Every Track & Field season there are athletes who were previously unheralded in the disciplines they excelled in and others who, though already established, pushed beyond the boundaries expected of them or imaginable. Based on these criteria, here our five breakthrough athletes that Making of Champions has singled out for special commendation in 2014:
5. KABANGE MUPOPO
Footballers, especially strikers are always known to have an element of speed in them as proven by Ronaldo, Messi, and many others. But most of them never try out sprinting even for the fun of it. However this was the case with Zambia’s female national team captain, Kabange Mupopo. The footballer turned sprinter started off her 2014 sprinting season with a sixth place finish in the 400m at the semis of the Commonwealth Games in 53.18s.
Going into the African Championships in Morocco, Mupopo averted what seemed the near certainty of a Nigerian 1-2-3 finish in the 400m final, surprisingly winning the Silver medal behind Folashade Abugan in a photo- finish as they both crossed the finish line in 51.21s, a new Personal Best (PB) for the Zambian, thereby announcing her presence on the continent as a quatermiler.
At the IAAF Continental Cup where she represented Africa alongside Abugan, Mupopo narrowly missed out on the podium by finishing 4th in a blistering new PB of 50.87s, 16th in the world and 2nd fastest African in 2014, – a remarkable feat for a footballer who only decided to try her feet at sprinting this season. . She then anchored the continent to another PB of 3:25.51s to place third in the 4x400m relay, putting a blistering end to her sojourn as a sprinter in 2014.
She could not prevent Zambia’s ‘Shepolopolo’ losing 6-0 to eventual Champions Nigeria’s Super Falcons at the 2014 African Women’s Football Championship in October in Namibia, so perhaps we will see Mupopo transitioning further into sprinting, and making strides to be one of Africa’s best quarter-milers for the World Championships in 2015 and the Olympics in 2016!
Photo credits: www.namibian.com.na
4. KEMI ADEKOYA
When a sprinter marks her debut in the Diamond League circuit by defeating the entire elite 400m hurdles field in a surprise win and World Lead (WL) of 54.59s, then she is worth talking about. Even moreso when she sets a National Record in her very first race for her adopted country!
Adekoya began competing nationally for Nigeria in 2011 where she placed 5th at the Nigerian Championships, moving up to 2nd place by the 2012 edition. Inexplicably Nigeria was unable to hold on to one of her best emerging talents and in 2014, Adekoya surprisingly marked her debut on the international circuit in the colours of Bahrain at the Diamond League in Doha. Whilst setting that new Bahrain National Record in the 400m Hurdles, she inflicted the only defeat of the year to the eventual Diamond League trophy winner Kaliese Spencer.
Despite not being able to match that initial performance at subsequent Diamond League meets in 2014, Adekoya did finish 3rd in the 400m Hurdles at while representing Team Asia-Pacific at the IAAF Continental Cup.
She concluded her 2014 Season at the Asian Games, where she put up an outstanding performance in both the 400m flat and 400m hurdles. She sped to a Games Record of 51.11s in the 400m heats before winning GOLD 24 hours later in 51.59s. She then won a second GOLD medal for her oil rich country in the 400m hurdles in 55.77s to put an end to her stellar performance in 2014 and announce herself as a threat in future global championships to come.
3. ESE BRUME
The long jumper has definitely been the revelation of the year in Nigerian athletics and deservedly takes her place in our list of breakthrough athletes. Brume started her season by dominating her event at the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN) Golden League, before upping her game to win GOLD with a leap of 6.68m at the Nigerian Championships.
Going into the Commonwealth Games, not many people would have given her the chance of winning GOLD, especially after a disappointing performance just a week before at the World Junior Championships in Oregon, where she didn’t make it past the qualification round. However she stepped up to the occasion by leaping to a surprise GOLD medal in Glasgow with 6.56m.
