A lot of upsets were recorded at the 2017 IAAF World Championships in London, and some of the athletes who sprang such surprises, were featured in Part 1 of this series. Here is the concluding part of our Top 10 Sprinters this year, counting down from Nos. 5 to 1.
- Phyllis Francis
Just as it happened at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio when the women’s 400m turned out to be a two-horse race between Allyson Felix and Shaunae Miller-Uibo, many expected the women’s 400m final in London to be a rekindling of the rivalry between the two.
Alas, it was not be! Instead, Felix’s younger compatriot Phyllis Francis was the one who stole the show in the women’s 400m final, upstaging the duo to claim her first world title, a sharp contrast from her 7th place finish in Beijing two years ago!
All along, Francis had been making steady progress, finishing 2nd behind Felix at the 2016 US Track and Field Championships to book a place at the Olympics where she got to the final, settling for 5th position. She also struck GOLD in the women’s 4x400m in Rio.
However, 2017 was the year she firmly established a name for herself, finishing 2nd once again at the US Trials which was won by Quanera Hayes in 49.72s. Francis clocked a then Personal Best (PB) of 49.96s to make the team to London where she placed 2nd in her heat in 50.94s, before winning the semis in 50.37s.
She smashed her PB to a new time of 49.92s to win GOLD, and then anchored the women’s 4x400m team comprising of herself, Hayes, Felix and Shakima Wimbley to another GOLD medal, clocking a World Lead (WL) of 3:19.02. The 25-year old will certainly be pleased at the outcome of her 2017 season!
Do you know that Francis is the American and Collegiate indoor 400m record holder, breaking Francena McCorory’s time of 50.54s while winning the 2014 NCAA Indoor Championships?
- Dafne Schippers
Having left the Rio 2016 Olympic Games empty-handed, Dutch sprinter Dafne Schippers bounced back into global reckoning in 2017 to successfully defend her 200m world title, whilst grabbing a Bronze medal in the women’s 100m as well.
The 2017 season wasn’t void of challenges for the Schippers though. First of all, the 25-year old had to part ways with her former coach Bart Bennema, teaming up with Rana Reider. As a result, her times in the 200m weren’t as fast as those she posted in 2015 and 2016.
She won the Lausanne and Oslo Diamond Leagues in 22.10s and 22.31s, finished 2nd in Doha in a time of 22.45s, and 4th in Eugene 22.30s and Zurich (22.36s) respectively. Her fastest time this season was her GOLD winning mark of 22.05s, which puts her at No.5 on the 2017 standings.
However, her successful defence in London makes her the first European to win two GOLD medals in the event, and the third woman after Merlene Ottey and Allyson Felix to successfully defend a world title in the 200m. Speaking after her race in London, the third fastest woman in the history of the 200m, said:
“It’s a great feeling to be World Champion for the second time. I was a bit nervous beforehand, but I’m a final runner, and bring my best in finals, so I’m very grateful for the experience today. There were so many Dutch fans in the stadium, all wearing orange. To win this two times in a row is brilliant.”
Schippers also came from behind to clinch a Bronze medal in the 100m behind Tori Bowie and Marie Josee Ta Lou, clocking a time of 10.96s. Her best time over the event this year (10.95s) was set in Azusa in April.
Do you know that a new pedestrian and cycle bridge named after Schippers, was opened in her home city of Utrecht in April this year?
- Tori Bowie
From winning a Bronze medal in the 100m at the 2015 World Championships to claiming Silver at the Rio Olympics, Tori Bowie is one athlete who knows how to make the most of every opportunity. As such, her chances can never be written off at major championships.
The 26-year old initially started out as a Long jumper (with a Personal Best of 6.91m) but has since carved a niche for herself in the sprints. Bowie was very selective this year and only competed in a few of meetings across the 100m and 200m respectively.
One of the highlights of her season was at the Eugene Diamond League where she stormed to a PB and World Lead (WL) of 21.77s to take the victory in the 200m ahead of Shaunae Miller-Uibo (21.91s) and double Olympic Champion Elaine Thompson (21.98s), throwing down the gauntlet ahead of the World Championships. Her time remains on the No.1 spot for 2017!
She also raced to the US title in a time of 10.94s in the 100m, and finished 3rd behind Deajah Stevens and Kimberly Duncan in the 200m, securing her position for the sprint double in London. She was regarded as one of the favourites for a podium finish in both the 100m and 200m, seeing that she won Silver and Bronze respectively in both events in Rio.
She was unbeaten in London, clocking a time of 11.05s in the heats, then bettered her time to 10.91s to win her race in the semis. The stage was set for the final, and Ivoirian Marie Josee Ta Lou enjoyed a brilliant start and had all but won the race.
