Last year we asked you to vote for your SPIKES Personality of the Year. This year we couldn't agree on a shortlist because, quite frankly, the chapter in the history book entitled Athletics in 2015 will be a hefty one. So screw the award shenanigans! Let's celebrate the people who made this year memorable on and off the track. These are the SPIKES Personalities of the Year.
The darling of British athletics won the heptathlon world title in Beijing just 13 months after the birth of her first child. Returning to compete across seven events was unchartered territory. With no precedent to follow, Ennis-Hill and her coach Toni Minichiello had to wing the programme.
Any doubts as to her readiness disappeared by the end of day one. Ennis-Hill established a slender lead that had her challengers wilting as they tried to catch her. Top marks for resilience and bonus points for making our favourite Vine of the year (AKA "breaking the athletics internet").
Canadian Lewis Kent first made headlines when he broke the beer mile world record in October. On the back of that he became the first beer miler go pro when he signed a shoe deal with Brooks. Then he went stratospheric by appearing on the Ellen DeGeneres show.
The fame (or the suds) didn't go to his head as he broke his own world record to take gold at the beer mile world championships. Whatever you think about the beer mile, Kent definitely got people talking about track. That can only be a good thing.
With his kidney function plummeting towards 15% (anything under 20% is considered failure), Merritt lined up for the final of the 110m hurdles in Beijing knowing that it could be his last race ever. Days later he would undergo transplant surgery that had a one in four chance of going wrong – that’s the same odds as tossing a coin twice and it landing heads both times.
Merritt finished third, running his fastest since 2012 when he won Olympic gold and set the world record. The winner, Sergey Shubenkov, didn’t even know he was ill. Less than three months post-transplant he's already back hurdling in pursuit of defending his title in Rio next year.
At the 2014 USA national championships Montano ran while 34-weeks pregnant. At the 2015 World Relays in May she bagged 4x800m gold. In July she stormed home to clinch her sixth national 800m title – less than eleven months after giving birth – and introduce the world to her adorable child, Linnea. Less than a month later she was on another podium, this collecting PanAm silver in Toronto. That's #mumgoals for you right there.
Salwa Eid Naser
Everyone hates running the 400m. Everyone. Try running it at over 3,000 ft altitude in 30ºC heat while covered from head to toe. Because you’ll hate it even more.
Those were the conditions that Bahraini Eid Naser faced in Cali, where she took gold in a personal best and world youth leading 51.50. In October she improved her own WYL to win gold at the World Military Games and become the youngest athlete to take said title.
We asked her how hard it is to race wearing the hijab. “It’s not easy, but it’s my religion so it’s ok,” she shrugged. Phenomenal attitude. Phenomenal athlete.
Not even multi-event athletes have to compete in two disciplines at the same time. Rivera made it through to both the shot put and javelin finals at the Cali World Youth Cahmpionships, but rather than load up just one of her baskets with eggs, she divvied them up in two with the nonchalance of a Frenchman. Her reward: silver in the shot and eighth in the jav.
Nick Symmonds makes teams. It’s what he does. But coming into the 2015 US outdoor championships few gave him a prayer, thinking him too old and out of shape, more interested in his business interests to repel the challenge of a younger crop.
Think again. Symmonds put in a trademark late burst to win his sixth American 800m title and continue a streak of top three finishes at every national champs he’s competed at dating back to 2006.
And then he made a stand. The immediate effect of his public battle with his national governing body meant he didn't take his place on the team that went to Beijing. The longer-term effects, however, were constructive debates and genuine change for the good of his fellow athletes, and for the richness of the track and field tapestry. Pre lives.
In March 2014 van der Plaetsen won world indoor bronze in a Belgium national record. In October he received a letter telling him he had failed an out-of-competition doping test.
He hadn’t. It was worse.
The abnormal readings were a result of testicular cancer. Just over seven months after finishing chemotherapy he won gold at the World University Games. At the Beijing World Championships in August he finished fourteenth. The 24-year-old has set up the Back On Track Foundation to support other cancer sufferers in a return to normal life. In van der Plaetsen there is a remarkable example of how to do just that.
The Croatian high jumper competed in just three competitions in 2015. After her second, in New York, her season looked over. Pain in her Achilles left her unable to walk. She was advised to stop. No more competitions and minimal training.
Unprepared and unsure, she headed to the Beijing world champs. Vlasic wobbled through to the final, where she cleared 2.01m, the second best jump of the year by any woman, and enough to earn an improbable, miraculous silver medal. Cue the dancing.
We don’t know what it is about the high jump, but it just makes us want to break out into dance.
Zhang proved he has the moves as well as the grooves, winning world champs silver in Beijing to the delight of the Bird's Nest. Hips don't lie.