1. ALMAZ AYANA
Our No.1 spot without doubt goes to Ethiopian powerhouse Almaz Ayana. It won’t be out of place to say that Ayana’s name sends shivers down the spines of her rivals, seeing how the 24-year old has held the whole of Track and Field spellbound by her mind blowing performances since switching from the 3000m Steeplechase to the 5000m/10,000m.
2015 was the year Ayana became a force to be reckoned with, emerging World Champion in the 5000m ahead of favourite, Genzebe Dibaba. She consolidated on this feat by handing Dibaba another defeat in the 3000m at the Zurich Diamond League a few days later. Ayana enjoyed a meteoric rise in 2016, and remained unbeaten coming to the Olympic Games, having secured victories in all her Diamond League appearances.
She made her debut in the 10,000m at the Ethiopian Olympic Qualifiers in Hengelo where she raced to the fastest ever time in a debut, clocking 30:07.00 to hand London 2012 GOLD medallist over the distance, Tirunesh Dibaba her first ever defeat in the event. And so Ayana earned her spot for the 5000m/10,000m double at the Rio Olympics.
Going by her sterling credentials, Athletics fans expected nothing short of a World Record (WR) from the Ethiopian in at least one of her events; many even felt she could smash the WRs in both events. The women’s 10,000m was the first Track and Field event at the Olympics, and fans at the Estádio Olímpico were treated to a rare spectacle as Ayana totally demolished Junxia Wang’s WR of 29:31.78 set in 1993.
She obliterated the time with a new mark of 29:17.45, chopping off a massive 14s in only her second ever 10,000m race! Kenya’s Vivian Cheruiyot and the older Dibaba took Silver and Bronze with Personal Bests (PBs) of 29:32.53 and 29:42.56. In fact all 18 athletes in the field ran the fastest races of their lives with one WR, 10 PBs and 7 National Records (NRs) being set.
Even though her incredible performance raised eyebrows, Ayana went on to quell suggestions that she wasn’t clean, revealing that she wasn’t even chasing the WR: “I praise the Lord, the Lord gives me everything. My doping is my training, my doping is Jesus — otherwise I’m crystal clear. It’s amazing — I saw the record after the race. My only plan was to win the race.”
As such, Ayana cannot be blamed for falling short in the 5000m. Having given her all in the 10,000m, the reigning World Champion could not replicate same in the shorter distance as exhaustion had already set in. She eventually settled for Bronze behind the Kenyan duo of Cheruiyot and Hellen Obiri. Having had some time to recover, Ayana has now set her sights on breaking the 5000m WR at the Brussels Diamond League in September. Go for it girl!!!