Finn O’Connell 6th, Michaela Keller-Miller 7th in Beer Mile World Classic as U.S. Sweeps Team Titles


Sometimes sportswriters have to work hard to craft a decent narrative around a given set of facts surrounding a race. And sometimes the athlete does most of the work for you.

Here are some key workouts that Finn O’Connell, a recently retired nordic skier formerly of the BSF Pro Team and U.S. Ski Team, posted on Strava leading up to last weekend’s 2023 Beer Mile World Classic on a private-school track in Chicago:

That’s 80-second quarters on May 28, with sub-5:20 feeling like a bridge too far. A 5:27 (beer) mile on June 8, and getting closer to the standard. As low as 67 seconds per lap on June 23, at altitude, though I would assume that there was no beer involved given those lap times.

So what happened on Saturday, when O’Connell toed the line alongside some of the best beer milers in the world, a 22-athlete-deep field boasting contestants from eight different countries? 5:06.17. Sixth in the world. From training to triumph, by means of four bottles of beer in quick succession. Interspersed with four laps around the track.

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The beer mile lies somewhere on the spectrum between frat boy antics and truly impressive athleticism, depending on one’s perspective. The rules, at least in broad strokes, are simple enough. As the first entry in the official rules on states:

“Each competitor drinks four cans or bottles of beer and runs four laps around a standard 400m running track (start with chugging a beer, then run a lap, then beer, then lap, then beer, then lap, then beer, then lap – finish).”

Additional rules explain, inter alia, the type of beer required (minimum 12-ounce containers, minimum 5% ABV), modifications to the can or bottle permitted (none), length of the allotted drinking zone (9 meters at the start of each lap), and amount of vomiting permitted (none; an additional 400m penalty lap is levied if this stricture is violated).

Yes, I know this literally makes it a beer 1,600 meters, not a beer mile. Details. The ur-beer mile appears to have been four laps around the track, and it stuck. Plus it was in Canada, so they would have gone 1,600 metres, anyway.

The frat bro take on all of this is that this is nothing more than drunken shenanigans taken too far. The athletics take is that the men’s world record for this event is, uh, 4:28.1 (Corey Bellemore, 2021 Beer Mile World Classic, Manchester). Assuming roughly seven seconds per beer, a standard time for the elite men’s field, that is literally a four-minute mile for the running portion of this event. With 48 ounces of carbonated beverage sloshing around in your stomach. A creative defense attorney can tell you that you won’t literally be drunk by the end of the race, since the alcohol won’t be absorbed yet, but I imagine that you wouldn’t feel that great, either.

(The allusion here to is the so-called “big gulp” defense, which refers to “the possibility that a motorist had hurriedly consumed a large quantity of an alcoholic beverage shortly before the police pulled the motorist over.” Valentine v. State, 155 P.3d 331, 349 n.1 (Alaska App. 2007) (Mannheimer, J., dissenting in part). The defense (or now more of a would-be defense after the Alaska Legislature sought to close this loophole), also known as “delayed absorption,” claims that a motorist had a BAC of under 0.08 at they time they were actually driving, and only blew above the limit when the official Datamaster test was later administered. See id. at 336. Although I am currently an inactive member of the Alaska Bar Association and this is not legal advice, I would firmly recommend that anyone competing in such an event get someone else to drive them home afterwards, since the alcohol will hit pretty darn soon after you finish. You should also of course not do this unless you are over the legal drinking age in the country in which the alcohol is consumed.)

You can watch a replay of Saturday’s final here:

The women’s race starts at roughly 1:35, and the men’s race at 1:57.

Notable in the women’s field is Michaela Keller-Miller, bib no. 13 based off her seed time. Keller-Miller currently trains and races with Craftsbury Green Racing Project in Craftsbury, Vermont, a world away from the hustle and bustle of Chicago Hope Academy. Keller-Miller may also have previously honed her beer-consumption skills while competing in undergrad for the University of Alaska Anchorage ski team. Her pre-race repartee on O’Connell’s public Strava page suggests that she did not find the beer-drinking portion of this competition to be a challenge to her.

Keller-Miller was pretty good at the running part, too. She split 1:48.17 for the first lap; the video is a little unclear on her drinking time off the start, but I unofficially calculate it in roughly the 15-second range. So that’s low-90s running time for lap one. 1:50.18 for lap two brought her through the half in 3:38, solidly in sixth overall. She faded slightly over the third lap (1:58.24) to fall into seventh, before closing in 81 seconds to finish in seventh. Keller-Miller’s final time was 6:58.23, substantially ahead of her seed time.

Michaela Keller-Miller (fourth from left, bib no. 13) on the starting line. (photo: screenshot from broadcast)

Much as in World Cup cross-country skiing, the American women’s team at this event was strong and deep. On the one hand, Keller-Miller was seventh overall in the world on Saturday. On the other hand, she was only the fifth-best American woman, as the home team put five athletes into the top seven. Keller-Miller was the top scoring athlete for Team U.S.A.’s B-Team; by my calculations, the B-Team finished second in women’s team scoring, behind only the Americans’ A-Team.

Elizabeth Laster won the women’s race in 6:03.75, coming in a substantial margin ahead of what had been the world record on Saturday morning, 6:16.50 by fellow American Allison Grace Morgan. But a somewhat infamous athlete running in an earlier, mixed-gender heat had by that point already notched the sport’s first sub-six women’s clocking. That race is discussed at the end of this article.

Turning to the men’s race: Corey Bellemore was the pre-race favorite for a reason.

