By Jonathan Gault
March 16, 2022
The 2022 World Athletics Indoor Championships open in Belgrade, Serbia, on Friday — the first time in four years that this particular championship will be held. There’s plenty to be excited about. Twelve Olympic champions from Tokyo will be in action at Stark Arena, including Jakob Ingebrigtsen, Marcell Jacobs, Mondo Duplantis, and Selemon Barega. A bunch of other stars will be there too — Grant Holloway, Keely Hodgkinson, even Donavan Brazier making a cameo on the 4×400. It’s going to be fun, and LetsRun.com will have boots-on-the-ground coverage from Serbia starting Thursday, with daily video shows after each night of action (those shows will also be released as podcasts for LetsRun.com Supporters Club members).
To get you set for the meet, we’re previewing everything. My boss Robert Johnson has written two comprehensive mid-d/distance previews, so the distance junkies can check those out here: men & women. This article is more of a viewing guide. When are the best events and biggest stars competing? I’ll walk you through it and point out a few things to watch for.
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I’ve separated the first set of events into groups united by a common theme. Then at the end, I’ve listed my top seven events of the championships. Let’s get to it.
*Schedule, entries, & results *TV/streaming information
One Overwhelming Superstar
Men’s shot put (final Saturday, 2:40 p.m. ET)
Women’s triple jump (final Sunday, 6:00 a.m. ET)
Men’s 1500 (prelims Saturday, 7:15 a.m. ET; final Sunday, 1:35 p.m. ET)
Men’s 60 hurdles (prelims Sunday, 5:05 a.m. ET; semis Sunday, 2:05 p.m. ET; final Sunday, 2:30 p.m. ET)
You don’t need me to tell you who’s going to win these events. Ryan Crouser, Yulimar Rojas, Jakob Ingebrigtsen, and Grant Holloway all hold the world records in their respective events and head to Belgrade as overwhelming favorites. If you’re tuning in to watch them this weekend, you’re watching for two reasons: to see an absolute master at work, and to see if they can break the world record again. (If I were to list them in order of least to most likely to break the WR, I’d go Ingebrigtsen, Holloway, Crouser, Rojas).
With six attempts, Crouser and Rojas are as close to 100% locks as you will get in a global championship. The only thing that could derail Holloway is a false start, and he’s never had one in 47 career 60m hurdle races. That leaves Ingebrigtsen as the “most” likely to lose, and while I’d still put his odds at victory at well north of 80%, I see two ways he could leave Belgrade without a gold medal.
The first scenario is if Ingebrigtsen lets the race go slow. Ingebrigtsen hasn’t done a whole lot of losing in recent years, but two of his most high-profile defeats came in slower races: the 2018 World U20 1500 final (winning time: 3:41) and the 2019 Euro Indoor 1500 final (winning time: 3:43). To be fair to Ingebrigtsen, the latter defeat came when he was 18 years old to a guy who wound up medalling at Worlds later that year (Marcin Lewandowski). But Ingebrigtsen had beaten Lewandowski at Euro Outdoors seven months earlier — where the winning time was 3:38. Considering Ingebrigtsen showed no issue blasting a 3:30 indoor world record in Lievin last month, I’d be surprised if he lets things go slow in Belgrade. But if he does, he might be vulnerable.
The other scenario is if Ingebrigtsen gets DQ’d. We’ve seen before that officials at this meet can be sticklers for DQs, and Ingebrigtsen has a history of putting himself in dangerous positions in his qualifying heats — at the 2019 Worlds, he was DQ’d for stepping inside the rail but was bailed out by the officials. Two years later at Euro Indoors, the same thing happened. But if Ingebrigtsen keeps it fast and avoids stepping inside the rail, it’s hard to see him losing this event.
The current world records, which you should keep an eye on this weekend: 22.82m in the shot by Crouser (set in 2021), 7.29 in the 60 hurdles by Holloway (2021), 15.43m in the triple jump by Rojas (2020), and 3:30.60 in the 1500 by Ingebrigtsen (2022)
One Event I’m Curious About
Men’s 4×400 relay (prelims Sunday 6:35 a.m. ET; final Sunday 2:55 p.m. ET)
I’d have loved to have seen Donavan Brazier run the individual 400 in Belgrade — which he qualified for after an insane 24 hours at the US championships — but he elected to give up his spot in order to focus on the 4×400 relay.
