Ath­lete of the Year

Jamaica Gleaner - - SPORTS - Hu­bert Lawrence Gleaner Writer

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.

VEX­ING QUES­TIONS

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.

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