With a new year always comes the opportunity to reflect on the positives and lessons of the past season. Year 2016 came with so much fuss and buzz, seeing that it was the year of the Rio Olympics, thus giving the assurance that it would be a breakout year for some athletes.

The year did live up to expectations as several records were erased, while everyone got to witness the magical moments which marked the end of Usain Bolt’s legendary Olympic career.

Whilst most athletes would have moved on from the Olympic season, we’ll choose to begin 2017 by focusing on the five things we learnt from the 2016 Athletics season.

1. Age is nothing but a number

The quote proved true in the careers of a number of  youngsters below the age of 20,  with some of them producing outstanding results that dominated not just their age brackets, but the senior level as well.

Kenyan-born Bahraini athlete Ruth Jebet is surely one of the breakout stars of year 2016. The 20-year old at just 19, became the first Bahraini athlete to be crowned Olympic Champion after winning the 3000m Steeplechase with an Olympic Record (OR) of 8:59.75.

A week later at the Paris Diamond League, Jebet smashed Gulnara Galkina’s 2008 World Record (WR) of 8:58.81 to set a new one of 8:52.82, thus holding three of the four fastest times ever in the event. She also won the Diamond Race Trophy in her event.

Jebet celebrates winning Bahrain's first ever Olympic GOLD medal in any sport. Photo Credit: Getty Images
Jebet celebrates winning Bahrain’s first ever Olympic GOLD medal in any sport. Photo Credit: Getty Images

From one Rio medallist to another, but this time the focus shifts to New Zealand’s young Pole Vaulter, Eliza McCartney who at just 19 years, won the the Bronze medal in her event after clearing a height of 4.80m, finishing ahead of a more experienced field. This outstanding feat saw her become the youngest Olympic medallist in the women’s Pole vault, her country’s record holder in the event, and also the fourth ever New Zealand Olympic medallist in a Field event.

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Eliza McCartney celebrating her acheivement in Rio. Photo Credit: www.radionz.co.nz

In March, Vashti Cunningham aged 18, became USA’s Indoor Track and Field High Jump Champion after clearing the height of 1.99m to set a new World Junior Record (WJR). A week later, the talented teenager cleared the height of 1.96m to be crowned the World Indoor Champion and become the youngest GOLD medal winner in the history of the Championships.

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Cunningham in one of her jumps at World Indoor Championships. Photo Credit: www.iaaf.org

Sydney McLaughlin at 17, has a string of age group records to her name from National, to World Junior level. At the US Olympic Trials, the American sensation further lived up to her tag as one of the best 400m hurdlers the world would see in years to come, clocking an impressive time of 54.15s to place 3rd, and become the youngest athlete ever to make the US Olympic team since 1980. Her mark is a National High School record, World Youth Best (WYB) and WJR.

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McLaughlin competing in Rio as USA’s youngest athlete since 1980. Photo Credit: www.thesportdigest.com

Another teenager who’s one of the revelations of year 2016 is Botswana’s Karabo Sibanda. The 18 year old quarter-miler kicked off his stellar season at the African Senior Championships in Durban where he won a Silver medal in his individual event before helping his 4x400m relay team to the GOLD medal, having set the pace in the first leg.

Competing at his second World Junior Championships, Sibanda clocked a then Personal Best (PB) of 45.15s in the semis, won the Bronze medal in the final with 45.42s, before helping his teammates set an African Junior Record (AJR) of 3:02.81 en-route winning the Silver medal. Not done with his groundbreaking year, the Commonwealth Youth Champion set two successive PB’s in Rio, first in the semis where he ran 44.47s, and then in the final where he clocked 44.25s to place 5th.

Botswana's Sibanda settled for Bronze. Photo Credit: Making of Champions / PaV Media Ltd
Sibanda was Botswana’s highest placed individual athlete in Rio. Photo Credit: Making of Champions / PaV Media Ltd

Though Cunningham and McLaughlin didn’t have the best of debuts in Rio, all five athletes have no doubt shown flashes of brilliance and what they’re capable of in years to come. They’ve proven that they’re title contenders at major championships, with 2016  just being the starting point.

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Funmi Fameso is a Junior Sports Writer at Making of Champions. She is a 2012 Graduate of Lagos State University, where she obtained a BSc in Microbiology. She worked as a Health Centre Laboratory Assistant during her NYSC year and since then she has worked as a Junior Sports Writer for her church’s youth magazine, Kingsword Youth Club Magazine. It was watching the Sydney 2000 Olympics that ignited her passion of sports, most especially Athletics. Sports means three things to her: Passion, Hard Work and Dedication!

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