American decathlete Ashton Eaton and Ethiopia’s Genzebe Dibaba are the 2015 Male and Female Athletes of the Year. Congratulations to them both. I just wish I could feel like the awards went to the right people. Both athletes had outstanding years but were they the best of the best? I don’t think so.
Eaton won gold at the IAAF World Athletic Championships in Beijing this past August in a new world record. He was outstanding. Just watching him compete in each of the 10 disciplines gave you goose bumps and that 45-second run in the 400 metres was just incredible. But how does a man who competes in one single event for the entire year get Male Athlete of the Year?
I will be the first to acknowledge that decathletes do not get to compete much, but surely no one can be considered the best male athlete across all disciplines after just one event. It is for a similar reason why I would not have picked Usain Bolt for the award this year because he didn’t compete much. Yes, he came to the World Championships vulnerable and proved all the doubters wrong by winning the sprint double and then securing his 17 global gold medal in the sprint relay but his body of work for 2015, hampered by injury, was just not sufficient for him to be considered.
Similarly, Eaton’s body of work falls short and is why he could not be my Male Athlete of the Year.
Personally, Eaton’s countryman Christian Taylor would have been a better selection given his thrilling battles with Cuba’s Pedro Pablo Pichardo that saw each man approach and breach the 18-metre barrier all season long. It was like watching Bondarenko and Barshim in the high jump in 2014 when you got the feeling that the world record was constantly under threat. And then at the World Championships, in the heat of battle Taylor leaps to an astonishing 18.21m, a new American record and the second longest jump of all time. Only Jonathan Edwards’ 18.29m is better.
The man who truly deserved the title did not even make the final three. 2015 1500-metre World Champion Absel Kiprop had a stellar year. Unbeaten over the 1500m and setting the third fastest time in history, he proved to be extremely dominant throughout the year. The world title in Beijing was just validation of his class and dominance throughout the season. However, for some reason he didn’t make the cut. Maybe, he should have made the final three instead of Bolt.
To be fair it was a tough year because South Africa’s Wayde van Neikerk was also a strong candidate for Male Athlete of the Year considering his 43.49s run to claim the world title in Beijing, beating Kirani James and Lashawn Merritt in the process. It was the first time in history that the first three men in a global final ran under 44 seconds. The South African’s time was the fourth fastest ever run.
Among the women, Dibaba was great. After setting a world indoor 5000m record of 14:18.86, Dibaba was then unbeaten in her five 1500m races during the summer. Firstly, she ran an African record of 3:54.11 in Barcelona, the fastest time in the world for almost 12 years, and then topped that with a stunning world record of 3:50.07 in Monaco to beat a mark that had been on the books since 1993. In Beijing, Dibaba was majestic through all three rounds of the 1500m, winning every race comfortably, and she also took a 5000m bronze medal.
But while her case is a lot stronger than Eaton’s I believe the award should have gone to Poland’s Anita Wlodarczyk was better, if only just.
This is how the IAAF summarized Anita’s year.
“Wlodarczyk was utterly dominant this season in the hammer. The Pole won all 11 of her competitions, including the IAAF World Championships Beijing 2015. She also became the first woman to throw beyond 80 metres, setting a world record of 81.08m in Cetniewo in August.”
Dibaba lost in the 3000m at the World Championships and again in the final Diamond League meeting of the season. Anita did not. She was undefeated and is why she wins the title for me. But the bias against field event athlete continues to haunt them and that’s not right.
The IAAF has been making the effort in trying to make the selections fair and they have to be applauded for that, but in my book, despite their best efforts, they got it wrong.