Brume added another GOLD to her outstanding season at the African Championships, where she inspired a 1-2 finish for Nigeria alongside compatriot Chinazom Amadi, with jumps of 6.50m and 6.40m respectively. She ended the season with a 5th place finish for Team Africa at the Continental Cup with a leap of 6.34m, and now word has it that coaches from far and wide are clamouring for the opportunity to train Brume who to date has been 100% trained right at home in Nigeria.
Making of Champions exclusively caught up with Brume following the African Championships, and she has aspirations to follow in Blessing Okagbare’s footsteps and transition into Sprinting as well from next year and beyond – watch this space!
2. TORI BOWIE
If there was an IAAF Female Breakout Athlete of the year, US Jumper turned Sprinter Tori Bowie would be at the top of the list, going by her strides as the fastest female athlete of the year over the 100m with her PB of 10.80s, and the third fastest in the 200m with a PB of 22.18s.
2014 was the first season that Bowie competed at the highest level in both sprints, and she did so in emphatic fashion. Until now she has been a specialist in the Long Jump, an event in which she was a 2-time NCAA Champion in college. Her 2014 standout sprinting season started as a relay pool member of Team USA’s women’s 4x100m and 4x200m at the World Indoor Championships and World Relays respectively, where they won GOLD on both occasions.
Marking her debut in the Diamond League as a sprinter, Bowie topped the 100m rankings after eye-catching victories in Rome (11.05s), New York (11.07s), and Monaco, where she ran a World Lead and PB of 10.80s. She also claimed a shock victory over Nigeria’s Blessing Okagbare and the returning Allyson Felix in the 200m in Eugene while running from Lane 1 – it was the only second time she had run over 200m professionally.
Bowie’s season may have been abruptly cut short by an injury in the Diamond League which ruled her out for the rest of the year, but she has certainly announced herself as a threat to the established order in both sprints at the next Olympics! 2014 was indeed a breakout out year for her, and if she can return to health and form, and stay injury-free through to 2016, then it might be premature to hand the 100m Olympic Title to 2-time defending Champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce!
1. MUTAZ ESSA BARSHIM
In a season which saw the best from athletes in their various events, Barshim made sure that 2014 will be remembered as the year of the High Jump. Barshim has recorded a steady rise since his first international success in 2010.
He won the GOLD medal at the Asian Games and Asian Indoor Athletics Championship both at just 19 years of age. In 2012, he achieved a new PB of 2.37m, breaking the previous Championship Record (CR) of 2.34m at the Asian Indoor Championship. He went on to win Bronze at the 2012 Olympic Games and then Silver at the World Championships in Moscow in 2.38m.
2014 has seen him enter near unchartered territory in High Jumping. He started the season with a GOLD medal and new Asian Indoor Record (AIR) of 2.38m, to win ahead of Olympic Champion Ivan Ukhov at the World Indoor Championships. Since then, his exciting rivalry with World Champion Bohdan Bondarenko has illuminated the Diamond League circuit throughout the year, giving Athletics fans the exciting prospect that Javier Sotomayor’s 21-year old record (2.45m) might be under serious threat.
Barshim’s jump of 2.41m at the Rome Diamond League meet equaled the third best jump ever in Rome A week later at the Adidas Grand Prix, he improved his PB and Asian Record (AR), while setting a new Diamond League record with a 2014 world lead of 2.42m, with both him and Bondarenko on the same day equaling Patrick Sjoberg’s former WR from 1987 as the joint second best outdoor jump in history.
He won the Diamond League trophy on the last day in Brussels with a PB of 2.43m, after both he and Bondarenko once again attempted a new World Record at 2.46m. Barshim now stands alone as the 2nd highest jumper of all-time and many now feel that it is only a matter of time before either he or Bondarenko (or both of them) consign Sotomayor’s World Record to the History books!
This year has seen an influx of medals, personal, national and continental records, and global recognition for these breakthrough athletes, and one can only hope that they consolidate on their achievements in 2014 to bring the world of Athletics even more excitement in years to come!