So before the month gets away, and Baby New Year shows up, I want to give out some kudos to athletes that I feel really got the job done in 2011. I’m going to call them “The Best of 2011”. Some categories are a bit nontraditional – Best Start for example - while others will probably be seen on other lists – like Best Performance.
Just a bit of fun as we wind down the year, and a chance to hand out a little praise. So without further ado let’s get started.
Best Start, Male – Asafa Powell
He may have difficulty holding the true studs off at the finish, but Powell is still the fastest man out of the blocks. It wasn’t an easy win this year though. Countryman Steve Mullings was vying to take over the title, but his suspension takes him out of the running. Ditto Mike Rodgers who has a great get away, but fell to the testers a la Mullings. The man who may take the title in earnest next year however, is Jamaica’s Nesta Carter. The relay leadoff man is my #2 and rising.
Best Start, Female – English Gardener
This was a tough one to decide. Shelly Ann Fraser Pryce still has a nice getaway, but it was not as dominant as in the past. And in the hurdles it was Sally Pearson ahead at the first hurdle and never looking back. But the woman that simply blazed out of the blocks in 2011 was Oregon frosh English Gardener. The Powell/Carter of the women’s 100, the gun goes off and Gardener is meters up on her opponents before they come out of drive phase! A little finishing strength and she could be the surprise of 2012!
Best Finish, Male – Kirani James
I know, some were probably expecting Usain Bolt or Yohan Blake – and both were in the running. And Ngoni Makusha’s come from behind win to take the NCAA 100 title had Carl Lewis written all over it. For me, however, James invoked visions of Lee Evans and Butch Reynolds – power down the straight while reeling cats in, over and over! And the stretch run between James and Merritt in Daegu was vintage track and field.
Best Finish, Female – Carmelita Jeter
Take off the “er” and you have “Jet” and that’s just what Carmelita was in full flight – a jet. She ran 10.70 and 10.78 from behind – as she did when she ran 10.64 & 10.67 in ’09. Only VCB (Veronica Campbell Brown) is in her league over the final 50 of the 100 – and “Jet” put that to bed in Daegu! Now if she can just develop a semblance of a consistent start, to go with that last 60 overdrive could we see FloJo challenged?
Best Track Performance, Male – Yohan Blake, 19.26
I’m still in awe of anyone that runs under 1:42 in the 800 – that’s just a stud’s performance. And David Rudisha did it again with his 1:42.33 – simply awesome. But as they would have said back in the day, “19.2 ain’t no joke”! As a matter of fact it’s the #2 performance ever. And to top it off he did it from behind while beating a 19.56. Just a few years ago 19.32 was the stuff of legend. Now? Nuff said.
Best Track Performance, Female – Vivian Cheruiyot, 14:20.87
This was another tough call for me. Sally Pearson’s 12.28 is literally WR territory in my mind – as only 3 Eastern Bloc athletes have run faster. This on the heels of a 12.36 semi – only Gail Devers among Western women has run faster. But after much internal debate I’m giving the nod to Cheruiyot coming as it did as the second half of a 10,000/5000 double. Both women performed their best on the brightest stage, but Vivian gave an all time performance over 5000 after running a quality 10,000.
Best Field Performer, Male – Christian Taylor, 17.96m/58’ 11.25”
This is actually one of my favorite events, and it’s great to see a lot of young talent coming forward. The best of these appears to be Mr. Taylor. For starters he’s made a habit of finding his best jumps late in the competition. And none was any better than this one, as it was in response to a 58 foot jump by defending champion Idowu. Taylor kept his composure and bounded out to the #9 performance in history to become the #5 all-time performer.
Best Field Performer, Female – Betty Heidler, 79.42m/260’ 6.75”
A WR trumps all, and that’s what Heidler produced in 2011. She didn’t just break the record however; she smashed it by a whopping 1.12m/3’ 8”! Now that’s leaving your mark. While others are trying desperately to get into WR territory in various events, she hit this one out of the park.
Most Improved, Male – Mo Farah
In a world dominated by Ethiopian and Kenyan distance runners, Farah moved to the head of the class in 2011. His British Record 12:53.11 lead the world over 5000 meters, and he backed it up with gold in the event in Daegu. He took an oh so close silver at Worlds in the 10,000, though he showed even more improvement there on the clock – dropping his pre 2011 best from 27:28.86 down to a stunning 26:46.57! He could be the big “home crowd” medal winner with the Olympic Games being in London in 2012!
Most Improved, Female – Morgan Uceny
Yet another tough one for me to sort out – and one I may get some argument on. Heidler got consideration – you have to when you set a WR. But the WR was a big outlier for her. It really came down to Pearson & Uceny. Pearson dropped to 12.28 from a pre-2011 best of 12.50, and she was the picture of perfection time after time. Uceny dropped to 4:00.06 (tantalizingly close to sub4) from a pre-2011 best of 4:02.40, while running textbook perfect races repeatedly. At the end of the day, I decided that the improvement Uceny’s race – both in terms of becoming one of the best “tactician’s” on the circuit, as well as her improvement in times – slightly outweighed Pearson’s improvement in consistency. Slightly.
That’s my list. I’m sure there may be some disagreement – means we have more stars in this sport than we spend time talking about! And that’s a good thing. I have a few more things I want to look back on before Christmas gets . Much to look at before we close the door on 2011.