Bowerman Awards, this year and next

The Bowerman Awards were handed out last night to the top collegiate track and field athletes, as voted by a panel of experts. The winners were Cam Levins, a Canadian distance runner from Southern Utah, and Kimberlyn Duncan, a sprinter from LSU.

As with all awards shows (and make no mistake, the show is the important part at The Bowerman), many feel at least one of the awards was given to the wrong person. And the complaints pile up.

Is it the end of the world as we know it? No, that’s tomorrow. The thing to keep in mind is that these award shows are basically a bleed-over from the entertainment industry, where they exist for no other reason than as self-promotion vehicles.

Not that this is a bad thing; college track needs promotion, and The Bowerman award was created to do just that and it does it well. Ditto for the endless post-award arguing—remember, the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about. So if we argue about who got it and who should have gotten it, all the better. I’ve written about this before.

What at least some people are discussing is Brigetta Barrett. She won Olympic silver in the high jump yet did not win The Bowerman. The problem here is twofold. One is that even if the voters had ignored their instructions to only consider the collegiate season (at and before the NCAA Championships), we still couldn’t have factored in the Olympics because our ballots were due before the Olympics began. The timing of the award isn’t great, but December is basically the only time that all the athletes and coaches can get together in a single place.

The second problem is a bigger one, and common in track and field “best athlete” awards: single-event specialists usually get the short end of the stick. No single-event specialist has ever won The Bowerman in its four-year history, and only three of the twenty-four finalists have been single-event specialists. This a much more intractable problem, but The Bowerman Award is hardly alone in it.

Since The Bowerman ceremonies come basically right before the kickoff of the new season, I think the show should include a release of the watch list for next year’s award. Here’s how I rate the top ten returning men and women in college track.


1. Erik Kynard
Senior, high jump, Kansas State

Erik was a semifinalist for the 2012 award, his case for inclusion as a finalist was weakened by a 4th place at the NCAA Indoor Championships. Between then and now he’s become a force on the worldwide stage, winning Olympic silver. In 2013 he could take on one of the toughest collegiate records on the books, the 2.38 (7′ 9¾”) by Hollis Conway in 1989.

2. Derek Drouin
Senior, high jump, Indiana

Right behind Kynard at the London Olympics was Drouin, earning a bronze medal in a three-way tie. June’s NCAA Championships was actually the first time Kynard beat Drouin in a championship meet. The only collegiate meets in which the two will go head-to-head are the indoor and outdoor national championships. The last time multiple men’s Olympic high jump medalists returned for a collegiate season was in 1937.

3. Alexander Zeigler
Senior, hammer, Virginia Tech

Ziegler is the two-time defending NCAA hammer throw champion and ranks #8 on the all-time collegiate list. He was undefeated against collegians in 2012.

4. Tim Glover
Senior, javelin, Illinois State

Glover is the two-time defending NCAA javelin throw champion and ranks #9 on the all-time collegiate list. Were he to become a Bowerman finalist, he would be the first who does not compete during the indoor season.

5. Kennedy Kithuka
Junior, distance, Texas Tech

Kithuka dominated a tough field at the NCAA Cross Country Championships, indicating that big things could come on the track.

6. Jordan Clarke
Senior, throws, Arizona State

Clarke swept the NCAA indoor and outdoor titles in 2012 but also competes in the discus and hammer, also qualifying to the NCAA Championships in the latter event.

7. Lawi Lalang
Sophomore, distance, Arizona

Lalang burst onto the collegiate scene in the fall of 2011 in convincing fashion, tearing up the competition during cross country season. He continued that dominance in last year’s indoor season, but has become strangely human since then. If he returns to his record-breaking form, he’ll be a contender for The Bowerman.

8. Harry Adams
Senior, sprints, Auburn

Adams ran some blazing fast times last year. In the NCAA Championships 100 meters, he lost out to Andrew Riley by an eyelash. In the 200 prelims he came up injured. If he returns to form, he’s the hands-down NCAA Championships favorite in the sprints.

9. Jack Whitt
Senior, pole vault, Oral Roberts

Whitt’s only loss in a collegiate final last year was at the NCAA Indoor Championships, where he finished third.

10. Chad Wright
Junior, throws, Nebraska

Wright only won three discus competitions last year, but one of them was the NCAA Championships.


1. Brigetta Barrett
Senior, high jump, Arizona

Barrett has a surprise Olympic silver medal, plus four straight NCAA Championships (two indoors, two outdoors) and a long collegiate winning streak (last losing in April 2011). She could threaten the collegiate record of 1.98 meters (6′ 6″).

2. Kimberlyn Duncan
Senior, sprints, LSU

Duncan returns for her senior year and could become the first to win back-to-back Bowermans. Even though only the collegiate season is supposed to be considered for the award, it’s still hard to ignore Barrett’s Olympic medal.

3. Georganne Moline
Senior, 400 hurdles, Arizona

Moline had a great season going last year but tripped and fell in the NCAA Championships semifinals. She made up for that by making the Olympic team. That wasn’t all; she ended up fifth in the Olympic final, just 0.54 seconds out of a medal.

