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Asbel Kiprop, photo by PhotoRun.net
Mo Aman, photo by PhotoRun.net
Bohdan Bondarenko, photo by PhotoRun.net
Mo Farah, photo by PhotoRun.net 
Usain Bolt, photo by PhotoRun.net

Track & field is a sport of fierce competition, a sport where the margin between victory and defeat is agonizingly small. This characteristic resonates through even to the annual selection of the athlete who has performed above all others, who has earned the right to be recognized as the Athlete Of The Year. The three prong metric to guide us in the selection process - first articulated by Cordner Nelson in 1948 - measures an athlete's annual body of work by: (i) honors won; (ii) win-loss record in head-to-head competition; and (iii) sequence of marks.

2013 is yet another year of tight competition for this prized recognition. As was the case in evaluating the women earlier this month, sizing up the top performing track & field men in 2013 is a very close and subjective exercise in which reasonable minds can come to differing conclusions. And you know that a candidate for this recognition has to have had a pinnacle year when LaShawn Merritt, David Oliver, and Ashton Eaton - all of whom won world championships and posted world leading marks - aren't even in the 2013 conversation.

Here are five male track & field athletes who had stunning years - years which may ultimately prove to be their career best. Each can make a persuasive case for Athlete Of The Year honors:

Asbel Kiprop: The Kenyan middle-distance star hit all the right notes in 2013. Kiprop posted the year's world leading 1500m time of 3:27.72 in bettering a surprising Mo Farah in Monaco. And in Moscow, Kiprop - unhampered by the hamstring injury that last year spoiled his chances for an Olympic 1500 title defense - blended crafty racing tactics with unmatched speed over the final circuit to successfully defend his world 1500m crown. A minor 2013 blemish - the Kenyan's close loss to countryman Silas Kipligat in the Eugene DL 1500 - can be overlooked. When all the world's best were on the line and the money was on the table, Kiprop got it done.

Mohammed Aman: Like Kiprop, the Ethiopian two-lap specialist could hardly have done more this past year. Aman posted the 2013 world leading time in the 800 - 1:42.37 in an impressive 800m win in Brussels. An early-season lost to reigning Oly champ and three-time AOY David Rudisha in the Doha 800m does little to diminish Aman's otherwise impressive 2013 credentials. Racing frequently in Diamond League 800's, the 19 year old sensation dominated the DL scene - easily capturing the Diamond League 800 trophy with a gaudy total of 22 points. But Aman's finest 2013 moment had to be the WC 800 final. Hopelessly boxed with 230 meters to go, Aman kept his cool, navigated through traffic on the final straightaway, and bettered Nick Symmonds over the final 50 meters to grab the world title.

Bohdan Bondarenko: The Russian high jump czar leaped his way to a remarkable year. His world-leading clearance at 2.41m [7'10¾"] - achieved twice - not only secured the Russian national record, it ranks Bondarenko as the #3 high jumper of all time. While the Ukraine jumper did sustain an early-season loss to Mutaz Barshim in Shanghai, Bondarenko more than repaid the favor - twice beating his Qatari competitor in the more-important late season Diamond League contests to handily capture the DL HJ trophy by a wide margin.

But Bondarenko's 2013 zenith moment was his dominating performance before his compatriots in the world championship high jump final. The 23 year old needed only 4 attempts to capture the world championship at 2.41m [7'10¾"] before setting his sights on an even bigger prize. As he pursued higher clearances, the Russian star was able to demonstrate a dominating power that extended beyond his competition. Even the near-capacity crowd at Luzhniki Stadium was compliant with a request from their countryman. All alone on the jump apron, Bondarenko only had to slowly place his index finger to his lips to achieve sanctuary-like silence as he flirted with would have been a WR clearance at 2.46m [8'¾"]. His three attempts to take down Javier Sotomayer's 1993 record were unsuccessful. But, by then, Bondarenko had already rung up a truly magical year that not only makes a strong case for his AOY candidacy, but also invites exciting forecasting about the high jump future for this young star.

