Elaine Thompson-Herah and Karsten Warholm
We continue our countdown to the World Athletics Awards 2020 on 5 December by taking a closer look at the five men and five women who were confirmed as the finalists for the Athlete of the Year awards.
As 2020 dawned, Elaine Thompson-Herah was entering the final phase of preparation for an unprecedented achievement: a successful defence on Olympic 100 and 200m titles. In 2016, the Jamaican star became just the seventh woman to take both dash titles in the same games, a double none had managed to repeat four years later.
The global pandemic and subsequent postponement of the Tokyo Olympics forced the 28-year-old to put those ambitions under wraps for another year, but Thompson-Herah, who has been dogged by injury since her triumphant Rio showing, did manage a season full enough to illustrate that her training was on target and that she very much remains a key actor in next year’s battles for Olympic sprint supremacy.
Thompson-Herah’s season was largely confined to a series of low-key competitions at home in Kingston, where she strung together four victories in as many 100m outings, capped by 10.88 and 10.92 performances. Over the half lap, she was unbeaten in three race, with a 22.19 season’s best that left her the season’s third fastest woman over 200m.
But she really shined in her two international races, first at the Wanda Diamond League meeting in Rome on 17 September, where she clocked a world-leading 10.85, and again eight days later at the series fixture in Doha, where she won in 10.87.
More impressive than the times was the manner in which she dominated each contest. In Rome, her closest challenger finished 0.27 back. In Doha, she blitzed the field by 0.34 to end the year with four of the year's six fastest 100m performances.
"I leave here as the world leader, I'm super excited," Thompson-Herah said after her race in Rome. "This tells me where I am at the end of this season, and tells me how I can prepare for next year. This year required more adjusting, and my goal was to push back and to motivate myself.”
Since emerging on the international scene in 2017, when he won his first world 400m hurdles title, Karsten Warholm has continued to refine his fierce attack-from-gun style of racing. That continued to serve the 24-year-old Norwegian well in 2020 as he resumed his all-out assault on the event’s all-time list.
Most competitions in 2020 were held without spectators in the stands. In his first race of the year, at Oslo’s Impossible Games exhibition on 11 June, Warholm competed without another competitor on the track. But he didn’t seem slowed by the absence of either as he sped to a 33.78 world best in the rarely-run 300m hurdles.
In his first appearance of the year over the standard distance two months later, this time before an appreciative socially-distance crowd and a solid international field at the Diamond League meeting in Monaco, Warholm produced another spectacular race against the clock, clocking 47.10. It was his first race since he won his second world title in Doha ten months earlier, and the second fastest of his career.
“This was a very, very good season opener,” he said.
“I felt very strong, things I've been working on actually work. I had a very good finish today and I'm really happy. It's great seeing some audience, hearing the sound of the audience, and having some competitors by my side felt great."
Those “things” worked even better in Stockholm nine days later where he powered to a spectacular 46.87 clocking, the second fastest performance of all time.
Running in lane eight, Warholm went out in his typically rampaging style, building a visible lead by the third hurdle. He added to it with each stride, powering off the final bend and into the home straight very much alone, showing no signs of slowing. For some moments, Kevin Young’s 46.78 world record, set at the Barcelona Olympic Games 28 years earlier, looked to be under serious threat.
But it didn’t come to pass. Warholm clipped the final barrier, costing him valuable ticks of the clock. But he nonetheless clawed his way closer to Young’s venerable mark, breaking his own European record by 0.05 seconds and solidifying his No.2 position on the world all-time list.
“I hit that last hurdle because I went really hard for the first nine, and stuff like this happens,” Warholm said.
“I’m always telling myself to be a warrior when I go out on the track. I think I was rewarded by just going all in at the end and I got a great time. It's a great lesson for me - to always run until the finish line.”
That would be his finest performance of the season, but he also produced 47.08 and 47.07 runs in Berlin and Rome, clockings that only five others have ever bettered.
Warholm ended the year unbeaten in 10 races: six in the 400m hurdles, three over the flat 400 (once indoors) and the 300m hurdles.