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The curtain cannot come down on 2014 without a persuasive discussion about which woman - among many excellent female athletes - can lay claim to Athlete of the Year honors. The debate - inextricably subjective and always difficult - is made more challenging in this one year in the 4 year cycle without an Olympic Games or World Championships. While "progression of marks' is not unimportant, when we are reminded that "honors won" and "head-to-head competition" are the weightier of the three criteria, it is quickly realized that the absence of a global gathering - where all the best compete for the pinnacle honor of the year - eliminates a track & field competition which normally separates the contenders from the pretenders.

Nonetheless, we soldier on and turn our attention to 5 female track & field athletes who were stunning performers in 2014. Each of can make a persuasive case for this annual honor.


Dawn Harper-Nelson: 100m Hurdles. Harper-Nelson might not be on everybody's list, but a careful review of her performance in 2014 suggests she should be in the conversation. Always ferocious over the final two hurdles and with the best run-in in the game, the former UCLA athlete posted the year's fastest time - a 12.44 clocking to win the Diamond League gathering in Paris - and closed 2014 with 5 of the top 10 fastest 100m hurdles performances of the outdoor season. The 2008 Olympic champion and 2012 Olympic silver medalist - always a clutch performer in big meet settings - won her third consecutive Diamond League trophy with late-season DL victories in Birmingham and Zurich - against the best in the world, when it counted most, and when the money was on the table. Her win at the Continental Cup meet put on exclamation point on an excellent season.


Kaliese Spencer: 400m Hurdles. Another athlete who might be overlooked by some, Spencer had a sensational outdoor season. After a shaky start in some early spring meets, the Jamaican hurdler caught her rhythm with a victory at the Prefontaine Classic in early June. She never lost again. Employing the stopwatch metric, Spencer posted the top three 400H times in 2014 - with 53.41 as her best - and 8 of the top 10 clockings for the year. The 27 year old hurdle specialist - a runaway victor by a huge 23 point margin in the Diamond League competition - had the 400m hurdles DL trophy sewn up by mid-season . When you measure her season for progression of marks, head-to-head competition, and honors won, it can be seen that Kaliese Spencer checked all the boxes.


Caterine Ibargüen: Triple Jump. Ibargüen dominated the triple jump in 2014, turning back all comers during her undefeated season. The reigning triple jump world champion rang up the year's leading mark and posted 4 of the top 5 TJ leaps of 2014. A spirited competitor, Ibargüen performed when it counted most. In a stirring dual in Monaco where her Russian nemesis Yekaterina Koneva led most of the competition with her world-leading second round jump of 14.89m [48'10¼"], the 30 year old Colombian met the challenge on her 6th and final attempt with a world-leading mark of her own - a magnificent PR leap of 15.32m [50'2¾" and #5 all-time] for the victory. Like Spencer, she ran away with the Diamond League title - copping the DL trophy by a wide 20 point margin. Quite simply, there are no observable blemishes on Caterine Inbargüen's 2014 scorecard.

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Sandra Perkovic: Discus. Another dominating athlete, Perkovic ruled the discus in 2014. She had the four longest throws of the year - and 6 of the top 10 - including the world-leader at 71.08m [233'2"]. The 24-year old Croatian overpowered her fellow discus throwers in the Diamond League competition - winning the Diamond trophy by a 30-13 margin over American competitor Gia Lewis-Smallwood. The two losses she suffered this year - in the Glasgow DL meet and the Continental Cup, both to Lewis-Smallwood - seem minor compared to her otherwise impressive record of leading throws and her Diamond League crown. But these little chinks in her otherwise impressive record could be just enough to dismiss the reigning Olympic and World champion from serious AOY consideration.


Valerie Adams: Shot Put. With all due respect to the other four athletes, an examination of the 2014 performance record of Valerie Adams makes it abundantly clear that the New Zealand shot putter's year is in a class by itself. First and foremost is "the streak." More than merely undefeated in 2014, Adams - who during her career has captured 14 gold medals in various world-wide competitions - in late August of this year celebrated the beginning of her 5th year of shot put competition without a loss - a string now beginning to approach epic Edwin Moses-like proportions. The four-time World champion and two-time Olympic champion posted another year of quality attempts: the year's 5 farthest throws in the world and 8 of the top 10. Of course, she won the Diamond League competition - scoring 32 points to better runner-up Christina Schwanitz by 22 points. And here's the clincher: she did all of this while nursing a nagging left shoulder injury which led to corrective surgery earlier this fall.

And if you will pardon me for expressing it this way, when you consider fully the credentials of all 5 athletes, the 2014 performance of Valerie Adams sets forth the most compelling case for Athlete of the Year - by a long shot.

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Dunaway AwardAt the 2019 annual meeting of the Track and Field Writers of America, Dave was presented with the James Dunaway Memorial Award “for track & field journalism excellence.”

Dave Hunter

Dave HunterDave Hunter is a track & field journalist, announcer, and broadcaster.  Dave reports on the premier track & field gatherings around the globe, frequently serves as an arena or stadium announcer for championship events, and has undertaken foreign and domestic broadcast assignments in the sport.


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