Last week, we brought you our Top 10 African Athletes and also the Top 12 Nigerian Athletes in 2017. This week, we are leaving the continent and taking a trip round the world to bring you those we have earmarked as the best global stars this season.
Although we would have wanted to stick to Top 10, let’s widen the scope to a dozen athletes, because there were many outstanding performers one couldn’t ignore.
So let’s get into the lowdown of who these Top 12 athletes are, outlining some of their achievements this season that pushed them into the echelon of our rankings.
12.) Kori Carter
Let’s even start by ushering you into the ‘Kori Carter’ signature pose which was proliferated at the London 2017 World Championships.
Carter got the attention of most people going by how well she swiftly transited from a playful mode into a serious one in less than a second when the camera was panned towards her face when athletes were introduced.
After missing out on the American team to the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, Carter reinvented herself in 2017 and fought hard to be on the US team going to London.
At the US trials in Sacramento this year, Carter was part of an epic 400m Hurdles race, which saw three women running inside 53s, the first time in history such was happening. It was a race that saw Carter finishing 3rd in 52.96s (a Personal Best) with Olympic Champion Dalilah Muhammad winning in 52.64s, and Shamier Little 2nd in 52.75s.
Going by that outcome, Carter was not the favourite American to the Worlds, but was rather content with making the cut this time around after the Rio disappointment.
If Carter felt making the final of the women’s 400m Hurdles was enough and was resigned to taking whatever placement came her way, considering that she did not progress beyond the semifinals two years ago, surely she would have felt a tinge of trepidation, having been drawn in the outside lane to run in Lane 9.
Maybe she would have watched how Kenya’s Nicholas Bett turned the outside lane to his advantage two years ago in Beijing to win GOLD in the men’s 400m Hurdles, and possibly inculcated that into her own game-plan.
Carter ran the race of her life, and despite mounting pressure from her compatriot Muhammad who was ferociously closing in on her as they both jumped the 10th barrier, she held on for dear life and did not wilt nor relinquish the lead as she clinched GOLD in 53.07s, the 4th fastest time in the world this year in the event.
To have beaten a stacked field that had Muhammad and former world champion Zuzana Hejnova is no mean feat, especially from the outside lane, and Carter has now proven that she can rub shoulders with the best.
“I am known as a chaser, so when I first heard I was in Lane 9, I thought, ‘oh this is going to be some problems”, Carter said. “But at the last World Championships, I didn’t make the final and I just told myself, all I need is a lane. I’m not going to let Lane 9 be an excuse as to why I can’t get the win,” she added.
Who can forget how she tapped her head and applauded after that win? This time around, there was an extended celebration, not the momentary camera ops smile and the swift shifting of focus.
Do you know that Carter likened herself to squirrels after winning the 400m Hurdles in London: “I see a lot of myself in squirrels,” Carter told the BBC.
11) Sally Pearson
There aren’t many stories portraying a better picture of ‘adversity to success’ which would eclipse that of Sally Pearson.
Pearson was the toast of many after clinching the 100m Hurdles world title in London, winning a major title after a series of horrific injuries which kept her away from the sport for almost two years.
The Australian couldn’t compete at the 2015 World Champs in Beijing when at the Rome Diamond League, she fell badly over a hurdle and suffered a ‘bone explosion’ to her left forearm. Just when she was recuperating from that and gearing up for the Olympics, she tore her hamstring in training.
However, she was not deterred by those setbacks, coming back stronger in 2017 to make a big statement in a scene dominated by the Americans while she was away.
Pearson served up what was to come when at the London Diamond League, she went toe to toe with World Record (WR) Kendra Harrison in a dress rehearsal for the Championships. Although Harrison won that duel in 12.47s, Pearson came close to matching her in 2nd with a time of 12.48s. It was that close!
At the World Champs and with Harrison to her left shoulder, the American got a good start and looked like she was on course for the title, but it was the Australian who built up more momentum, outrunning the field to win her second World Championships GOLD since the first one in Daegu.
Pearson followed up the triumph with another win at the season ending Diamond League meet in Zurich where she outdipped Sharika Nelvis to take victory in 12.55s.
Do you know that Pearson’s mum, Anne worked two jobs to make enough money to support her daughter’s Athletics career?
10) Emma Coburn
When you pip the Kenyans in their very own event, surely you will earn your place in USA and world Athletics folklore. Exactly what Emma Coburn did when she won an unprecedented title in the women’s 3000m Steeplechase!
Having dominated American Steeplechase in the last seven years, winning six out of the last seven titles, Coburn found it difficult to extend her domestic dominance to the world stage.
Steeplechase is synonymous with the Kenyans, and has been an event they rarely lose. Even the World Record (WR) holder Ruth Jebet is of Kenyan origin, having switched allegiances to Bahrain in 2015. So it was unprecedented seeing someone without ties to the East African country, mounting a challenge for the Steeplechase crown.
Coburn showed signs of breaking through when at the Rio 2016 Olympics, she set an American Record of 9:07.63 to clinch the Bronze medal, thereby becoming the first American woman in history to win any Olympic medal in that event.
Although she had won the 2014 IAAF Continental Cup in Marrakech, many would have seen that as a one-off.
Then came the World Championships in London. In a field comprising of Olympic Champion Jebet, defending world champion Hyving Kiyen, rising star Celliphine Chepteek Chespol, and proven Beatrice Chepkoech, it was an American who won. In fact that race was as dramatic as one could imagine, considering that USA made it a 1-2 finish.
