Usain Bolt, Mo Farah and Wayde van Niekerk undoubtedly deserve their spots on the Male World Athlete of the Year short list. We look at the moments that defined their 2016 season.
14th May – Cayman Invitational
The world’s fastest man had a slow start to the year with an ankle injury causing headache.
He opened his season with little fanfare at the Cayman Invitational, winning the 100m with a modest 10.05 clocking. Unlike the showman we expect, Bolt was relatively reserved after the race.
“I’m just glad I got out of that one injury-free,” he told the press. “It’s a season-opener so you never know what to expect.”
22nd July – London Anniversary Games
After solid wins in Ostrava and Kingston, Bolt was forced to pull out of the Jamaican Trials with a hamstring tear. The Jamaican Federation set him an ultimatum to prove his fitness ahead to the Rio Olympics at the London Anniversary Games.
“I’m not nervous at all,” he told a packed press conference the day before the race. “I was disappointed not to run at the trials and I need the races.”
He took the win in 19.89, it was his first 200m race of the season. Though his fitness was confirmed, Bolt’s form would remain a topic of hot debate across the sports pages and forums ahead of the Games.
14th August – Olympic 100m final
Bolt meant business as he settled into the starting blocks in pursuit of his first Rio gold. He was dominant from the off and crossed the line first in 9.81, 0.08 ahead of second place. The critics were silenced.
“Somebody said I can become immortal,” he said after the win. “Two more medals to go and I can sign off. Immortal.”
Golds in the 200m and 4x100m followed within days. Signed off. Immortal.
26th March – Cardiff World Half Marathon Championships
Seeing Mo Farah lose a race is a rare thing. Even more so when the race is on home soil. So when the five-time world champion finished in third behind Geoffrey Kamworor – who fell in the opening yards – and Bedan Karoki, it highlighted something: Mo Farah is beatable.
Shivering and wrapped in a blanket after battling the stormy Cardiff weather, Farah admitted: “It would have been nice to have come here and get the win, but a better athlete won on the day.
“Those guys were strong and I couldn’t quite keep with them – it was an incredible pace, at 10km they were really going for it.”
Both Kamworor and Karoki would be waiting for him in Rio.
13th August – Olympic 10,000m final
The 10k in Rio was to have different complexion.
Ahead of the race, many parallels were drawn between Farah and the great Lasse Viren, the only man in history to have won an Olympic 5k/10k double-double. When Farah tumbled at around halfway, emulating the Finn’s dramatic fall at the 1972 Munich Games, the similarities became even more striking, and the test Farah faced made all the steeper.
“I thought about all my hard work, and that it could all be gone in a minute,” Farah said afterwards. “I wasn’t going to let it go. I got up quickly.”
He went on to win gold in 27:05.17.
20th August – Olympic 5000m final
A week later, Farah lined up for his second title defence. His competitors’ goals were simple – “go fast and drop Mo Farah,” as Hagos Gebrhiwet later revealed.
But there was no stopping the Mo-train. The Brit won his fourth Olympic gold in 13:03.30.
“It's every athlete’s dream but I can't believe it,” a shocked Farah said in the post-race press conference. He has not lost a championships final on the track since 2011.
Wayde van Niekerk
12th March – Free State Championships
Wayde van Niekerk made history early in 2016 when he clocked a 9.98 in the 100m final of the Free State Championships in Bloemfontein in central South Africa.
A sub-10 as a 400m specialist is an impressive feat in itself, but van Niekerk’s result made him the first man in history to record sub-10/20/44 times for all three sprint distances.
He had achieved his “childhood dream of sub 10”. More dreams would be realised yet.
6th May – Bloemfontein Open Championships
Two months later van Niekerk found himself on the same Bloemfontein track, this time for the 400m, his main event. When news that he had recorded a world-leading 43.88 – a time only 11 men in history have achieved – in the heats hit social media, it sent athletics fans into pandemonium.
The athletics community then breathed a collective sigh of disappointment when it turned out the in-field clock had shown the wrong time and he’d actually only run 44.11 (a time only 20 in history have run).
Having left it all on the track chasing a sub-44 time in the heats, he chose not to line up for the final. It did, however, leave no doubt over his form heading to Rio.
14th August – Olympic 400m final
Van Niekerk rounded off his perfect season with a fairytale ending in Rio.
Running blind from lane eight, with the previous two Olympic champions on his inside, the South African chose to go all out. In the final 70m, the point where the lactic hits and most athletes simply try to stay on their feet, van Niekerk found an extra gear to clinch Olympic gold in the most emphatic way possible.
He won in a world record 43.03. There was no timing error this time. Experts around the globe were unable to process what they had just seen. Neither could the mild-mannered South African protagonist.
“I still have to pinch myself to think ‘was that me?’,” he said after the race, as stunned as the rest of the world.
The winner of the Male World Athlete of the Year Award will be announced live on stage at the IAAF Athletics Awards 2016 on Friday 2nd December in Monaco.