Archive for the ‘awards’ Category

Athlete of the Year Finalists

Wednesday, November 11th, 2009

The IAAF announced the five men and five women who are finalists for the Athletes of the Year this week. You’ll recall that voters were asked to nominate three names, with no restriction on which three (I could have nominated myself) and those were used to select the five finalists.

My male nominees did pretty well, with all three of them making the final five. I named Usain Bolt (how could anyone not?), Kenenisa Bekele, and Steven Hooker. I reasoned that I should limit the pool to Berlin champions and other World Champions (e.g. World Cross) and the major marathon winners. Bekele I named because of his 5,000m/10,000m double in Berlin, a difficult double to manage.

Hooker got the nod partly for the incredible drama of his win in Berlin, but there were other dramatic wins in Berlin. Hooker also had a very impressive indoor season, though, including near-World-Record winning vaults in New York and Boston, and to add to that he’s a great interview and very helpful to the press. Athletes take note: it does pay off.

(The other two finalists are Tyson Gay, who would have had the best 100m season in history if he hadn’t shared it with Usain Bolt, and javelin World Champion Andreas Thorkildsen.)

My nominees on the women’s side were less successful. Only one of my nominees, Poland’s World Record-setting World Champion hammer thrower Anita Wlodarczyk, was a finalist; the other four finalists are Yelena Isinbayeva (yawn), Sanya Richards, Valerie Vili and Blanka Vlasic.

I also nominated Allyson Felix, who like Gay had a very impressive season. Like Richards, Felix won an individual World Championship in Berlin (200m for Felix, 400m for Richards) plus a relay gold (both ran the 4×400m) but unlike Richards, Felix was winning her third consecutive World Championship, and I still think that counts for something.

I also went for a long shot and nominated Linet Masai. Masai’s 10,000m World Championship has been tainted by the bungled officiating at the start, but it was important just the same in breaking the near-total dominance the Ethiopian women have held over the long distance events in the last decade. Furthermore, Masai beat the world record holder in New York in May in an astounding race at Randall’s Island. Maybe she’ll have more chances to be Athlete of the Year, but I think we’ll be remembering 2009 as the year we met Linet Masai.

Now we’ll see how the final selection goes; it will be announced at the Gala next month. The winners will be selected by a much smaller pool of which I am not part, so I’ll know nothing until the press release arrives.

Jesse Owens Award: How I voted

Sunday, October 25th, 2009

I have a window here where I can mention my votes for the Jesse Owens award (and my reasoning) without being tempted to make it look like I voted for the winners (we don’t know them yet), or trying to change your minds about how to vote (because voting is now closed).

As I mentioned, I voted twice, once online like everyone else, and once in the journalists poll. (I’m still tickled to be asked to participate in these things, and a little distressed that our pool of “journalists” is so small they need to include me in order to get enough voters.) I used my online vote as a “sentimental” vote for the ones I liked most, or identified with most; the official vote went to the athletes I thought had best earned the award as it is described with their competitive results in 2009.

So that latter vote went to Tyson Gay and Allyson Felix. Felix was a tough choice over Sanya Richards; both athletes were double World Champions, winning individual events and running a leg on the 4×400m relay. Felix, however, delivered her third consecutive 200m championship, a truly historic accomplishment considering she was facing down two-time Olympic champion Veronica Campbell-Brown. I might have considered Carmelita Jeter with those two had she won the World title as well as her undeniably fast late-season times, but Felix and Richards came through in the big show, and I still think that counts for a lot.

You’d think that would put me off Tyson Gay, particularly with Christian Cantwell and Trey Hardee on the nomination list, but I give Gay a tremendous amount of credit for attitude and American Records. Like Jeter, Gay ran phenomenal marks late in the season, but I really voted for Tyson because he never once used Usain Bolt as an excuse. He ran hurt, and still ran faster than anyone other than Bolt ever has. He faced off with the most dominant sprinter in history and gave the best he had to make the races real races and not walkovers for Bolt. I think that effort deserves to be rewarded.

On the website, I cast my women’s vote for Jenny Barringer. Shalane Flanagan and Kara Goucher are great athletes, and the runs they’ve had in the past three years have been tremendous, but I have a suspicion that Jenny Barringer is the second coming of Lynn Jennings. (Or, more likely, the first coming of Jenny Barringer; she may be completely without precedent.) Nominally a steeplechaser, she ran PRs from 1,500m to 5,000m (including becoming the first of three–THREE–American women sub-4 at the shorter distance this year), dismantled a series of quality fields in the NCAA track championships, and is probably going to dominate the NCAA cross country meet this fall in a way no American woman has since Flanagan… and Goucher. Get on the Barringer train now, because she’s acting like she’s just getting started.

I don’t actually remember how I used my online vote for men. It may have gone to Christian Cantwell, who took the shot put gold back for the USA in a thrilling competition in Berlin, but it may also have been Trey Hardee, who put together one of the most dominating decathlons I’ve seen from an American in Berlin, and made it look easy despite his relative inexperience. The story at the U.S. championships was that with Olympic champion Bryan Clay out, the U.S. team in Berlin would be weak, but coming out of Berlin it actually looks like the Hardee/Clay duel in 2011 may be more interesting than anything that happens in Daegu–unless, of course, they both arrive in Daegu healthy and can deliver the way they both did in the ‘08 and ‘09 global competitions.

So that’s how I voted. We’ll see in December if I voted with the majorities.

(I’m still interested in hearing thoughts on the Athlete of the Year balloting–assuming Usain Bolt gets one vote, who do the other two go to?)

Update, November 19: Gay won, Felix did not. Here’s the announcement.

