What to Expect From the 2019 World Track Championships

KR: I’m a sucker for those German TV journo hit jobs! Watching those videos you’d think EPO and PEDs are so widespread—like, athletes as strung out extras in “New Jack City” except in high altitude training camps—but I never saw anything like that on trips to Kenya or Ethiopia. Did you follow that purported EPO drug sting with the Somalian coach in Sabadell, Spain a few years back? Sounded like a wild scene.

NT: I did! I too frequent those letsrun message boards, which are the source of always-interesting and sometimes-correct rumors about drug use. But let’s switch now back to the races. As my Twitter friend and elite racer Chris Derrick pointed out in an email, this is the first championships without Haile Gebrselassie, Kenenisa Bekele, or Mo Farah since 1993. I follow the sport pretty closely and I can say I have no idea who’s going to win the 5,000 or the 10,000.

KR: I’m stoked to see fresh faces on the scene. The 10k should be a proper battle not just between Kenya and Ethiopia but with Uganda’s Joshua Cheptegei hungry to stand on top of the podium after a silver in 2017—the same year he blew a big lead at the World Cross Country Champs with a half mile to go in front of a home crowd in Kampala to finish faded and staggering to a heartbreaking 30th place. And what about Ethiopia’s Yomif Kejelcha? Crazy that the kid set the indoor mile world record this past winter, then stepped up to the 10k for Doha.

NT: I’m keen on Hagos Gebrhiwet, partly because of that bonkers race this summer when he miscounted the laps, blasted a 54 on the penultimate lap, and then had to try to scamper back in. Any of the Americans catch your eye?

KR: Too many! I love Team USA’s prospects, from our expected dominance in the sprints and hurdles to some race-ready guys in the distances, to the storylines in the women’s 800 without South Africa’s Caster Semenya on the starting line. Also really glad to see the return of our national treasure Allyson Felix after an unexpectedly complicated pregnancy (reported by your office neighbor SELF) and sponsorship complications that unfairly go along with that far too frequently for female athletes.

NT: Yes, that story in SELF was profoundly moving—and, man, the author is good. Here’s a line from it. “That’s the thing about Felix’s journey, her process of grappling with what happened to her—it’s not just about becoming someone’s mom; it’s about becoming a different person in another way, choosing an identity that you didn’t even know you wanted in the first place.” Everyone should read it. And we’re definitely going to be talking about the women’s sprints as this goes on.

Also, we’ve been told by readers to follow the women’s hammer throw carefully. I’m going to step away from the computer for a minute to read up in Lope Magazine. But who do you have in that event?

KR: You got me there. But the thing about track is, for me at least, it’s endlessly watchable. It’s the highest level of sport, of course. But it’s also a maximum expression of our gene pool as a species. So for track nerds or nuts or junkies or whatever you want to call us … watching the women’s hammer throw is going to be as engaging as anything else.

NT: Totally agreed. This is why the World Championships are so mesmerizing. It’s humans doing things we’ve done since we first existed as a species: running, jumping, throwing. People make fun of track and field, but it’s on Grecian urns for goodness sake.
Last one for today, who’s your pick in the men’s long jump, which has its preliminaries on Friday? I usually root for Americans, but here I’ve got to go with Luvo Manyonga, who has one of the most incredible stories of anyone in track and field. He grew up in South Africa, learning the sport by jumping over piles of stuff on street corners as crowds watched; then he struggled with drug addiction; but eventually he became the best in the world.

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