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I love Track & Field and these championships reminded me why. Over the last ten days, I’ve watched a lot and read a lot. I have some takes on the events of these championships, a contest which seems to be the harbinger of a resurgence in USA Track & Field dominance.
Men’s 200M Final
Adam Gemili, the pride of Great Britain, is a formidable sprinting talent. Usually finishing just off the podium at major meets, he’s unique in that he’s sturdily built for a sprinter. He looks more like a rugby player. His mid-section through his shoulders is beefier–he has less of the cut, tapered appearance that we started to take for granted during the Jamaican doping era.
The reason I mention Gemili is that I couldn’t help but notice the NBC commentator’s fixation on him being “the best curve runner.” This is a hell of a distinction when you’re talking about world-class sprinters. And it’s also something worth exploring when the largest guy in the field is the best curve runner and drew the lane immediately outside Noah Lyles’.
The regulation track lane width is 1.22m. To be a good curve runner, you have to bend your body and stride toward the inner lane boundary while still accelerating at a breakneck pace. Usually, our color commentators are talking about an athlete’s ability to accelerate through the curve when they talk about curve running. From a technical aspect, an athlete should also cut down as much lane-width distance as possible while on the curve. The theoretical extra distance of running in an outside lane is about 8 meters per lap. In the 200, which starts on the curve, it’s probably something like 3 meters. Meaning, if your legs were infinitely small and the lane boundaries were infinitely small, you’d run an extra 3 meters by being at the absolute extreme outer boundary of your lane versus being on the extreme inside boundary (a 1.22m difference).
Adam Gemili was indeed the first athlete to fly off the curve, and he steered himself extremely close to the inner line boundary. While the NBC cameras just miss the right angle, Gemili’s hulking body is kind of blocking Lyles’ into the straight. I’m not suggesting physical impedance but, at the very least, there’s a psychological blocker that occurs when the largest guy in the field has his shoulders and cannonball biceps in your airspace.
Lyles won and, ironically, Gemili’s form broke down the minute that Lyles entered his peripheral view.
Women’s 400m Hurdles Final
This was supposed to be the race of the meet and it was. Dalilah and Sydney are incredible and you would hardly suspect that they are ten years apart in age. Like many other fans, I’m quite glad that the race went down the way it did.
Dalilah Muhammad set the world record two months ago and got very little mainstream press coverage. Some went as far as to call it a fluke. She set that record at the US Championships, on a rain-drenched track, while having spent her entire year living in the shadow of Sydney McGlaughlin. Dalilah upset the narrative being spun by corporate sponsors and showed the world that it was premature to hail Sydney as the queen of the event.
This World Championship race was great for the sport because Dalilah ran a technically perfect race whereas Sydney stutter-stepped roughly two hurdles, only losing by what amounts to the reaction time spread. This is a fun result because we can imagine it being repeated ten times over to several different permutations of Sydney and Dalilah going 1-2. In some scenarios, they both go under the previous record (Sydney didn’t, giving Dalilah the clear edge in their meetings up to this point).
The other thing the announcers are fixated on is how “professional” Sydney McGlaughlin is at these big championship races, for a nineteen-year-old. I agree–the presence of mind that is apparent in her races and interviews is extraordinary. If we’re being honest, she looked pretty nervous! Before all her races! Even professionals try to dance off their nerves before races! It bothers me because when you’re a pro athlete with a pro contract, why do the announcers have to make such paternalistic comments? There are a few athletes that look like stone-cold killers before settling into the starting blocks, Sydney isn’t there yet.
Men’s 1500M Final
The Ingebrigtsen brothers may have committed more fouls in one championship than any family has in the history of Track & Field. If these Norwegians weren’t carrying this new white hope story on their shoulders, I question how much more critical the announcers would have been of their tactics. From my perspective, even into the 1500M final, Jakob had questionable hand placement at times.
Anyway, nobody really likes Taoufik Makhloufi. He came out of nowhere in 2012 to dominate the 1500M, then resurfaced again in 2016 (okay, he placed 4th in Bejing in 2015) to almost pull off a double in the 800M and 1500M in London. The London final results betray his dominant heat and prelim runs, where he front-ran every qualifying race. Nothing is known about the guy aside from that he is a national hero in Algeria. Many people find his race schedule suspicious because how does one cold start championship seasons without running Diamond League meets and proceed to wreck everyone? He got second in the 1500M in Doha, again, unfortunately, with basically no tune-up schedule to be spoken of.
I appreciate Timothy Cheruiyot because he front-ran this race and dominated. At the pace he set, only the biomechanically superior can truly compete, and most elite westerners could not manage to draft off the leader without dying by 1200. Though a tactical race is fun once in a while, the sprint finishes get annoying and strike me as a waste of talent. I get it–everyone is a bit tired from running preliminaries. Why can’t we renew obsession with setting faster record 1500/mile times?? By not fighting for it, I think we’re giving more legitimacy to the claim that the current world record was set by an illegitimate athlete (which I personally don’t want to believe).