10 Reasons to Start Following Track and Field This Year
The 2023 season should be full of record-breaking performances from the sport’s biggest stars. Here are the most important things to know.
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Track is back, and if the results from the indoor season and early outdoor meets are any indication, it should be another year of eye-popping results around 400-meter ovals this summer.
Why is track and field relevant to the average recreational runner?
Perhaps you’re running some of the same distances in your training and racing. Or maybe you have a connection to some of the events from your youth, days in gym class or on the playground. From a human performance perspective, no sport showcases the all-out speed, red-line endurance, max power, dynamic agility, and meticulous bodily control as track and field does.
Here’s a primer on the most awe-inspiring athletes and events of this summer’s track season. Because, come on: with a sport that includes events as multifaceted as the pole vault, as primal as the shot put, and as wild as the 3,000-meter steeplechase—a 1.8-mile race with 28 fixed barriers to hurdle and seven water pits to jump—what’s not to like?
1. Track and Field is probably the most diverse sport in the world.
One of the many things that makes track and field so special is that it’s one of the most diverse sports on the planet, both culturally and athletically.
Last summer, athletes from a record 29 different countries earned medals in the 25 different running, jumping, and throwing events at the World Athletics Championships in Eugene, Oregon.
At the highest level, there are athletes of all shapes and sizes from every culture and socioeconomic background. While there certainly are racial and cultural stereotypes that need dissolving and vast inequality among competing countries, from a performance point of view the sport is largely meritocratic, based on the time or distance achieved in a given competition.
Watching American Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone masterfully win the 400-meter hurdles in a world-record time last summer in front of a deafening crowd at Hayward Field in Eugene was a riveting experience. It was vastly different than watching Grenada’s Anderson Peters win the javelin world title with a career-best throw of 90.54 meters on his final attempt to beat India’s Neeraj Chopra, but both had edge-of-your-seat excitement, athletic excellence, and cultural significance.
2. There will be world-class performances on and off the track at the Los Angeles Grand Prix.
One of the knocks against track and field in recent years is that it hasn’t done enough to attract casual fans the way professional football, basketball, hockey, and soccer have. Following the On Track Fest, the USATF Los Angeles Grand Prix on May 26-27 in Los Angeles is trying to up the ante by combining a mix of elite-level competition, an interactive fan festival, and top-tier musical performances.
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Billed as the one of the deepest track meets ever held on U.S. soil, it will feature a star-studded 400-meter face-off featuring Americans Michael Norman, the reigning world champion, and Kirani James, a three-time Olympic medalist from Grenada, and a women’s 100-meter hurdles clash with world champion Tobi Amusan of Nigeria, Olympic silver medalist Keni Harrison of the U.S., and Olympic gold medalist Jasmine Camacho-Quinn of Puerto Rico.
Saturday’s action will be broadcast live on NBC Sports from 4:30 P.M. to 6 P.M. ET and be followed by a concert event called the Legends Jam, which will include appearances from some legendary athletes and be headlined by Grammy-winning singer Judith Hill.
3. Sha’Carri Richardson is a resurgent hero in the making.
American sprint sensation Sha’Carri Richardson will be racing the 100-meter dash at the USATF Los Angeles Grand Prix. You probably remember her for her perceived failures more than the astounding times she’s actually achieved on the track.
Two years ago, the sprinter from Dallas blew away the field in the 100-meter dash at the U.S. Olympic Trials with a 10.86 effort, but then she was famously suspended after testing positive for cannabis (which is on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s list of banned substances) and missed the Tokyo Olympics as a result. (She admitted using the drug to cope with the pressure of qualifying for the Olympics while also mourning the recent death of her biological mother.)
Then last year, despite strong early season performances, Richardson failed to make the finals of the 100-meter or 200-meter at the U.S. championships, so she missed out on running in the first world championships held on American soil.
This year, the 23-year-old sprinter appears to be locked in and better than ever, posting a world-leading 10.76 100-meter time on May 5 in Doha (she also ran an eye-popping 10.57 with an over-the-limit tailwind on April 9 in Florida) and posted the second-fastest time in the 200-meter (22.07) on May 13 at a meet in Kenya.
If she keeps it all together, expect Richardson to finally contend with elite Jamaican sprinters Shericka Jackson and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce in the 100 and 4×100-meter relay in August at the World Athletics Championships in Budapest, Hungary.
4. Fred Kerley wants to become the greatest sprinter in the world.
A few years ago, American sprinter Fred Kerley was on his way to becoming one of the world’s best 400-meter runners. But he wanted more than that. What he really had his heart set on was becoming the world’s fastest man, a moniker that goes with the most dominant sprinter in the 100-meter dash.
