This picture says it all: Why Usain Bolt has been so important to the sport of athletics, and why we need new stars who resonate with the sport. We asked David Hunter to opine on Men and Women AOYs. This is his piece on Men’s AOY for 2016.
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November 14th, 2016
Having earlier stepped up with my evaluation of the elite women and unveiled my selection of the 2016 Track & Field Female Athlete of the Year [Polish hammer thrower Anita Wlodarczyk], it is high time I followed up with my analysis of this past season’s exceptional track & field men and declare my pick for this year’s Track & Field Male Athlete of the Year.
Using the subjective metrics of progression of marks, head-to-head competition, and honors won, here is how I see the top track and field men for 2016:
Honorable Mention [in alphabetical order]:
Thiago Braz [This Brazilian pole vaulter pulled off the shock of this summer’s Olympic track & field competition when he improved his personal best by 23 centimeters [9″] to upset heavy favorite Renaud Lavillenie for the gold medal. Trailing the clean-jumping French defending champion nearly the entire competition, Braz unfurled a magnificent final attempt clearance at 6.03m / 19’9Â¼” to claim the gold. His winning jump was the world leader and set a new South American and Olympic record and ties Braz as the #6 performer on the world’s all-time list.]
Conseslus Kipruto [This Kenyan steeplechaser was the Olympic gold medalist and Diamond League winner. He won 7 of 8 steeplechase finals. The Kenyan star posted the 5 fastest times of the year in his specialty including the world-leading 8:00.12 which ranks him as the #13 performer on the world’s all-time list.]
Omar McLeod [With world-leading marks indoors (7.41) and outdoors (12.98), this Jamaican captured both the world indoor 60H title and the Olympic 110H title. The first athlete ever to run sub-13.00 in the 110H and sub-10.00 in the 100m, McLeod posted the 6 fastest outdoor hurdle times this year.]
David Rudisha [This Kenyan middle distance star and world record holder at 800m successfully defended his Olympic 800m crown with a world-leading time of 1:42.15 – the world’s fastest two-lap mark since his WR run in 2012. Showing his versatility, Rudisha also posted a 600m win in 1:13.10 – second fastest of all time.]
Christian Taylor [An American horizontal jumper, Taylor spanned a world-leading 17.86m / 58’7″ to successfully defend his Olympic crown. A Diamond League champion, Taylor won 7 of 8 triple jump finals and posted the four longest jumps of the year.]
The Five Finalists [in ascending order]:
#5. Eliud Kipchoge. This World Marathon Majors champion claimed victories this year in London and at the Olympic Games. The Kenyan star also set a world road record for 30 kilometers at 1:27:13 and posted a season’s best marathon clocking of 2:03:05 – just 8 seconds off the world record and the #3 performance of all-time.
#4 Wayne van Niekerk. Running blind out of Lane 8 to win the Olympic gold in the 400 meters, this South African quarter miler – also the reigning world champion at 400m – took down Michael Johnson’s world record of 43.18, a mark that many track aficionados felt would not be approached for many years. Unbeaten in 11 finals over three events during the year, this rangy long-sprinter also posted impressive seasonal bests in the 100m [9.98] and the 200m [20.03].
#3. Ashton Eaton. For the world record holder in the decathlon, 2016 was yet another year in which the World’s Greatest Athlete strengthened his case as perhaps the World’s Greatest Athlete of All Time. In successfully defending his Olympic decathlon title, Eaton’s winning point total of 8893 equaled the Olympic record mark set by Czech star Roman Å ebrle. Unbeaten yet again this year in the combined events, Eaton – who also successfully defended his world indoor heptathlon title this year – was the global multi-event leader indoors (6470) and outdoors (8893)
#2. Mo Farah. In completing a unique “double double” this British distance star successfully defended his Olympic titles in not only the 5,000m but also the 10,000m where the Brit – jostled to the track mid-race – bounced up, regained his poise, and raced on to victory. Also a “double double” world champion with two 5K and two 10K titles earned in Moscow and Beijing, Farah – the 2016 world leader at 5,000m with a mark of 12:59.29 – now has a total of 9 global distance crowns in his crowded trophy case and has further stamped himself as perhaps the greatest championship distance racer of all time.
#1. Usain Bolt. The most formidable competitor for AOY recognition for sprint legend Usain Bolt may be himself. With no mere mortals able to threaten Bolt’s decade-long dominance in the dashes, even the most experienced track observers tend to downplay as somewhat routine the Jamaican star’s repetitive triple gold performances at global championships. “Oh, Bolt won the 100m, 200m, and anchored the winning 4×1 relay? Doesn’t he always do that?” While the scintillating world record performances so evident in his earlier years may be missing, Usain Bolt’s sprint dominance once again must be recognized and honored as yet another three golden links in his chain of athletic greatness. With the Jamaican sprinter having completed Bolt Slams [golds at 100m, 200m, and 4×1] in 3 world Championships and 3 Olympic Games, there can be no one left in the Milky Way galaxy who fails to recognize Usain Bolt as the greatest sprinter of all time. Period. While the Bolt – whose athletic accomplishments and mischievous personality transcend the sport and are reminiscent of Muhammed Ali – has had more sparkling years, his 6th Bolt Slam in Rio capped off an unbeaten year which also featured season bests of 9.81 and 19.78 in the Olympic finals. Some may see this choice as more of a Lifetime Achievement Award, but no male track & field athlete shined brighter than Usain Bolt in this Olympic year. And for these reasons, Usain Bolt is the 2016 Track & Field Male Athlete of the Year.