Will IAAF once again deny Kenyans Athlete of the Year crown?
Kenyan duo hoping to emulate Rudisha who is the only Kenyan to have won the prestigious award.
The Principality of Monaco, the French self-governing playground of the dollar millionaires/billionaires, has provided the idyllic setting for the annual coronation of the IAAF Male and Female Athletes of the Year since 1988.
Legendary American sprinters, Carl Lewis and the late Florence Griffith-Joyner who are considered to be the best-ever in their trade, were the pioneering Male and Female athletes at the glittering gala hosted by the Patron of the International Athletics Federation, Prince Albert II, the ruler of Monaco.
Now marking the 30th occasion, the pair who will rise to receive the top awards on Tuesday will nail their places in the annals of history of the glitzy black tie ceremony that is to athletes what the Oscars are to movie makers or the Ballon d’Or is to footballers.
With Kenya regarded as a global powerhouse in the sport that has diverse disciplines cutting across short, middle and long distance races on the track, throws and jumps in field to road running, it is somewhat surprising that only one of her celebrated athletes has ever been crowned World Athlete of the Year.
In 2010, two-time Olympic and World gold winner and men 800m record holder, David Rudisha, snapped the extended streak of retired Jamaican sprint icon Usain Bolt, who remains the most decorated at the gala with six.
Eight years later, Eliud Kipchoge and Beatrice Chepkoech, who illuminated the marathon and steeplechase events in an Olympic and Worlds gap year, have a good chance as any to join Rudisha in the gala’s Hall of Fame and local folklore.
That ‘King David’ as Rudisha is affectionately known, delivered Kenya the coveted Male Athlete of the Year prize at the end of a season where there was no quadrennial Olympics or biannual Worlds, is a good omen for Kipchoge and Chepkoech.
Christian Coleman (United States), Armand Duplantis (Sweden), Kevin Mayer (France) and Abderrahman Samba (Qatar) are the other final nominees who, like Kipchoge, are on the cusp of carrying the day in the men’s category.
Kipchoge set a new world marathon record of 2:01:39 at the Berlin Marathon on September 16 in his signature performance of 2018 that left many jaws agape with the sheer audacity of what they had witnessed.
In the run up to the 2018 Gala, Kipchoge has been honoured as the UN Person of the Year as well as the AIMS Male Marathoner of the Year, placing him in good stead to receive the coveted prize in his sport.
In a season where he cemented himself as arguably the Greatest of All Time in the marathon, Kipchoge stood out for his astonishing performance in Germany where he posted the biggest improvement on a men’s marathon world record since 1967.
Earlier in the year, he came to within eight seconds of the previous standard held by countryman Dennis Kimetto of 2:02:57 when he won the London Marathon in April and should he prevail, he will make history as the first ever marathoner of any gender to be crowned Athlete of the Year.
Mayer, the other outdoor record holder from 2018 in the list and a strong bet for the crown, opened his season with world indoor gold in heptathlon before setting the new standard in longer combined event of decathlon.
Coincidentally, a day after Kipchoge broke the marathon world record, the track and field community hardly had a moment to catch its breath before another all-time mark fell on September 17.
At the Decastar competition in Talence, France, hometown favourite Mayer, 27, bested Ashton Eaton’s world-record 9,045 decathlon score by 81 points with a total of 9,126, becoming the third man to ever exceed the 9,000-point barrier.
Samba is the third strong contender on paper having produced the world lead and staying unbeaten in nine finals at 400m hurdles, setting the world’s quickest time since 1992.
His storming campaign also saw him strike gold at the Asian Games at 400m hurdles and 4x400m, the IAAF Continental Cup and the Asian indoor 4x400m a year in advance of his oil-rich Gulf kingdom holding the 2019 Worlds.
Duplantis clinched the European championship at Pole vault with a world-leading height as well as adding the World U20 gold in Tampere, Finland. The youngster recorded eight world U20 records or bests, indoors and out.
Coleman, who rounds the list that represents athletes from four continents, set the indoor record and captured the world indoor title in 60m before taking his rich form outdoors where he notched the world lead and stormed to the IAAF Diamond League crown at 100m.
Chepkoech faces Nafissatou Thiam of Belgium who won the accolade last year, Dina Asher-Smith (Britain), Caterine Ibarguen (Colombia) and Shaunae Miller-Uibo (Bahrain) for the corresponding women’s gong.
The jovial 27-year-old set the new world record of 8:44.32 at the Herculis Diamond League meeting in Monaco in July.
Chepkoech shaved the world steeplechase record by eight seconds, backed up by the third-quickest mark of all-time as she became the first woman to dip under 8:50 and 8:45 in the women’s water and barriers race.
Her barnstorming season saw her win seven out of eight steeplechase finals including the Continental Cup, African Championships and Diamond League having kicked off her season with silver in Gold Coast, Australia.
No female Kenyan has ever scooped the coveted award, with Beijing 2008 Olympic 800m gold medallist and Golden League winner Pamela Jelimo (2008), and Daegu 2011 Worlds double distance champion Vivian Cheruiyot (2011), missing out to Yelena Isinbayeva (Russia) and controversially, Sally Pearson (Australia) despite blazing through those campaigns.
Perhaps in a face-saving exercise, Jelimo was awarded the IAAF Revelation of the Year Award at the 2008 Gala but there was no disguising the international outcry three years later when Cheruiyot returned home empty handed.
The Rio 2016 Olympic 5000m gold winner had actually been given the nod by the selection panel that included the IAAF Council (supreme decision organ), IAAF Family (collection of respected administrators and journalists in the sport) as well as the IAAF Press Commission.
However, former IAAF President Lamine Diack, who is under house arrest in France following the mega corruption scandal that erupted in 2015, stunned everyone when he reversed the decision in favour of Pearson in a bid to sell the sport to Oceania.
A bemused Pearson went on to admit, “There are more deserving winners than I,” as she picked the award.
Thiam, who became the first Belgian to take the honours, continued the dominance in her speciality winning the European title, setting the world lead and remaining unbeaten at heptathlon moreover showing her versatility by being the world number three at High jump.
Sprinter Miller-Uibo is a potent name in the hat after going through 2018 without defeat across five events in 15 races (13 finals and two preliminaries), including a 200m/4x100m double at the Continental Cup, the signature World Athletics Series event of the year.
She set world leads and three wins at 400m with the world’s fastest time since 2009 besides being crowned the Commonwealth Games and IAAF Diamond League champion at 200m. In winter, Miller-Uibo clocked World bests at indoor 300m and 150m straight.
Ibarguen is a Continental Cup winner, Diamond League champion and Central American and?Caribbean titleholder at both Long jump and Triple jump in addition to establishing the world lead and unbeaten in eight finals at field event.
British nominee Asher-Smith put together a season that led to a European champion and world leader at 100m, 200m and 4x100m. She was second over 100m in the Diamond League final and Continental Cup having left Gold Coast, Australia, with the Commonwealth 4x100m gold and 200m bronze.
A three-way voting process determined the finalists.
The IAAF Council and the IAAF Family cast their votes by email, while fans voted online via the IAAF’s social media platforms.
The IAAF Council’s vote counted for 50 per cent of the result, while the IAAF Family’s votes and the public votes each counted for 25 per cent of the final result.
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