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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.