Trends & Features

Could the 400m be the greatest race of all time?

The interest in women’s sport has grown immensely in the past year, highlighted by the Women’s Sport Trust, who found that the average viewer spent watching women’s sport in 2022 was more than double the 2021 figure. This increased engagement will continue to rise, aligned with the investment, but the governing bodies of the respective sports must be held to account when it comes to ensuring the competition at the highest level remains a frequent spectacle for sports fans. This is particularly the case when it comes to World Athletics, where seeing the top athletes racing against each other is all too rare.

The Olympic Games is the pinnacle for an athlete in World Athletics; over 10,000 athletes from countries all over the world competing for more than 40 track and field events. It attracts incredible, worldwide interest from people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities culminating in the best competing against the best – how sport should be, just not every four years.

While the coming together of the best athletes competing against each other gives the Olympic Games its ‘aura’, the fans deserve regular, high-level competition which would spark debates over who might win and build momentum towards an even more eagerly anticipated Olympic Games.
If you take into account the 400 metre women’s landscape for example, I personally believe this race has the potential to be one of the most stacked events in Track & Field history, but with the exception of the Olympic Games and perhaps the World Championships, we very rarely get the opportunity to see the best taking on the best.

Bahamian superstar Shaunae Miller-Uibo has dominated the event of late; a two-time Olympic Champion having won the women’s 400 metres at the Rio Olympics in 2016 and again at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Having just announced her pregnancy, Miller-Uibo will now be away from the sport for a period but it’s the fresh crop of rising stars behind Shaunae that make this event so captivating. Marileidy Paulino is often seen running in Miller-Uibo’s shadows, taking the silver medal in both the Olympics in 2020 and the World Championships in Oregon last year. However, in last year’s Diamond League finals Paulino won the 400m in a world leading time of 48.99, sending out a defiant message to her rivals with the exception Miller-Uibo, who instead chose not to compete.

Adding to the list of 400m superstars is Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone, who last year won World Athletics Female Athlete of the Year. McLaughlin-Levrone has ruled the 400m hurdles breaking the World Record four times in two years and currently holds six of the seven fastest times on the all-time list. Transferring to the flat and winning there could be legacy defining, but the limited opportunities in the calendar prevent her from doing that.

Another 400m hurdles specialist, Femke Bol, is in incredible form. Having won bronze at the last Olympics, Bol won European Rising Star Athlete of the Year in 2021 and followed it up by winning the gold hat-trick at the European Championships in Munich, becoming the first female sprinter to win both the 400m flat and hurdle race in a major championship. In 2023, she’s built her credibility up even more and put the world on notice, running 49.26 indoors earlier this year and breaking the oldest standing World Record in track and field.

Sada Williams is another contender, winning Commonwealth Gold last year albeit in a slightly weaker field without the names mentioned above, while second in that race was Victoria Ohuruogo, arguably Britain’s best hope and sister of former Olympic 400m champion Christine Ohuruogo.

When it comes to sprint events, we know the Jamaicans are always stacked with talent – 21 medals from 48 athletics athletes at the Tokyo Olympics indicates an impressive success rate. Native’s Candice McLeod and Stephenie Ann McPherson were beaten finalists in both the recent Olympics Games and World Championships but on their day they shouldn’t be discounted to improve their positions in future meets.

When it comes to the American contenders, 800 metre World and Olympic Champion Athing Mu is another athlete that could be tempted to switch to the 400, having won gold for the US relay team in the Olympics. Abby Steiner, who is predominantly a 200m runner has also ran an incredibly quick sub 49-minute relay split last year at the NCAA Track and Field Championships to put her name into contention.

It is clear the event is stacked with talent and it is the young crop of athletes that make this event even more unpredictable and thrilling than ever. However, World Athletics does not have a system in place that makes events mandatory which could have a long-term impact on the way fans engage with the sport. Personally, this is what I would love to see at the start line racing regularly aside from the World Championships and Olympics Games.

1. Marileidy Paulino
2. Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone
3. Femke Bol
4. Sada Williams
5. Athing Mu
6. Abby Steiner
7. Stephenie Ann McPherson
8. Shaunae Miller-Uibo (when she returns)

Could the 400m be the greatest race of all time?
Tom Inskip, the Head of Sport and Fitness at The PHA Group

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