A-Z of the Athletics Year, part two; Caleb the Challenger, Desert Dreams, Mutai’s Misfortune
N is for Ndiku: the man Farah needs to fear?
Finally, there appears to be an athlete on the track with not just the physical ability, but also the tactical nous to challenge Mo Farah’s stranglehold on major championship gold. Caleb Ndiku had quite the year: World Indoor champion over 3,000m, Commonwealth and African champion over 5,000m, Diamond League winner, and also a champion at the Continental Cup. He swept all before him this year, and did it with the tactical smarts of an athlete just as wily as Farah. The World 5,000m final in Beijing, next August, should be a cracker.
O is for Outstanding: the Barshim/Bondarenko rivalry
Speaking of clashes to savour, how about the season-long battle the two premier high jumpers served up this summer? In Mutaz Essa Barshim and Bohdan Bondarenko, athletics had two stars who made sure the high jump was the centre of attention at many a meeting, and deservedly so. Bondarenko finished the year with the edge on the head-to-head meetings (4-3), but Barshim rose marginally higher, his 2.43m clearance in Brussels an Asian record. With these two at the helm, Javier Sotomayor’s world record of 2.45m may not live to see the end of 2015.
P is for Polska: where the World Indoors were a winner
You have to hand it to the Poles: they love their athletics. It was no surprise, then, that when the World Indoor Championships rocked up to the impressive Ergo Arena in Sopot in March, the event drew a massive crowd of supportive locals. For the men’s 800m, especially, in which Poland had two contenders for gold in Adam Kszczot and Marcin Lewandowski, the noise that echoed around the arena was borderline deafening approaching the last lap with the Polish duo taking the lead. As it turned out, the party was spoiled by Mohammed Aman, who took gold, and though Kszczot took silver, Lewandowski was disqualified from bronze for stepping on the inside curve on the final bend. It was a race, an atmosphere, and an event, that will live long in the memory. Poland should be proud.
Q is for Qatar: desert dreams become a reality
The choosing of Doha as the host city for the 2019 World Championships was met with a series of grumblings about inappropriate weather, unsuitable dates, questionable financial incentives for the IAAF, and outrage over the country’s treatment of migrant workers. One thing that couldn’t be denied, though, is that their bid was superior to Barcelona and Doha in terms of logistics and facilities. You do have to wonder, though, where the crowds will come from, and what this decision will do for the future of the sport. Money isn’t, and shouldn’t be, everything.
R is for Relays: IAAF’s inaugural event proves a hit
There was much trepidation about this event. Was a World Relays needed, in May, in the Bahamas? Would anyone care? As it turned out, plenty did, with many strong nations sending decent teams, lured by generous prize money. The host nation came up trumps, with the stands packed in Nassau for the two-day event. The atmosphere was superb, and there were a few world records, albeit, relatively soft ones, to get the event off on the right note. Expect an even better attendance, and an even better event, when it occurs again in the Bahamas next May.
S is for Schippers: Europe’s sprint queen
If ever evidence was needed about just how good multi-eventers are as athletes, particularly when they turn their attention to a single event, then look no further than Dutch heptathlete Dafne Schippers, who focused on the sprints this year and achieved some remarkable results. In August, Schippers, still just 22, easily won the European 100m title in 11.12 seconds, then later that week gave the performance of the Championships when blitzing the 200m field and running 22.03 seconds into a slight headwind. It was a demonstration of such speed and power that it made everyone, probably even Schippers herself, wonder whether she should ever go back to the heptathlon, when it appears she has the potential to beat just about anyone over 200m.
T is for tear-jerker: Boston bounces back
It was so perfect, the 2014 Boston Marathon – a race that saw American Meb Keflezighi take a hard-fought victory in 2:08:37. Indeed, it proved the very antithesis to the horror that blighted the event in 2013. Sitting in a press conference after the race, winner Meb Keflezighi said it best: “America needed me.” Indeed, not just America, not just Boston, but the very sport needed a fairytale performance like this to restore faith in the marathon; its emotion, its purpose, its value, was once again at an all-time high, when just a year earlier it had all seemed so frivolous.
