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Wlodarczyk_AnitaW1b-WC17.jpgAnita Wlodarzyck, photo by PhotoRun.net

December 19th, 2017

Selecting a single track & field performer as the Female Athlete of the Year is a difficult task every year. And this go-around is no different. Four of my top "finalists" - all with gaudy, yet nearly evenly-matched, credentials accumulated during this championship year - would be worthy to wear the AOY crown in almost any other year. But in my view, the one other finalist is head and shoulders above the others. Before unveiling my rankings in this clearly-subjective undertaking, a quick review of the measurement metrics is in order. Long ago, Track & Field News identified three progressively-weighted criteria for the annual evaluation of the leading performers. They are

•Progression Of Marks. Some weight is given to the clockings, the height, or the distance achieved by the athlete during the year. Progressive improvements throughout the year warrant special merit. 
•Head-To-Head Competition. Track & field is more than simply posting outstanding marks. It's about winning. As such, more weight is accorded to the athlete's record in competing against his or her world-class competitors. When faced with the best in your event, did you prevail?
•Honors Won. Ah, but our sport is more thansimply posting some wins. At its zenith, track & field is about its best athletes rising up at that most important moment, vanquishing the field, and winning when it counts the most - in championship competition, particularly global gatherings. That's why the most weight is given to the significant honors the athlete garners at the most important competitions at season's end.

There are a number of women who authored impressive years spiced with sparkling marks, important victories, and coveted global titles. But each had a slight chink in her armor that kept them from ascending to the top 5. Nonetheless, all are most worthy of honorable mention. In alphabetical order, they are:

Ayana_AlmazH1a-WC17.jpgAlmaz Ayana, photo by PhotoRun.net

•Almaz Ayana. Her global-leading performance [30:16.32] in the world championship 10,000 meter final earned her the crown by 46 seconds over her countrywoman and distance legend Tirunesh Dibaba. But Hellen Obiri's 5000m win prevented the Ethiopian from scoring a world championship distance double. And the absence of the 10,000m in the Diamond League likely denied Ayana a title there.

Coburn_EmmaFV-WorCH17.jpgEmma Coburn, photo by PhotoRun.net

•Emma Coburn. This year's Jackie Joyner-Kersee Award winner was undoubtedly the premier United States' female track & field athlete of the year. Her electrifying victory in an American record-setting time [9:02.58; #6 all-time performer] in the London steeple final will long be remembered, especially by American followers. The fact that 4 others ran faster than her in 2017 and the absence of a DL title [Coburn finished 4th] restrained her from higher consideration.

•Kipyegon_FaithFH-London17.jpgFaith KIpyegon, photo by PhotoRun.net

•Faith Kipyegon. This Kenyan middle distance star emerged from the finish line traffic jam to clock 4:02.59 to capture the world championship 1500 meter title. She also ran a heady race [3:57.04] to garner the Diamond League 1500 meter crown. A #2 world ranking [behind Sifan Hassan] was her only shortcoming.

Pearson_SallyR-WorCH17.jpgSally Pearson, photo by PhotoRun.net

•Sally Pearson. The Aussie 100 meter hurdle queen would be my pick for Comeback Athlete of the Year. Her determined march through the rounds in London allowed her to turn back the American hurdle quartet of Dawn Harper-Nelson, Kendra Harrison, Christina Manning, and Nia Ali. Displaying the form that earned her Olympic gold in 2008, Pearson also stayed strong enough to win again in the Diamond League final. Her soft spot? Her season best of 12.48 only ranked 3rd, bettered by both Harrison and Jasmin Stowers.

Reese_BrittneyQ1-London17.jpgBrittney Reese, photo by PhotoRun.net

•Brittney Reese. No moment is too big for this big-time gamer. She won the world championship long jump [7.02m/23'½] and had the year's top 3 performances. A death in her family limited her Diamond League appearances and she finished a disappointing 5th in the DL final.

