LOS ANGELES —The world's fastest short hurdlers took the track at UCLA's Drake Stadium, igniting a substantial crowd of 7,249 fans Saturday. Puerto Rico's Jasmine Camacho-Quinn defended her 2021 Olympic gold medal, taking the win in 12.31 seconds, the fastest time in the world this year.
It was a stacked field, which is rare for a non-championship U.S. meet. The Los Angeles Grand Prix initially boasted major headliners, many of whom didn't show.
That wasn't an issue in the women's 100-meter hurdles. Every athlete in the race boasted a top-11 time in the world before they toed the line, including Americans Tia Jones, Alaysha Johnson and Tonea Marshall.
"I didn't see the lineup until Thursday, it didn't bother me," Camacho-Quinn told Yahoo Sports. "There's no ducking over here, we line up."
It has become increasingly rare for elite athletes to compete in their signature events unless there are major championship implications. In some instances, that can be seen as "ducking smoke," or avoiding tough competition.
On Saturday, the top hurdlers embraced the heat. American Kendra Harrison, a 2021 Olympic silver medalist, took second place in 12.35 seconds. Nigeria's Tobi Ausman, the world record holder in the event, took eighth place in 12.69 seconds.
— NBC Olympics (@NBCOlympics) May 27, 2023
Camacho-Quinn's perspective seems to be the norm in her event group, and she hopes more people will appreciate that. Johnson, who finished third, tweeted that the 100-meter hurdles would be the "HOTTEST race of LA," before running her fastest time of the season in it.
After the competition, Harrison hugged Camacho-Quinn, who said she was excited about the stacked field.
“I just feel like we deserve more props, to be honest," Camacho-Quinn said. "You see the field that we had today. This isn’t even Diamond League and we’re lining up. We know we’re going to push each other."
Camacho-Quinn notched a win at Diamond League in Qatar earlier this month, an annual series of what is said to be the most prestigious 15 invitationals in track and field. There, she raced against some of the same elite hurdlers she faced Saturday.
“We know for our event, it’s repetition and rhythm, we have to run against other fast athletes to study each other and see what we need to do in the race," Camacho-Quinn said.
Sha'Carri Richardson temporarily sets stadium record in prelims, but pulls out of final
The women's 100-meter hurdle race was a big draw for fans in Los Angeles, who also watched superstar sprinter Sha'Carri Richardson run a stadium record of 10.90 in the 100-meter dash prelims.
Richardson boasts the world leading time in the event this season. She was set to go head-to-head against Marie-Josée Ta Lou, who holds the second-best time of 2023. The Ivorian sprinter ran a stadium record in her heat of the prelims Saturday, running 10.88 seconds to beat Richardson's short-lived stadium record.
Neither of them raced in the final. NBC's broadcast reported Richardson had cramps after her preliminary race. Ta Lou tweeted that she also dealt with cramps, apologizing to fans. "My team and I didn’t want to take a risk," she wrote. U.S. runner Morolake Akinosun won the race with a 10.97.
Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone (400-meter hurdle world record holder), Athing Mu (Olympic 800-meter champion) and Michael Norman (400-meter world champion) were also slated to compete at the Los Angeles meet. None of them appeared, citing various health issues and injuries.
McLaughlin-Levrone irritated her hamstring biomechanics testing, her coach Bobby Kersee told the Orange County Register. She was slated to run the open 400 at the event, instead of her usual hurdles.
“I don’t have [Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone] where I need, where I want her to be at this time to perform at the level that she needs to,” Kersee said. “With Athing she’s doing well but she caught COVID a week or so ago and it obviously took her off her game.”
If McLaughlin-Levrone competed Saturday, she would have faced Dominican sprinter Marileidy Paulino. Paulino demolished the field, running a 400-meter world lead of 48.98 seconds. The next best finisher was nearly two seconds behind her. Paulino will be at Paris Diamond League, where McLaughlin-Levrone is set to run the 400, her first outdoor race of the season.
Norman was out due to knee pain and Benjamin has a sore quad, per both of their agents. While fans may have been let down by the absences, there are reasons some top athletes don't overextend themselves to take part in these types of races.
Why don't more elite athletes race head-to-head?
Michael Johnson, widely regarded as one of the greatest sprinters ever, is one of track and field’s most prominent voices in his retirement. He doesn't blame top athletes for selecting their races carefully.
“There isn’t very much money for these athletes to begin with. So, they have to go to where the money is, and the money is in the championships,” Johnson told Yahoo Sports. “There's no reason to go out there and run against your main rivals. You're focused on making the U.S. team. And if you're so fortunate to do that, then medaling, or winning at that championship [becomes the priority] because your contract is heavily structured and weighted towards success at those events.”
Since the LA Grand Prix wasn't a championship meet, prize money is likely an important factor when deciding whether to put your rank on the line and race. Two days before the meet, Richardson tweeted about increasing compensation when another athlete withdraws.
It’s sad we don’t know this answer
& when the prize money is significantly less than the same recycle athletes appearance fees are now! If meets are willing to spend the money already , why not add it to the PM when there are still great athletes competing? https://t.co/pNyis7NXQC
— Sha’Carri Richardson (@itskerrii) May 26, 2023
This season, especially, will be a long one, with US Championships in June and World Championships in Budapest in August. Athletes have even less room for injury risk this season, as the Paris Olympics are set for next summer.
The long-awaited Marcell Jacobs vs. Fred Kerley 100-meter rematch was likely impacted by this reality. The reigning world champion and the reigning Olympic champion both entered to compete at a Diamond League meet in Morocco on Sunday. It would have been their first race against each other since the 2021 Olympics, until Jacobs withdrew on Thursday, citing “nerve pain.”
If Jacobs recovers quickly, the two could still face off June 2 at The Golden Gala Pietro Mennea in Florence, Italy.
The head-to-head race will likely be worth the wait, something fans of the 100-meter hurdles didn't have to do. “We the hardest event out, I don’t care," Camacho-Quinn said, noting how special the level of competition has been.
Fans who had the opportunity to watch her race against top competition Saturday likely feel the same.