In some ways, track and field served up a tantalising preview of what’s to come next year at the Paris Olympics.
In others, the sport left the nine-day world championships with as many questions as answers.
For every Noah Lyles and Sha’Carri Richardson, athletes who won championships and declared themselves the sprinters to beat, there was a Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone or Elaine Thompson-Herah, defending Olympic champions who either didn’t show up or barely showed up at all.
There were a handful of champion track and field athletes who were not heard from, or were far from the top of their form, in Budapest but should be competing for title, starting in 340 days when the Olympic track meet starts in the Stade de France.
A quick rundown of some takeaways from Hungary and things to watch in next year in France:
One of Lyles’ takes in the euphoria of his win in the 200 meters — part of his 3-for-3 performance in the sprints — was how track is one of those true international sports, while the NBA, for instance, is not.
“I watch the NBA Finals and they have ‘world champion’ on their head. World champion of what? The United States?” Lyles said. “Don’t get me wrong. I love the U.S. — at times — but that ain’t the world.”
Some of the NBA’s best players scoffed. If Lyles can push track back to the popularity it enjoyed in the 1980s, or even during Usain Bolt’s reign from 2008-17, he might resonate the way an NBA star does. The real push, however, doesn’t come at worlds, it comes at the Olympics.
Richardson proclaimed “I’m not back, I’m better,” and she backed it up by winning the 100 in her first major championship.
She beat two of Jamaica’s best sprinters in five-time champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Shericka Jackson, who is also threatening the world record in the 200.
Missing from that field was Thompson-Herah, the two-time defending Olympic champion in the 100 and 200. Thompson-Herah will be 32 next year, but she saves her best for the biggest stage. Richardson will be 24.
McLaughlin-Levrone will be at the Olympics, though it’s still anybody’s guess as to which event she’ll run.
Will she try to defend her title in the 400-meter hurdles, where she holds the world record? Or will she go for the 400 flat, which she had been running through 2023 before a minor knee injury took her off the track.
Curious about all this is Femke Bol of the Netherlands, who put on quite a show in Budapest in McLaughlin-Levrone’s absence.
The women’s 100 hurdles might just be the most unpredictable event in track.
Take Danielle Williams, for instance. The Jamaican hurdler won the event as a heavy underdog to add this gold to her one from 2015.
“You could pick like four or five” people who can win any race, Williams said.
At the Olympics, it’s even more difficult to predict. Remember Lolo Jones? There has never been a repeat champion in the event, which doesn’t bode well for Puerto Rico’s Jasmine Camacho-Quinn, the runner-up in Budapest.
What’s more, only Sally Pearson has followed a win at worlds with an Olympic title.
“I like being on the outside, all eyes being on everyone else, and just me being able to do my thing,” Williams said.
RUNNING AND RUNNING
It would be no surprise to see Dutch distance runner Sifan Hassan run in three events in Paris.
But which three? Hassan has teased the possibility of running the 5,000, 10,000 and the marathon, the way Czechoslovakia’s Emil Zátopek did in 1952 (He won all three).
Hassan is always looking for new challenges.
At the Tokyo Games, she took home two Olympic gold medals (5,000, 10,000) and a bronze (1,500). In Budapest, she tackled those same three events again, winning bronze in the 1,500 and silver in the 5,000 but falling at the end of the 10,000. She also won the London Marathon this year.
“These championships have taught me a lot,” Hassan said. “It has given me more confidence.”
THE SURE THINGS
Ryan Crouser (shot put), Yulimar Rojas (triple jump), Mondo Duplantis (pole vault) and Katie Moon (a shared gold in pole vault) and Karsten Warholm (400 hurdles) all won gold medals and, if they stay healthy, will be favoured to do it again in Paris.
But being favoured doesn’t always result in a victory. For the second straight year, Jakob Ingebrigtsen was a heavy favourite to win the 1,500 and for the second straight year, he finished second. Both times, he rebounded to win the 5,000, where he was also expected to win.
“It is a bit bittersweet this week overall,” Ingebrigtsen said.
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