The Fairmont Hotel was buzzing with anticipation today ahead of this evening’s IAAF Athletics Awards 2016 as several of the world’s finest athletes gathering in the Principality. Several took time to meet with the media throughout the day. Here is a sampling of what some of them had to say.
Usain Bolt (JAM), Three-time Olympic champion in the 100, 200 and 4x100m relay
On possibly winning a sixth World Athlete of the Year Award:
It’s definitely a big deal (to be nominated for athlete of the year again). When you get to be athlete of the year, it means that all the hard has paid off. So if I can win it for a sixth year, it would definitely mean as much as the first one.
On the major turning point in his career:
In 2007 when I lost to Tyson Gay (at the world championships) I remember going to my coach and saying, ‘You know coach, I really tried my best, what can I do to win because I really want to win?’ And he said, ‘You’re slacking off in the gym. If you want to win you have to get stronger.’ From then on I took the step and worked much harder.
On what he would tell a younger version of himself:
It would definitely be to get serious more quickly. I think when I was transitioning to being a professional I was relying more on my talent than actually the work I was doing. So I would tell my younger self that if I worked when I was younger I could have accomplished more in my career. It’s shocking, but it’s true.
On the focus of 2017, his final season:
This last season will mostly be for the fans. I’ll go back to the places where I love to compete just to say goodbye to the fans, just to give them a final chance to see me compete.
On breaking his world records:
After last season I figured out that no matter how hard I work at this point it’s going to be hard to get the 200 metre world record. So I’ll be focusing on the 100 and 4x100 relay next season.
I’m not really worried about world records at this point, just winning. But if I can get through the season without any injuries, then I think that anything is possible.
Elaine Thompson (JAM), Olympic 100m and 200m champion
On being a finalist for the World Athlete of the Year award:
To be among these tremendous ladies is a big honour. To be a finalist is a great privilege, and to be here in Monaco this weekend is also a great privilege. And if I win this award tonight it will be a great motivation after putting in all the hard work and motivate me to continue working hard.
On how her life is has changed since Rio:
I have to be more careful about what I do and more careful about what I say, because more eyes are now on Elaine. I haven’t changed as a person, I’m still the same Elaine, but there are certain things I can’t do that I might want to.
On doubling at the world championships in London next year:
I’m in the process of training right now so we still have to decide with my coach what I will be doing for the upcoming season. I feel no pressure. Having won the 100 and 200 meters at the Olympics has just given me more motivation.
On women sprinters attracting more attention:
There are so many tremendous ladies in the sprinting fields these days, but the eyes aren’t on us I think, because we haven’t broken the world record (in recent memory). For most of us (now), running 10.6 and 10.7 is very hard work. 10.4? That’s probably out of reach. At least for me. But anything is possible. I like to take it one step at a time.
Shaunae Miller (BAH), Olympic 400m champion
On her 2016 season:
It was an extraordinary year, just an amazing year. All I can do now is try to get a good grasp on what I've achieved and move my focus to next year.
On her introduction to athletics:
Track and field is really big in my family. My great grandfather and his brothers all did track and field, many relatives on my mother's side also did track and field. So ever since I was young, I've always loved the sport.
My brother is a high jumper and he's now thinking of trying the decathlon. And my younger sister is only 11 but already she is running faster than I was at that age.
On what keeps her motivated:
I've never set myself a specific goal of winning the Olympics. I just want to be the best, period.
Thiago Braz da Silva (BRA), Olympic pole vault champion
On his next goals after having won Olympic gold at home:
My next goal is to become the world champion, or to win a medal at the world championships. I also want to take the Pan-American title. It’s not the biggest title but for me it’s interesting. And at the next Olympic Games I want to get another medal.
On the world record being on his agenda:
Yeah, for sure. I’m training really hard. I can’t say I’ll do it or when, but yeah, it’s a big goal.
On how he’s perceived in Brazil after winning the Olympic title:
I’m not like Neymar (laughs). They were saying after the Olympics that I am like a hero in my country. For track and field, for sure.
On his current training circumstances:
I train in Formia (Italy), with Vitaliy Petrov. He trained Sergey Bubka, Yelena Isinbayeva, Giuseppe Gibilisco, all big names, great vaulters. So I decided to leave Brazil, change my life and to train with him.
In Brazil I feel more free, have more friends and can do other things I enjoy. In Formia I live just to train and focus only on the pole vault.
On Renaud Lavillenie being booed during the Olympic final and medal ceremony:
I was very happy when I won but inside I was also sad. When we were getting the medals and I looked at Renaud and saw him crying, it was very sad for me. Since then I have tried to explain to the public that they have to show respect to the other competitors. Sometimes when I have television interviews I say that Renaud is a really good guy, he tried to win the competition. But that’s my country’s style. It’s football-style.
On having that element of “craziness” that many pole vaulters are said to have:
Sometimes. (Laughs). Yes, sometimes. When I began the pole vault I tried to jump from my house. I climbed to the roof and jumped, just to see what it’s like to fly down.
