Zuzana Henjova, photo by PhotoRun.net
October 13, 2013
With the curtain having come down on the 2013 track & field season and our attention being redirected to the fall cross country and road racing action, now is a good time to begin thinking about year-end accolades for the world’s very best performers on the track and in the field. Which two athletes – one male and one female – should be recognized as the 2013 track & field athletes of the year? With a chivalrous nod to the ladies, let’s consider the women this week with an analysis of the men coming later this month. Some might consider such deliberation in October to border on gun-jumping, but all the 2013 track & field performances are in the book and it is helpful to begin deliberations now before memories of the year’s top performers and their season-long body of work begin to fade.
Determining the year’s top performer is a subjective process, to be sure. But over the years, generally recognized criteria have emerged that can help guide us along. Most agree that three metrics – (i) honors won; (ii) won-loss record in head-to-head competition; and (iii) progression of marks – can comprise the compass that will point us to the most deserving athlete to be so recognized.
The inherent subjectivity of the evaluation process can often create an unsettling lack of certainty about the ultimate AOY selection. But that subjectivity can also add an element of playful advocacy to the process. Hey, persuasive analysts who reach differing AOY conclusions can both appear to be correct. It’s all about how you make your case.
In an Olympic year or a championship year – as is the case in 2013 – it is nearly mandatory that an AOY hopeful have captured the year’s biggest prize. And while it has been possible for an athlete who failed to win the year’s most significant championship to gain a #1 world ranking in that particular event. [e.g. Morgan Uceny / women’s 1500 / 2011], it is difficult to imagine a scenario in which a track & field athlete who didn’t attain that gold medal could wrest the AOY crown away from every other athlete who did.
In reality, it’s not enough without more for the top contenders for AOY to have won the world championship and posted the world leading mark. In 2013, a female athlete did just that in eleven different events. Clearly, even with a global title and the world’s leading mark, an athlete must have a 2013 resume which displays something more to make a compelling case for AOY consideration.
Here are five who did:
Brittney Reese. The American long jumper’s year was highlighted with a world-leading PR jump of 7.25m [23’9Â¼”] and her third consecutive world championship. Reese’s Diamond League appearances were infrequent and spotty – she won two of three DL LJ competitions, losing to Blessing Okagbare in Lausanne, and finishing 3rd in the DL LJ standings. This untamed athlete exudes so much potential, but her maddening lack of consistency prompts many to wonder what she could do with a more disciplined and focused approach to the sport. Reese had an impressive year to be sure, but the 2013 performances of a few others were superior.
Meseret Defar. The Ethiopian distance star posted another spectacular year. She captured the world 5000 title – her second WC 5000 gold – with a workmanlike Moscow performance which saw her easily vanquish the field with 59.82 final 400. Defar also won the Diamond League 5000 title by winning all 4 of her DL competitions. Curiously, Defar did not have the year’s world-leading performance in the 5000 – a distinction grabbed by her countrywoman Tirunesh Dibaba. Defar more than evened the score with her longtime nemesis – not only by posting a WL 10,000 time of 30:08.06 in the event in which Dibaba captured the world title, but also by bettering Dibaba in a much-ballyhooed 5000 showdown in Zurich. As has been her trademark, in 2013 Defar was at her best when it counted the most.
Valerie Adams. The New Zealand shot putter – honored by many as last year’s AOY – put together a 2013 season that is every bit as impressive as her AOY performance in 2012. Unlike Reese and Defar, Adams didn’t merely best her competitors; she totally dominated the shot put. Her undefeated season featured not only her world championship victory but also 4 clear wins in each of her Diamond League competitions which earned her the DL crown. The Kiwi field star easily posted the year’s world-leading shot put mark with a heave of 20.90m [68’6Â¾”] – over a foot and half farther than her next nearest 2013 competitor. In fact, Adams had six throws better than anyone else in 2013. Yet another year of total shot put domination makes a compelling AOY case for this champion.
Zuzana Hejnova. As did Adams, Hejnova put together a blemish-free year of total domination in her event. The Czech 400 meter hurdles star turned in a break through, undefeated season which was showcased by her Diamond League title – victories in each of the 7 DL meets – and a crushing win the 400H world championship final. Her 1.26 second margin of victory in Moscow constituted the largest 400H margin of victory in world championship history. Her 52.83 winning time in Luzhniki Stadium makes her the No. 12 all-time performer. The case for the hurdle queen is strong – certainly no less persuasive than the case for Valerie Adams.
Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce. In 2013, Fraser-Pryce became the first woman ever to capture three sprint golds in a single world championship – winning the 100m, the 200m, and anchoring Jamaica’s winning 4 x 100 relay. The Caribbean dash star also posted world leading times [10.71 and 22.13] in both sprints. In Diamond League competition, the diminutive sprinter won the DL crowns in both the 100m and 200m. Fraser-Pryce competed 8 times in DL meets. She notched 6 DL victories – winning all 100m races and losing only twice at the 200 meter distance. At the DL closing meet in Zurich, the world champi
on needed a victory over Ivory Coast’s Murielle Ahoure to clinch the 200m Diamond League title. And – as true champions do – she prevailed when the money was on the table. As others did in 2013, the multiple-time Olympic and world champion captured a world title and posted a WL mark. But there’s a difference. Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce did it twice – at both 100m and 200m. And she anchored the Jamaican 4 x 100 relay team to a convincing global title win in a world-leading time which also is the #2 all time performance. This is what separates her from other AOY candidates. And it is what makes Shelley-Ann Fraser-Pryce the clear choice for 2013 female track & field athlete of the year.
So who’s your female track & field athlete of the year? Is it SAFP? Or someone else? Of course, you needn’t agree that the Jamaican pocket rocket is the top woman track & field performer for 2013. But if you conclude that the female AOY should be an athlete other than Fraser-Pryce, you’ll have to present a most compelling argument to back it up.