It’s that time of the year when we bring out our metrics and rank the best African athletes in the 2017 Athletics season, analyzing their performances and why they made the cut .
From the World Championships in London to the climax of the Diamond League series in Brussels, African athletes held their own against the very best in the world and deservedly emerged tops in their respective events.
Marie-Josée Ta Lou : It’s been exactly a decade since Ivoirian speed star Marie-Josée Ta Lou commenced a career in Athletics, and the petite athlete has so entrenched herself in the sprints on the global stage that no 100m/200m lineup is complete without her.
2015 was the turning point in Ta Lou’s career when she won the sprint double at the African Games. In 2016, she narrowly missed out on a podium finish in the 100m/200m, placing 4th in both events at the Rio Olympics. But 2017 turned out to be a different year!
Ta Lou enjoyed a brilliant campaign in the IAAF Diamond League series, and asides finishing 6th in Eugene, she secured a Top 3 spot in all of her races and even won the 200m at the Monaco Diamond League. She also shattered the Ivoirian 200m record in Lausanne, replacing it with a time of 22.16s.
Going into the World Championships, the African 200m Champion was regarded as one of the favourites for a medal despite going against more established rivals like Elaine Thompson, Tori Bowie and Dafne Schippers. The women’s 100m final was a sight to behold!
Despite narrowly missing out on the historic feat of becoming Africa’s first female GOLD medalist in the 100m or 200m at the World Championships, She went on to claim Silver in the 200m, bettering her National Record and replacing it with 22.08s, which is just 0.01s shy of Mary Onyali’s African Record.
Almaz Ayana: Not everyone can win a World Championships GOLD medal in their first competitive race of the season, or compete in only three races in a year and still end up as a finalist for the prestigious IAAF World (Female) Athlete of the Year, but then, not everyone is Almaz Ayana!
With the 10,000m done and dusted, Ayana moved to the 5000m where she finished 2nd behind Kenya’s Hellen Obiri in her heat, clocking 14:57.06. Obiri, who held sway in the absence of Genzebe Dibaba and Ayana, put up an exceptional display to beat Ayana in the final, kicking in in the last lap to strike GOLD as Ayana settled for Silver in 14:40.35.
Her performance in three races was enough to secure a finalist spot for Ayana ahead of the IAAF Athlete of the Year award, which incidentally, she won last year. A winner will be decided among the trio of Ekaterini Stefanidi, Nafissatou Thiam and Ayana later this month.
Luvo Manyonga: South Africa’s Luvo Manyonga belongs to the exclusive class of only six athletes who maintained a clean sheet all season, with five of them being jumpers: Manyonga (Long Jump), Mutaz Barshim (High Jump), Sam Kendricks (Pole vault), Mariya Lasitskene (High Jump), and Ekaterina Stefanidi (Pole vault). And so it is somewhat safe to conclude that 2017 was the year of the jumps.
He went on to claim the Diamond League trophy a few weeks later, bringing a fitting end to a perfect season. So dominant was Manyonga in 2017 that he remained at the top of the world rankings for the entire year. He also owns eight of the Top 10 marks in 2017. Manyonga has now set his sights on breaking the World Record (WR) of 8.95m.
Caster Semenya: What a year 2017 has been for South Africa’s Caster Semenya! Having completely dominated the women’s 800m in 2016, she extended her winning streak to 2017 and remained undefeated for the entire season. She also smashed her former Personal Best (PB) of 1:55.28 with which she won the Olympics, to a new time of 1:55.16 at the London Olympic Stadium.
As such, it means that Semenya now has three world titles to her name since winning at Berlin 2009, while her Silver medal from Daegu 2011 was upgraded to GOLD after initial winner Mariya Savinova of Russia was stripped of the medal for doping violations. Savinova’s GOLD from the London 2012 Olympics has also been re-assigned to Semenya who finished 2nd in the women’s 800m final.
Wayde Van Niekerk: Our No.1 Top African Athlete in 2017 is the new poster boy of Athletics, South Africa’s Wayde Van Niekerk, who went for a 200m/400m double at a major competition for the first time in his career.