Ignoring doubters, Kerley retooled his training and earned the silver medal in the 100-meter at the Tokyo Olympics (.04 seconds behind Italy’s Marcell Jacobs) and then continued his ascent last year by winning the U.S. championships (in 9.76, the sixth-fastest time in history) and world championships (9.86).
The 28-year-old from San Antonio, Texas, also became one of just two other runners (along with American Michael Norman and South African Wayde van Niekerk) to ever run sub-10 seconds in the 100-meter, sub-20 seconds in the 200-meter, and sub-44 seconds in the 400-meter. So far this year, Kerley has two of the four fastest 100-meter times of the season, including a speedy 9.88 on May 21 in Japan.
Kerley will be lining up for an epic 100-meter race on May 28 at a Diamond League meet in Rabat, Morocco. Marcell Jacobs is out, but American Trayvon Bromell, silver medalist at last year’s world championships, will be present, so it should be an extraordinary tilt. If you’re a gambler, bet on Kerley to win that one and eventually get close to Bolt’s 9.58 world record. (To do so, he’ll be running faster than 26 miles per hour!)
But don’t count out Kenya’s Ferdinand Omanyala, the early world leader (9.84), or fellow American sub-9.9 guys Bromell, Norman, Christian Coleman, and Noah Lyles at the 2023 World Athletics Championships on August 20, in Budapest. Depending on which three Americans join Kerley (who has an automatic qualifier) at the world championships, it’s actually quite likely the U.S. could sweep the top four spots in the 100 in Budapest.
5. There will be more high-level track action in the U.S. than ever before.
If you’ve ever wanted to see the world’s top track and field stars competing live in the U.S., this is the year to do it. The May 26-27 USATF Los Angeles Grand Prix meet and June 3-4 Portland Track Festival are part of what might be the most compelling outdoor track season ever held on U.S. soil.
Kerley and Lyles are expected to square off in a 200-meter race at the USATF New York Grand Prix meet on June 24 at Icahn Stadium on Randall’s Island in New York City. There are also two high-level Puma American Track League meets in Tennessee—the Music City Track Carnival June 2 in Nashville and the Ed Murphey Classic August 4-5 in Memphis—and two Under Armour Sunset Tour meets organized by Sound Running on July 22 in Los Angeles and July 29 in Baltimore.
The best U.S. meet of the year, though, will be the USATF Outdoor Championships held July 6-9 in Eugene, Oregon, where American athletes will be vying for top-three finishes to earn a chance to compete for Team USA at the 2023 World Athletics Championships August 19-27 in Budapest.
The U.S. season will culminate with the September 16-17 Pre Classic in Eugene, Oregon, a two two-day meet that will double as the finals of the international Diamond League circuit and should include many of the top athletes who will be representing their countries in next summer’s Paris Olympics. (And if you want to see the country’s top high school athletes run unfathomable times for teenagers, check out the Brooks PR Invitational on June 14 in Seattle, Washington.)
6. There will be a crazy fast 5K race in Italy on June 2.
At the June 2 Diamond League meet in Rome, Italy, the men’s field in the 5,000-meter run will have what might be the fastest field ever assembled, with 13 runners who have personal best times of 12:59 or faster.
The field will be headlined by Joshua Cheptegei of Uganda, who lowered the world record to 12:35.36 in Monaco three years ago. (That’s a pace of 4:03 per mile!). But it will also include Kenya’s Jacob Krop (12:45.71) and Nicholas Kipkorir (12:46.33), Ethiopia’s Yomif Kejelcha (12:46.79), American Grant Fisher (12:46.79), Canadian Mohammed Ahmed (12:47.20), and Guatemalan-American Luis Grijalva (13:02.94), among others. With a big prize purse at stake and pacesetters ramping up the speed from the start, it should be a race for the ages.
7. Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone is a solid gold superstar.
If you’re looking for an athlete to marvel at, start with Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone, the gold medalist in the 400-meter hurdles at the Olympics in 2021 and World Athletics Championships last summer. She’s been one of the sport’s rising stars since she was a teenager and yet she’s only 23. Her trajectory is still rising—especially since she moved to Los Angeles to train under coach Bob Kersee. Driven by her strong faith, McLaughlin-Levrone is the personification of hard work, grace and competitiveness.
This year she’ll temporarily step away from her primary event to show off her pure sprinting prowess when she opens her season in a “flat” 400-meter race at the Diamond League meet in Paris on June 9. Her personal best in the 400-meter is 50.07 seconds, set when she was a freshman at the University of Kentucky, but she clocked a speedy 50.68 while running over hurdles, en route to a world-record setting win at last summer’s world championships.
