Wayde van Niekerk Photo: LUKAS COCH


Cape Town - The voting is done, and we will find out on Friday who will be crowned the best athlete in the world.

The glittering IAAF World Athlete of the Year awards take place in Monaco, and for the first time in a while, South Africa have a contender in our golden boy Wayde van Niekerk. The only local athlete to have clinched this title is high jumper Hestrie Cloete, in 2003.

The Olympic 400m champion and world record holder will be up against Jamaican Usain Bolt and Britain’s Mo Farah. In the women’s category, Ethiopia’s Almaz Ayana, Elaine Thompson of Jamaica and Poland’s Anita Wlodarczyk will fight it out.

But let’s take a closer look at the 2016 seasons of Van Niekerk and his rivals, and who we think should win...


Mo Farah

2016 Olympic gold medals: 5 000m and 10 000m

Mohamed Muktar Jama Farah, born in Mogadishu, Somalia, but raised in London, was already the hot favourite to do the 5 000-10 000m double in Rio after winning both titles at the world championships in Beijing last year.

The 10 000m final in Rio was one to remember, as there was early drama when Farah tumbled to the ground after being clipped by American Galen Rupp. But such was his speed that Farah dusted himself off and stayed in the leading group.

It eventually became a final-lap sprint between Farah and Kenya’s Paul Tanui for gold, with Tanui first taking the lead, but Farah surpassing him on the home straight to win in 27:05.17.

The 5 000m final wasn’t much different for Farah. The final 400m was again in a sprint finish, and he held off Americans Paul Chelimo and Bernard Lagat to grab gold in 13:03.30.


Usain Bolt

2016 Olympic gold medals: 100m, 200m, 4x100m

“Lightning Bolt” is the showman, the superstar that everybody wants to see in action, and he didn’t disappoint in Rio.

But before that, things weren’t going as smoothly as usual for the nine-time Olympic champion. Bolt pulled up with a hamstring injury at the Jamaican Olympic Trials in early July, which saw him having to apply for medical exemption to be considered for the Rio Games.

That was about six weeks before his Olympic races, and he sat out for three before returning to the track in London with a 200m win in 19.89. But the heat was on as American Justin Gatlin was the fastest in the 100m in 9.80, with Bolt’s best being 9.88.

But when it was time to perform, Bolt brought out his best. He was again slow out of the blocks in the 100m final, with Gatlin in front and South African star Akani Simbine in second. The Jamaican sprint king pushed his way into the lead in the last few metres, though, and had enough time to beat his chest and look over to Gatlin as he crossed the line in 9.81.

Bolt didn’t have much competition in the 200m final as he took the bend with his usual power and sped away to victory in 19.78, more than two-tenths of a second quicker than silver medallist Andre de Grasse from Canada.

Jamaica cruised to victory in the 4x100m relay, with Bolt jumping away from his rivals on the final leg to secure his ninth consecutive Olympic gold.


Why van niekerk should win

There is no doubt that Farah and Bolt are supreme athletes, and they both made history in 2016. But their achievements were arguably exceeded by Van Niekerk.

The 24-year-old South African’s season wasn’t just about the Rio Olympics. He first made the headlines in March when he ran a sub-10 time in the 100m, clocking 9.98 in Bloemfontein. That meant he became the first sprinter in the world to break 10 seconds in the 100m, 20 seconds in the 200m and 44 seconds in the 400m.

But what may have been the most important part of his Rio preparation was spending a week training alongside Bolt and famous mentor Glen Mills in Kingston, Jamaica in early June, which had a remarkable effect at the Olympics.

After easily negotiating the early rounds, it was all down to the final. But there was a spanner in the works - Van Niekerk had been drawn in lane eight. It meant that he would be “running blind” and unable to see what his two main rivals - Merritt and defending Olympic champion James - were doing.

That is particularly critical in the 400m, as now Van Niekerk wouldn’t be able to pace his race accordingly.

Instead, he went for broke and the rest is history.

Cape Argus