“It’s a tight schedule and making the relay was his priority all along,” his coach Pete Julian said in a text to LetsRun.com. “If he were to run the open 400s, that would be a lot of races in a short time frame — for someone who is not accustomed to it.”
(If you’re curious, the 400 prelims are Friday at 11:00 a.m. local, the semis are Friday at 7:10 p.m., and the final is Saturday at 8:10 p.m.; the 4×400 prelims are Sunday at 11:35 a.m. and the final is at 7:55 p.m.)
Still, if you stick Donavan Brazier on a 4×400, I’m going to watch it. Not just because I want to see how fast he runs, but because the US has some national pride to restore. After winning this event at six straight World Indoor Championships, the Americans were stunned by Poland in a memorable race in Birmingham four years ago.
Regaining the title won’t be easy. While the US has six of the seven fastest men in the world this year, none of the six will be running World Indoors (the top five Americans are all in the NCAA system right now). Neither will any of the finalists from last year’s US Olympic Trials. When you look at season’s bests, the 4×400 could be a very close race between the US, Spain, and the Netherlands:
USA potential legs: Trevor Bassitt (45.75 sb), Donavan Brazier (46.14), Marqueze Washington (46.15), Noah Williams (46.44) — 3:04.48
Spain potential legs: Manuel Guijarro (46.02 sb), Bruno Hortelano-Roig (46.02), Inaki Canal (46.23), Bernat Erta (46.23) — 3:04.50
Netherlands potential legs: Liemarvin Bonevacia (45.48 sb), Isayah Boers (46.21), Terrence Agard (46.41), Nick Smidt (46.43) — 3:04.53
This is the final event of the entire meet, and it should be a great one.
Can an American medal?
Women’s 3000 (straight final Friday, 3:30 p.m. ET)
Men’s 800 (prelims Friday, 8:00 a.m. ET; final Saturday, 2:10 p.m. ET)
Women’s 1500 (prelims Friday, 7:30 a.m. ET; final Saturday, 3:35 p.m. ET)
These events are all slightly different, but the common theme is that Americans have medal shots in each of them. The men’s 800 is totally wide open, and Bryce Hoppel has as good a shot as anyone to medal. Of course, with 26 men in the field and just six advancing to the final, it’s also possible Hoppel could go home after just one race. But the 24-year-old Hoppel has proven to be a strong championship racer indoors, winning the NCAA title in 2019 and US titles in 2020 and 2022. He’ll be in the mix in a field that also features Brit Elliot Giles (#2 all-time in this event indoors at 1:43.63), Spaniard Mariano Garcia (the world leader at 1:45.12 who beat Hoppel at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix), Collins Kipruto of Kenya (1:43 last year outdoors) and Canada’s Marco Arop (two Diamond League wins last year). The other American, Isaiah Harris, is a longer shot to medal, but 50% of the finalists will win a medal, and it wouldn’t be a shock to see Harris in the final.
The women’s 1500 could also go in the “One Overwhelming Superstar” category as world record holder Gudaf Tsegay, has run 3:54.77 this year, over seven seconds faster than anyone else in the world. She loves to run from the front and it would be a shock if she didn’t drop everyone and win this race handily. The other medals, however, are very much up for grabs. The other two Ethiopians, Axumawit Embaye (4:02.12 sb) and Hirut Meshesha (4:02.14 sb), have the #2 and #3 times in the field this year, but American Josette Norris (whose 4:03.16 sb is actually an en-route split from her 4:20.81 mile at Millrose) is #4 and, in case you forgot, finished 3rd in the Diamond League final last year behind only Faith Kipyegon and Sifan Hassan, neither of whom are running here. Norris can absolutely medal, and considering she was narrowly beaten at USAs by Heather MacLean, the transitive property tells us MacLean is capable of medalling as well. A US medal would be historic as the only American woman to medal in the 1500 at World Indoors is doper Regina Jacobs.