4. Emma Coburn
Senior, steeplechase, Colorado

Coburn redshirted last year in order to concentrate on the Olympics and it paid off in a big way. She won the Olympic Trials, then qualified to the Olympic final where she finished ninth. She is now the third-fastest US steeplechaser of all time.

5. Tia Brooks
Senior, shot put, Oklahoma

Brooks is the #2 collegiate shot putter of all time and swept the NCAA Championships both indoors and outdoors last year. She was also an Olympian, taking third at the Trials.

6. Ashley Spencer
Sophomore, 400 meters, Illinois

After winning the NCAA 400 meter title as a freshman last year, she went on to the World Junior Championships and won that too.

7. English Gardner
Junior, sprints, Oregon

Gardner beat Duncan in the 100 at the NCAA Championships last year and won the indoor 60 meters to go with it. She’s tied for #8 on the all-time collegiate list in the 100.

8. Abby D’Agostino
Junior, distance, Dartmouth

D’Agostino was a heavy favorite to win the NCAA Cross Country Championships before being slowed by an injury, and still finished a close second. A great outdoor season in 2012 was capped by an NCAA title at 5000 meters and coming ever so close to making the Olympic team.

9. Shalaya Kipp
Senior, steeplechase, Colorado

Like teammate Coburn, Kipp made the Olympic team, but without skipping the collegiate season. In Coburn’s absence she won the NCAA title and moved to #8 on the all-time collegiate list.

10. Katie Flood
Junior, middle distance, Washington

Flood won the NCAA outdoor 1500 meters. Indoors, she ran the 4th-fastest collegiate mile of all time.

LATE EDIT: It has been suggested to me that I was foolish to have left Shelbi Vaughn off the list. The freshman thrower at Texas A&M decimated the high school discus records last year, took fourth at the Olympic Trials and bronze at the World Junior Championships.

Admittedly, I failed to consider her because I was looking through last year’s collegiate results and didn’t even think about incoming freshmen.

Maybe I could pretend there was a reason for this besides my own stupidity. Maybe I asked myself whether we consider an athlete for a collegiate award when she has yet to compete in a collegiate meet. Maybe I didn’t, but I’m looking for some intellectual cover here.

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4 Responses to Bowerman Awards, this year and next

  1. Open Your Eyes says:

    Based on your list it appears you are attempting to over-compensate for both problems you talked about in the beginning. It seems more than half of the people on the lists are single event people. And Duncan’s writeup talks about how difficult it will be to ignore Barrett’s Olympic medal.

    Which brings me to another point, and that is the seemingly clear bias against Duncan on this list. I would argue as the defending Bowerman winner she should be automatically #1 on your list, although that really doesn’t matter and Barrett is certainly well deserving of where you list her, for the reasons you listed(plus four straight NCAA Championships (two indoors, two outdoors) and a long collegiate winning streak (last losing in April 2011). She could threaten the collegiate record of 1.98 meters (6′ 6″).)

    However, those same reasons also apply to Duncan, and none of them are listed under her credentials. She too has won four straight NCAA Championships(not to mention two straight runner-up finishes in the 100, and back to back titles in the 4×100 relay, though one is vacated). She too has a long collegiate winning streak, dating back to February 2011. She too could threaten the collegiate record of 22.04 after running 22.19 last year. And looking at other bios, you mention Gardner is 8th all-time in the 100m. Well Duncan is 3rd. Brooks is the #2 shot putter of all-time. We Duncan is the #1 low-altitude , #2 wind-legal and #3 all-condition 200m runner of all-time.

    Obviously this is your list and you are welcome to create it as you see fit. I just find it unfair, and frankly a little disrespectful, that for the reigning winner of the award that you are making a list for, you felt it most important to talk about how hard it will be to overcome someone else instead of talking about why she is on the list in the first place.

  2. tracksuperfan says:

    I voted for Duncan in 2012 and would do so again, even in hindsight. The reasons you cited were why I did. Based on the rules in place, she was my choice. But it was very close and all three finalists had their merits .

    My criteria for the pre-2013 ranking were Olympic finalists and Bowerman semifinalists in 2012, and those were heavily single-event athletes. I put Barrett at #1 because she was the only returning collegian nominated for T&FN’S U.S. Athlete of the Year award (in fact, the only male or female collegian, period).

    Had Barrett won the Bowerman, I probably would have flip-flopped my #1 and #2 choices, just to be contrarian.

  3. Open Your Eyes says:

    Again, certainly there is a case to be made for Barrett to be where you have her. I feel the bigger issue is the seeming slight against the reigning winner and why she is on the list in the first place. For the other 19 athletes, it seems they are on the list because of their accomplishments and what they could possibly do this coming season. For Duncan, it seems she will be lucky to overcome a fellow athlete’s accomplishments that truthfully are not even supposed to be considered for the award.

  4. tracksuperfan says:

    Every accomplishment I’ve listed for every nominee (save the three who ran cross country) is not to be considered for the 2013 award.