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.