Athlete of the Year
Thompson vs Wlodarczyk – take your pick
IT SEEMED pretty clear to me that Poland’s undefeated, double world record setting hammer throw Olympic gold medallist Anita Wlodarczyk was a sure bet for this year’s Athlete of the Year Award. That was until a bright-minded friend stopped me in my tracks. His message was simple – world records aren’t created equal. That devalued the huge world record throw of 82.29 metres Wlodarczyk used to win her second Olympic gold medal in Rio di Janeiro and even bigger heave – 82.98, which she produced later in her supreme 13 meet season. He reasoned that the hammer throw, which made its Olympic debut as recently as 2000, is so young that records are easy to come by. By contrast, the records in the 100 and 200 metres are out in never-never land at 10.49 and 21.34 seconds, respectively.
He applies the same reasoning to the women’s 3000-metre steeplechase where Ruth Jebet of Bahrain, another contender for the big award, has dismantled the world record. Given that Jamaica’s Elaine Thompson won two Olympic gold medals and not just one like the big Pole and the tiny Bahrani, he
reckons that Thompson has as good a chance as they do to be named female Athlete of the Year.
The one medal-two medals argument has pros and cons. Sprinters like Thompson can apply the same skills to more than one event because they are similar. Often, field event skills, like throwing the hammer, are so specific that the athlete can’t even conceive of doing another discipline.
That aside, the patriot inside me had to look more closely to see if he was right. The big question is whether Thompson’s 7-win 100-metre season and her 3-2 200-metre campaign is superior in quality to Wlodarczyk’s 2016 compilation of gold, no losses and eight 80-metre throws.
The slim lady from Banana Ground sped to the three fastest 100-metre times of the year – 10.70 to win the National Senior Championships, matching the Jamaican record held by Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, 10.71 to win in Rio and 10.72 seconds to win at the Brussels Diamond League meet. Her gold-winning 200-metre time was the fastest by anyone in 2016 at 21.78 seconds.
The search for comparisons between Thompson, Wlodarczyk and the other main contender for the award leads to the IAAF Scoring Tables. Designed by the sport’s governing body to quiet vexing questions like this one, the tables produced a stunning conclusion. The Jamaican scores 1255 points from her 10.70 100-metre clocking and a similar amount – 1250 – for her fast Rio 200. The same tables give the blond Pole a slam dunk score of 1303 points for her second world record and 1292 for the one that took her to the top of the podium in Rio. If those tables are any guide, Thompson would have to run 10.45 or 21.20 to match Wlodarcyzk’s second world record!
It’s staggering to think that an 80metre hammer throw equates to sprint times of 10.70 and 21.72 seconds respectively. When you consider that Wlodarczyk had seven 80-metre plus throws, it’s a big deal.
Almaz Ayanna’s gold medal-winning 10,000 metre world record of 29 minutes 17.45 seconds was pretty tasty too. It gathered 1288 points for the tireless Ethiopian.
While you digest that, note that Jebet gets 1263 points for her world record of 8 minutes 52.78 seconds in a discipline that was added to the Olympic track and field programme as recently as 2008. Single-handedly, she bumped the all-time total of sub-9 minute steeplechase times up from one – the old world record of 8 minutes 58.81 seconds – to four. Her Olympic year hat-trick of sub-9 clockings included her winning time in Rio, 8.59.75.
While Thompson, Ayanna and Jebet all lost races in the season, South African Caster Semenya was undefeated in her prime event. However, the IAAF tables give Semenya’s fastest 800-metre time of 1 minute 55.28 seconds a mere 1239 points.
The sole 2016 loss for US 100metre hurdler Kendra Harrison came at the wrong time. Sadly, she was an uncharacteristic sixth at her nation’s Olympic Trials. Harrison was otherwise spotless and peaked with a world record of 12.20 seconds, worth 1255 points.
There are only two possible conclusions. Either the IAAF Scoring Tables have led this discussion down the garden path or Wlodarczyk is the Athlete of the Year by virtue of a season better in quality to the efforts of every other female athlete on Earth. That would include Ayanna, Jebet and Thompson. Take your pick.