The parochialism associated with the awarding of the IAAF World Athlete of the Year prizes immediately handicapped shot-putter Valerie Adams’ prospects of winning the award in the women’s category in Monte Carlo last night. Since the award inaugurated in 1988, no female thrower has ever been awarded this accolade while the last time a male field-eventer won the award on the men’s side came back in 2000 when Jan Zelezny took the honours.
It’s hard to find a single blemish on Adams’ season in which she went unbeaten (again), won the world outdoor title (again) and the Diamond League jackpot (again). Her consistency was spectacular too, as she surpassed the 20m-barrier in every competition she lined up for. One has to wonder what more she has to do to win the accolade! And it does beg the question will a female thrower ever win this prize because surely if this trend was to be broken, Adams would be the athlete to break the glass ceiling.
Adams is atypical for a thrower. Only a handful of throwers from English-speaking nations have dominated their event and this understandably boosts her marketability and international profile and while hers might not be on par with the sport’s big hitters, her charisma and personality has made her a favourite with British crowds at the IAAF Diamond League stops in Birmingham and London, and across the globe. Her eloquent anti-doping stance surely points to a career in the IAAF or IOC hierarchy post-retirement.
Nobody would argue Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce didn’t have a superb season. She became the first athlete to win a sprint double at the World Championships since 1991 and this was complemented with success on the commercial circuit with Diamond League victories in the 100m and 200m.
It wasn’t a perfect season though. She performed when it mattered but, unlike Adams, a handful of losses still scattered her résumé, including defeats over 100m in London and over 200m in Monaco.
And should track athletes be credited for winning medals in multiple events, including relays, in deciding the destination of these awards? The inherent skill-set isn’t overtly different in contesting 100/200m and 5000/10,000m doubles while field eventers are restricted by (on the whole, at least) only specialising in singular events.
I should add it’s not just the throwers who get a raw deal. Race-walkers and road-runners rarely feature in the shake-up and while this prize is largely immaterial in defining one’s career, wouldn’t most athletics fans prefer a more sober approach and a more inclusive distribution of this accolade?
I hope Adams will be given the respect she deserves when Track & Field News, Athletics International and Athletics Weekly cast their decisions.