Athletics

Duplantis and Cheptegei head Male World Athlete of the Year nominees

World record holders Mondo Duplantis and Joshua Cheptegei on 10-strong shortlist along with Karsten Warholm and Noah Lyles.

By Rory Jiwani ·

The year 2020 has been like no other in sport with the Covid pandemic wiping out months of competition.

Athletics was no exception, but there were plenty of excellent performances including world records for pole vaulter Mondo Duplantis and long-distance runner Joshua Cheptegei.

Unsurprisingly, those two names head the list of nominees for World Athletics' Male Athlete of the Year award which was announced on Monday (2 November).

Joining them is Karsten Warholm who set a 300m hurdles world best in June before almost toppling Kevin Young's 28-year-old 400m hurdles world record this European summer.

Ryan Crouser was a class apart in the shot put with the American consistently over 22m as he closes in on Randy Barnes' world record.

Johannes Vetter produced the best javelin throw for 24 years, while Noah Lyles cemented his place as the world's top sprinter.

Completing the 10-strong line-up are 800m world champion Donavan Brazier, 1500m ace Timothy Cheruiyot, world half marathon champion Jacob Kiplimo and reigning discus world champion Daniel Stahl.

There now follows a three-way voting process - split between the World Athletics Council, the World Athletics Family, and the worldwide community of athletics fans – to determine five finalists.

The winner will be announced at this year's virtual World Athletics Awards on 5 December which will be streamed live on the World Athletics YouTube channel.

Eliud Kipchoge won the title for the last two years but missed out on the shortlist after finishing eighth in last month's London Marathon behind Shura Kitata.

Cheptegei's short but stunning season

Joshua Cheptegei gave notice of his talent with victory over 10,000m at the 2019 World Championships in Doha.

But no one could have predicted what the Ugandan runner would do in 2020.

In his first race of the year in February, he set a new 5km road race world record in Monaco of 12:51, 27 seconds inside the previous best set by Rhonex Kipruto.

After six months off due to the global pandemic, he returned to the principality in style.

At August's Monaco Diamond League, he took two seconds off Kenenisa Bekele's 16-year-old 5000m world record with a time of 12:35.36.

Nearly eight weeks later, he notched up his third world record in three races on NN World Record Day in Valencia, this time at 10,000m.

With 'Wavelight' pacemaking to help him, the 23-year-old clocked 26:11.00 to better Bekele's mark from August 2005 by over six seconds.

Cheptegei could not maintain his unbeaten record at the World Half Marathon Championships in Poland 10 days later, finishing fourth behind compatriot Jacob Kiplimo who has also made the shortlist.

But three world records in four races represents one of the most incredible seasons in athletics history.

Duplantis goes higher and higher

Before the pandemic struck, Mondo Duplantis was also breaking world records.

In February, he eclipsed London 2012 gold medallist Renaud Lavillenie's previous best of 6.16m by one centimetre in an indoor meet in Torun, Poland.

A week ago, he went one centimetre higher still - 6.18m - in the Indoor Grand Prix Glasgow.

Duplantis, Lavillenie and reigning world champion Sam Kendricks provided the first athletics competition in the time of Covid restrictions, taking part in the Ultimate Garden Clash at their homes.

When normal events finally resumed in June, the American-born Swede was happy to travel and compete starting at June's Impossible Games in Oslo.

While Cheptegei was breaking his world record at the first Diamond League of the season in Monaco, Duplantis produced the first 6m outdoor jump of the year.

Then in a memorable competition in Lausanne city centre, with the rare bonus of spectators to cheer the athletes on, Duplantis and Kendricks both cleared 6m with the 20-year-old European champion topping out at 6.07m.

As darkness set in, he had one unsuccessful attempt at 6.15m, one centimetre higher than Sergey Bubka's outdoor world record which had stood for 26 years.

But it seemed a matter of when rather than if that mark would fall.

And sure enough, two weeks later at the Rome Diamond League, Duplantis cleared 6.15m at the second attempt to make yet more history.

In an incredible 2020, he won all 16 of the competitions he started and set three world records.

Now all that stands between him and immortality is Olympic gold which looks his for the taking at next year's Tokyo Games.

Mondo Duplantis poses next to the scoreboard showing his winning height of 6.15m, a new outdoor world record

Karsten Wow-holm the entertainer

With his Viking warcry and his all-out aggression from the starting gun, Karsten Warholm has become one of the biggest draws in athletics.

In June, the two-time reigning world 400m hurdles champion broke the world best for the 300m hurdles at Oslo's Impossible Games.

He clocked 33.78s, seven-tenths inside Chris Rawlinson's 18-year-old mark, running alone in a near-empty Bislett Stadium.

Then came a summer-long assault on Kevin Young's 400m hurdle world record of 46.78s set in the final of the Barcelona 1992 Olympic Games.

The sight of the Norwegian tearing away from his rivals in an outside lane became synonymous with track meets this year, but he was thwarted in his bid to take the oldest men's record on the track.

He came desperately close in Stockholm on 23 August, clocking 46.87s for a new European record and the second-fastest time in history.

But it was a story of what might have been as the 24-year-old hit the last hurdle which almost certainly put him outside Young's mark.

Incredibly he returned 90 minutes later to win the 400m on the flat in a very respectable 45.05s.

Warholm was unbeaten in 10 races this year, nine of them outdoor, and he will be hard to stop in Tokyo next year as he bids to add the Olympic title to his two world crowns.

Karsten Warholm of Norway before the men's 400m hurdles at the ISTAF 2020 meeting in Berlin

Crouser takes DIY approach to success

Unable to train at the University of Arkansas due to Covid restrictions, Ryan Crouser took matters into his own hands. Literally.

The Olympic shot put champion is a keen woodworker in his spare time and made himself a mobile throwing circle 30cm smaller than the standard size to help him technically.

And when he returned to competition, he was simply unstoppable.

In July, he set a new personal best of 22.91cm in Georgia to start a run of seven events where he recorded at least one 22m-plus throw.

No other thrower managed 22m outdoors this year.

At the Drake Relays in late August, Crouser put together one of the greatest series in shot put history with all six efforts beyond 22m.

That feat had been achieved just once before, by 1984 Olympic champion Alessandro Andrei some 33 years ago.

His next target is Tokyo where he will hope to follow Ralph Rose, Parry O'Brien and Poland's Tomasz Majewski in winning back-to-back Olympic shot titles.

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