Thursday, October 13, 2011

Sally Pearson – My 2011 Female Athlete of the Year

imageIn a year where the women laid it down across the board, this was an extremely difficult decision. There was Betty Heidler (GER), who set the year’s only WR with a new mark in the Hammer. Lashinda Demus (USA) who became #3 all time with her gold medal victory in the 400 hurdles in Daegu. And there was Anna Chicherova (RUS) who moved to =#3 all time in the high jump and defeated Blanka Vlasic during an exciting year.

However, in spite of their outstanding performances and records, they don’t crack the top three – such were the performances at the top of the scale this year. You see, Heidler, Demus and Chicherova all had two losses in a year where perfection was the order of the day. And in 2011 there were three women that were perfect in three very different events.

There was shot putter Valerie Adams (NZL) who became the second farthest shot putter of the New Millenium– in an event where the all-time list is dominated/polluted by the drug ravaged 70’s & 80’s – on her way to an undefeated season and World gold. There was distance runner Vivian Cheruiyot (KEN) who won both the 5000 & 10,000 in Daegu and became the #3 performer all time in the 5000 during the season. And there was Sally Pearson (AUS), gold medalist in the 100 hurdles, who became the #4 performer all time in Daegu.

The question became: how do you compare perfection? I changed my mind well over a dozen times trying to separate these women into some “order”. In the end I found myself comparing their overall bodies of work and finally selecting – Sally Pearson (AUS). She literally competed all year long as she started sprinting competitively during the Australian summer season at the end of January! She won Australian titles in the 100 & 200 in addition to her specialty 100 meter hurdles.

She completely dominated the hurdle event as she was undefeated up to her final race of the season where she hit a hurdle, went down, and didn’t finish – that “bobble” is my only hesitation in naming her “#1”, as technically it keeps her from being “perfect”. My personal judgment call being that no other woman beat her over the season, and even then she was in a dominant position in the race. For me that was the key because other than that “bobble”, she blew away the field time and time again as she won 10 straight finals! One of those was the World Championships final where she became the 4th fastest hurdler of all time with her sizzling 12.28 win – the fastest performance since 1992 when Lyudmila Engquist (then Narozolenko) won the Olympic title in Barcelona in 12.26 (with a 12.28 semi).

More importantly, it’s the fastest time ever run outside of the “Eastern Bloc” athletes – who were all later admitted to systemized doping. As such this may technically be the fastest ever “legal” time in the event – i.e. potentially a WR without drugs - again, a judgment call on my part. When you are able to compete at the same level as those that came before you that needed enhancement to do so, that was the final tipping point for me.

That’s why right behind her in my estimation is Valerie Adams. Adams was a perfect 13 for 13 on the year and set an Area Record of 21.24m/69’ 8.25”. As stated earlier, that toss was actually the second best of the New Millenium. When compared to the all-time list, however, she is only #22 on the list. Yes I know, splitting hairs, but I needed some way to set them apart.

That means next is Vivian Cheruiyot (KEN), double World Champion in the 5000/10000 in Daegu. Vivian was undefeated in both events – three wins in the 10000, five wins in the 5000. Her 5000 meter win in Stockholm (14:20.87) made her the #3 performer ever with the #4 performance. Only the Ethiopian duo of Tirunesh Dibaba and Meseret Defar has run faster. Cheruiyot’s en-route 3000 of 8:38.67 was eight seconds faster than anyone else ran in the open event this year! She won four Diamond League races over 5000, winning in Shanghai, Eugene, Stockholm and Zurich. She doubled over both 5 & 10 in Daegu and won gold in both – only the 2nd gold medal 5/10 double ever at Worlds. However, it’s the volume of her season that leaves her just behind the others as she just didn’t have as full a season as Perason & Adams.

My #4 is Betty Heidler, Germany’s WR setting Hammer thrower. Heidler set a huge WR of 79.42m/260’ 7” in Halle on May 21st in a terrific series (77.19, 76.98, 79.42, 75.34, 75.62, 76.00). This came on the heels of two losses in her first two opening meets. She had a nice 8 meet winning streak, and then lost again in Daegu, before she closed out the year with four more wins. Given her WR, she may have been closer to #1 had she won in Daegu.

In a great year for the women, my #5 is Carmelita Jeter (USA) who had an awesome season in the sprints. In the 100 meters, she was one race short of perfection winning 11 of 12 meets. Those eleven wins included the World title, two legal races under 10.80 (10.70 SB), and eight sub 11’s. Already #2 all time in the 100, only #3 Marion Jones and WR holder Florence Griffith Joyner have run faster than this year’s 10.70. She also gave the 200 meters some serious attention this year, resulting in four legal races under 22.30 (22.20 PR), three wins over Allyson Felix, and the silver medal in Daegu. She’s my highest ranking American and my U.S. Female Athlete of the Year.

So there you have it, my Athlete of the Year on the female side and top five overall. Below is the season in detail for Sally Pearson. Next up, my Male Athlete of the Year.


Sally Pearson’s 2011 Season – Finals Only

100 meters        
11.46 1.6 1 Gold Coast Jan 29
11.35 0.2 1 Brisbane Feb 11
11.57 -1.3 1 Hobart Feb 20
11.52 -1.1 1 Melbourne Mar 3
11.21 0.1 1 Sydney Mar 19
11.20 0.5 1 Perth Mar 31
11.38 -0.6 1 Melbourne Apr 16
11.35 0.6 2 Gold Coast Jun 18
11.21 1.7 1 Gold Coast Jun 25
11.24 -0.1 2 Rieti Sep 10
200 meters        
23.66 -1.8 1 Melbourne Jan 22
23.32 1.5 1 Gold Coast Jan 29
23.05 0.4 1 Brisbane Feb 11
23.60 -0.4 1 Hobart Feb 20
23.36 -0.4 1 Melbourne Mar 3
23.12 -0.2 1 Sydney Mar 19
23.22 -0.5 1 Perth Apr 1
23.20 -1.4 1 Melbourne Apr 17
400 meters        
53.86   1 Gold Coast Jun 4
100 hurdles        
12.85 0.6 1 Perth Mar 31
12.83 -1.1 1 Melbourne Apr 17
12.74 1.1 1 Gold Coast Jun 18
12.47 3.3 1 Lausanne Jun 30
12.48 0.7 1 Birmingham Jul 10
12.51 0.9 1 Monaco Jul 22
12.58 -0.4 1 London Aug 6
12.36 (semi) 0.3 1 Daegu Sep 3
12.28 (final) 1.1 1 Daegu Sep 3
12.52 0.2 1 Zurich Sep 8
12.68 -0.4 1 Zagreb Sep 13
DNF 0.4   Brussels Sep 16


  1. I don't disagree with your selections, but saying that Vivian Cheruiyot needs more volume is a little unfair. I think a 5/10k runner competing as much as a sprinter or thrower throughout the year would more than likely not be a positive approach to a season.

  2. I agree that a 5/10 runner can't compete with the frequency of a sprint or thrower .. But when you look at Vivian's record, she competed in basically one race a month ..

    Of course going back and looking at several athletes records since your post, less volume is becoming the norm across the board in several events - including sprints and hurdles - so perhaps that was a bit unfair ..

    That said I think I would still maintain the same order for the women ...

    But I find myself faced with the same issue with the men which I should be done with later today ..