Athlete of the Year

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009

It looks like the IAAF is doing their Athlete of the Year selections a little differently this year. In the past, as I’ve noted, they presented a slate of athletes and asked their panel of judges (there are about 1,500 names on this list, of which mine is one) for male and female votes, and also solicited votes on their website; this narrowed the field to a group of three “finalists,” with a much smaller group selecting the actual winners.

This year, the process has changed in two ways. First, it appears there will be no internet vote. (N.B. there has been no announcement; it may be that the internet vote still hasn’t opened, or will be opened for the finalists only.) This is fine by me; the website results were sometimes bizarre and only counted for 30% of the weight anyway. Second, the panel has been asked to select three men and three women, but we have not been given a list to select from. We are free to nominate pretty nearly anyone we want.

I am just cynical enough to think this is the Usain Bolt effect on the Athlete of the Year. Given one vote for one male, anyone who has been paying attention would have to be insane not to vote Bolt, and competition for the other two finalists would be fierce. Given three votes, we can put one on Bolt and look for two other likely candidates. With those names in the finalists, we can say, hey, Sammy Wanjiru did win two fast marathons this year. Kenenisa Bekele did win the Woolworth Double in Berlin. Tyson Gay did retain some semblance of competition in a sprint landscape that includes Bolt.

The women’s list is much harder to come up with, not because the performances have been poor but because there have been so many good performances. Who would you nominate?

Jesse Owens Award voting

Monday, October 5th, 2009

USATF is following the lead of the IAAF this year. The IAAF has for several years included an online voting component in its Athlete of the Year selection process, with the online component making up about 10% of the decision. (Ever the optimist, I think this is meant less to minimize the opinions of true fans and more to avoid the need to rigorously police the voting against the kinds of shenanigans which are easily mounted on the web, but in the end it does make the weight of any single web vote effectively nil.)

USATF is encouraging visitors to its website to cast their votes for the Jesse Owens Award, and like the IAAF, they are giving the internet vote 10% of the total weight.

For the second year, I’m a panel voter for the Owens Award, but I intend to vote on the website as well, and I encourage you to do the same.

I’m voting twice because I am, as I’ve often explained, a “fan with a notebook,” and this situation gives me the chance to vote both sides of that personality. I can cast a “fan vote” on the website for the athletes I identify with most, and then cast my “panel vote” as a more dispassionate judge, if such a thing actually exists. (As a runner, I have to be comfortable with the idea of striving for a perfection I know I can never reach.)

Jesse Owens Award

Tuesday, November 18th, 2008

USATF announced the winners of the Jesse Owens Award today. Because this is the first year I’ve been eligible to vote, I was particularly interested in the winners. I voted for one, but not the other.

Stephanie Brown-Trafton was the women’s winner, and I thought when I voted for her that she was unlikely to win. It would’ve been much easier to pick, for example, Shalane Flanagan, who won the first U.S. medal in the distances since 1992 and set an American Record in the process. Brown-Trafton won the first U.S. gold of the Beijing Olympics in the discus after never having won any major championships ever, including the USATF championships. (In other words, Brown-Trafton didn’t even win the U.S. Trials.)

Sure, the competition in Beijing was sub-par; Brown-Trafton’s first attempt turned out to be the winning mark, and most of what I remember from the competition was the growing disbelief in the press box that nobody else, net even Brown-Trafton herself, had managed to fling the disc out beyond that starting throw. But if I had to pick someone for that first win, she was a great one.

In Eugene, before the Trials began, she showed up at a TAFWA lunch and answered questions for twenty minutes about how she trained, and more particularly, how she managed to train and compete at an Olympic level while holding down a part-time job. That’s right, the Olympic gold medalist is not a full-time athlete. I can’t name any female throwers in this country who are; there may not be any. Brown-Trafton’s story is a great one, and more people should know it. Apparently several others of the voters agreed with me. (Given that many of the voters may have been TAFWA members, it’s possible that Brown-Trafton’s appearance at that informal lunch meeting was what tipped her over the other contenders for the award. But that’s pure speculation on my part.)

Bryan Clay was the men’s winner, and I voted for LaShawn Merritt. Walter Dix and Angelo Taylor were the other nominees. This was a tough choice and I’m not at all disappointed to see Clay win; after all, he did win the decathlon in Beijing, and he put up an awesome score at the Trials in Eugene.

Taylor would also have been a strong contender; he tried to make the team in both the 400m and 400m hurdles, and might have done so if not for a schedule in Eugene which didn’t allow him enough recovery between the hurdles final and the first round of the flat 400m. Instead, he ran a dominating hurdle race in Beijing, becoming the first man to recapture that title after missing an Olympics (a long story) and then coming back to participate in the gold-medal-winning 4×400m relay.

Merritt was on that relay as well, and like Taylor a double gold medalist in Beijing. More importantly, Merritt won his gold by upsetting the man who has ruled the flat 400m since 2004, Jeremy Wariner, and by a large margin to boot. Wariner’s approach to 2008 was questionable at best; Merritt proved to him, I think, that you can’t start letting things go and expect to stay on top.

Clay had an awesome 2008 from start to finish, and the only reason I didn’t vote for him is actually a little pique I’m not terribly proud of. I hate watching decathletes blow off the 1,500m. It’s a silly thing for me to say, because even at my best I would have a hard time hanging on to Bryan Clay over 1,500m, but the fact is that there are world-class decathletes who are capable of competing with Clay in other events who also run the tenth one as though their life depended on it. Clay appears content to jog at the back, and even though he’s earned it (and usually is going to win anyway) it bugs me, and it bugged me enough that I didn’t vote for him.

Still, he had a great year, and he’s earned this award. Congratulations Bryan and Stephanie.