Spotakova_BarboraH-Birmingham14.jpgBarbora Spotakova, photo by PhotoRun.net

•Barbara Spotakova. The ageless Czech javelin star won when it counted most: capturing the world championship title with a throw of 66.76m/219'0" and following that up with a victory in the Zurich final for yet another Diamond League trophy. Her season best of 68.26/223'11" was ranked #2 on the world list [Sara Kolak: 68.43/224'6"]

The following women - my 5 finalists - were particularly outstanding track & field athletes in 2017 - all with barely a detectable swoon in their respective sensational seasons. In ascending order, they are:


Caster Semenya, photo by PhotoRun.net

#5. Caster Semenya. The South Africa middle distance star had a nearly blemish-free year as she checked all the boxes: posting the world-leading mark in the 800 meters [1:55.16] to win the world championship 800 meter final and losing to no one in the her specialty event. For good measure the reigning Olympic 800 meter champion also competed in the world championship 1500 meters, grabbing the bronze in a crowded finish in the final. Oh, and she was also the Diamond League 800 meter champion.

Obiri_HellenFV-Brussels17.jpgHelen Obiri, photo by PhotoRun.net

 #4. Hellen Obiri. The versatile Kenyan had an outstanding outdoor season. Obiri's clockings in both the 3000 meters [8:23.14] and the 5000 meters [14:18.37 #5 all-time] were 2017 world leaders. And in the world championship 5000 meter final, the Kenyan's blistering final kilometer [2:44] was more than enough to turn back 10,000 meter world champion Ayana Almaz as Obiri won the gold. Her subsequent win in the Diamond League 5000 meter final [in 14:25.88] was simply icing on the cake.

Perkovic_Sandra1c-Stockholm17.jpgSandra Perkovic, photo by PhotoRun.net

 #3. Sandra Perkovic. The Queen Of The Discus assembled yet another dominating year. Topping the world list, the Croatian twirled 8 of the year's top 10 marks [including the top 5] with her 71.41m/234'3" ranking #1. But more than just producing eye-popping throws, Perkovic won when it counted, by substantial margins - capturing the world championship crown [70.31m/230'8"] and winning the Diamond League final [68.82m/225'9"].

Stefanidi_Ekaterini-Brussels17.jpgEkaterina Stefanidi, photo by PhotoRun.net

#2. Ekaterina Stefanidi. Last year, the 2016 Olympic pole vault gold medalist and Diamond League champion was smarting after she was denied the #1 world ranking. But the Greek vault star transformed that Track & Field News snub into powerful motivation for this championship year. Her winning clearance [4.91/16'1¼"] in London's world championship vault final not only gave her the title, her lofty leap also set a new Greek national record, stood up as #1 on this year's world list, and ties Stefanidi as the #4 vault performer of all-time. The Stanford graduate also successfully defended her Diamond League title with a winning jump of 4.85m/15'11" in the Brussels' vault final.



Anita Wlodarzyck, photo by PhotoRun.net

#1. Anita Wlodarczyk. The spectacular Polish hammer throw star had a dream-like year. For starters, the world record holder launched the top 9 throws of the year, with her 2017 world leader of 82.87m/271'10"ranking #2 all-time behind her 2016 global record throw of 82.98m/272'2". The 2016 Olympic gold medalist won the world championship title by a margin in excess of 6 feet with a winning heave of 77.90m/255'7". Doing what no athlete could this year, the IAAF denied Wlodarczyk an almost-certain Diamond League crown. How, you ask? The hammer throw is not a Diamond League event! For many of the same reasons cited here, the Polish hammer queen - who owns the 14 farthest hammer throw marks of all time - was my selection for Female Athlete of the Year in 2016. While my four other finalists all had outstanding - perhaps career - years, a thorough examination of Wlodarczyk's 2017 credentials confirms there is absolutely no persuasive evidence to suggest that Anita Wlodarczyk should not receive the AOY honor once again this year. To borrow the parlance and reasoning from the sweet science of boxing, you don't wrest the title from the champion by winning on points; to capture the crown, you must knock the reigning champion out. And in 2017, the other leading track and field women barely laid a glove on Anita Wlodarcyzk.

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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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