Given the recent articles in the news regarding Max Siegel and his elaborate lifestyle while USATF stagnates, I’ve held off saying anything at all about US track – though I have written a few things that I will begin to post.
Today after seeing the choices for male and female athlete of the year, I feel that I should speak my mind, and begin voicing my opinions again. Because clearly USATF lacks direction.
First off, the athletes chosen, Michelle Carter (shot put) and Matt Centrowitz (1500) are fine athletes. I can honestly say that they are two of my favorite Americans. Carter has brought American female shot putting to global respectability. Centrowitz has done the same for men’s miling. At least at the championship level where "Centro" seems to thrive.
This year, both won Olympic titles in their events in Rio – for which I’m sure the honor of Athlete of the Year was bestowed. However, the US had several hold medalists in Rio, and athletes with ostensibly better overall seasons. And it is for that reason that I am disappointed in USATF and its selection. As it indicates to me, the lack of depth of thought of this organization.
For example, while Centrowitz was Olympic champion, he didn’t even rate among the top 20 1500 runners on the clock in 2016 – just missing at #21! His winning time in Rio was a pedestrian 3:50 – the slowest winning time since 1932. Now, a gold medal is a gold medal. In a tactical race, Matt came home as the champion. But during the rest of the season, he was just one among many, the event dominated by Kenya’s Asbel Kiprop, who choose the wrong time to run a poor tactical race. Centrowitz has proven to be perhaps the best tactical miler in U.S. history, add this is not the first time he’s come up big with medals on global stages. But there were better American performances in Rio, and athletes here in the US with better overall seasons AND gold.
My choice as athlete of the year would be Christian Taylor, triple jump gold medalist in Rio. Unlike Centrowitz, however, Taylor was also the dominant athlete in his event globally. Scoring wins in Diamond League competitions against the world’s best to go with his Rio gold. He led the world at 58′ 7", and had four competitions over 58′ 3"! Taylor had what may have been the best overall season for a male athlete globally, and easily among Americans. No offense to Centrowitz, but for Centro to be ranked over Taylor as America’s best for 2016 shows either a lack of attention to detail in the selection process; or a blatant disregard for the facts in order to make a selection based on "subjectivity" v "objectivity". Neither would be good, and subjectivity over objectivity begs the question: why one man over another – which raises other questions!
The selection for the female athlete of the year is even more complicated. Again no disrespect to Michelle Carter, who relatively speaking had a much better overall season than Centrowitz. She won gold, led the world list and set a new American Record. But she lost five of nine competitions on the year – winning fewer than half, and finishing as low as fifth.
My selection, would be Keni Harrison. Harrison had one single loss on the year, which unfortunately was on a wet track at the Olympic Trials. Preventing her from winning gold in Rio. But that was the only hiccup in her season as that was her only loss in a season where she dominated everyone, including the Olympic champion. Most importantly, she ran the equal #2 time ever at 12.24, before breaking the world record with a sizzling 12.20 post Rio win to take down a record that had stood since 1988 and solidifying her dominance in the event.
I’m not sure anyone, male or female had as good a season in 2016. Yes others also set world records – van Niekerk, and Ayana come to mind. But none had as COMPLETE a season in their event as Harrison. Yes, the Olympics is the Holy Grail of track every four years, but in this case Harrison competed at a level not before seen in her event – so I can forgive her one slight transgression given others had multiple!
I’m curious as to the criteria used by USATF for its selections. Centrowitz and Carter are good people, and great athletes. But there seasons were average, aside from winning gold in Rio. They received their awards for their excellence in Rio – the title of Olympic Champion and gold medals. Those performances alone should not make them America’s top track and field athletes for 2016. That type of thinking is indicative of the reason why the sport is languishing in this country. Lack of thought, let alone foresight. More on this later.