Her best 400-meter split as part of a 4×400-meter relay is 47.91, so it’s within reason to think she could be one of several runners to challenge the long-standing world record of 47.60 set in 1985 by East German Marita Koch. Because McLaughlin-Levrone has an automatic qualifier to the world championships in the 400-meter hurdles, she will likely run the open 400-meter at the U.S. championships and decide after the meet which one she’ll focus on.
8. Athing Mu has been unbeatable for years.
American 800-meter ace Athing Mu has looked unbeatable for the past several years as she won Olympic gold in the event at the Tokyo Olympics and last year’s world championships. In fact, she has been unbeatable, having won 13 straight races since she dropped out of a mile race at the Millrose Games in January 2022. Going back to 2020 (when she was a senior in high school) and 2021 (during her one season at Texas A&M), she’s finished first in 51 of her past 53 races (relays included), with her only loss being a narrow runner-up finish to Kaelin Roberts in the 400-meter at the 2021 NCAA indoor championships.
Mu, who is also coached by Kersee and trains with McLaughlin-Levrone, seems to be the most likely athlete to challenge the women’s 800-meter world record of 1:53.28, set in 1983 by the Czech Republic’s Jarmila Kratochvílová. It’s the longest standing record in track and field, and only two runners have come within a second of it in the past 15 years. Her personal best of 1:55.04 is an American record and the eighth-fastest time in history. She’s still only 20 years old, so she has many years to keep improving and other historic opportunities ahead of her.
Mu said earlier this year she’d like to try a 400-800-meter double at an Olympics or world championships if the schedule permits—it’s only been done once successfully by Cuba’s Alberto Juantorena at the 1976 Games—but her coach has said she might attempt a 800-1,500-meter double next year at the Paris Olympics.
This year, Mu will run the 1,500 meters at the USATF Championships in July, but will likely defend her 800-meter title at the world championships in Budapest, as well as potentially running on the U.S. women’s 4×400-meter relay and the mixed-gender 4×400-meter relay (with McLaughlin-Levrone) for an opportunity to win three gold medals in a single championships.
9. Armand Duplantis is the best athlete you don’t know.
With apologies to quarterback extraordinaire Patrick Mahomes, gymnastics all-arounder Simone Biles, and skiing superstar Mikela Shiffrin, pole vaulter Armand Duplantis just might be the most dynamically talented athlete in the world. That’s because he’s the world’s most dominant athlete (and has set six world records) in arguably the most demanding discipline, not only in track and field but quite possibly in any sport. No sport discipline involves such a dynamic combination of speed, power, precision and agility, and Duplantis, who is only 23, is already the greatest of all-time.
Prove me wrong or watch him set his latest world record (6.22 meters or 20 feet, 5 inches) at an indoor meet on February 25 in Clermont-Ferrand, France. That’s the equivalent of vaulting onto the roof of a two-story building, and in his case, often with room to spare.
Duplantis, who grew up in Lafayette, Louisiana, to athletic parents with Swedish and Finnish heritage, represents Sweden in international competitions. He started pole vaulting at age three, set his first of 11 age-group world-best marks at age seven, and won an NCAA title in 2019 as a freshman competing for LSU before turning pro.
10. Katelyn Tuohy and Britton Wilson are next.
All indications are that North Carolina State junior Katelyn Tuohy could become the next American running star. All she has done since she was young is win races and break records.
After winning the NCAA outdoor 5,000-meter a year ago, she won the NCAA cross country title in November. During the indoor track season this past winter, she set a new collegiate mile record (4:24.26) and won both the 3,000-meter and 5,000-meter title at the NCAA indoor championships in March. On May 7, the 21-year-old from Thiells, New York, broke the NCAA outdoor 5,000-meter record by 17 seconds, clocking 15:03.12 at the Sound Running On Track Fest.
Tuohy will be running both the 1,500-meter and 5,000-meter at the NCAA East Regional May 24-27 in Jacksonville, Florida, with the hopes of eventually advancing to the finals of both events at the June 7-10 NCAA Division I championship meet in Austin, Texas.
University of Arkansas junior Britton Wilson is a top collegiate star who is ready for prime time at the pro level. She won the 400-meter in a world-leading and collegiate record time of 49.13 in mid-May at the SEC Championships, where she also won the 400-meter hurdles (53.23) in a world-leading time. The 22-year-old from Richmond, Virginia, was the runner-up in the 400-meter hurdles at last year’s U.S. championships and fifth in the world championships, and could contend for a spot on Team USA in either event at the July 6-9 U.S. championships.