Elaine Thompson-Herah and Karsten Warholm (© Dan Vernon)
Olympic champions Elaine Thompson-Herah of Jamaica and Karsten Warholm of Norway have been named the World Athletes of the Year at the World Athletics Awards 2021, a ceremony held virtually on Wednesday (1).
Thompson-Herah produced one of the finest sprint seasons in history this year, retaining her Olympic 100m and 200m titles in Tokyo and adding a third gold medal in the 4x100m relay. On top of her Olympic triple, she also clocked world-leading times of 10.54 and 21.53 over 100m and 200m respectively, moving to second on the world all-time lists and coming within touching distance of the long-standing world records.
“I just take it year by year,” said Thompson-Herah. “I went very close to the world record so you know, anything is possible. No spikes hanging up any time soon!
“The World Championships in Oregon is most definitely my next big target,” she added. “It is close to home, I hope friends and family can come out and watch. I hope I get some crowd as well. That couldn’t happen in Tokyo but hopefully in Eugene I can get my friends and family to come and cheer me on.”
Warholm uncorked one of the most remarkable performances in athletics history when he stormed to gold in the 400m hurdles at the Tokyo Olympics. Having already broken the world record with 46.70 in Oslo in the lead-up to the Games, Warholm exceeded all expectations in the Japanese capital to claim gold in a stunning world record of 45.94. In a race of incredible depth, the top three athletes finished inside the pre-2021 world record.
“I’m so happy for this,” said Warholm. “First when I saw the time (in Tokyo), I was like, ‘This must be a mistake!’ Because I didn’t see that one coming. And I didn’t see the victory coming before crossing the finish line.
“It was a very intense race, I knew the American and the Brazilian and all the other guys were really chasing me. I always go out hard and I never know what is going on behind me. I was just fighting all the way to the finish line. When I realised 45.94 was the reality, I was thinking: ‘This is not too bad. I’ll take it!’"
World Athletics President Sebastian Coe congratulated all of tonight’s winners and finalists on their extraordinary achievements this year.
"We have this year celebrated some jaw-dropping performances in Tokyo, at the World Athletics U20 Championships in Nairobi and through our one-day meeting circuits – the Wanda Diamond League and the Continental Tour. So we’re delighted to recognise some of our stars at tonight’s awards.
"As a sport, we are in an incredibly strong position. 2021 has been an excellent year. We cemented our position as the number 1 Olympic sport coming out of Tokyo, we have the most God given talented athletes on the planet and our sport is the most accessible of all sports. Thank you to all our athletes around the world. I am looking forward to watching what you can all do in 2022."
The other award winners were:
Female Rising Star
The US teenager was undefeated at 800m all year, winning Olympic gold at the distance following a long but successful collegiate season. She broke the senior US 800m record with her triumph in Tokyo and then improved it to 1:55.04 just a few weeks later. She also excelled at 400m, clocking a North American U20 record of 49.57 for the distance.
“It means the world to know that my support goes beyond friends and families and extends worldwide,” said Mu. “This award shows all young girls that your dreams can, indeed, come true."
Male Rising Star
Throughout 2021 the 17-year-old took down several marks that had belonged to sprint legend Usain Bolt. Knighton first set world U18 bests of 20.11 and 20.04 over 200m, but his rapid rise continued and he broke Bolt’s world U20 record for the distance with 19.88 and 19.84. He went on to finish fourth in the Olympic final with 19.93.
“I’m really thankful for this award,” said Knighton. “One of my most memorable moments of this year was making it to the Olympic final in Tokyo and finishing fourth at the age of 17.”
Member Federations Award
Federacion Costarricense de Atletismo (Costa Rica)
In recognition for their outstanding training, competition and development programme roll-out over the past 12 months, for their consultative work on the World Athletics Kids’ Athletics programme, and for successfully staging a host of international events over the past year.
Mutaz Barshim and Gianmarco Tamberi
The shared high jump victory between Qatar’s Mutaz Barshim and Italy’s Gianmarco Tamberi became one of the biggest talking points of the Olympic Games – not only for everything it represented in their own individual careers, having both battled serious injuries since the last Games, but mainly for the act of respect and sportsmanship between two friends.
“It is just crazy if I think about this story,” said Tamberi. “Thank you very much for this trophy.
“I now call Mutaz like five times a week because I need to speak with him. I feel that now we are not just friends, we are really like blood brothers.”
Barshim added: “I hope to inspire more people to love our sport and maybe share a gold one day!”
Peter Diamond, Executive Vice President of NBC Olympic programming
“Athletics owes Peter a massive debt of gratitude,” said World Athletics President Sebastian Coe. “Peter has worked alongside us for effectively 40 years and has been a constant source of great advice and wise counsel, and occasional humour that has softened the edges of any particular situation. And he has made athletics a lot better.”
Coaching Achievement Award
The US coach has guided the careers of many legendary athletes over the years, but this year two of his charges made history. Allyson Felix became the most decorated female track and field Olympian in history after winning her 10th and 11th Olympic gold medals in Tokyo, while training partner Sydney McLaughlin broke two world records in the 400m hurdles and claimed Olympic gold in the discipline.
Woman of the Year Award
Anju Bobby George
The former international long jump star from India is still actively involved in the sport. In 2016 she opened a training academy for young girls, which has already helped to produce a world U20 medallist. A constant voice for gender equality in her role as Senior Vice President of the Indian Athletics Federation, Bobby George also mentors schoolgirls for future leadership positions within the sport.
Jean-Pierre Durand World Athletics Photograph of the Year
Ryan Pierse’s photograph of the women’s high jump qualifying at the Tokyo Olympic Games
This year’s award is dedicated to the memory of Jean-Pierre Durand, one of the sport’s most prolific photographers and photo chief for a number of World Athletics Series events, who died in October.
“This winning image was taken on one of the morning sessions in Tokyo and it was a hot one,” said Pierse, who is from Australia. “I wanted to illustrate the heat and how it was affecting the athletes. It is a picture that I worked on for a while, and it all came together. I am really happy with it.
“I think it’s incredibly fitting that this award is named in memory of Jean-Pierre Durand,” added Pierse. “I had the pleasure of working alongside him, most recently at the Tokyo Olympics.”