Wow, it’s December already, and there’s still so much left to talk about regarding the 2011 season. Several events left to review and some outstanding performances to look at. And I’m going to try to get to as much as I can before the clock turns to 2012.
One thing that I don’t want to overlook is what I’m going to call my heroes of 2011 – a group of athletes that in my opinion were tremendous competitors in 2011. They were entertaining and competitive all year long – and I’m looking forward to following during 2012.
With that, here are my heroes of 2011:
Carmelita Jeter (USA) – sprints
I fully expected Jeter to have a great season in the 100 meters. She’d been building to World Championships gold since 2007 when she won the bronze medal in Osaka. One of the things that I was looking forward to in 2011 was her battles with Veronica Campbell Brown – and they did not disappoint. What I did not expect from Jeter, and was pleasantly surprised with, was her rise in the 200 meters! It’s not common to see a short sprinter move up to challenge in the longer sprint, but that’s what Jeter did this year. She defeated defending World Champion, Allyson Felix, three times over 200, and won the silver medal behind this year’s champion, Veronica Campbell Brown. Now I’m not only looking forward to Jeter’s 100 meter battles, but her head to heads with the best over 200 in 2012.
The triple jump used to be one of those events where Americans were consistently in contention. Willie Banks, Mike Conley, and Kenny Harrison had made the triple jump one of our better events in the field for some time. Since Harrison’s Olympic win in 1996, however, we’ve had quite the drought in the event. Aside from a brief moment in ’05 when Walter Davis got us back to the top of the podium in Helsinki (followed by bronze in Osaka) we’ve had no one for the better part of two decades that could really challenge the world’s best – until 2011. This year, young Taylor became a combination of Willie Banks and Kenny Harrison – a come from behind wizard a la Banks, and a talent capable of spanning out near 59 feet a la Harrison. The result, a World title while becoming the #5 all-time performers in history – and he’s only twenty one years old! For the past couple of seasons we’ve been talking about Teddy Tamgho. Suddenly Tamgho has company and this could be one of the best events in the sport for some time to come.
David Rudisha (KEN) – 800 meters
What can I say about Rudisha that I haven’t already said over the last couple of seasons? He did the seemingly impossible last year by taking down an 800 WR that had stood since 1997. This year he proved that that was no fluke, by running a sizzling 1:41.33 in Rieti – the # 5 performance in history. What may have been even more impressive however is the fact that he went to Daegu and dominated the rest of the world while adding a gold medal to his resume. Some may not consider that a major accomplishment, until you consider that winning medals in Majors has not always come easily to 800 meter world record holders. Sebastian Coe, the first man to run under 1:42, never won a major over 800. Wilson Kipketer won three World titles, but never the Olympics. So Rudisha dominating as he did in a Major was a huge accomplishment, in my opinion. And I’m dying to see if he can do it again in London.
Morgan Uceny (USA) – 1500 meters
We’ve been waiting for some time for the next great American Miler – the next Jim Ryun or Mary Decker (Slaney). I think we found her this year in Morgan Uceny. We’ve had tremendous success these past couple of seasons in the women’s middle distances here in the U.S. Along with Uceny we’ve seen great improvement from Christin Wurth Thomas, Anna Pierce, and this year’s World Champion Jenny Simpson, among others. But of them all, Uceny has shown the ability to consistently put her race together. To always be in contention. And most importantly, she’s shown the ability to put a race away – a killer instinct. She was the world’s best in 2011 and I expect to see her moving up on the third lap in the final in London, before beginning her kick with 150 meters to go to the finish. We’ll see what happens from there.
Sally Pearson (AUS) – 100 hurdles
The women find themselves competing against each other AND the ghosts of eastern bloc athletes past. As the all-time lists and record books are filled with the names of women from eastern bloc countries that we all know achieved their marks illegally. It makes it tough on the women to garner headlines by breaking records like their counterparts on the men’s side – which is why I found Pearson’s performances to be the best on the year for me. First off, Pearson completely dominated her competition – not easy to do in an event that is both too short to allow for error and highly technical. But Pearson did just that. Her sizzling 12.28 win in Daegu, however, made her the only “Western” athlete to run under the mystical 12.30 barrier! Only women with the names Donkova, Zagorocheva, and Narozhilenko had accomplished that feat before. Now Pearson stands to potentially become the best of them all, in an age where most women only dream about approaching WR status.
Mo Farah (GBR) – distances
Somewhere around the mid 1980’s the distance vents became the property of Africa, as athletes from that continent simply started dominating everything from 1500 meters through the marathon. For the past quarter century when you think major championships you start talking about Kenya, Ethiopia, and Morocco before adding the names of athletes from anywhere else. The lone exception over the past half-decade has been Bernard Lagat, but the caveat with Lagat is that he started out in Kenya, and we’ve benefited from his transfer here to the U.S. In 2011, however, Britain’s own Mo Farah went toe to toe with the big boys of the 5000/10,000 and won – bringing home World gold and silver respectively. Some will say that Mo has African roots, as he is Somalian by birth. But Farah has been in Britain since the age of six, and for all intents and purposes his upbringing and training has been as a Britain – just as his victories are cheered. And while I cheer with passion the athletes from Africa, it’s always nice to see from countries outside of Africa do well in the distances, because it enriches the sport.
Christophe Lemaitre (FRA) – sprints
Speaking of enriching the sport, that is what my final hero did in 2011. For most of the last decade the sprints have been dominated by athletes from the U.S. and the Caribbean islands – with few others able to break up that monopoly. In 2010 Lemaitre became something of a “novelty” as he became the first white sprinter in history to break the 10.00 barrier. In 2011 Lemaitre moved from novelty to consistent elite sprinter and the podium in Daegu taking bronze in the 200 and just missing with his 4th in the 100. Four times he ran under 10 seconds in the 100 legally, topped by an NR 9.92; and he became the #2 European in history over 200 with his 19.80 in the deuce. Lemaitre is not longer a novelty, he’s a serious contender for medals in London.
Those are my heroes for 2011. Some of the best the sport has to offer.