2019 IAAF World Championships

Who Will Be The IAAF Men's Athlete Of The Year?

Who Will Be The IAAF Men's Athlete Of The Year?

The IAAF announced the 11 men’s finalists for 2019 Athlete of the Year on Monday. Who will take home the award?

Oct 14, 2019 by Kevin Sully
Who Will Be The IAAF Men's Athlete Of The Year?
The IAAF announced the 11 men’s finalists for 2019 Athlete of the Year on Monday. 

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The IAAF announced the 11 men’s finalists for 2019 Athlete of the Year on Monday. 

As usual, it’s difficult to choose a singular best performer of the year with so many variables between the different events. The bar is high. To be considered you had to be a world champion, or in the case of Eliud Kipchoge, run a marathon faster than any other human being in history. Here’s a look at the resumes of the finalists:

Joshua Cheptegei: Uganda, Distance

Cheptegei has an array of accomplishments in 2019. He won the World Cross Country Championships back in March, was Diamond League champion in the 5000m and won gold in the 10,000m in Doha. Outside of those runs, he also won the 2-mile at the Prefontaine Classic. In his other Diamond League races, he was second, fourth and seventh--solid, but not enough when undefeated is the barrier to entry. 

Steven Gardiner: Bahamas, 400m

Gardiner was the surprise winner of the 400m, running a lifetime best of 43.48 in Doha. As the IAAF release notes, he was undefeated all year in the 400m, but he also didn’t race that much. He only made one Diamond League appearance all season due to injuries.  For a sprinter, it’s tough to win an award like this without a consistent racing schedule. Also, his 43.48 wasn’t the fastest time in the event in 2019

Donavan Brazier: United States, 800m

Brazier broke the American record at the World Championships, running 1:42.34. Earlier in the season, he won the Diamond League, with a stirring last-lap comeback against Nijel Amos.  Outdoors, he only lost one 800m race and ran 3:37 in the 1500m. Indoors, he broke the American record in the 800m. All of this will make Brazier a good candidate for US athlete of the year, but he doesn’t quite have the dominance or historic mark to crack into the top tier. 

Christian Coleman: United States, Sprints

Coleman won the world title in the 100m in 9.76, the fastest time of the year and played a key role in the US’s American record 4x100m team in Doha. The schedule made a 100/200 double difficult, and he scratched the latter at the World Championships. He did suffer an early-season loss to Noah Lyles in the 100m and he missed the Diamond League final while his case with USADA was being sorted out. 

Timothy Cheruiyot: Kenya, 1500m

Few athletes dominated their event like Cheruiyot--his 3:29 in Doha from the front was the clearest indication of how much better he was than everyone else. That success extended throughout his season, where he won eight of his nine 1500m/mile finals. Cheruiyot is legitimately in the conversation. The only thing working against him is the lack of a historic mark. His 3:28.77 from Lausanne was just off his lifetime best and sits 31st on the all-time list.   

Sam Kendricks: United States, Pole Vault

Kendricks defended his world title this season in the pole vault.  Earlier in the season, he cleared 6.06m at the US Championships to set the American record and post the top mark in the world this year. He also won the Diamond League title. Dominance is tough in the pole vault though. Despite being the best in the world at the event by every metric, Kendricks still lost on five occasions outdoors. 

Christian Taylor: United States, Triple Jump

Like Kendricks, Taylor delivered when it counted. He won the Diamond League and World Championship titles--the latter was the sixth global title of his career. To nitpick, and you have to nitpick to differentiate between these 11, Taylor had four losses on the year and didn’t have the best jump of 2019. 

Daniel Stahl: Sweden, Discus

Stahl had a phenomenal 2019--a world title, Diamond League title and a historic throw of 71.86m that tied him for the sixth-best of all-time. That checks virtually all of the boxes of a superb year. Stahl did have two losses on the year, though he never fell out of the top three in any competition. 

Eliud Kipchoge: Kenya, Marathon

Here’s where it gets complicated. How do you compare a marathoner like Kipchoge, who raced twice this year (and once in a record-eligible setting) to a track athlete who raced 15 times? The short answer is, you can’t. But Kipchoge did everything humanly possible to put forth the best case for why a marathoner should win the award (he did the same last year and was named the Athlete of the Year of 2018). 

In the spring, he broke the course record in London, running 2:02:37. At the time, it was the second-fastest time in history, only behind his world record from the year before in Berlin. Then, there was this past weekend when he ran 1:59:40 as part of the INEOS 1:59 Challenge. Yes, it wasn’t record-eligible for all the reasons you already know, but doing something that nobody has done before over a distance that is contested at the championship level is worth considering. If the metric for this award is whose season will we remember the most 20 years from now? The answer is Kipchoge. 

Noah Lyles: USA, Sprints

Lyles’ year was close to perfect. He swept the Diamond League 100m and 200m, got two gold medals in Doha and ran a 19.50, the eighth fastest time in history. His season didn’t quite have the exclamation point at the end with an insane time at the World Championships, but he already accomplished that feat in the middle of the summer. 

An early-season loss to Michael Norman in the 200m, was his only defeat at the distance this year. The fact that he only did the 200m (previous sprint winners have typically run multiple individual events) makes it difficult for him to win it this year, though I think he will make the final three.  

Karsten Warholm: Norway, 400m Hurdles

Warholm has the profile of a winner of this award. He was a 7-7 in the 400m hurdles this year. He ran 46.92, the second-best mark of all-time. And in Doha, he beat two of the three other fastest men in history to win gold. His performances went beyond the 46.92. He ran under 47.50 on six occasions and put four times in the top 30 of all-times. Other than the world record, there’s nothing Warholm could have done better in 2019.

Projected Top 5

-Cheruiyot, Stahl, Lyles, Warholm, Kipchoge

Projected Top 3

-Lyles, Warholm, Kipchoge

Projected Winner:

Kipchoge deserves his own category. It’s hard to compare what he did, and how he did it, to an athlete on the track circuit. As I mentioned before, in terms of historical import, he should win. But he got it last year so I think it will go to Warholm in 2019.