The 28-year-old Canadian, who holds the beer mile world record and runs a 3:57 “normal” mile, was ahead of the field by midway through the first lap. He ran near-metronomic splits for laps one and two (1:07.34 and 1:07.92), slowed slightly over lap three (1:11.02), then closed in 64 seconds en route to a wire-to-wire victory in 4:30.80. All of those splits include seven-ish seconds at the start of the lap to open and consume 12 ounces of beer; Bellemore’s actual running time on Saturday was scarcely over four minutes flat. He raced while holding a bottle opener in his right hand like a small baton the entire way, eschewing the single-glove approach of many of his competitors.

But Bellemore did have only one shoe on. He was clipped from behind roughly 50 meters into the race, and ran the rest of the way with no spikes on his left foot. His foot was probably not happy; his sock sponsor probably was.

The chase pack frankly doesn’t get much air time in the broadcast, such was Bellemore’s dominance. O’Connell was in seventh at the halfway mark (2:42.62), roughly 1.8 seconds behind Jacob Simonsen of Denmark. O’Connell stayed strong over the race’s second half to post a large negative split of 2:23.56 for laps three and four. He finished in 5:06.17 for 1,600 meters, over two seconds clear of Simonsen for sixth overall.

O’Connell was the third and final scoring member on a deep U.S. squad; the home team put three athletes in the top six en route to claiming the team title. Team Great Britain was the runner-up in the team standings.

O’Connell trained with the Bridger Ski Foundation Pro Team through last winter, when he was also a member of the U.S. Ski Team. He may have previously honed his beer-drinking prowess while skiing for the University of Vermont, from which he graduated in 2020. Other notable instances of O’Connell publicly drinking beer include him sipping from Lord Stanley’s Cup in fall 2022.

Fellow EISA product Willson Moore (Middlebury ’23) clocked a 5:22.84 on Saturday to place 14th in the men’s championship final. I am unaware of any other nordic skiers in the field.

The festivities marked an “Epic weekend of racing that I never knew existed,” O’Connell wrote to Nordic Insights a few days after the championship. “But wow, was that fun.”

O’Connell recapped his race as follows: “I started with the slowest first beer I have ever done. I was last off the line unfortunately. However I was able to run up into the top 10 coming into the second beer. I then got into my element and got the next three beers down. Chris Robertson, the best American and organizer of the weekend told me, ‘You just have to know you are going to hold your breath for a few seconds. You will be fine.’ I normally would take a few deep breaths wasting time before chugging the beer. I then felt good on the run and was able to come away in 6th! I was very content. I know a sub 5 is possible for me!!”

The athlete was also asked about his training, and whether he focused more on running, efficient beer drinking, or a combination of the two. Here’s O’Connell again:

“For training, I did one about once per week leading up to it. Also when I knew I was in the championship heat, I did a few specific track intervals! No drinking practice, haha, I know I can open my throat and get a beer down quick. In high school I ran a 4:42 mile, so I would like to think I could do a sub-4:30 mile right now.”

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Embed from Getty Images

Awkwardly, the day’s fastest women’s time came out of not the championship heat, but rather the earlier Legends & Elites Race. Why was such a fast athlete consigned to something other than the championship race? Because the athlete in question, Shelby Houlihan, is currently roughly halfway through a four-year suspension after testing positive for nandrolone, an anabolic steroid. Houlihan blamed the positive test, which was announced during the 2021 Olympic Trials, on her consumption of pork offal from a Portland-area burrito truck in December 2020; her suspension was ultimately upheld by first the Court of Arbitration for Sport and then the Swiss Federal Tribunal.

In Chicago on Saturday, Houlihan clocked a 5:43.81 to become the first woman ever to go under six minutes in the event, shattering the world record in the process. Event organizers wrote after the fact that Houlihan’s mark counted as a world record for them because there was no drug testing in their event:

“The official beer mile rules have never required athletes to test in order to have their results ratified,” they wrote. “For over 25 years, has relied on video evidence alone to prove legitimacy of a beer mile result and have it marked as ‘Official’ in the database. Thus, Houlihan’s time was world record eligible as she followed all rules outlined. Houlihan did not violate any rules regarding her ban and got pre-approvals ahead of the event by the required governing bodies.”

It is unclear what governing bodies have authority over the Beer Mile World Classic. The race was not sanctioned by either USATF or World Athletics.


— Gavin Kentch


  1. I’m the co-founder of the Beer Mile World Classic and meet director for the elite sections. It was awesome having Finn, Wilson and Michaela. Our athletes from a variety of backgrounds including running, orienteering, swimming and triathlon. I hope to see more Nordic athletes decide to race the beer mile. Hopefully, this article inpires more athletes to give it a try.

    For the record, we don’t fall under any governing bodies. We are working to come up with a policy for athletes competing under other federation’s drug bans.

    • Hey Nick – thanks for these thoughts and clarification here, and thanks for reading. (I know that everyone says that, but I truly mean it. This is very much a one-man operation here, and pretty much a labor of love, so I read every comment and personally do appreciate your reading. Thanks.)

      My comment about the governing bodies, fwiw, is just because the website says that Houlihan “got pre-approvals ahead of the event by the required governing bodies.” I’m in no way trying to be dickish or to play gotcha when I write this, just that’s why I put that line in there.

      I know far less about NGBs and sports jurisdiction for running than for skiing, but I would be surprised if the beer mile is subject to much oversight in a sanctioning or hierarchy sense. Don’t get me wrong, it looks like an awesome event and I was super engrossed watching it, but I was definitely assuming that it falls outside the purview of World Athletics.

      Finally, I should congratulate you on a livestream that is imho better and more accessible than what USATF has put together for this year’s U.S. Nationals. Thanks for that.

      — Gavin.

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