Purrier St. Pierre & Norris went 1-2 at Millrose (Phil Bond photo)
The 3000 is a similar story. As in the 1500, Ethiopia has three entries thanks to winning last year’s World Indoor Tour, and those three are the only women in the field with personal bests under 8:30 (Dawit Seyaum 8:23.24, Ejgayehu Taye 8:26.77, Lemlem Hailu 8:29.28). It may be in their interest to push the pace in this one as Canada’s Gabriela DeBues-Stafford and the US’s Elle Purrier St. Pierre have both shown elite closing speed this year — GDS ran her last lap in 29.04 to win the NBIGP in 8:33, while PSP clocked 28.88 for her last 200 in a slightly slower race at USAs (8:41 winning time). The fact that GDS has run 14:31 this year indoors suggests she’ll be difficult to drop no matter the pace, so she’s a strong medal bet here and could win the whole thing. The other American, Alicia Monson, doesn’t have much of a medal shot — she doesn’t have a monster kick like GDS or PSP, but she also wasn’t strong enough to drop PSP at USAs.
Just for fun, I ranked the American mid-d/distance runners in Belgrade from least to most likely to medal. Keep in mind, this is based both on the ability of the runner in question and the quality of the field at Worlds.
11. Dillon Maggard, men’s 3000
10. Sam Prakel, men’s 1500
9. Alicia Monson, women’s 3000
8. Josh Thompson, men’s 1500
7. Olivia Baker, women’s 800
6. Isaiah Harris, men’s 800
5. Elle Purrier St. Pierre, women’s 3000
4. Josette Norris, women’s 1500
3. Heather MacLean, women’s 1500
2. Bryce Hoppel, men’s 800
1. Ajee’ Wilson, women’s 800
The Seven Best Events of World Indoors
Many of the events above are worth watching — I’m certainly going to be paying attention when Jakob Ingebrigtsen and Grant Holloway are on the track — but in terms of head-to-head competition or major storylines, these are the seven best events of the meet.
7. Women’s pole vault (Saturday, 1:05 p.m. ET)
For much of the last six years, Sandi Morris was the USA’s best female pole vaulter. She was the US champ outdoors in 2017, 2018, and 2019 and won a whole bunch of global medals: silvers at the Olympics in 2016 and World Outdoors in 2017 and 2019 and gold at World Indoors in 2018. But last year, she was only third at the Olympic Trials and didn’t make the Olympic final after getting injured in Tokyo. At the end of the year, she switched coaches to Brad Walker…who just happens to coach Morris’ top competitor, reigning US and Olympic champion Katie Nageotte. So far in 2022, Morris is 2-0 against her new training partner, including a win at USAs. With world leader and reigning World Outdoor champion Anzhelika Sidorova banned from competing after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, expect Morris and Nageotte to battle it out for gold along with Slovenia’s Tina Sutej (whose 4.80m sb is tied with Morris and Nageotte for tops in the field).
6. Women’s long jump (Sunday, 12:30 p.m. ET)
This event wasn’t on my radar until my friend/ace Irish journalist Cathal Dennehy reminded me that Serbia’s Ivana Vuleta (formerly Spanovic) is in the field. Vuleta is the defending champion, and with Germany’s Olympic champion Malaika Mihambo skipping the meet, Vuleta also has the best jump of anyone in the field this year (6.88m). Dennehy says Stark Arena was rocking in 2017 when Vuleta won European indoor gold, and as Serbia’s best shot at a gold medal at these champs, the crowd should really get behind her this weekend as well.
5. Womens’ 400 (prelims Friday, 6:45 a.m. ET; semis Friday, 1:35 p.m. ET; final Saturday, 2:50 p.m. ET)
Shaunae Miller-Uibo last ran World Indoors as a 20-year-old in 2014 when she took bronze in the 400. After that, it took seven years for Miller-Uibo to run her next indoor 400, a 50.21 win in Staten Island last year. She hasn’t run another since — her prelim on Friday will be her first race over any distance since the Olympic final — but considering Miller-Uibo is the back-to-back Olympic champ and her time in that Olympic final was 48.36 (a pb and #6 all-time), she has to be the favorite here.
Miller-Uibo is not a total slam dunk, however. Dutch star Femke Bol, the 400 hurdles bronze medalist in Tokyo, has been in fine form this winter, and her 50.30 at the Dutch champs was the second-fastest time of the last 15 years (second behind — you guessed it — Miller-Uibo’s 50.21 last year). If Miller-Uibo gets to the lead at the bell and is able to stretch out her long limbs, this one is probably over, but if Miller-Uibo is rusty or Bol can force her to run extra distance, things could get very interesting.
