Almaz Ayana, Elaine Thompson and Anita Wlodarczyk earned their spots on the Female World Athlete of the Year short list in historic fashion. We look at the moments that defined their 2016 season.
2nd June – Golden Gala Rome
In her first race over the distance in 2016, Almaz Ayana came within five seconds of the 5000m world record at the Diamond League in Rabat. Ten days later, in Rome, the Ethiopian came even closer, missing Tirunesh Dibaba’s mark by a mere 1.44 seconds.
It was the second fastest time in history, but Ayana’s obvious disappointment after the race suggested she was an athlete with more to give.
12th August – Olympic 10,000m final
Ayana opened the Rio Olympics with a bang. It was a sight to behold as the Ethiopian broke away early from the rest of the field with a decisive surge. There was no catching Ayana, who powered to a world record 29:17.45, knocking more than 14 seconds off a record that had stood for 23 years. It was only her second ever 10,000m race.
19th August – Olympic 5000m final
With one Olympic medal already under her belt, Ayana lined up in pursuit of another just days later. She was again the athlete pushing the pace in the 5000m final, blowing the medal hunt wide open with a break at half way. But her world record effort from a week earlier showed in the end, as Kenya’s Vivian Cheruiyot and Hellen Obiri passed her in the final lap.
Ayana finished in third with 14:33.54. It was the only race of 2016 in which she didn’t cross the line in first, and it still earned her an Olympic bronze.
1st July – Jamaican Trials
Elaine Thompson set the bar high ahead of Rio when she stormed to a world-leading 10.70 in the 100m final at the national championships in Kingston. It was a personal best for the 24-year-old and equalled the area record Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce had set in 2012.
“I’m obviously happy with the time,” Thompson said. “I’m crying!”
12th August – Olympic 100m final
Following up on her performance on home soil was a big ask, but Thompson showed in Rio that she is an athlete for the big occasion. She improved with every round and took the sprint gold in 10.71. It was her 10th consecutive 100m win of the season (and she would go on to win two further 100m races at Diamond League meetings in Lausanne and Brussels).
“When I crossed the line and glanced across to see I was clear I didn't quite know how to celebrate,” a stunned Thompson told the press her race.
17th August – Olympic 200m final
Thompson got another chance to celebrate five days later. At the 2015 Beijing World Championships, the Jamaican had to settle for silver after a late burst by Dutchwoman Dafne Schippers. This year there would be no catching Thompson, who secured the sprint double in 21.78, the fastest time in the world all year.
“It’s a big surprise to me because I have had a hamstring injury. You must overcome these things and tonight I am standing here with a gold.”
Actually, it’s two.
12th July – Kamila Skolimowska Throws Festival, Cetniewo
Reigning world champion Anita Wlodarczyk went into 2016 as the woman to beat. With the 2016 European Championships title already under her belt, the Pole headed to Cetniewo, the place where she had 11 months earlier set the hammer throw world record.
This time round she hurled her implement to a world-leading 80.26m, the third farthest throw in history and a mark only bettered by herself in 2015. Only one other woman in history has thrown beyond 79m. Wlodarczyk did it with each of her five valid efforts. Still the woman to beat.
15th August – Olympic hammer throw final
Wlodarczyk was one of the biggest gold medal favourites of the entire Games. She fully delivered – with a cherry on top. Wearing her late friend Kamila Skolimowska’s throwing glove, she won gold setting a 82.29m world record.
“I thought maybe I should resign after that throw, but I said ‘no, don’t stop, because this could be the best day in my career’, so I fought on to improve my result,” Wlodarczyk told reporters after her win.
“My coach said even that throw was not perfect, that I was too high up and needed to push my hips more.”
28th August –Skolimowska Memorial, Warsaw
Less than two weeks after her historic victory in Rio, Wlodarczyk proved her coach was not wrong when she produced the performance of her career. She exceeded the 81-metre-mark on three occasions and threw the hammer an unprecedented 82.98m in the fourth round.
“Yes, it was close to 83m,” she said afterwards, “but let’s save something for the next season.” After ending her camapign unbeaten for the second season running, it's safe to say we cannot wait to see what that something is.
The winner of the Female World Athlete of the Year Award will be announced live on stage at the IAAF Athletics Awards 2016 on Friday 2nd December in Monaco.