My Votes for Athlete of the Year

Every year since 1959, Track and Field News has chosen an Athlete of the Year, as voted by a panel of experts. This year it will instead be chosen by a panel of experts plus one self-appointed loudmouth with a blog. (Translation: they’ve asked me to vote.)

My ballot showed up in my in-box yesterday. I don’t think I’m violating any protocol by making my vote public.

Here are my ten votes in order, and why I chose to rank them as I did. I’m sure you disagree, so put your (respectful) disagreement in the comments.

EDIT: I’ve been asked to only reveal my top five votes, so my votes for #6-10 have been deleted.

1. Aries Merritt (USA/110m hurdles)
Multiple world records were broken this year, all tremendous marks even by the standards of world records. Measured by how out-of-line they were with the event’s past, I think Merritt’s hurdles record of 12.80 was the most outstanding single mark of the year. This is not, however, why I ranked him #1.

I thought he deserved it before he ever broke that record, and it was because (by the standards of his event) he competed often, and he never ducked anyone. Save going undefeated, Merritt dominated in every way: on the clock, in win/loss record, in winning the biggest meets, and in compiling a lengthy record while consistently running against the best competition he could find.

2. David Rudisha (Kenya/800 meters)
Rudisha’s world record run in the Olympic final was just ridiculous. Let me restate what I said above: I think Merritt’s hurdles record was the outstanding mark of the year, but I’m not really sure. Rudisha competed in only seven finals this year, an average amount for his event, and that plus his loss in the Diamond League final made the difference #1 and #2 in my mind.

3. Ashton Eaton (USA/decathlon)
It’s a tough year when an Olympic champion goes undefeated, breaks a world record, and only ranks third. Had Eaton not shut it down after the Olympics and done one more meet, I would have considered him for #1. But as it is, the two above him put together seasons that were just too strong to beat.

4. Usain Bolt (Jamaica/sprints)
Bolt ran eleven finals and won nine of them, and his Olympic performance was as good as it gets. “Performance” is the right word here, too. But I’m not going to give extra points to guys who duck the competition, and at times Bolt most definitely did.

5. Kristian Pars (Hungary/hammer)
Yes, a hammer thrower ranks this high. He won fifteen of sixteen finals and recorded seven of the year’s nine best marks. What else can you ask a guy to do? His distances were not terribly good by historical standards, but the hammer throw has been devolving for quite some time so anymore it’s hard to tell what constitutes an outstanding mark.

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3 Responses to My Votes for Athlete of the Year

  1. pjm says:

    I agree with the Merritt call. I’m a little disappointed the IAAF didn’t make him Athlete of the Year, for all the reasons you name. Rudisha had some awesome performances, and obviously Eaton’s Trials/Olympics double was titanic, but the sum total of what Merritt did over the course of the whole season was unequaled. (And it’s worth noting that the current crop of hurdlers – Merritt, Oliver, Richardson, Xiang, Robles – all seem to have a great attitude about seeking out competition, rather than shying away from it.)

  2. peter van aken says:

    Thanks for being aware of the Hammer Throw! Also, a shoutout to Brigetta Barrett, from a fan in Dutchess County, NY (where Ketcham HS is located.)

  3. Matt Nelson says:

    Merritt’s WR was impressive, but it wasn’t paradigm shattering. Everyone knew he was sitting on a great race, and he popped it in just the sort of circumstances you’d expect–a world class meet at the near the end of the season in an Olympic year. Yes he knocked off a nice chunk of time from the old record, but not an unprecedented amount.

    In contrast, Rudisha’s was phenomenal. When was the last time someone set a WR in a middle-distance event in a Championship final? When was the last time a middle-distance WR was set without rabbits? What Rudisha did in London was more than ridiculous–it must be considered one the best athletic performances of all time.