Spikes04 Jan 2016

Sweet Sixteen


2016 SPIKES season preview

It’s 2016 and we’ve got athletics on the mind. Here are 16 things that have us drooling on our keyboards in anticipation of the year ahead.

1. Triple jump trio

So, farewell then, 2015: The Year of the Jumps. And hello, 2016: The Year of the Jumps!

Last season we were treated to a season-long exhibition of boundary-pushing triple jump courtesy of Cuba’s Pedro “Quadruple P” Pichardo and USA’s world champion Christian Taylor. The pair traded blows beyond the 18-metre mark throughout the season, and it ultimately saw Taylor come within 8cm of the 20-year-old world record.

Will it finally fall in 2016? The only other active athlete to go over 18m is 2013 world champ Teddy Tamgho. The injured Frenchman sat out last season, but will return this year to complete a triple jump trio that could have Jonathan Edwards' jaw dropping even further.

2. Surprise surprise

Speaking of jaw-dropping results: last year we saw a Jamaican shot putter, a Kenyan (and Egyptian) javelin thrower, a Dutch sprinter, a Kenyan hurdler and the Chinese relay team win world championship medals. We want more of the same in 2016. Cuban steeplechasers: we’re looking at you.

3. The graduates

Amongst the athletes we expect to burst on to the senior sprint circuit this year are a host of newly-turned professional youngsters. Trayvon Bromell and Andre DeGrasse – joint 100m bronze medal winners at the world champs – have both signed pro deals and will harbour dreams of unseating Usain Bolt in Rio.

Women’s sprinting also has a pair of arrivistes. US duo Candace Hill (16) and Kaylin Whitney (17) both begin the year as full professionals, both having run faster than any youth athlete before them. Each has it in them to become the youngest Olympic medallists in the sprints since Barbara Jones in 1952.

And if that wasn’t enough to make you feel old, consider this: Rio will see the first cohort of kids born in 2000 become Olympians. EUGH.

Trayvon Bromell and Andre DeGrasse on the podium

Wear this medal, hold this owl and look vaguely right if you wanna turn pro

4. Pole pushin’

Though a world championship title has eluded him, Renaud Lavillenie has for years been the dominant force in the men’s pole vault. Yet the Olympic champion and world record holder has never had a rival to push him when the big heights come calling. Not any more.

Last year saw six men go over 5.90m or higher in a single season for the first time this century (prizes to the first person to name them!). The depth could be enough to drive Lavillenie to find the big height consistency that has eluded him since he went over 6.16m in 2014. World champion Shawn Barber has already cleared 5.88m this year (we’re still sobering up) and appears the man most likely to have Lav’ watching his back.

5. The great indoors

This year sees the first IAAF Indoor World Indoor Tour take place. The four-meet series mimics the Diamond League, with standardised prize pots for each event and points up for grabs. The overall winner in each event will win $20,000 and a wild card entry for the World Indoor Championships in March. Nice!

The Tour kicks off in Karlsruhe in February 6 and passes through Stockholm, Boston and Glasgow.

6. Destination Portland

Portland will see the world indoor champs take place on American soil for the first time since Indianapolis 1987. The Pacific Northwest is synonymous with world class athletics and we can think of fewer better places to host the 16th edition of the championships.

7. Better by half

Another city that we just know will go wild for the championships they are hosting is Cardiff. Also in March, the World Half Marathon Championships will run through the streets of the historic Welsh capital, with organisers hoping it will challenge the long-established Great North Run for participation numbers.

You – yes YOU – can sign up to take part by clicking on these very words.

8. Pits apart

The two parallel jumps events are very different beasts, and the makeups of the women’s competition in each are equally disparate.

Caterine Ibarguen has a triple jump winning streak that extends back to the early 1800s (honest, ask Queen Vic), maintaining her record with a last ditch winner at the Beijing world champs. Keep it going through 2016 and the Colombian will be a shout for the most dominant athlete of our era.

