Tanya Lee | And the award goes to ...
So the curtain has closed, on the 2019 track and field season, and the IAAF has announced its 22 nominees for the male and female athlete of the year this week. It is a stellar list of high achievers in what has largely been an outstanding year in the sport.
While Jamaica hasn’t dominated in the sprints due to the lack of any real threat on the male side and Elaine Thompson’s Achilles issues resurfacing in Doha, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce is the sole nominee for Jamaica.
This is a well-deserved nomination for her after wins in both the 100m and 4x100m relay in world-leading times of 10.71 and 41.44 seconds, respectively. At 32 years old, Fraser-Pryce has the distinction of being the oldest woman to be crowned world champion.
But while Shelly will certainly be the frontrunner for the national awards, she faces stiff competition in the global category given record-breaking performances this season.
The USA’s Dalilah Muhammad is, in my view, the frontrunner for global honours given her two gold medals in Doha, and her two world records, set weeks apart, for the 2019 season. The 29-year-old completed the 400m hurdles in Doha in 52.16s, staving off 20-year old compatriot Sydney McLaughlin, who finished with the third-fastest time in history at 52.23s. This was an improvement on the 52.20s world record she had set at the US Championships in July. The records place Muhammad in a class of her own.
But while Mohammed will likely win the award for her achievements, the performance of the year, for me, goes to Salwa Eid Nasser. So audacious was the performance of the 21-year-old who placed herself in the history books as the third fastest of all time and the fastest time in 34 years. Naser seemingly sprinted a full 400m and stunned Bahamian sensation Shaunae Miller-Uibo on the turn to relegate the odds-on favourite to a silver medal. Naser is undefeated in the 400m this year and won the Diamond League title as well as three gold medals at the Asian Championships. The Bahraini’s achievements are even more astounding when one considers that she pushed Miller-Uibo to run her own personal best, 48.37s, thus posting the sixth fastest time in 400m history! This event has immense fireworks to come in 2020.
But not to be overlooked is the Netherland’s Sifan Hassan who, astoundingly, won both the 1,500m and the 10,000m titles in world-leading times. The dominant Hassan is also Diamond League champion over both events. Hassan, 26 years old, shattered the 23-year-old world record at the Monaco Diamond League meet in July with a time of 4:12.33 minutes. In doing so, she pushed nine of her 12 competitors to their personal bests.
On the male side, the nominees are too close for comfort. The USA accounts for five of the 11 nominees in Donovan Brazier, Christian Coleman, Sam Kendricks, Noah Lyles, and Christian Taylor. The sole Caribbean nomination goes to the Bahamas’ Steven Gardiner, who was undefeated all year over the distance, had the world lead of 32.26 seconds indoors, and won the world title, beating a quality field in 43.48 seconds.
But track and field’s next big sensation looks to be the charismatic Noah Lyles, who copped the Diamond League titles over both 100 and 200m. Lyles’ world-leading 19.50s in Lausanne places him fourth on the all-time 200m list. The 22-year-old closed his season with two gold medals in Doha, over the 200m and 4x100m.
But for me, the standout male athlete of the year should go to the undefeated, undisputed champion in his event. That distinction resides with Norway’s Karsten Warholm, who won the 400m hurdles title in Doha. He has been undefeated both indoors and outdoors all of 2019 and is both Diamond League and European Indoor Champion. Warholm impressively clocked 46.92 seconds at the Zurich Diamond League in August, the second-fastest time in history.
Voting for the IAAF award is open and will be done through fan polls online, the IAAF’s Council votes, and via ballots sent to the IAAF’s Family of voters, which includes the media.
Tanya Lee has over 10 years’ expertise as a Caribbean sports marketer and is also an athlete manager and publicist.