Ashton Eaton and Genzebe Dibaba were named the 2015 IAAF World Athletes of the Year on Thursday (26) after outstanding and memorable seasons which saw both athletes break world records and strike gold at the IAAF World Championships Beijing 2015.
The two athletes’ years were full of contrasts but also similarities.
In terms of quantity, they couldn’t have been more different.
Eaton competed sparingly and only had one full decathlon, his outing in the Chinese capital which saw him run up a score of 9045 and add six points to his three-year-old world record, while Dibaba had 13 races in total during the year, including five over her favourite distance of 1500m which included her world record run of 3:50.07 at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Monaco.
Nevertheless, in terms of quality, their performances meant that they were worthy IAAF World Athletes of the Year.
One decathlon enough for Eaton
Eaton, 27, started his year with appearances at two low-key indoor meetings where he contested a variety of individual events, but an early indication that he was going to be difficult to beat in the defence of his decathlon world title came when he set a 60m hurdles personal best of 7.51 at the Millrose Games in New York back in February.
Outdoors, prior to Beijing, he adopted a similar strategy, honing his skills and fitness in various events at a selection of meetings, both in North America and in Europe.
In the weeks ahead of the World Championships, it was clear everything was on the right track as he firstly went close to his 110m hurdles best with a time of 13.38 in Edmonton, then set a 400m personal best of 45.55 in Atlanta and cleared a pole vault best of 5.40m in Portland.
Eaton’s Beijing feat was eloquently described by the newsletter Athletics International: “Amid so many wonderful performances in Beijing, surely the greatest of them all was Eaton's world record score of 9045, adding six points to his 2012 figures. It was close. He started the 1500m knowing he would have to run 4:18.25 for the record ...and, leaving nothing on the track, he clocked 4:17.52.”
Among his 10 individual performances, perhaps the one that stands out more than any other was his 400m at the end of the first day of competition, when he ran a jaw-dropping 45.00, the fastest ever in a decathlon. Eaton went on to win his title by 350 points, the biggest ever margin at a World Championships.
World records indoors and out for Dibaba
If Eaton had a discrete indoor season this year, the same could not be said for Dibaba, who solitary race under cover saw her set a stunning world indoor 5000m record of 14:18.86 in Stockholm.
Dibaba opened her outdoor campaign with a trio of top quality wins over 5000m in IAAF Diamond League meetings, clocking a personal best of 14:19.76 in Eugene, 14:21.26 in Oslo and then reducing her best again to 14:15.41 in Paris.
She then switched her attention to the 1500m in July with devastating effect.
Firstly, she ran an African record of 3:54.11 in Barcelona, the fastest time in the world for almost 12 years, and then topped that with a stunning world record of 3:50.07 in Monaco to beat a mark that had been on the books since 1993.
In Beijing, she comfortably progressed through the 1500m heats and semi-finals before fulfilling her role as the gold medal favourite, winning in 4:08.09 after a long, sustained run for home over the final two laps, which left her rivals training in her wake and saw her clock an unofficial 1:57.2 for the last 800m.
The US magazine Track and Field News described the Beijing 1500m final in these words: “From the days of ’80 Olympic 5K/10K champ Miruts 'The Shifter' Yifter, through Dibaba’s older sister Tirunesh’s WC and OG title wins ’03–13, last-lap pyrotechnics have been the Ethiopian weapon of choice.
“Not this time, as Dibaba chose a tactic – a devastating long burst from 800m out – almost never seen in championship 1500s, men’s or women’s.”
Later in the championships, Dibaba also added a 5000m bronze medal.
Her final race of the season came at the IAAF Diamond League final in Zurich, when she finished second in the 3000m to clinch the Diamond Race in this discipline.
Phil Minshull for the IAAF