On the other hand, the women’s long jump is as open as this correspondent is to relocating the SPIKES office to Puglia. The final in Beijing last year saw three women jump over 7m at a major championships for the first time since the 2004 Olympics. Tianna Bartoletta ultimately took gold with a last gasp PB 7.14m. More of the same in Rio, please!

9. Felix’s double trouble

To double or not to double? That is the question Allyson Felix will be posed with this season.

Last year the 200m Olympic champion won world champs gold in the 400m – not her natural event. In her absence, Flying Dutchwoman Dafne Schippers blew the half lap event apart, winning gold with the third fastest 200m time in history.

Pending a few tweaks to the Rio schedule, Felix would love a tilt at achieving greatness over both distances. But even with an event reshuffle there is no guarantee of a Felix victory in either. Just the way we like it.

10. Poland’s golden hammer

Can anyone unseat Poland’s hammer greats? Based on 2015 results, probably not. Pawel Fajdek was behind each of the 12 best throws last year. He ended the year with a 18-1 win record and a shiny world championship gold medal (just about).

Anita Wlodarczyk was responsible for eight out of the ten best throws last year. The best of all was a world record 81.08m; the second best a championship record 80.85m to take gold in Beijing. She now has six out of ten of the best throws of all time and a winning streak that goes back 18 competitions. Beat that.

Pawel Fajdek and his gold medal

Fajdek will hope to bounce back from London 2012 where he no marked all three throws

11. The leading ladies

Ethiopian women dominated the distance events in 2015. Genzebe Dibaba won 1500m gold and broke the world record, Almaz Ayana took the 5k world title, Gelete Burka ran the fastest 10,000m of the year and Mare Dibaba (no relation) won the marathon world title.

As if they weren’t dominant enough, Ethiopia’s triple Olympic gold medallist Tirunesh Dibaba is set for a return this year following a break to give birth (yes, that means there's another Dibaba on their way).

12. Return to heights

After the quality of 2014, the men’s high jump never really took off last year. We’re expecting a return to form from Mutaz Barshim and Bogdan Bondarenko in this Olympic year, and the likes of Derek Drouin and Guowei Zhang certainly can't be ruled out.

At London 2012 we had five medallists in the men's high jump. Nothing wrong with continuing that trend.

13. Both sides of the brain

Whatever you’re doing this July, cancel it. The US Olympic Trials take place in Eugene from the 1st to the 10th, while Amsterdam hosts the European Championships from the 6th to the 10th. This is the reason the human body comes with two eyes. 

Dafne Schippers European champion Zurich

Before her anticipated showdown with Allyson Felix in Rio, Dafne Schippers will aim to retain both sprint titles at the European Championships

14. The mother of all showdowns

Jessica Ennis-Hill proved why she should never be written off when she won world heptathlon gold last year, just 13 months after giving birth to her son, Reggie. Those who couldn’t topple the Olympic champion last year will be all the more eager to do so in Rio.

She has two main rivals. First is fellow Brit Katarina Johnson-Thompson, who was the number one ranked athlete in 2014. The European indoor champ fouled out of the long jump and the running at the world champs. The other is Canadian Brianne Theisen-Eaton, who posted the highest score in the world last year (6808 points) but had to settle for silver in Beijing.

15. Olympic defenders

Defending an Olympic title is the ultimate prize in athletics. Ennis-Hill will attempt to do so in Rio, as will fellow multi-event maestro Ashton Eaton. Mo Farah will go after a distance double-double. 110m hurdles world record holder Aries Merritt will look to defend following his kidney transplant in September.

Two special athletes will seek hat tricks, both Jamaican. Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce will go after a third 100m gold, while Usain Bolt will attempt to do a sprint double triple.

16. We want you back

Yo 2015. I'm really happy for you, Imma let you finish, but you were missing some of the best athletes of our time. Or something like that.

This year we’re looking forward to the return of the athletes who couldn't be with us last year, be it through injury, parenthood or bureaucratic passport officials. You know who you are: WE'VE MISSED YOU GUYS.

Roll on 2016!