At school I used to hate award evenings. My recollection of events was a compulsory evening spent listening to boring speeches before the nominated golden boy’s name would be called out a dozen times to leave a few attendants in awe and the rest feeling like proper losers. Needless to say I sided with the latter group.
Even when the little crown prince genuinely deserved his umpteenth accolade and still managed to look surprised, you couldn’t help but question whether or not there honestly wasn’t any other boy they could have given the prize to. When Usain Bolt was crowned as the IAAF World Athlete-of-the-Year in Monaco on Friday night, a closet of stashed emotions I thought I had locked away for good the day I walked out of my school’s reception for the final time after collecting my matric results was flung open.
Only this time I didn’t have to wonder whether there was anybody else more worthy of the honour, I was in fact convinced that this was the case. Wayde van Niekerk’s solitary gold medal from the Rio Olympic might be outnumbered by Bolt’s three gongs, but if you analyse the pair’s achievements, Van Niekerk has reason to feel hard done by.
He stunned the world to break Michael Johnson’s 400m world record, a record that many predicted might never be broken when it was set in 1999. In fact he shaved more from Johnson’s record – 0.15 seconds – than the American did when he took 0.11 off an 11-year record set by Butch Reynolds in 1988. And to top that, Van Niekerk came up against a top-quality field featuring the previous two Olympic champions, LaShawn Merritt and Kirani James.
Add to this his amazing achievement of becoming the first athlete to record a sub 10-second 100m, sub 20-second 200 and sub44-second 400 and you have a serious title contender. In the opposite corner there was Bolt – that is if you of course flatly ignore the third nominee Mo Farah like I’m about to do – who had won the 100, 200 and 4×100 relay in Rio.
No pun intended, but straight out the blocks I’m going to scratch the relay effort from this argument because he only had a 25% share in that medal and one could argue that Jamaica are so blessed with world-class sprinters that they’ll probably still win this event without Bolt. That leaves us with the two sprint titles.
In all fairness to the great man, he didn’t really have world-class competition – don’t make me laugh and say has-been former drug cheat Justin Gatland – and his winning times of 9.81 and 19.78 were way off his own world records of 9.58 and 19.19 respectively. And to think he wasn’t even pushed that hard to win. Some say he won because he achieved an unprecedented “triple triple’’ in Rio.
But those achievements came over an eight-year period at three different Olympics: in Beijing, London and Rio. The award on Friday was for achievements for only one calendar year from late 2015 to 2016. Results from 2008 didn’t count. Nor did 2012’s. So why should the previous two triples have any bearing on this award?
It is almost a case of when in doubt, go with the golden boy. I hate award evenings now even more than before.