World Lead (WL): the best result achieved in the current season.

While everyone’s been distracted by the return of the indoor season, athletes elsewhere have already racked up top marks in the great outdoors. We ask a trio of early world leaders what it’s like to be the best in the world.

Jamal Wilson, Bahamas – High Jump

Jamaal Wilson Early WL ()

Kermit Taylor/Bahamas Athletics

Jamal Wilson describes leading the men’s high jump world lists as “gratifying”. The former PanAm junior champ is optimistic there is much more to come.

The Bahamian, who part funds his athletics career by playing online poker, leapt to a personal best 2.30m in Nassau on 16th January. The fact he did so off a four-stride run-up indicates greater success is around the corner.

“My previous best from a short run-up was 2.18m and off a full approach it was 2.28m,” he explains. “Obviously, in future I'd like to improve [off a full run-up] by a further 10cm.”

Taking up high jump seriously when he was 16 (at 15 he could clear 1.88m with a scissor kick), he secured a hat-trick of Carifta Games titles before he was recruited by the University of Texas.

Yet from 2007 to 2013, while he was in the US, his career stalled due to a combo of injuries and a lack of rhythm in his jumping. Now back in his homeland, the 27-year-old says he “finally figured it out” late last season. The poker player hopes his new hand will allow him to play a high jumping royal flush. 

“Everyone thinks I’ve done something special because of the big improvement, but it has been a very simple adjustment,” he explains. “I used to have a terrible arc over the bar because my placement on the ground was terrible. All I have done is change the position of my plant foot which has allowed my lead arm to be parallel to the bar, which allows for a smoother take-off and a better arc.”

Fuelled by the early season PB/WL performance, Wilson has the Portland World Indoor Championships and the Rio Olympics in his sights.

“2.30m is beautiful, but I’m looking to improve on that,” says Wilson. “I’m happy I set a PB, but I’m not satisfied and I feel like I can do a lot more.”

Alex Hartmann, Australia – 200m

Alex Hartmann Early WL ()

Telling his first grade teacher that one day he wanted to be an Olympic champion was an early sign that Alex Hartmann was never short of ambition.

Yet while the 22-year-old Australian has yet to achieve that particular target, he can at least boast he is a world leader in the 200m following a handy early season 20.60 in Brisbane (for a short period last month he was also 100m world leader thanks to a 10.31).

“It is a nice feeling to be a world leader,” says 6ft 4ins Hartmann. “Obviously many sprinters have not run outdoors yet this year, but it is definitely cool. I’ve also set it as a bit of a challenge and I’d like to see how long I can hold on to it for.”

Since winning the pre-school 60m sprint aged “four or five”, Hartmann always knew he had speed. Taking up the sport seriously from the age of 16, within three years he was part of the Australian 4x100m relay squad competing at the 2012 IAAF World Junior Championships and he found the experience “contagious”. He adds: “I wanted more and it was my fuel to train harder and harder.”

The rising Aussie sprinter has since experienced two World Relays in the Bahamas, but he wants more. In the last eight to nine months he has undergone a major reinvention under career-long coach Travis Venema. He quit his retail job and doubled his training load from around five sessions a week to ten. He undertakes regular massage and physiotherapy and has quit chocolate (except for special occasions) and is now ready to rock in 2016.

“I’m only one tenth away from the qualification mark for Rio, so I am very close,” he adds.

Te Rina Keenan, New Zealand – Discus

Te Rina Keenan Early WL ()

Alan McDonald/Macspeedfoto

On 16th January, Te Rina Keenan became the best discus thrower of 2016 thanks to a 58.72m in Hastings. It was the joint-third longest throw of her career, and even though she was eclipsed seven days later by Germany's Anna Ruh, Keenan describes topping the rankings as “pretty cool” and one “for the bucket list”. The Kiwi, who is 25, finished 18th at last year’s world champs. She hopes her world leading performance will act as a springboard for her Olympic ambitions.

“It was a good start to the season because I’d been struggling with some technical issue, so I’m quite excited that if I can sort that out, I can throw a lot further,” explains Keenan.

From a family with a rich sporting heritage – her mum, Te Aroha, was a New Zealand netballer and her cousin, Portia Woodman, is one of the world’s leading rugby sevens players – Keenan started athletics aged eight “to run for lollipops”. It was her uncle and athletics coach that later encouraged her to try the throws.

Initially excelling as a shot putter, Keenan later switched to discus and competed at both the 2007 world youths and 2008 world juniors. She says these experiences “opened her eyes” to the global stature of the sport.

She then spent a four-year period studying and competing at the University of Hawaii before returning to her homeland in 2012. Since then her career under coach Matt Dallow has undergone a steady improvement. Last year she set a PB 60.78m and in Beijing produced the second longest throw of her career so far.

Her ambition for the rest of the year couldn’t be clearer: “My main focus is to be more consistent and get the Olympic A qualification standard of 63m.”