For Thompson-Herah and Warholm, 2021 A season Like No Other

What a year it was for a flat sprinter and a hurdler, worlds apart!

After a four-year roller coaster ride burdened with an Achilles tendon injury, frustration, doubt and tears, the 2021 season turned out for Jamaica’s Elaine Thompson-Herah to be one of personal records, super-fast times, and accolades coming from as far away as exotic Monaco.

Having been defeated at the Jamaica Olympic trials by her more experienced teammate Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce (with whom she shared the national 100m record at 10.70) and rising short-sprinter Shericka Jackson, many saw the dye as cast in her failure going forward.

But Thompson-Herah silenced many a naysayer when she repelled further challenges of her fierce rivals at home and abroad and joined a Scandinavian man at the top of the track and field world when World Athletics, the sport’s governing body, named her and Norway’s 400m-hurdler Karsten Warholm Female and Male Athlete of the Year, respectively, in a virtual award ceremony from Monaco December 1.

For the occasion, Thompson-Herah was radiant in shimmering gold and Warholm was dapper in blue as they held their trophies that represented the stellar season they finished in September.

Thompson-Herah, the 29-year-old Jamaican country girl and repeat double Olympic champion was nominated for the award alongside Dutch distance runner Sifan Hassan, American hurdler Sydney McLaughlin, Venezuelan triple jumping wonder girl Yulimar Rojas, and Kenyan middle-distance specialist Faith Kipyegon. This group produced jaw-dropping performances; however, not lost on voters and those who nominated Thompson-Herah were her 10.61 winning time in the Tokyo 100m followed by a 21.53 victory in the 200m, and her post-2020-Olympic success at the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Oregon, USA, where she clocked a personal best and national record 10.54secs, the second-fastest time ever in the women’s 100m. Such string of glittering accomplishments pushed her ahead of her rivals for the coveted title.

She also ran faster than 10.7secs four times in the season, including in the Diamond League final in Zurich where she ran 10.65 to win.

In presenting the award to Thompson-Herah, the president of World Athletics, Sebastian Coe, told her: we love history here, and you’ve created history…double, double. She responded that she was taking things year by year and that she wouldn’t be hanging up her spikes any time soon because she has more.

“The World Championships in Oregon is most definitely my next big target,” she added. “It is close to home, and I hope friends and family can come out and watch. I hope I get some crowd as well. That couldn’t happen in Tokyo but hopefully, in Eugene, I can get my friends and family to come and cheer me on.”

Unbelievable WarholmWarholm Oly

Warholm unleashed a mind-blowing unprecedented performance in Tokyo, obliterating the 400m hurdles world record of 46.70 that he owned, and which broke American Kevin Young’s 46.78 set in the 1992 Barcelona Olympic final. Warholm shattered Young’s record leading up to Tokyo and lowered it there with another world record stunner of 45.94, widely considered one of the greatest Olympic track performances of all time.

In presenting the award to Warholm, Coe said, “We were rendered speechless by your run,” to which Warholm replied that “First when I saw the time (in Tokyo), I was like, ‘this must be a mistake’ because I didn’t see that one coming. I didn’t see the victory coming before crossing the finish line.

“It was a very intense race; I always go out hard and never knew what was going on behind me.”

A few days after World Athletics named Thompson-Herah queen of the sport for 2021, readers of the British journal Athletics Weekly also chose her in a poll by the magazine as their International Female Athlete of the Year, ahead of Dutch distance queen Sifan Hassan and repeat 2020-Olympic 1500-metre gold medalist Faith Kipyegon, Kenya’s middle-distance runner who specializes in the 1500 meters.

According to Athletics Weekly, “she proved an emphatic winner of this category with twice as many votes as runner-up Sifan Hassan.”

A Rush of Awards for Thompson-Herah

Warholm, the World Athletics Male Athlete of the Year, did not score here as highly as Thompson-Herah did; he was placed third overall by readers, and while his accolades ended, Thompson-Herah’s kept coming and coming and turned her fortune into a running story.

  1. Nominated with five others for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year’s World Sports Star award, but voters in Britain picked their own, British teenage US Open champion Emma Raducanu, for that title. At 18-years-old, Raducanu ended Britain’s 44-year wait for a women’s Grand Slam singles champion with her spectacular victory at Flushing Meadows in New York.
  2. Tuesday, December 7, presented with a diplomatic passport from the Jamaican government, which makes it easier for her to travel overseas.
  3. Bestowed an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from The University of Technology (U-Tech) for her significant achievements over the years. In 2019, she was awarded the institution’s Chancellor’s Medal. They described her as an icon at the institution, in Jamaica and globally.
  4. December 21, renowned US publication Track & Field News named her Female Athlete of the Year, detailing her rocky road to success in Tokyo.
  5. Won the Diamond League award for being the most consistent female sprinter for 2021.
  6. December 28, L’Equipes Editorial crowned her “Champion of the World Champions 2021”
  7. December 29, the International Sports Press Association (AIPS) named her Best Female Athlete of 2021, following a poll by AIPS, where a panel of 529 journalists from 114 countries voted for the Champions of 2021. She joined Polish footballer Robert Lewandowski, who was named the AIPS Best Male Athlete of 2021. She topped the AIPS poll with 605 points, ahead of Spanish footballer Alexia Putellas (490 points) and Venezuela’s world triple jump record-holder and Olympic champion Yulimar Rojas (346 points). AIPS is a body that represents the international sports media, with a total of 161-member National Sports Journalist Associations (NSJA’s) from across the four continental sections of Africa, America, Asia, and Europe.

Thompson-Herah last honor for an outstanding year was bestowed on the night of January 21; for the second time, she won the RJRGleaner Sportswoman of the Year award in her country, one that pushed her to tweet: “So honoured to be recognized by my very own. Another reason to be motivated to keep the fire that burns within me. I thank everyone that supported me in that unbelievable 2021 season.”

While scooping up those awards, Thompson Herah announced her FastElaine Foundation in December. It will focus on helping vulnerable boys and girls from mainly under-served communities as well students from the two high schools she attended. The foundation will target young girls at risk of becoming pregnant, experiencing abuse, or suffering from depression and other mental illnesses triggered by the ongoing pandemic. It will also address teenage boys at risk of dropping out of school and choosing gang life and other pursuits on the wrong path.

Now, the 2022 season awaits with the World Championships at its pinnacle; will Thompson-Herah go faster and remove Flo-Jo’s time from the book of world records? Will Warholm lower his world record again? These questions will be answered in six months or sooner.

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