2016 IAAF Male and Female Athletes of the Year should go to…

By Zaheer E. Clarke

Written December 1, 2016
Published December 5, 2016, in the Western Mirror

The finalists for the IAAF Male and Female Athlete of the Year Awards were announced. The eventual winners will be declared over the weekend. The deserving winners should be …

The finalists for the 2016 IAAF Athletics Awards 2016 are (in alphabetical order): Men: Usain Bolt (JAM), Mo Farah (GBR) and Wayde van Niekerk (RSA) Women: Almaz Ayana (ETH), Elaine Thompson (JAM) and Anita Wlodarczyk (POL) (Photo credit: Getty Images)

The finalists for the 2016 IAAF Athletics Awards 2016 are (in alphabetical order):
Men: Usain Bolt (JAM), Mo Farah (GBR) and Wayde van Niekerk (RSA)
Women: Almaz Ayana (ETH), Elaine Thompson (JAM) and Anita Wlodarczyk (POL)
(Photo credit: Getty Images)

By the time this is published, the world would have been told the names of the individuals who are the 2016 IAAF Male and Female Athletes of the Year. The finalists on the men’s side included our own Jamaican Usain St. Leo Bolt, Britain’s long distance king Mo Farah and the South African gazelle Wayde van Niekerk. On the women’s side, we had our own Jamaican Elaine Thompson, Ethiopia’s new long distance queen Almaz Ayana and the Polish woman of might, Anita Wlodarczyk.

Despite my Jamaican roots and prejudices, I do not believe Usain Bolt and Elaine Thompson should be the worthy winners of this year’s awards.

Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

Usain Bolt won three gold medals in Rio, in the 100m, 200m, and the 4 x 100m relays.  
(Photo credit: Chang W. Lee/The New York Times)

Bolt completed a culmination of triple-treble world titles in the 100m, 200m and 4x100m races in Rio. However, due to injuries and limited races, his individual performances based on merit should not yield him the IAAF Athlete of the Year. Importantly, the award is not selected based on merit solely, as the fans, the IAAF Council and Family are the ultimate deciders and their votes can be cast based on sentimental values.

Mo Farah won the 5000m and 10,000m titles for the second straight Olympics (Photo credit: Reuters)

Mo Farah won the 5000m and 10,000m titles for the second straight Olympics
(Photo credit: Reuters)

Mo Farah delivered brave and electric performances in Rio. Like Usain Bolt, who did the triple-triple, British Mo Farah did the double-double by defending his Olympic titles in the 5,000m and 10,000m. He became only the second athlete in history to achieve this Olympic double-double, after Finland’s Lasse Viren. Despite Farah’s unconquerable spirit that saw him plunge to the ground midway the 10,000m but still go on to win it, he should not win the 2016 IAAF Male Athlete of the Year title last Friday.

South Africa’s Wayde Van Niekerk takes the lead in the men’s 400-metre final at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo credit: AP Photo/David Goldman

South Africa’s Wayde Van Niekerk shatters the 400m Olympic and world records at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
(Photo credit: AP Photo/David Goldman

The clear winner for me should be Wayde van Niekerk, who obliterated the 20-year old Olympic record and the 17-year-old world record in the flat 400m. That amazing Herculean feat coupled with his unbeaten streak over the 400m in 2016, the sub-10 second performance in the 100m and his spectacular 31.03 second 300m-run in Kingston, makes him my IAAF Male Athlete of the Year.

On the female side, though the battle is closer, but once again the choice is simple, and that choice for me is Anita Wlodarczyk.

Elaine Thompson (Photo credit: Carl de Souza/AFP/Getty Images)

Elaine Thompson won two gold medals in the 100m and the 200m while copping silver in the 4 x 100m relays. 
(Photo credit: Carl de Souza/AFP/Getty Images)

Elaine Thompson had an impressive season with double Olympic gold medals in the 100m and 200m and winning the Diamond League crown in the 100m. However, her season and stellar performances were dwarfed in comparison to Ayana and Wlodarczyk. For one, they both broke world records this year.

Almaz Ayana celebrates winning the women's 10000m final (Photo: Ian Walton/Getty Images)

Almaz Ayana celebrates winning the women’s 10000m final, breaking the world record in by a staggering 14 seconds. 
(Photo: Ian Walton/Getty Images)

Like van Niekerk, Ayana was impressive in Rio with a destructive world record run in the women’s 10,000m, lowering the 23-year-old mark by a staggering 14 seconds. However, Ayana lost the 5000m at the same Olympics and failed to cap the Olympic double.

Anita Wlodarczyk of Poland celebrates after winning the women's Hammer Throw final in a new World Record of 82.29m (Photo credit: EPA/Franck Robichon)

Anita Wlodarczyk of Poland celebrates after winning the women’s Hammer Throw final in a new World Record of 82.29m. She broke the world record again a few weeks later.
(Photo credit: EPA/Franck Robichon)

Wlodarczyk, on the other hand, won Olympic gold in world record style and went on to break the world record for a second time in 2016 after the Olympics with a monster throw of 82.98m. Like Usain Bolt at his peak over the 100m or 200m when he won the IAAF Athlete of the Year multiple times, this year, there was Wlodarczyk and then there was everyone else in the hammer throw and in female athletics.

So the 2016 IAAF Men and Women Athletes of the Year for me, with all parochialism aside, should be South Wayde van Niekerk and Polish Anita Wlodarczyk. I truly wonder if logic prevailed over sentiments last Friday. We have had a few surprises and upsets in 2016 already. Leicester City Football Club, the Chicago Cubs, the Cleveland Cavaliers, and Donald Trump are a few to note. Let us look at the official announcements come next week.

Until next time…

© Zaheer Clarke

Zaheer E. Clarke is an award-winning freelance sportswriter whose articles have been published by ESPN Cricinfo, Western Mirror, The Jamaica Observer, Trinidad Express, Essentially Sports and others.

He can be reached at zaheer.clarke@gmail.com. Follow him on Facebook at Zaheer Facts, Lies & Statistics, or on Twitter at @zaheerclarke.

This blog article was also published in the Western Mirror on December 5, 2016.

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