If you watched any of the most recent world championships in athletics, you don’t need me to tell you that it was a weird one: Usain Bolt losing the 100 to Justin Gatlin and then pulling up lame in the final race of his career, Americans going 1-2 in the women’s steeplechase, Isaac Makwala running a solo 200m time trialto gain entry into the final after being banned from the 400 due to norovirus concerns, record-setting ticket sales, Mo Farah losing his first global final in the last 11 tries, Olympic gold medalist Matthew Centrowitz failing to make it out of the first round of the 1500 (while unheralded Johnny Gregorek made it to the final), and the list goes on. So what gives? The championship year following the Olympic Games usually has some head-scratching moments to it, but 2017 proved particularly strange between upsets, outbreaks, uproars, attendance records and more. Here are a few of the oddities that jumped out at me:
+ It’s weird that Alberto Salazar wasn’t in London with his athletes, right? Adding to this strange circumstance is that members of the Nike Oregon Project seem to discreetly be distancing themselves from the program’s once ballyhooed head coach in different ways. “For the last three or four years I have been pretty much by myself and it didn’t make much difference really—I knew what I needed to do,” Farah told The Irish Times when he was pressed—again—about his relationship with Salazar. Shannon Rowbury, who finished ninth in the 5000m final, played dumb when asked why Salazar—who she once feltwas “the right person to take me to the next level in my running career and further explore my potential in both the 1500 and 5000”—wasn’t at the meet, telling journalists, “I don’t know. I didn’t ask him. I mostly work with Pete [Julian].” For what it’s worth, Julian has taken on more of a hands-on role with certain athletes on the team, including Rowbury, but it seems strange to me that Salazar, the man who was hell-bent on making Americans more competitive at the global level (and is known to be a bit obsessive when it comes to their training and racing regimes), wouldn’t be in attendance at the world championships when many of his program’s athletes were competing (and contending for medals). It’s also interesting that Centrowitz’s dad is taking on an increased—but undefined—role in coaching him even though Salazar will apparently continue to call the shots for the reigning Olympic champion. It makes one wonder how many shots is Salazar really calling anymore, or how much longer he’ll continue to call them for many of the athletes in the program period. Given the continued scrutiny Salazar and the Oregon Project have been under of late, it wouldn’t be advisable for anyone involved to leave at this point (although Canadian 10,000m record holder Cam Levins recently did), but clearly there are members who are trying to create at least a little bit of space between themselves and the founding father. Something is amiss here and I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it does make you wonder if he would have stayed at home had Galen Rupp been competing in London.
+ Attendance was solid throughout the 10 days of competition with a reported 700,000+ fans coming through the gates at London Stadium and plenty of reasons for “fresh hope” and excitement. By all accounts, the 2017 edition of the world championships was a rousing commercial success although the sport continues to be plagued by credibility—and general popularity—issues that extend far beyond this particular event. Plenty remain dubious, including yours truly, but IAAF chief Seb Coe seems to think things are on the right track and “that, when we get it right, this sport is unassailable.” So, naturally, the IAAF will host the next edition of these championships in the bustling track hotbed of…Doha.
+ It was track’s version of the Miracle on Ice, starring American steeplechasers Emma Coburn and Courtney Frerichs. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, “read this, because you likely missed one of the greatest races in running history.”
+ Hat tip to coach Jerry Schumacher and his Bowerman Track Club charges, who took three medals from these championships with them back to Beaverton—better than 27 countries in the overall medal count.
A version of this post first appeared in the morning shakeout, my weekly email newsletter covering running, writing, media and other topics that interest me. If you’d like for it to land in your inbox first thing on Tuesday mornings, subscribe here.