Having already cemented his status as the King of the quartermile, with a world title, Olympic GOLD and World Record (WR) to his name, the super-talented sprinter decided to explore new territories in 2017. And so he opted to go for the 200m/400m double at the World Championships, with the IAAF organizing the schedule to accommodate the ambitions of the South African.
Van Niekerk opened his season at the South African Championships where he smashed his Personal Best (PB), clocking a new time of 19.90s to win the 200m, having finished 2nd in the 100m. He then smashed Anaso Jobodwana’s National 200m Record of 19.87s in Kingston, replacing it with a superior time and PB of 19.84s.
Isaac Makwal: How can one start writing about Isaac Makwala and not feel a tinge of melancholy? Such was the belief we had in this Botswana athlete that we named him as one of 5 African athletes we were sure would win their first World Championships medal.
Makwala was one of only four men to dip under 44s in the 400m this season. In fact he clocked three sub 44s this year, a first in his career, and a feat achieved on different tracks, thus erasing any aspersions people cast on him for only running a sub 44s at, well you know the place, La Chaux-de-Fonds, where he set a then African Record (AR) of 43.74s in 2015.
However, this year, Makwala clocked 43.84s in Monaco and 43.92s in Madrid, being in the best shape he could be heading into the World Champs.
Makwala was one of the talking points of the World Championships following the incident that led to him missing the 400m final.
Elijah Manangoi: At No.9 is Kenya’s Elijah Manangoi, who this year claimed his first ever world title in the men’s 1500m.
It’s been a mixed three years for Manangoi who eventually cracked the top after persistently pushing himself up to emerge as the best athlete in this discipline.
Contending in a sea of great Kenyan 1500m runners involving the likes of Asbel Kiprop and Silas Kiplagat, it was Manangoi who finally shook off their shadows to chart his own destiny.
Finally, success arrived for Manangoi as he outperformed his Kenyan rivals to win the world title in 3:33.61.
Hellen Obiri: From one Kenyan athlete to another, at No.8 in our ranking is Hellen Obiri who finally grasped the world title in the women’s 5000m.
Any athlete who hands Almaz Ayana a resounding defeat surely deserves their place in the sun, and that’s what Obiri is getting, having beaten the revered Ethiopian in London.
She was in the form of her life, and holds three of the four fastest times in the 5000m this year, while she ran a WL of 8:23.14 in the 3000m.
Obiri went on to win the 5000m Diamond Race trophy after clinching victory in Brussels with a time of 14:25.88.
Nijel Amos: Having come to London as one of the leading contenders for the title, Amos would be disappointed with himself that he didn’t deliver when it mattered most.
In a race not many people would have accurately predicted, the Botswana athlete finished 5th, crossing the line with a time of 1:45.83, as French athlete Pierre-Ambroise Bosse won in 1:44.67.
It might not have come for Amos in London, but this season, he showed that he has cemented his status as a top dog in the men’s 800m.
Such was Amos’ form that he won six of the eight Diamond League races in the 800m this year. It was what earned him a spot in the Diamond Race contest, cementing it with victory on the last day in Brussels with a time of 1:44.53.
This season, the only athlete to have run faster than Amos is Emmanuel Korir who holds the World Leading time of 1:43.10. Amos’ time of 1:43.18 is the second fastest in the world this year.
Conseslus Kipruto: When Conseslus Kipruto couldn’t finish the men’s 3000m Steeplechase at the Rabat Diamond League, with Soufiane El Bakkali going on to win that day, it looked like the Moroccan would surely give the Kenyan sleepless nights in London.
Now, back to that race, Kipruto withdrew when the race was beyond him. Many interpreted it as a cautionary move as he was believed to be nursing an ankle injury. Kipruto had started so brightly, but so had El Bakkali who was pumped up for the race, striking the front early.
Although he won just one Diamond League race, he made sure that he secured victory on the last day in Brussels in 8:04.73 to be crowned Diamond Race winner.
Only USA’s Evan Jager ran faster that him this season, clocking a World Lead (WL) of 8:01.29, but the Kenya holds the next two fastest times recorded in 2017 with 8:04.63 in Rome and 8:04.73 in Brussels.