Unknown to her however, the American, who was on the outer lane, had gained momentum and out-dipped her on the line, before tumbling over. It was the narrowest of margins, but 0.01s was enough to get Bowie her first global individual title. She later pulled out of the 200m, but anchored the US to GOLD in a WL of 41.82s in the 4x100m!
Do you know that Bowie is keen on getting into acting and hopes to attract the attention of movie producer Tyler Perry?
- Justin Gatlin
It’s no mean feat regaining a world title after 12 years, but that’s exactly what American sprinter Justin Gatlin did when he got one over his nemesis, Usain Bolt, when it mattered the most, snatching the win in the men’s 100m final at the 2017 IAAF World Championships in London.
The 35-year old has had to play second fiddle to the Jamaican sensation since returning to the sport in 2010, following a 4-year doping ban. Bolt remained indomitable and unbeaten in major championships since winning the sprint double at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.
For the past three years, Gatlin has topped the world standings: 9.77s in 2014, 9.74s in 2015 (which is his Personal Best by the way), and 9.80s in 2016. So scorching was Gatlin’s form in 2015 that many felt he could usurp the world title from Bolt, but the Jamaican came through in his usual manner to retain his GOLD medal from Moscow 2013. And so it was beginning to look like the American would end his career on this note.
This quest seemed even more unlikely in 2017 as the 35-year old got injured early in the season. The 2004 Olympic Champion didn’t clock the fastest of times in 2017, and even displayed some rustiness in his races. His much younger compatriot Christian Coleman stood a better chance on paper, seeing that he came to London with the World Lead (WL) of 9.82s despite finishing 2nd to the veteran at the US Trials.
In London, Gatlin did enough to get through the rounds in spite of the booing of the fans at the Olympic Stadium each time he was introduced. He easily won his heat in 10.05s, then finished 2nd in 10.09s in the semis. Drawn in one of the outer lanes in the final, Gatlin was outside the range of Bolt who was focused on Coleman, and went on to win the long elusive world title in a Season’s Best (SB) of 9.92s, putting a dampener on Bolt’s farewell race.
One could sense the shock that swept across the stadium when the results came up, confirming Gatlin’s victory. The American put his index finger on his lips, signifying that he had finally silenced his critics. He then genuflected before the Jamaican who was the first to congratulate him. The pair shared a hug, and Bolt would go on to say: “He [Gatlin] is a great competitor. You have to be at your best against him. I really appreciate competing against him and he is a good person.”
As though he could hardly believe his luck, Gatin joked afterwards, saying, “I plan on wearing it (the GOLD medal) in the shower and sleeping with it too. I’m going to sleep on it and think about it and see where it holds up against my other medals. I love every one I have and this is just as special”.
Do you know that Gatlin started out as a 110m Hurdler before being converted to a sprinter by his High School coaches?
- Wayde Van Niekerk
Our No.1 sprinter in 2017 is South African athlete Wayde Van Niekerk, who retained his 400m world title and also added a Silver medal from the 200m to the mix. The 25-year old who found fame whilst competing in the 400m, focused more on the 200m this season following his decision to do the 200m/400m double at the 2017 World Championships in London.
He also competed in a couple of 100m races, finishing 2nd behind Akani Simbine at the South Africa Championships in April, then secured revenge in the 200m, which he won with a then World Lead (WL) of 19.90s. He broke Anaso Jobodwana’s 200m National Record (NR) of 19.87s clocked in Beijing two years ago, replacing it with a Personal Best (PB) of 19.84s set in Kingston in June – the second fastest time in the world this year. Ten days later, he also clocked a (PB) of 9.94s in the 100m.
Later that month, Van Niekerk stormed to a World Best of 30.81s in the 300m in Ostrava, erasing Michael Johnson’s former mark of 30.85s, which incidentally, was set in South Africa. He ran his first international 400m race since the Olympics at the Lausanne Diamond League where he was pushed all the way by Botswana’s Isaac Makwala, clocking a new Diamond League Record (DLR) of 43.62s!
He moved on to Monaco, also setting another impressive time of 43.73s. Everyone knew he was the man to beat in the 400m at the World Championships, and true to prediction, he successfully defended his title (43.98s), albeit without the fanfare that greeted his Beijing 2015 and Rio 2016 exploits, following Makwala’s absence in the race.
He added the 200m Silver to his kitty a few days later, finishing 2nd to Turkey’s Ramil Guliyev who caused an upset in the event. The South African injured his knee during a celebrity touch Rugby match and will have to miss next year’s Commonwealth Games in Australia. He has since undergone surgery in the US. Another climax to his season was getting married to his girlfriend of many years Chesney Campbell in an intimate ceremony in South Africa last month.
Do you know that Van Niekerk was born prematurely (29 weeks) and weighed just 1.9kg, with the doctors saying he would not survive?