Two days ago, we revealed some of our Top 10 Male World Athletes in 2019, kicking off with Part 1 of the series. We now bring the concluding part of that feature as we introduce our Top 5 Male World Athletes of the year. We will begin the countdown from No.5.
- Tayjay Gayle
With Jamaica’s outstanding pedigree on the track, it is certainly not surprising when a sprinter sends shockwaves down the spine of lovers of the sport at major championships. However, the island nation had never produced a World Champion in the Long Jump – until this year when Tajay Gayle leapt out to 8.69m to win GOLD in Doha.
The multi-talented Gayle wasn’t the bookies pick to clinch the title, with the likes of Cuban sensation Juan Miguel Echevarria and former World Champion Luvo Manyonga churning out impressive performances in the Long Jump all through the season. It was however in May of this year that his name began to reverberate as a likely contender at this year’s World Champs.
He travelled to China where he carved out two important victories, one at the IAAF Shanghai Diamond League and another 48 hours later at the inaugural Nanjing World Challenge meeting, which took place separately as a “street meet” at a local shopping mall. “This was the best meet for me,” said a delighted Gayle, who won off his last attempt with 8.21m.
He followed it up with some solid performances including winning the Jamaican National title, his first after three attempts, followed by a lifetime best of 8.32m at the Müller Anniversary Games in London and a Silver medal at the Pan-American Games in Lima, Peru, behind Echevarria.
Although he admitted in an interview that he didn’t go into the Diamond League final in Zurich to win, he still placed 3rd in the Swiss capital, jumping 8.20m. It was a mark that certainly gave him a boost heading into the World Champs.
Gayle, an outside chance for a medal, had qualified 12th after failing to get to the 8.15m automatic qualification distance. In the final however, he launched himself to 8.46m with his first jump to put the World Champion elect, Cuba’s Juan Miguel Echevarria, under real pressure.
Echevarria would look like challenging for a brief moment, leaping out to 8.25m, but he could only add a few centimetres to finish third with 8.34m. The USA’s Jeff Henderson hit 8.39m for 2nd. With Gayle’s first jump putting the field under pressure, fans in Doha waited to see if he could hold on.
He fouled on two attempts but then beat the PB of Echevarría (8.68m) and defending champion Luvo Manyonga (8.65m) with his fourth jump of 8.69m. If the pressure of 8.46m was immense, 8.69m broke the back of the field! The distance was the longest jump in the world in ten years and Jamaica’s new National Record (NR) as Gayle broke James Beckford’s 22-year-old mark of 8.62m.
- Karsten Warholm
There are very few athletes in Track and Field that can be described as “flying” at the moment. Norwegian Karsten Warholm is certainly in that category. For an athlete who started his career competing in the Octathlon, he really has transcended to arguably the best hurdler of his generation.
The 400m hurdles, which Warholm competes in, currently has a level of depth never seen before in the event. However, the Norwegian was still able to secure a flawless season this year, going unbeaten in 18 races across all distances in 2019.
After playing second fiddle to Qatari Abderrahman Samba last year, Warholm posted some impressive results in the Diamond League (DL), claiming victories in Stockholm and on his home turf, Oslo.
In spite of his outstanding performances, the world wanted to see him compete against Samba and Rai Benjamin. With Samba recuperating from an injury and saving himself for the World Champs, Warholm had to face US sprinter Rai Benjamin, the equal third-fastest man of all time, in the final of the DL in Zurich.
The battle was billed as the face-off of the evening and it lived up to that lofty billing in every was imaginable. In what is arguably the most competitive race in the 400m Hurdles in a while, Warholm stopped the clock in 46.92s to become the second man to crack the 47-second barrier. Behind him, Benjamin became the third, tying Abderrahman Samba as the third fastest of all-time in 46.98s.
