Olympic champions Karsten Warholm of Norway and Elaine Thompson-Herah of Jamaica have been named World Athletes of the Year at the World Athletics Awards, held virtually again this year.
It was a particularly satisfying triumph for Thompson-Herah given the decision earlier this month by the Association of National Olympic Committees (ANOC) to award Canada’s Maggie MacNeil best female athlete of Tokyo 2020.
That choice was criticised by the North American, Central American and Caribbean Athletics Association (NACAC) general secretary Keith Joseph, who said his organisation was “shocked” that the swimmer was chosen instead of Thompson-Herah.
Thompson-Herah retained her Olympic 100 and 200 metres titles in Tokyo and won a third gold in the 4x100m relay.
Earlier in the season the 29-year-old from Manchester in Jamaica had run 10.54sec to take second place on the all-time women’s 100m list behind the 1988 world record of 10.49 set by the late American sprinter Florence Griffith-Joyner.
Her Olympic 200m title-winning time of 21.53 put her one place behind another Griffith-Joyner world record in the all-time lists – the mark of 21.34 set in winning the Olympic title at the 1988 Seoul Games.
“I’m so happy for this,” says newly crowned Male World Athlete of the Year @kwarholm.
“First when I saw the time [in Tokyo], I was like, ‘This must be a mistake!’ Because I didn’t see that one coming. And I didn’t see the victory coming before crossing the finish line.” pic.twitter.com/BMCma5VmHy
— World Athletics (@WorldAthletics) December 1, 2021
Warholm produced one of the landmark achievements in athletics history during Tokyo 2020 as he took almost a second off the world 400, hurdles record of 46.70sec he had set just over a month earlier, clocking 45.94 in a race where the top three all finished inside the pre-2021 world record.
“I’m so happy for this,” said Warholm, who was followed home in the Tokyo final by Rai Benjamin of the US in 46.17 and Brazil’s Alison dos Santos in 46.72.
“First when I saw the time [in Tokyo] I was like, ‘This must be a mistake!’
“Because I didn’t see that one coming.
“And I didn’t see the victory coming before crossing the finish line.
“It was a very intense race.
“I knew the American and the Brazilian and all the other guys were really chasing me.
“I always go out hard and I never know what is going on behind me.
“I was just fighting all the way to the finish line.
“When I realised 45.94 was the reality I was thinking: ‘This is not too bad – I’ll take it!'”
Thompson-Herah said after the announcement of the award: “I just take it year by year.
“I went very close to the world record so you know, anything is possible.
“No spikes hanging up any time soon!”
Thompson-Herah said that next year’s World Athletics Championships in Oregon was her “next big target”, adding: “It is close to home, I hope friends and family can come out and watch.
“That couldn’t happen in Tokyo but hopefully in Eugene I can get my friends and family to come and cheer me on.”
World Athletics President Sebastian Coe paid tribute to 2021’s “jaw-dropping performances” during today’s ceremony.
“We have this year celebrated some jaw-dropping performances in Tokyo, at the World Athletics U20 Championships in Nairobi and through our one-day meeting circuits, the Wanda Diamond League and the Continental Tour,” Coe said.
“So we’re delighted to recognise some of our stars at tonight’s awards.”
Thompson-Herah received special congratulations from Christopher Samuda, President of the Jamaica Olympic Association.
“The Jamaica Olympic Association congratulates our Olympian, Elaine Thompson-Herah, for being selected Female Athlete of the Year by World Athletics,” his message read.
“It is indeed an admirable accomplishment, the reward for exemplary performances and a testimony to her valour in transforming the challenges of a year be devilled with the pandemic into inspiring feats.
“The Jamaica Olympic Association salutes her and exhorts her to continue to be driven in her athletic pilgrimage of excellence.”
This year’s female finalists other than Thompson-Herah were Sifan Hassan of The Netherlands, winner of the Olympic 5,000m and 10,000m titles and – briefly – world 10,000m record-holder, Kenya’s Faith Kipyegon, who retained her Olympic 1500m title, American Sydney McLaughlin, who won the Olympic 400m hurdles title in a world record of 51.46sec, and last year’s winner, Yulimar Rojas of Venezuela, who won the Olympic triple jump title with a last round world record of 15.67 metres.
The men’s finalists apart from Warholm were Joshua Cheptegei of Uganda, who won 10,000 metres gold and 5,000m silver at Tokyo 2020, Ryan Crouser of the US, unbeaten all season in the shot put, who set a world record of 23.37 metres and retained his Olympic title, Sweden’s 2020 winner Mondo Duplantis, who won Olympic, Diamond League and European Indoor pole vault titles, and Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya, who retained his Olympic marathon title with a winning margin of 80 seconds – the biggest at the Games since 1972.
An Inspiration Award went to Qatar’s Mutaz Essa Barshim and Gianmarco Tamberi of Italy, who shared Olympic victory in the high jump.
Their joint decision to waive a jump-off after finishing dead level on 2.37m was one of the most memorable of Olympic moments – a spontaneous act of respect between two friends who had both returned to competition after serious injuries.
“It is just crazy if I think about this story,” said Tamberi.
“Thank you very much for this trophy.
“I now call Mutaz like five times a week because I need to speak with him.
“I feel that now we are not just friends, we are really like blood brothers.”
Barshim added: “I hope to inspire more people to love our sport and maybe share a gold one day!”
The award will have gone some way to mollifying the Italian National Olympic Committee President Giovanni Malagò, who accused World Athletics of “a lack of respect” after the country’s two Tokyo 2020 gold medallists, Tamberi and shock men’s 100 metres champion Marcell Jacobs, were left off the initial list of 10 nominees for the Male World Athlete of the Year award.
“It’s profoundly wrong,” Malagò told the Associated Press.
“We’re very upset.”
Malagò claimed the omissions amounted to “a lack of respect toward our two athletes”, although defenders of the list said it reflected the whole season, not just the Olympics.
The Female Rising Star award went to Athing Mu, the US teenager who was undefeated at 800m all year, winning Olympic gold ahead of Britain’s Keely Hodgkinson – also nominated – and then improving her own US senior record to 1min 55.04sec.
The Male Rising Star award was won by Erriyon Knighton, the 17-year-old US sprinter who bettered age-group records set by Usain Bolt with world under-18 bests of 20.11sec and 20.04 over 200m and then broke Bolt’s world under-20 record for the distance with 19.88 and 19.84.
He went on to finish fourth in the Olympic final with 19.93.
Britain’s former women’s marathon world record-holder Paula Radcliffe and long jump and singing star Jazmin Sawyers hosted the event.
In a category now honouring the late, lamented French photographer and photo chief for many World Athletics events who died unexpectedly in October, the Jean-Pierre Durand World Athletics Photograph of the Year award went to Ryan Pierse.
The Australian photographer’s winning image was taken in high temperatures during women’s high jump qualifying in a morning session at Tokyo’s Olympic Stadium.
“I wanted to illustrate the heat and how it was affecting the athletes,” Pierse said.
“I think it’s incredibly fitting that this award is named in memory of Jean-Pierre Durand.
“I had the pleasure of working alongside him, most recently at the Tokyo Olympics.”