The track and field season is just about wrapped up. The non-global championship year provided plenty of highlights, even if few of them included Usain Bolt, who ran a total of 400m in competition this year.
Here are NBC Olympics track and field analyst Ato Boldon‘s awards for the 2014 season:
Male Athlete: Justin Gatlin (Undefeated in the 100m and 200m with world-leading times of 9.77 and 19.68)
Ato’s Take: A no-brainer. He’s still a very controversial figure for obvious reasons, but this was one of the best sprint seasons ever. When you get Usain Bolt to admit he wouldn’t have beaten him this year, that means a lot. If Gatlin didn’t have the 200m season that he had, I would have given the edge to Mutaz Barshim, simply because he became the No. 2 high jumper ever behind Javier Sotomayor. Statistically, Barshim had better marks than Gatlin, but Gatlin gets the edge for being undefeated in two events.
Female Athlete: Valerie Adams (Undefeated in the shot put, 56 straight competitions without a loss)
Ato’s Take: She started to make it look a little ridiculous this year. Not only is she winning, but nobody is really close. She might be the most dominant athlete in any track and field event for the last couple years. I also like Sandra Perkovic (Croatian who won six of seven Diamond League discus competitions) and Jenny Simpson (Diamond League 1500m champion). Simpson is so much better now than when she won the World title in 2011.
Men’s Event: High jump (five men cleared 2.40m, with Qatar’s Barshim and Ukraine’s Bohdan Bondarenko taking several attempts at breaking the 21-year-old world record of 2.45m)
Ato’s Take: No question here, and I don’t even know what second place would be. This really started last year at the World Championships (won by Bondarenko at a championship-record height, followed by three world record attempts). It’s very rare that an event is able to sustain that momentum to another year. We’ve had good 100m, 200m seasons that dovetail a little bit into the season that follows. I don’t see any reason, especially with their ages, why they’re not going to keep this going (Barshim is 23, Bondarenko 25).
So infrequently in my career did everything stop for a field event. That was the case a lot this season. These guys rewrote the all-time top 10, they beat up on each other every week, and we were the better for it because they were jumping heights we haven’t seen in quite some time.
Women’s Event: 3000m Steeplechase
Ato’s Take: When I ran, the U.S. just did not factor in this race, but Emma Coburn was the third-fastest woman in the world this year. The season’s over with just two Ethiopians in front of her, and she’s younger than them (23). For the U.S., gone are the days where the medals come just from the sprints and relays. This year has indicated where there are some medals available in events that the U.S. hasn’t previously medaled in.
Men’s Singular Performance: Mutaz Barshim jumping 2.43m in Brussels
Ato’s Take: To become the second-highest jumper of all time. Gatlin’s 19.68 (200m in Monaco) because of the other people in that race (Nickel Ashmeade, Christophe Lemaitre, Tyson Gay, Curtis Mitchell) and because of the margin of victory (.31) is honorable mention, as well as Renaud Lavillenie‘s world record in the pole vault (in the indoor season).
Women’s Singular Performance: Tori Bowie’s 10.80 in Monaco
Ato’s Take: Also, Poland’s Anita Wlodarczyk breaking the world record in the hammer throw (the only women’s Olympic event world record broken this year).
Men’s Surprise: Justin Gatlin’s 200m running (19.68 in July; 19.71 in September)
Ato’s Take: He had never broken 19.80 before this year, despite the fact he won Olympic and World Championships medals in the event. What also bears mentioning is the 110m hurdles. Of the 10 fastest times this year, Pascal Martinot-Lagarde had five of them. Nobody could have predicted that at the beginning of the year. And the U.S. only had one of the top 10 in Ronnie Ash.
Brussels Diamond League replay: Sunday, 2-3 p.m. ET, NBC and NBC Sports Live Extra
Women’s Surprise: Tori Bowie
Ato’s Take: Nobody knew who she was in 2013. This year she’s ending the season with the fastest time in the world in the 100m, and, for most of the season, she had the fastest time in the 200m. If she’s healthy (Bowie pulled up in her last race Aug. 24 with a leg injury), she makes the next three global championship teams and is winning medals.
Looking Forward to in 2015: The return of the Jamaicans to face Gatlin
Ato’s Take: I think Bolt’s people have figured out something. It doesn’t matter what they do from now up until the day of the 100m final in Rio. The reality is that Bolt could potentially lose Worlds next year, and I don’t think that’s going to damage his legacy. His legacy is an Olympic legacy. One thing I expect to see from Bolt is he’s going to run more 200s, and he’s already talked about it (wanting to break his 19.19 world record). The 100m is harder for him as he ages.
Also, Sanya Richards-Ross versus the world in the 400m, because she appears to be fully back (from the post-Olympic toe injury). And Christian Taylor versus Will Claye in the triple jump.
Don’t Forget About: Ashton Eaton coming back after a 400m hurdles season
Ato’s Take: He and I had a conversation about running the 400m hurdles last year, and he was really trying what many people think is one of the hardest events in track and field. He got all the way down to 48.69 seconds and ended up beating some guys who specialize in it (like the Olympic gold and silver medalists in Glasgow). A lot of people may scoff at the whole notion of the world’s greatest athlete, but in his case it’s not up for debate.