Heading into the World Champs in Doha, revenge was hot on the mind of Benjamin, and with Samba returning from injury, the world witnessed three of the best 400m Hurdles in action. It was going to take a superhuman effort to break the oldest World Record (WR) in men’s track.
Warholm was ready to go the distance and dug deep in the closing stages of the race to take the GOLD in 47.42s, defeating USA’s Rai Benjamin by 0.24 seconds. In doing so, he became the fourth man to retain a world title over 400m hurdles after Edwin Moses, Felix Sanchez and Kerron Clement. He also became the first-ever athlete from Norway to win back-to-back GOLD medals at the IAAF World Championships.
His season ended with a bang as he was crowned European Athlete of the Year at the annual Golden Tracks award ceremony which took place in Tallinn, Estonia. Warholm will now set his sights on winning GOLD at the Olympics next year.
- Joe Kovacs
All is well that ends well! In a nutshell, that’s the story of US Shot Putter Joe Kovacs in 2019. Kovacs was the 2015 World champion and also earned Silver at the 2016 Olympics and 2017 World championships. However, this year’s GOLD medal came as a shock to Kovacs and his family after he lost his sponsorship with Nike, parted ways with an agent and nearly quit the sport following a dismal 2018 campaign.
He decided to make a coaching change and asked his wife, Ashley, to take the reins on his day-to-day training. Going back to the beginning was pivotal for Kovacs who was taught the Shot put by his mom in a Pennsylvania school parking lot, as he re-emerged as the world’s best after a rough couple of years.
This season, Kovacs was 6th, 3rd, 4th and 5th in the Diamond League (DL) meetings hecompeted in, before placing 2nd at US Nationals. He was simply relieved to make the World Championships team.
His colleague Ryan Crouser, who on April 20 launched the world’s best throw since 1990, and New Zealand’s Tom Walsh were still a class above. It was that way going into the final of the Shot put at the World Champs until Kovacs launched the throw of his life in Doha.
Trialing both Crouser (22.90m) and Walsh (22.90m) heading into his sixth and final throw at the Champs, the Penn State graduate whose PB was 22.57m, then heaved his implement to 22.91m to win the World title and to set the 3rd best mark in history. Kovacs knew he unleashed a technically sound throw on his final attempt, but he had no idea it was that good.
The greatest shot put competition in history!
— World Athletics (@WorldAthletics) October 5, 2019
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Humbled to be in such a great competition, especially with @rcrouser and @tomwalshsp! From 2013 to 2017 I moved to California to work with Coach Art Venegas. He taught me how to become a World Champion, Olympic medalist, and gave me the tools I needed to succeed in the sport. He is and always will be family to me! I will always be in debt to him for showing me how to do things I only could have ever imagined. In 2017 I made a decision to leave my California training environment and take a chance on love. I moved to Columbus Ohio to be with Ashley. I experimented with a new technique and struggled more than I ever imagined I would in the process. I doubted and questioned myself and wondered if I should still continue throwing. I was beaten down with all the external vices in our sport. I started to loose the passion for throwing, something I loved so much. In 2018, I only threw over 21 meters one time. I was struggling to get into international meets, the same ones who paid me to show up not long before. I thought it was a good run, but maybe that was a sign to move on. In the fall of 2018 I married my love @ashleykovacsusa . I saw the success she was having coaching her collegiate throwers and started to finally enjoy everything that came from the life of being a professional shot putter. In 2019 I opened more than my heart to Ashley. I opened my ears and mind. We discussed a plan on how to try and get back on track. She keep repeating a quote from a book she read “you have to be willing to look like a pud to be a stud.” So with that said, in 2019 I spent some time looking like a “pud”…. I lost a meet to an athlete I was coaching, under 20m. I lost to a collegiate athlete, I lost every single diamond league meet I attended, and I was beaten at both indoor and outdoor USA’s. I won the title of 2019 World Athletics Shot Put Champion with a PR of 22.91‼️ Ashley I love you! You are my north start. I never thought I would throw far again, and let alone doing it with a smile. We had our plan. Not anyone else’s system, not copying and pasting programs, our plan. Thank you and I love you!! I am here because of you. Mom @joannakovacs and…continues to comments ⬇️
With the level of competiton in the Shot Put at the moment, it’s just a matter of time before one of these athletes propell themselves to breaking the World Record (WR) in 2020. Who knows, Kovacs may just be the one to break it, judging by his penchant for leaving the best till the end.
