The CHill Zone of T&F: Conway's View From the Finish Line

The Best of 202One

Nov 30th, 2021
2:01 pm PST

We had to wait two years for 202One. The athletes had to adjust to what amounted to the craziest circumstances ever faced in an Olympic build up. After all was said and done however, and the Olympic season was one of the best ever! ! Hats off to the athletes who performed most admirably. Literally every week of the season produced performances that could stand on their own in any year of competition. Leaving me to attempt the nearly impossible. Identify the best athletes of 202One.

Don’t get me wrong. There were easily a hundred outstanding races, vaults, throws, jumps over the course of the year. What I’m going to chronicle here, amount to Best of the Best in one of the greatest seasons ever. Starting with.

Ryan Crouser – Male Athlete of the Year. Crouser is the athlete of the year in my humble opinion. Indoor WR setter. Outdoor WR setter. Undefeated. And every competition with throws either in the so time top twenty or very close – because he keeps rewriting the all time list every time he competes. At the Trials he finally went past the 76 foot barrier – and nearly reached the 77 foot line! Yes, some other barriers were breached this year. But no one slammed through them like Crouser did. I don’t think that most fans really get the magnitude of his 23.37m (76′ 8″) heave! The record stood at 23.12m (75′ 10.25″) prior to the Trials. Crouser surpassed that twice in this meet (and three times this season). An awesome performance, in the best season of the year. Yes, the best season of the year. I know, many are saying that Warholm is the athlete of the year. He had a great Olympic performance – but he didn’t do it in every meet! Crouser competed all year long. Broke the indoor record. Then came outdoors and threw over 22 meters (72′ 2″) 57 times this year! Over 23 meters (75′ 5.5″) 4 times! Yes, Warholm had a great meet in Tokyo, but Crouser gave great new meaning. And for that, I’m naming him Athlete of the Year.

Karsten Warholm and the Olympic Games 400H – Performance of the Year. This is the race that has mesmerized fans everywhere. A race that had been a couple of years in the making. As Warholm, Benjamin, and Samba all broke 47sec and began to threaten the long standing record of 46.78. Then Benjamin (46.83) threatened at the Trials, and Warholm (46.70) broke it in Europe. But the prevailing feeling heading into Tokyo was that once they hooked up there, 46.70 was doomed. Often such predictions fall short. Someone is not ready. The conditions aren’t right. Something happens. This time however, Warholm was out like a shot, with Benjamin in hot pursuit – and the rest of the field in tow. As they rounded the final turn and headed up the straight, Benjamin was close enough to touch Warholm. Until 50 meters from the tape. Benjamin drew closer, and Warholm looking spent, found one last breath. And pushed himself towards the line. Crossing in 45.94 – Benjamin just behind in 46.17! The last time we saw a competition of this magnitude was in all places – Tokyo! The men’s long jump with Powell’s 8.95m WR edging Lewis’ 8.91m! Lightning struck again.

Sydney McLaughlin – Female Athlete of the Year. This was the toughest decision of this post, because so many women had outstanding seasons this year. I mean we saw an attempt at a distance triple in the Olympics – that did result in three medals! A sprint double with 10.61/21.53 marks. The women brought the heat in 2021. At the end of the day however, it was the double WR setting Mclaughlin that gets the nod from me. In the two most difficult meets of the year. Against arguably the toughest fields in history. Sydney came away with wins in world record times! Becoming the first woman under 52 seconds, then the first under 51.50! I would be derelict if I didn’t mention the effect of having to compete against former WR holder Delilah Muhammad, who set the pace each time. At the end of the day however, Sydney had a plan that she executed to perfection. As she changed coaches after her loss to Muhammad in Doha (2019), with a singular goal in mind – defeating Delilah and taking the record. Sydney clearly understood the mission!

Elaine Thompson 10.54 – Female Performance of the Year. I literally made up my mind on this one the second before I started writing. Initially I was battling between the Rojas WR and Sydney’s second WR. Here’s why I chose this mark instead. Both Yulimar and Sydney set marks that are temporary place holders. Both records are “soft” as both women clearly are prepared to do much better. That’s how most people felt watching Sydney win at the Olympic Trials – just wait until Tokyo! And in Tokyo I felt the same way about both Yulimar and Sydney. The 100 is a different animal, however. Regardless of how you feel about FloJo, most fans around at the time will tell you, that mark was wind aided. Forcing the women to chase a phantom record. Elaine came within reach of THAT mark! Many consider that race the fastest “legal” 100 in history. Regardless it’s by far the fastest race in over thirty years! And for my money the top mark by a woman in 2021.

Erriyon Knighton – Rising Male Athlete. One of the easiest choices was selecting Knighton as the top rising male. Twice WJR setter over 200. Made the US Olympic team in the event. And made the Olympic final, just missing a medal by placing fourth! Perhaps his biggest accomplishment being replacing Usain Bolt as World Junior Record holder with his 19.88 and 19.84. At a time when the US is a deep as ever in the sprints, Erriyon is the brightest young star on the horizon. His burden is going to be that he’s competing in perhaps the deepest of ask the sprints. Watching him compete this year, I’m fairly sure that he’s up to the challenge.

Femke Bol – Rising Female Athlete. The other easy choice was Bol as rising female. Consider that she ran under 53 seconds in three different meets, and set a European record of 52.03. Only McLaughlin and Muhammad have run faster in history! Her PB earning her a bronze medal in the WR Olympic final. Ironically she’s in the same position that Sydney was in in 2019 – playing second fiddle to WR setters. As the only two women ahead of her are the two best ever! That said, it will be interesting to watch her pursuit of them. She and Syd could be going head to head for another decade or more. In the meantime, she’s the top rising star among the women. Side note. This was a difficult choice given the quality of teaching by Ms Athing Mu, who won gold in the 800 in Tokyo. At the end of the day however, I couldn’t penalize Femke for facing stronger competition.

I’m fairly certain that the choices by World Athletics will be a bit different. I’ve tried to stay away from popular choices. Instead really trying to focus on the numbers of the sport. That is how the best should be determined. Not by the excitement and hype of a single competition. But by the performances of an entire season.

With that, 2021 is about ready to close. With the 2022 indoor season, just a few weeks away.







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