A raft of world records and the highest quality Olympics ever saw 2016 deliver some of the greatest moments in track and field history. Call us greedy, but here's our wish list for 2017.
1. More hurdle history
There was no doubting who the fastest female hurdler of 2016 was. Keni Harrison stormed to an earth-shattering 100m hurdles 12.20 world record at the London Anniversary Games and recorded an astonishing eight sub-12.50 times (Olympic champion Brianna Rollins was the only other athlete to dip under the mark this year).
But the 24-year-old’s talent isn’t limited to the short hurdles. Her 400m hurdles PB of 54.09 from the NCAA Championships in 2015 would have ranked her eighth in the world last year.
“Further down the line I definitely want to do both,” she told us in December. “2018 is probably going to be my year to try the 400 hurdles again.
“Depending on how 2018 goes, maybe try and double at the next world championships and maybe the Olympics.”
Surely one or two 400m hurdles races in 2017 to whet the appetite won’t do any harm?
2. The prince to take on the king
Usain Bolt may have ruled out a 400m race against David Rudisha – “not even for charity,” he said in December – but we’d love to see 400m world record holder Wayde van Niekerk take on the sprint king over half the distance.
Last year, South African van Niekerk became the first athlete to go sub-10 for 100m, sub-20 for 200m and sub-44 for 400m, and has hinted he will be doing a few more short sprints in 2017. The pair trained together in Jamaica ahead of Rio 2016, and a clash between two of the greatest sprinters of our generation would be a tasty appetizer to the London World Championships, where Bolt will contest only the 100m.
According to Statman Jon’s fastest men’s combined sprinters ranking Usain Bolt remains the best in the world, but van Niekerk’s 2016 exploits moved him from 21st to 4th in the rankings. How much higher can he climb in 2017?
3. Mixed relays
...ARE ACTUALLY HAPPENING!
The mixed 4x400m relay at the World U18 Championships in Cali was a huge hit and we’ve been dreaming of a repeat at a major senior meet ever since.
In 2017 our prayers will be answered. The IAAF World Relays return to the Bahamas at the end of April, and the introduction of a mixed 4x400m will add further drama to what is already athletics’ most chaotic spectacle (as Cathal “From the Depths of Hell” Dennehy will attest to).
And if you (like us) just cannot wait quite that long, the World Cross Country Championships in Kampala, Uganda, will also see a mixed relay take place for the first time in history. Boy, are we pumped for more baton-related drama.
4. A new battle royale
Speaking of relays, a host of new players could cause a ruckus in the 4x100m this year.
South African speedsters are not limited to van Niekerk. In July 2016 Akani Simbine clocked a NR 9.89 in Budapest before finishing fifth at the Olympic Games. Anaso Jobodwana was injured for much of last year, but with a 200m lifetime best of 19.87 you wouldn’t want to miss him on a bend leg. Throw in national 100m champion Henricho Bruintjes, who holds a PB of 9.97, and you’ve got yourself a serious team.
Meanwhile, the Japanese 4x100m team went up a level last year. In heat one of Rio 2016, China broke the Asian record with 37.82, only for Japan to better it with 37.68 in the next heat. In the final, the Japanese team stole the show, winning a historic silver behind Jamaica and improving their own record to 37.60 in the process.
It has been a decade since the men’s world title was won by any team other than the Jamaicans – we would love to see a battle royale play out at London 2017.
5. Unprecedented heights
In every event there’s a magical mark that very few athletes come close to. In the women’s pole vault that mark is the 5 metres. Only three female vaulters in history have cleared that mark or higher – two of them did it in 2016.
In January, Jenn Suhr secured her spot as second on the all-time lists with a 5.03m clearance and won world indoor gold in Portland. A virus kept her from defending her Olympic title in Rio, but she bounced back in October with a 5.01m indoor clearance.
After fracturing her wrist in May, fellow American Sandi Morris added her name to the history books by going over 5.00m at the Brussels Diamond League in September, meaning the 24-year-old Olympic silver medallist improved her personal best by a whopping 24 centimetres in 2016.
Get those two in a competition with Olympic champ Ekaterini Stefanidi, who last year cleared 4.80m or higher on eight occassions, and crazy heights will surely beckon.
The world record is 5.06m #justsaying.
6. Marathon of the century
There has been much talk of a sub-2-hour marathon attempt a Nike team is targeting in spring and Adidas and an independent project are also trying to break through the magical barrier. But there’s something else we would rather see in 2017.
Championship marathons are normally more tactical than fast. For next year’s London World Championships, we would love to see Ghirmay Ghebreslassie (reigning champion), Dennis Kimetto (world record holder), Eliud Kipchoge (Olympic champion), Kenenisa Bekele (second fastest all-time) and Wilson Kipsang (former world record holder), fight for glory on the streets of the English capital.
If all of them qualify and stay injury-free, we could be in for a treat. And the best thing is, it’s free to watch!