Thu | Aug 17, 2017

Awards Season Is Here

Published:Thursday | November 10, 2016 | 11:00 AM
Usain Bolt (left) training with South African Wayde van Niekerk at the UWI Bowl earlier this year.

Awards season is here in all its glory. In a Jamaican context, it climaxes at the RJR Sports Foundation Sportsman and Sportswoman of the Year Awards Ceremony in early January, but two big ones will arrive before the end of this month. The Caribbean Sports Journalists Association will dole out prizes for performances in 2016, while the Caribbean Hall of Fame Awards for Excellence will honour both the past and the present.

The latter presents an intriguing face-off with a coaching award category that pits track and field high achievers Glen Mills and Stephen Francis against each other. It will be fascinating to see who wins. More important, it's heart-warming to see the region honouring its own.

Further afield, deliberations continue with regard to the IAAF Athlete of the Year Award. At first blush, South Africa's Wayde van Niekerk seems to be a runaway winner. The 24-year-old ticks all the right boxes, with an undefeated season capped by a world record 400-metre run to gold at the Rio Olympics. The year 2016 was also when the smooth-striding South African became the first athlete to have times under 10 seconds in the 100m, under 20 seconds in the 200m and under 44 seconds in the 400m.

Add his mighty impressive 31.03-second run over 300 metres at the inaugural Racers Grand Prix and you have a cocktail of excellence. Those who favour other candidates for the IAAF award will dig deeper. They see that, though van Niekerk stormed to a world record of 43.03 seconds from lane 8, he never had even one other time under 44.

Grist for that mill indicates that his historic sub-10 - 9.98 seconds in Bloemfontein, South Africa - came at 1395 metres of altitude and with a near-perfect aiding wind of 1.5 metres per second. The track and field numbers people calculate that down to 10.08 seconds if you zero the wind and altitude.

ONE BIG PERFORMANCE

If you take the position that van Niekerk had just one big performance in 2016, you might give the award to someone else, but it would have to be someone who won in Rio AND who was consistently good throughout the Olympic campaign.

When Usain tripped, recovered and then accelerated and eased up in front of a fine field to win the Racers Grand Prix 100 in 9.88 seconds, it looked like the tall man might have been headed for some really fast times. The same feeling arose when he ran 19.78 seconds in his Olympic 200-metre semi-final. An injury enforced break, however, made real speed impossible and caused him to 'lose' at the National Championships and to cut his season short.

Despite that, one sports radio show host asked recently if Bolt could not win on sentiment born of his completion of the Olympic triple treble. The voting for the award actually does have a potentially 'sentimental' component as the IAAF Council's vote will only count for 50% of the result, while the IAAF Family's votes and the public votes will each count for 25% of the final result.

The IAAF family is composed of IAAF member federations, IAAF Committee members, IAAF meeting directors, IAAF athlete ambassadors, athletes' representatives, top athletes, members of the international press, IAAF staff members and the IAAF's official partners. Could Bolt sentiment hold sway within this group? We will soon see.

Kenyan Conselius Kipruto dominated the 3000-metre steeplechase all season and won in Rio. However, he never crossed the 8-minute barrier. Omar McLeod won the 60-metre hurdles at the World Indoor Championships, broke the 13-second barrier in the 110-metre hurdles AND won gold in Rio. Two pre-Olympic losses, one due to a fall, damaged his card.

Designed to facilitate comparison, the IAAF Performance Tables give van Nierkerk 1310 points for his world record. Bolt would need times of 9.71 and 19.44 seconds in the 100m and 200m, respectively, to find parity. His fastest 2016 100m was clocked at 9.81 seconds in Rio. The table equates that to a 43.57 400m metre time and 1273 points.

British distance king Moham-med Farah tripped and fell but recovered to win gold in the Olympic 10,000m final and completed the double with a victory in the 5,000m. Marathon maestro Eliud Kipchoge and decathlete Ashton Eaton both won both of their competitions, including the Olympics. The tables aren't too kind to any of these men. Farah gets 1237 for his fastest 10,000 of the year - a time of 26 minutes 53.71 seconds, with Eaton's Olympic record score of 8893 gathering 1247 points and with Kipchoge scoring 1288 for his best marathon of 2 hours 03 minutes and 5 seconds.

By comparison, van Nierkerk's second-fastest 400 of the year - a 44.11 - nets a mere 1237 points from the IAAF tables.

The history of the award is, nevertheless, instructive. World records have been on the portfolio of 21 of the 29 previous winners. As we all know, the only man with a world record in 2016 is Wayde van Niekerk.

Only one question remains. With all these awards, except the Sportsman and Sportswoman of the Year Award, taking place in 2016, what happens to big performances if they occur in November and December? For example, West Indies batsman Chris Gayle scored 333 against Sri Lanka in the middle of November 2010. Would such a performance be too late to make the awards cut?

n HUBERT LAWRENCE has made notes at track side since 1980.