Follow the Trace | Thompson was the best in 2016
The year 2016 is drawing to a close and the thoughts and rhetoric of most sports fans will inevitably trend towards coming up with the top performers and the top performances of the year. This being a unique Olympic year with the Rio Games all but transformed into an unofficial 'Olympic send-off party' for the greatest sprinter of all time, Usain St Leo Bolt, and as he has done throughout his entire career, the big man duly obliged. Bolt dominated the opposition on his way to completing the unprecedented Olympic 'triple-treble' in what was announced as his last Olympic Games and his penultimate season, winning his third consecutive 100m, 200m and 4x100m Olympic gold medals.
The impact of the once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon Usain Bolt exiting the Olympic stage in glory, for many, would be accepted as the year's top performances and Bolt the year's top performer.
I beg to differ based on the relativity and the context of the super Olympic performances of another Jamaican champion Elaine Thompson. The fact of the matter is, Bolt was expected to win his events and to do so with ease. Bolt is so much better, more gifted and naturally faster than all his peers. He could have, as he has done before, beat down the next best competitor in his events even at 70 or 80 per cent of his full fitness and form. What Bolt eventually did in Rio was what the entire world expected and knew he would do. Thompson, on the other hand, was a relatively new kid on the block. As an inexperienced 23-year-old competing in her very first Olympic Games, she was pretty much an untested and still-emerging talent, having just come to national prominence one year before.
In her quest to convert her obvious raw talent into Olympic greatness on her first go, Thompson had to overcome the wounded warrior in double defending 100m champion, her countrywoman and training partner Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and the then in-form Dutchwoman Dafne Schippers, who beat her to the 200m
gold at the 2015 World Championships, scoring the first psychological points in Rio by beating the Jamaican champion in the semi-finals of the 200m.
ON A MISSION
For many mere mortals on such a grand stage, the pressure might have been too much to handle, but the young Jamaican turned up for the 100m final on a mission, and proceeded to execute a brilliant and dominant race in producing a 10.71 run to dismiss the challenge of the American Torie Bowie and Fraser-Pryce, with the highly touted Schippers running out of the medals.
Schippers was widely regarded as better and stronger over the 200m and thus should and would make amends in the longer sprint. Thompson would have none of it, as she dismissed Schippers and sprinted into the history books to become the first Jamaican woman to win the Olympic sprint double. A new global sprinting star was officially born.
I maintain that it was a tactical mistake by the Jamaican coaching staff in Rio not to have the double Olympic sprint champion - brimming with confidence and in the form of her life - on the anchor leg of the sprint relay which, quite possibly, cost Thompson and Jamaica another Olympic gold medal.
Thompson's overall performances relative to her inexperience, the degree of difficulty in achieving what she did, and the odds she had to overcome were much greater than Bolt had to overcome on the way to his triumphs in Rio. This is hardly a question of legacy and the athlete's body of work, it's a question of which performances contextually were the biggest and best in 2016. My nod goes to double Olympic sprint champion Elaine Thompson, and it was not even close.