U is for unlucky: record-breaking runner-up Emmanuel Mutai
Picture this: you’ve just run the race of your life, a 2:03:13 marathon, 10 seconds under the old world record, but guess what? You lost. As the race winner Dennis Kimetto runs back down the home straight, high-fiving fans, draped in a Kenyan flag, you fall to your knees vomiting and have to be helped away – your effort, your achievement, almost forgotten because you came up short against one other superhuman. This was the fate that befell Emmanuel Mutai in Berlin in September. The difference in plaudits, and financial reward, between Mutai and Kimetto that day was substantial. Their performances, and efforts, were virtually equal. Sport can be cruel.
V is for Valerie: shot put’s superstar
At long last, 2014 was the year when New Zealand’s Valerie Adams was heralded as IAAF World Athlete of the Year. It was a long-overdue accolade for an athlete whose superiority has only been threatened by dopers for as long as most can remember. This year, she was equally imperious, and took her win streak up to a mind-boggling 56 in a row. Think about that: 56 times now she has faced the best in the world and every time, rain or shine, she has beaten them. Phenomenal.
W is for World Records: they’re still tumbling down
The record that grabbed the headlines was undoubtedly Dennis Kimetto’s as he became the first man to dip below 2:03 for the marathon, but there were many others. Emmanuel Mutai happened to set a 30km best in that same race, not that many noticed. In the field events, Renaud Lavillenie soared over 6.16m, while Anita Wlodarczyk also set a world record in the hammer throw of 79.58m in Berlin. In August, Yohann Diniz obliterated the 50m race walk record with a 3:32:33 performance on the streets of Zurich. The Jamaican men’s 4x200m team set a record of 1:18.63 at the World Relays, as did the Kenyan men’s and women’s 4x1500m teams. Florence Kiplagat set a half-marathon best of 65:12 and indoors, Genzebe Dibaba went on a spree, rewriting the 1500m (3:55.17), 3,000m (8:16.60) and two-mile (9:00.48) records. The USA men’s 4x400m team also set a world record of 3:02.13 when winning the world indoor title.
X is for Xenon gas, and all those other new doping methods
It was once again exemplary of the tit-for-tat battle between athletes looking for a dubious edge and drug testers looking to maintain an even playing field; earlier this year, reports suggested the latest blood-manipulation procedure in vogue among endurance athletes, specifically in Russia, was xenon gas inhalation. The procedure – which is believed to improve endurance by increasing the body’s production of a protein which stimulates EPO production – was swiftly banned by WADA when reports of its use came to light, but given the fact that no test exists to identify the substance, that may be of little use. The question now is this: just how far behind are current anti-doping measures when it comes to identifying and prohibiting the latest, most sophisticated blood-boosting method that the cheats have moved on to?
Y is for Youth: the new crop are coming
If the World Junior Championships showed us one thing, it’s that the future of the sport is in good hands. The youngsters put on a week-long show in Eugene in July. There was Morgan Lake – the British 17-year-old who won the heptathlon before going on to also take gold in the high jump with a 1.93m clearance. There was Mary Cain, who showed all the hype is justified when destroying the 3,000m field with a searing kick-finish. There was also sprint stars Trentavis Friday, who won the men’s 200m by a relative street in 20.04 seconds, and Dina Asher-Smith, who did the same in the women’s 100m, winning in 11.23 seconds.
Z is for Zurich: still the sport’s Mecca
Sure, the ticket prices for the European Championships may have been relatively extortionate (at a minimum of €80/$100 per night), but nonetheless, August’s week-long event in the picturesque Swiss city proved that there are still few, if any, better places in the world to host an athletics meeting. The crowds in the Letzigrund Stadium were sizeable, if not quite a constant sellout, the atmosphere was always decent, the championships were run with typical Swiss precision, and once again, Zurich came up trumps. Just two weeks after the Europeans, it also hosted its annual Weltklasse meeting and it was once again, reliably brilliant.