- Eliud Kipchoge
No human is limited! Eliud Kipchoge proved that humans can certainly go beyond their limits in 2019 as he achieved the unthinkable on a misty Saturday morning in Vienna in October.
For the last eight years, Kenyan runner Eliud Kipchoge has been trying to become the first person ever to run a marathon in under 2 hours.
Kipchoge, the Rio 2016 Olympic Champion, came painfully close in 2017. He finished a race in Italy just 25 seconds over the 2-hour mark. Last year, he finished the Berlin Marathon just 1 minute and 39 seconds over.
But on October 12, Kipchoge finally did it. He completed the INEOS 1:59 Challenge Marathon in Vienna, Austria, an event arranged specifically for his sub-2-hour race attempt, in 1 hour, 59 minutes and 40 seconds.
In becoming the first person to cover the marathon distance in less than two hours, Kipchoge achieved a sports milestone granted almost mythical status in the running world, breaking through a temporal barrier that many would have deemed untouchable only a few years ago.
“I am the happiest man in the world to be the first human to run under 2 hours and I can tell people that no human is limited. I expect more people all over the world to run under 2 hours after today. Together, when we run, we can make this world a beautiful world.” Kipchoge said after finishing.
Kipchoge’s only other race came in April of this year, as he won London Marathon in a Course Record of 2:02:37, the second fastest performance ever at that time, behind his official World Record (WR) of 2:01:39. The Kenyan capped off his season by being crowed the World Male Athlete of the Year for the second consecutive time.
- Noah Lyles
Athletics has been crying out for the next Usain Bolt and Noah Lyles, the sprinter with the effervescent character, proved he might just be the heir apparent to the fastest man of all time. Lyles’ stock continues to rise and many have seen him as the latest hope for a sport crying out for heroes.
Of course, others have been stuffed into that gap over the years — Andre de Grasse and Wayde van Niekerk, exceptional athletes with bad injuries. The American kicked off his Diamond League (DL) season with a bang, defeating rival Christian Coleman, the fastest 100m runner in the world, with a time of 9.86s in the 100m in Shanghai.
Lyles, the back-flipping extrovert then began to shift his attention to his signature event, the 200m. After a surprise loss to his compatriot Michael Norman at the DL in Rome, his first defeat in the 200m for over two years, he picked up the pieces and delivered an outstanding race in July. The sprinter returned to the DL circuit Athletissima meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland, producing the finest performance of his burgeoning career, a 19.50s run that made him the fourth-fastest man of all time.
Before the World Champs in Doha, Lyles made another piece of history. Lyles ended his DL season by winning the 100m crown in Zurich in 9.98s and claiming the spoils in the 200m in Brussels, adding it to his 200m titles from 2017 and 2018. By achieving that feat, he became the first man to win both sprint titles in the DL in the same season.
Going into Doha, Lyles made the decision not to double up on the 100/200m. His choice was motivated by his wanting to have a crack at the 200m World Record (WR) of 19.19s held by the great Usain Bolt.
In the semifinals, Lyles made running under 20s look much easier than it should, taking his heat in 19.86s. In the final, he pulled away from the close field in the final 70 meters of the race, winning decisively in 19.83s. Also, he anchored Team USA to GOLD in the men’s 4x100m relays.
In 2020, Lyles will turn 23, and will certainly have another shot at the WR. His rivalry with Christian Coleman is not only great for the sport but shows great promise that both of them (along with Michael Norman) will keep reaching new heights.