Thomas Rohler (GER) Olympic javelin throw champion
On his build-up to Rio:
I came from a quite serious injury from Amsterdam. Over the season I was developing great, it looked like everything should work out well. On the way to Rio, suddenly in Amsterdam I developed an injury (to a serratus muscle). That was when I started thinking, ‘what’s it all worth if you’re leading the lists by three metres and then something like this happens’.
We analysed it pretty quick so we just took the time to rest and heal it. We took the risk not to throw, we just relied on what I was capable of doing.
Sara Kolak (CRO) Olympic javelin throw champion
On her reaction after winning the Olympic title:
It was a shock. It wasn’t a surprise. It was a shock. I don’t really remember that day. I remember a few things. I was like a kid running through the stadium. It was a shock, for everyone. For me the biggest one.
I still have to get used to it. I try to find the perfect words to describe it but every time something is missing. I’m never able to describe it as perfectly as I want to.
On how she prepared for the final:
I was preparing myself on the bus on the way to the stadium, I was talking to myself, saying, ‘that this is a unique chance, we are all ready for this moment. I didn't have anything to lose. I just have to fight. So it was a fight. A really good one.
On her origins in the sport:
When I was young my mother was a handball goal keeper so I wanted to go into handball. I was a handball player, also a goal keeper. I started with the javelin when I was 14. There came a moment when I had to decide javelin, or handball. I see that I made a good decision.
Christian Taylor (USA), two-time Olympic triple jump champion
On his on-going pursuit of the world record:
It’s just frustrating.
I’d like to say ‘coming soon’ but in all honesty I think, ‘why hasn’t it happened?’ What am I missing? What am I not doing? What am I not dialing in?
This is what helps my passion grow. This is why I’m still in the sport. I’ve been very fortunate to have had a lot of success and have many medals. And going into Rio I was asked, ‘what would you rather have, the world record or the gold medal?’
For me, now that’s what I chase every time I step on the track. I’m on my way to training now and that’s my focus.
I believe it’s a bit of an obsession. Something I think about all the time. This is my job, this is my life. If I didn’t dream about being the best of all time, why am I here?
On the 2017 World Championships in London:
London is a very special place. It was my first Olympic title in that stadium. Whenever I go there it’s an instant flashback. This is where my career changed, on that track. I have the attitude that it’s almost my home.
Wayde van Niekerk (RSA) Olympic 400m champion and world record holder.
On the key highlight of the 2016 season:
There was no one highlight – everything about this season and Rio has been a blessing. It’s given me so much motivation and confidence to go out and try to achieve more.
Does he still hate the 400m?
Yeah, with everything. (Laughs). I am really not a fan of the 400 metres. But it brought me to where I am so I can’t complain.
On continuing with the shorter sprints:
Yeah for sure. I’m really looking forward to working on my 100m and 200 metres. I always say that my first love in the sport was the short sprints. That’s why I do track and field. The 400 metres has brought me this far, so I don’s see a reason to go out there and neglect it. I feel that I should still put in a lot of effort in the 400 but at the same time I’ve got such a massive hunger inside me to improve my 100 and 200 as well.
After running 9.98, 19.94 and 43.03, can he consider himself the best all around sprinter ever?
I wouldn’t say, ‘No, thank you.’ (Laughs). But at the same time it’s opened up a door of confidence in myself mentally to want to go out there and improve in each and every one of them. I’m definitely working quite hard towards that. And I’m feeling quite confident.
Omar McLeod (JAM), Olympic 110m hurdles champion
On his 2016 season:
It was a great year obviously. I had goals for the year and I think I accomplished pretty much all of them. It was really an astonishing year. And now I’m looking forward to an even better career because I don’t think I’ve maximised my full potential as yet, so that makes it even more special.
On the strongest aspect of your race:
I definitely think it’s my start. I’m the only eight-stepper –and this year I’m actually going to seven steps— and I’m explosive. So you have to capitalise on what your strength is. So to me it’s about getting out and really owning the race and keeping your composure.
On his world record ambitions:
Definitely. That’s every athlete’s goal, to be the best at what they do. This year I think I was in great shape to do it but in this sport you have to set your priorities straight. And the bigger goal was to be the Olympic champion first.
Kendra Harrison (USA), world record holder 100m hurdles
What would she have thought one year ago if she was told she’d be world record holder?
I would definitely say that you were crazy. To have dropped so much time in just one season was just unbelievable.
Was not qualifying for the Rio Olympics motivation to break the world record?
I think maybe that had a little something to do with it. I went into London with just so much, kind of a vengeance, to just prove to myself and show myself that I need to get back out there and do what I know that I can. There was so much emotion in that race and I just went out there and gave it all I had.
On how difficult it was to get back on the track after the Olympic Trials:
I’m not going to lie, the first week was really hard. I went to practice the day after Olympic Trials so depressed and I didn’t want to be out there. My coach had a big part in me getting back out there. He just kept being positive. And I had family and friends who helped me get back out there.
On her plans to double in the future:
Yes, definitely in my career down the line I want to be able to do both the 100 and 400 metre hurdles. 2018 will probably be the year to do that. I want to try to focus on that event and really see how far I can go in that event.
Bob Ramsak for the IAAF