Mo Farah: The British distance ace and his 2013 performance year may be the best evidence that in the pursuit for AOY recognition, less than stellar marks can be overcome by honors won and impressive head-to-head victories. Looking only at his top 2013 5K and 10K times, Farah's year appears underwhelming: his fastest 5000 mark was only 16th on the WL list and his best 10,000 time ranked only 11th.

But any deficiencies Farah may have had in the stopwatch department are more than overcome by who he beat, when he beat them, and the titles he won. The man who may ultimately be remembered as a championship racer without peer brought his "A" game when it counted. In the world championship meet, Farah toed the line twice with the best distance runners in the world. And when it mattered most, he raced his best. Combining savvy racing tactics with razor sharp closing speed and an unshakeable will to win, Farah was able to defeat talented finalists from Kenya and Ethiopia to win the 10,000 and - six days later - come back to successfully defend his world 5000 title. The feat places him in elite company as he joins Kenenisa Bekele as the only two men ever to reign simultaneously as the World Championship and Olympic gold medalists in two events.

And Farah also added an exclamation point. Midsummer, the distance specialist silenced those critics who would question his ability to run fast. In Monaco, the Brit moved out of his comfort zone and dropped down to race the 1500. His second place 3:28.81 clocking - behind Asbel Kiprop's 3:27.72 - ranked second on the year's WL list, took down Steve Cram's British 1500 record, and made Farah the #6 1500m performer of all time. So much for those who might question this racer's ability to run fast times.

Usain Bolt: After the 2008 Beijing Games - when Usain Bolt captured with apparent ease three Olympic gold medals with world record victories the 100m, the 200m, and the 4 x 100 relay - there was a vocal faction within the sport ready to proclaim Bolt the best sprinter ever. Others - while not unimpressed - urged a reservation of judgment. "Relax," they recommended. "Let's wait and see if Bolt can demonstrate a certain longevity of excellence as a sprinter." 5 years later - after the Caribbean sprint king has displayed 6 consecutive seasons of sprint domination - the voices advocating restraint have died away.

In 2013, Usain Bolt did what he has done every season since 2008 - he dominated the sprints. Bolt posted world leading marks in both the 100 [Tyson Gay's possibly suspect mark must be discarded] and the 200. His performances at Moscow's world championships represent another superlative chapter in his career: a trio of world championship sprint golds - the Bolt Slam - in the two sprints and the short relay. Bolt's lone 2013 defeat - to Justin Gatlin in the Rome 100 - cannot tarnish his sparkling year. So great is Bolt's superiority as a sprinter that - in order to avoid another false start gaffe that knocked him out of the 2011 WC 100 final - Bolt purposefully employs a conservative start with the confidence that he can easily nullify any early race deficit. Bolt's consistent sprint mastery over the years can make it far too easy to accept his annual excellence as commonplace. But look what he has done: But for a single episode of momentary inattention in Daegu, Bolt would have rung up the Bolt Slam in every global championship over a six season span.

With all appropriate deference to Jesse Owens and Carl Lewis, does anyone remain who can muster a compelling argument as to why Usain Bolt should not be recognized as the best ever?

Kiprop, Aman, Bondarenko, and Farah all had superlative years by any measure. But the unmatched excellence of Usain Bolt in both sprints and his three gold medals - the Bolt Slam - at the world championships set him apart and make him the clear choice for 2013 Male Track & Field Athlete Of The Year. It wasn't Bolt's best year, but 2013 was a year in which he was superior to all others. And - of no small importance - it was a year in which Bolt sealed his claim as the greatest sprinter of all time

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Dunaway AwardAt the 2019 annual meeting of the Track and Field Writers of America, Dave was presented with the James Dunaway Memorial Award “for track & field journalism excellence.”

Dave Hunter

Dave HunterDave Hunter is a track & field journalist, announcer, and broadcaster.  Dave reports on the premier track & field gatherings around the globe, frequently serves as an arena or stadium announcer for championship events, and has undertaken foreign and domestic broadcast assignments in the sport.


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