Sun | Jan 20, 2019

Can a race walker be World Athlete of the Year?

Published:Thursday | October 9, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Hubert Lawrence

As anticipated in this space on September 19 in 'The Gatlin Dilemma', there's a furore about one name on the list of candidates for IAAF Male Athlete of the Year.

The flap obscures questions about athletes who aren't on the list. So here's one. He's French, undefeated in 2014, and set a world record to win the biggest meet of his season.

The mystery man isn't the only athlete who might feel he should be on the list. In a compact season of five races, Kirani James achieved a lot. Grenada's Olympic 400-metre champion raced to a 2-1 season record over Lashawn Merritt, won the Commonwealth Games, and ran the fastest time of the season, a personal best of 43.74 seconds.

That time came in a face-to-face clash in Lausanne with the American who is on the IAAF's list of Athlete of the Year candidates. Merritt raced far and wide and did have a great season, but also lost to Lugelin Santos in Kingston. Merritt raced often and well, but choosing him over James' short-but-sweet campaign must have been a tough call.

As outlined in 'The Gatlin Dilemma', American Justin Gatlin had a fine season; 17 wins, no losses, and the fastest times at both 100 and 200 metres make him a candidate for Athlete of the Year.

However, objections have been raised because the American has twice tested positive for illegal performance enhancers. He is eligible to compete because he cooperated with authorities on the second occasion. Presumably, he gave information that helped significantly with their investigations. Now, like everyone else, we must consider Gatlin innocent until proven guilty.

Two bits of logic emerge. Firstly, this year's Awards shouldn't be about the past. Secondly, two-time drug convicts shouldn't be allowed back into the sport, even if they cooperate the way Gatlin did with authorities. The cooperation/punishment trade should probably only be available to first-time offenders.

If Gatlin wins the award, and he may or may not, public opinion could scald the IAAF for placing a past drug offender on a pedestal.

In any case, the first round of voting for the Athlete of the Year is by the public. It will be instructive to see what fans think and how they express it in votes.

Mystery Frenchman

In the meantime, the mystery Frenchman isn't even in the list of candidates for the IAAF's top athlete award. His compatriot Renaud Lavillenie is, however, rightfully there. This high flyer broke Sergey Bubka's long-standing pole vault record by clearing 6.16 metres indoors. Overall, he won 22 of his 23 vault competitions, including the European Championships.

Like Lavillenie, the mystery world-record breaker won at the European Championships. Unlike his countryman, his world-record, 3 hours 32 minutes and 33 seconds, came at the Europeans, the biggest meet of the year for France. He is Yohann Diniz and his event is the 50 kilometre walk. With the Gatlin dilemma keeping everyone busy, this championship winning world record breaker has been overlooked.

Before you hiss your teeth, try to run a marathon in 3 hours and 32 minutes. That's 42.2 kilometres. Diniz can walk 50 kilometres in that time. He's definitely a world-class athlete and definitely worth consideration for the title of Athlete of the Year.

Hubert Lawrence has scrutinised athletics since 1980.