Not only did Coburn go on to upset the odds and win the Steeplechase title, she did so with a Championship Record (CR) of 9:02.58, a new American record.
It was a tactical race by the Americans who stayed as close as they could to the pre-championships favourites in the early stages, with Courtney Frerichs running a Personal Best (PB) of 9:03.77 to win Silver.
“This is incredible. I want to say a massive thank you to everyone who has supported me and made it possible for me to be World Champion. I just want to find my family and give them a hug. I’m lost for words. This is better than I could ever have imagined” a delighted Coburn said after the race.
Coburn became the first American woman ever to win a GOLD medal in the Steeplechase at either the World Championships or the Olympics.
Do you know that Coburn had to swap her coach of eight years Mark Wetmore, late last year in place of her fiance, Joe Bosshard, who coached her to win the World title in London?
9) Yulimar Rojas
When Yulimar Rojas leapt her way to the World Indoor title in 2016 in Portland, it was only a matter of time before she transited the success to the outdoor circuit.
In a period of economic turmoil for Venezuela which dominated their airwaves, Rojas became a shining light in a nation dimmed by the travails of economic hardship.
Leaping to Silver at the Rio 2016 Olympics with a mark of 14.98m where she finished behind Colombia’s Caterine Ibarguen who won GOLD, Rojas came back fighting a year later in London to get one over her South American counterpart.
It was an epic showdown, as Rojas leapfrogged Ibarguen in her 5th attempt, with the slate staying that way after both ladies had completed all their jumps. The margin of Rojas’ victory was such that she won by 2cm.
“Yes, the last attempt of Caterine Ibarguen was hard for me, I feared her last attempt, I was afraid that I could lose my GOLD medal there. But fortunately that did not happen,” Rojas said afterwards.
By so doing, she became the first Venezuelan athlete in history to win a World Championships GOLD.
Such was the rivalry between Ibarguen and Rojas that they both jumped the seven best marks in the women’s Triple Jump this season. Of those seven marks, Rojas has 4, jumping the best two marks in the world this year.
Do you know that Yulimar Rojas used to compete in all the jumps: High Jump, Long Jump and Triple Jump? It was only recently that she settled for the latter.
8) Nafissatou Thiam
Depending on what you believe, it seems the singular reason Jessica Ennis-Hill called time on her Heptathlon career was because of the emergence of one Nafissatou Thiam.
Ennis-Hill in a bid to defend her Olympic title, met a formidable younger opposition in Thiam who set five Personal Bests (PB) to emerge the new Heptathlon Champion in Rio.
Just when many expected Ennis-Hill to fight back, especially with the added motivation of competing on home-soil in 2017, the British athlete called it quits after the Olympics and left the scene when it became apparent that Thiam could only wax stronger.
By the way, Thiam’s 6810 points was then a Belgian Record, which helped cement her status as an established Heptathlete. She went on to attain wider acclaim by roaring to 7013 points earlier this season in Götzis, which is the third all-time best.
A year later and with Brianne Theisen-Eaton also retiring, there wasn’t much of a challenge for Thiam who went on to claim her first World Championships title in London.
Although she was challenged a bit by Germany’s Caroline Schafer who finished 2nd with 6696 points, Thiam had done just enough before their last event, clocking 2:21.42 in the 800m to secure the win with 6784 points, despite Schafer running a much quicker time of 2:15.34.
Thiam, with her achievement, became the first Belgian ever to win a World Athletics Championships GOLD medal. She is also a finalist for the 2017 (female) Athlete of the Year award holding next week in Monaco.
Do you know that Nafissatou Thiam, although born in Brussels to a Belgian mother, could have represented Senegal through her father who is from there?
7) Johannes Vetter
Months to the World Championships in London, there was one German athlete many felt would win the world title, and that wasn’t Johannes Vetter: it was Olympic Champion Thomas Rohler.
Rohler first laid down the gauntlet with a phenomenal 93.90m throw at the Shanghai Diamond League, which was the 2nd farthest throw in the world then.
However, Vetter instantly shot up to a dark horse status when just a month to the World Championships, he surpassed his fellow German and threw a remarkable 94.44m, moving up to No 2 on the all-time list in the men’s Javelin.
At the World Champs and coming in as one of the favourites, Vetter did not disappoint when with his very first throw, he landed the spear at a distance of 89.89m, which by the way, was the winning mark. Although he didn’t get into his rhythm afterwards, he admitted to being scared that others could usurp him.
“After Thomas and Jakob were done, I was shaking until my last attempt because I had used all of my energy in the first two throws. Technically, they were not perfect. I thought I could throw further. It does not matter how far you throw. I threw enough for a GOLD medal.”
Vetter’s rise has been remarkable, finishing 7th at the World Championships in Beijing, 4th at the Rio 2016 Olympics, and now claiming the GOLD medal in 2017.
Just a week after his London success, Vetter followed that up with a 93.88m throw in Thum. If he continues with this form, who knows, he could go on to match any of Jan Zelezny’s four marks ahead of his, or come close to the World Record (WR) of 98.48m.
Do you know that Vetter, upon completing his secondary education, joined the Landespolizei Sachsen (Saxony State Police) in Dresden and since 2014, has been a Sportsoldat (Sport Soldier), that is, military people funded by their country to do sports?