Mon | Aug 20, 2018

Hubert Lawrence | Athlete of the Year

Published:Thursday | September 8, 2016 | 12:00 AM
Usain Bolt
Elaine Thompson
Wayde van Niekerk
Anita Wlodarczyk
Ruth Jebet

There probably isn't enough left of the 2016 season for anyone other than Usain Bolt and Elaine Thompson to earn the coveted titles of Jamaican Athlete of the Year. After their respective sprint doubles at the Olympics, Bolt and Thompson are far in front in the reckoning.

To shift the award in his direction, Jamaica's other Olympic champion, Omar McLeod, might have to set a world 110-metre hurdles record.

As things stand, the mark of 12.80 seconds set by American Aries Merritt in 2012 is 0.17 faster than McLeod's lifetime best.

The choice for World Male Athlete of the Year is clear-cut. Wayde van Niekerk of South Africa smashed his rivals and the 400-metre world record at the Olympics.

The undefeated van Niekerk chopped Michael Johnson's magical 1999 time down from 43.18 to 43.03 seconds. No other man has performances this year that rival the South African sufficiently. Impressive wins in Bloemfontein, Boston, Rome and Monaco make van Niekerk an easy pick.

The situation is different on the women's side. Anita Wlodarczyk of Poland and Ethiopia's Almaz Ayanna set world records - 82.29 metres and 29:17:45 seconds - to win Olympic gold medals in the hammer and the 10,000 metres, respectively. Ayanna bombed a mark set 23 years ago by Wang Junxia of China at 29:31:78 Ruth Jebet, a Kenyan who represents Bahrain, barely missed the steeplechase world record in her Olympic run for gold. Right after the Olympics, Jebet destroyed the record in Paris with a time of 8:52:78 seconds. Now she has three of the fastest four clockings of all time.

The old mark was 8:58:81 seconds by Russia's Gulnara Galkina to win the Olympic gold medal in 2008.

A day after Jebet broke Galkina's record, Wlodarczyk stretched her world standard to a phenomenal 82.98 metres in Warsaw, Poland. That's stunning when you consider that no one else has even one throw over 80 metres.

The 2016 season isn't quite finished yet, but this second monster throw put Wlodarczyk slightly in front of Jebet, in my opinion, in the race to be Athlete of the Year.

Nothing is certain. The tide could turn tomorrow at the Van Damme Memorial in Brussels, Belgium. Ayanna placed a mere third in the 5000 metres at the Olympics after, but scaring the world record in Rome on June 8. Another record run would be more than redemption. It could be the boost the little Ethiopian needs to pass Wlodarczyk in the race to be Female Athlete of the Year.

In Rome, she chugged relentlessly to the second fastest time ever recorded, 14:12:59. History - and Tirunesh Dibaba's eight-year world mark of 14.11.15 - was within her grasp until the last lap.

The other woman to set a world record this year is American 100-metre hurdler Kendra Harrison. However, she wasn't able to qualify for the US Olympic team and watched as Wlodarczyk and Jebet stepped into the spotlight. She will have to wheel and come again.

In the meantime, it's hard to see anyone else doing enough to overtake Wlodarczyk in what remains of the 2016 season. She looks like the Female Athlete of the Year.

- Hubert Lawrence has made notes at trackside since 1980.