptum replaced Eliud Kipchoge as the world’s greatest marathoner. But if not for an injury, might it have been remembered as the year Jacob Kiplimo earned the unofficial title of “World’s Greatest Distance Runner?”
Kiplimo’s start to 2023 was sensational. In his first four races, he ran 41:15 for 15k, won World XC, destroyed Joshua Cheptegei at the NYC Half by 38 seconds, and ran 12:41 for 5000. Unfortunately, a hamstring injury prevented the Ugandan superstar from running Worlds on the track and defending his World Half Marathon title on the roads.
The Giving-It-All-for-the-Team Award
Arkansas’ Lauren Gregory didn’t win an individual title at the NCAA indoor championships in Albuquerque, but she came up huge for her team, running the fastest anchor leg in the DMR (4:31.36) as Arkansas finished 2nd. One night later, she doubled back to finish 2nd in the mile on a badly injured foot.
Gregory’s heroics helped secure the team title for Arkansas, 64-60 over Texas, in legendary coach Lance Harter’s final season. But Gregory paid for it as she wound up with a navicular stress fracture that cost her the outdoor season.
She’s now signed with Nike and we are wondering, might she be a trail superstar?
Five things that happened in 2023 that we still can’t believe
- Eight University of Washington students broke 4:00 in the mile in the same race on two different occasions
- A guy ran 13:01 last summer despite failing to score at NCAAs
- Kenyan-born athletes’ 45-year hold on the men’s steeple world record is history
- An 18-year-old listener of the LetsRun.com podcast has amassed the following PBs: 1:44.78 for 800, 3:31.25 for 1500, 3:48.93 for the mile, 4:49.68 for 2k, 7:48.26 for 3k, and 13:23.01 for 5000
- Hillary Bor won $59,000 for breaking the US 10-mile record at Cherry Blossom even though he didn’t win the race or even run a personal best
2023 was the year of the 5,000
Before this year, only four men in history had broken 12:43 for 5,000 meters: Joshua Cheptegei, Kenenisa Bekele, Haile Gebrselassie, and Daniel Komen. In 2023 alone, six men broke 12:43 – and none of them were the world champion, Jakob Ingebrigtsen. Here’s what the all-time list looks like now. Half of the performers ran their pb in the span of six weeks last summer:
The women’s side was even crazier. Letesenbet Gidey entered the year as the world record holder at 14:06.62 and ended 2023 at #4 on the all-time list as 2023 featured six of the eight fastest women’s 5,000m times ever run.
The madness began in Paris on June 9, where Faith Kipyegon ran 14:05.20 to break the world record in her first 5,000 in eight years. But her WR would last just three months as Gudaf Tsegay took almost five seconds off by running 14:00.21 in the midday sun at the Diamond League final in Eugene on September 17. She had to run that fast as World XC champ Beatrice Chebet finished 2nd in 14:05.92, the #3 time in history.
And it’s not as if Gidey let her record go without a fight. She was with Kipyegon until a lap to go in Paris, running 14:07.94 for 2nd, and also ran 14:08.79 to win in Berlin on September 3. She may no longer hold the WR, but she is the first woman to break 14:10 more than once – she’s now done it three times in her career.
Considering Tsegay, Kipyegon, Gidey, Chebet, and Sifan Hassan are still all in their primes, there’s a great shot we’ll see the first sub-14:00 women’s 5,000 if someone puts together a record attempt in 2024.
It was also the year of the overturned doping suspension
Three of the best runners in the world were provisionally suspended for anti-doping rules violations in 2023: Australia’s Peter Bol (4th in the 800 at the 2021 Olympics), Kazakhstan’s Norah Jeruto (2022 steeplechase world champion), and Nigeria’s Tobi Amusan (2022 100 hurdles world champion and world record holder). And in the past five months, all of those athletes have had their suspensions overturned.
The toughest part of any anti-doping agency’s job is to balance the protection of clean athletes with the pursuit of cheats. Sometimes, there is collateral damage to an athlete’s reputation. Bol was ultimately cleared after Sport Integrity Australia concluded the EPO test that led to his suspension should have been reported as negative, but this case will still be one of the first things that pop up when someone Googles Bol’s name.
The Jeruto and Amusan cases are even more complex. Jeruto, who was suspended for an Athlete Biological Passport violation, and Amusan, who was suspended for a whereabouts violation, were both cleared on appeal by a disciplinary tribunal. So they were wrongfully suspended? Not necessarily – the Athletics Integrity Unit is appealing both cases to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which could reinstate their suspensions next year. Maybe 2024 will be the year of the overturned overturned doping suspension.
Talk about our end of year awards on our world-famous fan forum / messageboard.
- MB: The rest of the Letsrun Awards – WTF Performance of the Year, Breakthrough Performer of The Year, World Champs MVP, etc.
- MB: World Athletics won’t name an AOY but we will – Let’s here your 2023 LetsRun Award nominations
- MB: Jakobs 2023 season vs Noahs 2023 season (I think Jakob’s was better)
More: Faith Kipyegon & Kelvin Kiptum Crowned 2023 LetsRun.com Athletes of the Year Noah Lyles pulled off an incredible double, Mondo Duplantis and Ryan Crouser had record-breaking years, but there is no need to split this award: Kelvin Kiptum is our 2023 Men’s Athlete of the Year. Faith Kiypegon (duh) wins our women’s award.