4. Women’s 800 (prelims Saturday, 6:40 a.m. ET; final Sunday, 1:05 p.m. ET)
The most likely scenario here is that this race serves as a coronation for Great Britain’s Keely Hodgkinson. Last year as a 19-year-old, she won the Euro indoor title and ran a British record of 1:55.88 to take Olympic silver in Tokyo. This year, she opened up her season by running 1:57.20 in Birmingham on February 19 — the fastest time in the world since March 3, 2002, also known as the day Keely Hodgkinson was born. With no Athing Mu in the field, Hodgkinson has a golden opportunity to win her first global title.
You’ve gotta feel a bit bad for Ajee’ Wilson though. Had the current hyperandrogenism rules been in effect, she would have been the World Indoor champion in 2016 and 2018 (instead, she settled for silver behind Francine Niyonsaba each time), and just when it seems like it could be Wilson’s time, a new monster talent like Hodgkinson arrives on the scene (make that two, with Athing Mu who isn’t running World Indoors). After a disappointing 2021 (by her high standards), Wilson has gone undefeated so far in 2022, and though she has controlled her races from the front in vintage Wilson fashion, she has yet to run faster than 2:01. The Wilson of 2017/2018 would be competitive with Hodgkinson. Can the Wilson of 2022 — who is still only 27 — get back to that level?
3. Men’s 3000 (prelims Friday, 8:30 a.m. ET; final Sunday, 7:05 a.m. ET)
In the first 17 editions of the World Indoor Championships, no country has ever swept the podium in an event, men’s or women’s. For a long time, it was impossible — countries were limited to just two entries per event — but with the advent of wild cards from the World Indoor Tour, it is now at least theoretically possible.
It’s still not likely that it will happen in the men’s 3000, but the pieces are in place for an Ethiopian sweep. Olympic 10k champ Selemon Barega, the reigning silver medalist from 2018, is back. Lamecha Girma, the Olympic and world steeple silver medalist who has been stride-for-stride with Barega this season, is running as well. And the Ethiopian squad is rounded out by Berihu Aregawi, the world leader and 5th-fastest man in history at 7:26.20 (Barega’s 7:26.10 pb from last year puts him 3rd on the all-time list, while Girma is 7th at 7:27.98).
With no one else in the field under 7:30, the Ethiopians could conceivably work together to hoard the medals (though Spain’s Adel Mechaal has run 7:30 this year). But Barega and Girma are also dangerous in a kick — recall that Barega used a big kick to win the Olympic 10k last year while Girma closed in 25.8 (in a 7:30 race) to win in Lievin in February. Mechaal, Kenya’s Jacob Krop (7:31 sb), big-kicking Kiwi Geordie Beamish (who beat Cooper Teare & Cole Hocker at Millrose), and Marc Scott, who ran a British indoor 5k record of 12:57 last month in Boston, are the top contenders to break up the Ethiopian podium party.
2. Men’s pole vault (final Sunday, 12:17 p.m. ET)
Let me take you back to Austin, Tex., in 2019. Mondo Duplantis was a freshman phenom at LSU, the NCAA indoor champion who had cleared 6.00 meters at SECs to break a 23-year-old collegiate record. Chris Nilsen, the reigning NCAA champion for South Dakota, had won all eight of his meets that season but entered NCAAs as a decided underdog. But Duplantis missed his first attempt at 5.90 and Nilsen made his — a pb at the time. On his next attempt, at 5.95 Nilsen scored another pb, and when Duplantis missed both attempts at 5.95, Nilsen had scored the upset. For the second year in a row, he was the NCAA champion.
I bring that up as a reminder that anything can happen in a championship meet, even though Duplantis is jumping better than anyone in history right now. His season results page is a thing of beauty: 6.02 in his season opener in Karlsruhe, then 6.03, 6.04, and 6.05, gradually pushing his world lead upward until his most recent competition, a 6.19 world record on the same Belgrade runway he’ll use at Worlds.
Meanwhile, his old college rival Nilsen is in the form of his life right now as well, clearing 5.91 or better in six of his eight competitions this year, including American records of 6.02 and 6.05 on February 4 and March 5. Duplantis remains the heavy favorite, but it only takes one miss to make things interesting…
1. Men’s 60 (prelims Saturday, 5:45 a.m. ET; semis Saturday, 1:40 p.m. ET; final Saturday, 4:20 p.m. ET)
I already wrote an entire article explaining why this is the race of the championships, so if you want to know more about it, read that. TL DR: The Olympic 100 champ vs the World 100 champ in the race we didn’t get to see in Tokyo. It’s gonna be good.