Weekend's Best: Should Gabby Thomas Move Up To The 400m; Joe Kovacs' Dad Strength + Issam Asinga Breaks Noah Lyles Record
Rounding up the best performances in the track and field world from this past weekend.
It took a few days, but I have finally dried off from this weekend’s rain-soaked Penn Relays. Despite the weather conditions, we enjoyed some thrilling races including the Providence women shocking the oddsmakers with a big 4x1500m win, Villanova doing its Penn Relays Villanova thing, and Stanford backing up their NCAA indoor title with a women’s DMR championship.
However, perhaps the most impressive performances of the weekend came from around the globe…
To continue reading the newsletter and all of our year-round track and field and running coverage, subscribe here + tell your friends.
Editor’s Note: CITIUS MAG is currently undergoing a new website re-design that should be finalized in the coming weeks. We’ve been working on this for months with a brand and digital design team. I’m so excited for you all to see it soon. In the meantime, keep your eyes glued to this newsletter as we’ll keep the news coming to your inboxes both before and after the rollout.
Gabby Thomas Goes 49.68 For 400m
Is it time to start considering 200m Olympic bronze medalist Gabby Thomas as a potential medal threat in the 400 meters? The United States has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to talent in the long sprints, but somehow we failed to get anyone in last year’s World Championship final. That seems unlikely to happen again any time soon. Thomas took us by surprise when she clocked a 49.68 personal best (the previous was 51.59 from 2021) at a low-key Texas home meet in Austin. That’s the second-fastest outdoor performance of the year in the event behind Britton Wilson’s 49.51. I wish she ran the event more often! That’s only the third time she’s done it outdoors as a pro.
She played it casual on Twitter when she shared the video and wrote: “I wanted to see where my fitness was before we head into the Diamond League season.” But with the global and U.S. fields the way they are, I wonder if it’s time to consider the 400m as a specialty event later in the year or for 2024.
The 200m in 2023: We were left with a ‘What if’ situation with last year’s World Championships and Thomas because she was coming back from a hamstring injury at the U.S. Championships and didn’t qualify individually. But the 200m competition seems to have leveled up since Tokyo. We had a whole different podium from the Olympics as Shericka Jackson clocked the second-fastest time ever with a 21.45 to win gold, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce took silver and Dina Asher-Smith earned a bronze. Olympic champion Elaine Thompson-Herah finished back in 7th and Olympic silver medalist Christine Mboma was out due to injury. And that’s not counting NCAA stars Favour Ofili, Julien Alfred, and Abby Steiner as they begin to move from the collegiate circuit to the pros. So it’s not just a matter of getting back to 2021 form - she may have to improve even more to return to the podium.
The 400m in 2023: Kyle Merber recently wrote about how wide open the 400m feels right now. World champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo just had a baby so it’s unlikely we see her defend her title. Last year, there were eight other women who broke 50 seconds. Wilson and Thomas were not among them. Thomas’s time would’ve been No. 4 in the world last year and fast enough to win bronze at Worlds. If she can get stronger to handle three rounds of the 400m, she could follow down Allyson Felix’s path of a talented 200m runner successfully taking on the full lap.
Mykolas Alekna Breaks NCAA Discus Record
I mentioned Alekna on the podcast a few weeks ago when I said there could be more fanfare over him but the discus sadly isn’t the biggest draw. At 20 years old, he moved up from No. 33 on the all-time discus list to No. 18 with a 71.00m haul - a 1.19m improvement over his previous best. Alekna, who is Lithuanian and competes for UC Berkeley, became the youngest person in history to throw farther than 70m. He’s still got some work to do to catch his father, Virgilijus Alekna, who is No. 2 on the all-time list with a personal best of 73.88m and has two Olympic gold medals.
Joe Kovacs Launches A World-Leading 22.69m Throw
It was raining cats and dogs in Des Moines, where Ryan Crouser won the Drake Relays in 22.38m in a throwing puddle, I mean circle. Joe Kovacs decided to stay closer to home – where he’s now got baby twins to take care of – and won the Music City Challenge in Nashville with a world-leading 22.69m toss. That’s a Dad PB for him. I’m super curious about this foul that reportedly went over 23m. He’s developing quite a history of these crazy warmups and fouls. One of these days, it’s bound to start showing up in the results.
Who is Muzala Samukonga?
Zambia is looking for its first medal at the World Athletics Championships for the first time since 1995 and 20-year-old Muzala Samukonga has emerged as their great hope. He broke out last year with a Commonwealth Games gold medal and backed it up with a world-leading 43.91 for 400m at the Botswana Golden Grand Prix. He didn’t just run fast in an exhibition, either – he beat 2012 Olympic gold medalist Kirani James and 2017 World Championship gold medalist Isaac Makwala. Last year, he only made it to the semifinals at Worlds but that was clearly just the start of his global championship experience. Keep an eye out for him on the circuit this year.
Issam Asinga Breaks Noah Lyles’ 200m High School Record
The U.S. high school 200m record went down this weekend – according to some people. (I count this one!)
Montverde Academy senior Issam Asinga went 19.97s at a meet at Texas Tech on Saturday afternoon to break Noah Lyles’s 20.09s record from the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials. However, some were quick to note that Erriyon Knighton was still in high school when he ran 19.49 last year, but was competing as a professional. The record books don’t count his marks from his junior and senior year toward the high school lists. So Asinga becomes the first-ever boy to stay in high school and run under 20 seconds, which received some praise from Lyles on Twitter.
“Yo I’m so happy to see this,” Lyles wrote. “This is the first HS that stayed in HS to run sub 20. I knew he would do it and I’m just glad that I’m here to see it. Congratulations again!”
A contributor was able to catch up with him in Lubbock after his race:
Congrats to Christ School senior Rocky Hansen on becoming the 18th U.S. high school boy to break four minutes for the mile with a 3:59.56 at the Virginia High Performance meet on Sunday afternoon. Our very own Gary Martin was there to film the race and get an interview with him afterward. He also filmed the race!
Coming up this week…
The 2023 Diamond League circuit gets underway in Doha on Friday. Stars expected to compete include Fred Kerley in the 200m, Jasmine Camacho-Quinn in the 100m hurdles, Neeraj Chopra in the javelin, Timothy Cheruiyot vs. Selemon Barega vs. Berihu Aregawi vs. Lamecha Girma vs. Soufiane El Bakkali in the 3000m and Shericka Jackson vs. Sha’Carri Richardson in the 100m. Full entries and a schedule here. You can watch the meet at 11 a.m. ET on Peacock or the Wanda Diamond League YouTube page with a VPN.
We will be at Track Fest in Los Angeles on Friday and Saturday. Expect a CITIUS MAG pre-race show on Friday where we break down the key matchups and bring you some interviews from the track. On Saturday from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m. ET, the races will be streamed by Tracklnd for $5.99 with $4 of the ticket price being evenly split across the top men’s and women’s heats in Tracklnd’s athlete revenue sharing program. You can find the schedule, results and ticketing information here.
Did I miss anything? Email me and let me know. If you’ve got comments or thoughts, feel free to share them with me.
🙏 Chris Chavez (@ChrisChavez)