African athletes in 2017: A perfect 10

Hellen Onsando Obiri of Kenya (c) and Almaz Ayana of Ethiopia (r) during the womens 5000 metres heats during day seven of the 16th IAAF World Athletics Championships London 2017 at The London Stadium on August 10, 2017 in London, United Kingdom. David Ramos/Getty Images

Kenya finished second (to the USA) and South Africa third on the medal table at the 2017 World Championships to confirm that African athletics is in a strong place.

Among the ten-strong athletes who came away from London 2017 as world champions, there are the established stars of track and field and a few who had a breakout year...


It's difficult to sum up how Almaz Ayana will feel about the 2017 athletics season as she only ran three races! After breaking the 10 000-metres world record -- previously set in 1993 -- while winning the gold medal at the 2016 Olympic Games, she then stayed out of action for the majority of 2017, ostensibly through an injury.

As it happened, the Ethiopian only made her return to the track in time for the IAAF World Championships in London with the aim of doing the 5000m-10 000m double she failed to achieve at Rio 2016. Despite this, and the fact that the 10 000m race took place on the second day of competition, Ayana remained the overwhelming favourite for that event.

The 26-year-old lived up to the billing with an utterly dominant performance, winning gold by a massive 46 seconds from silver medalist Tirunesh Dibaba, thanks to her 30:16.32 time. However, she had to settle for second-best in the 5000m, and with that returned to the sidelines for the rest of the season...


The major men's long distance races of 2017 became a lengthy farewell to Mo Farah as he completed his final track season.

Of course this made the Somalia-born Briton an even bigger target for his rivals than in the years when he has routinely won the 5000m-10 000m double, and by the World Championships the tension was palpable.

Farah held off his African counterparts on the opening night of the Championships, but on the second-last night the challenge was ever sterner -- but not from a usual source. After years of fending off Kenyans, Farah found himself in a tactical battle against the Ethiopians in London.

So cagey was the race that the winning time doesn't feature in the top 140 times of the year, but to Muktar Edris (who actually set the best 2017 time in July) it doesn't matter because he became the first person to outrun Farah in a major 5 000m race since 2009 -- in the process becoming world champion at the age of 23.


This year will be remembered for the emergence of the USA, or rather Evan Jager, as a genuine rival to the hegemony which Kenya has held over men's steeplechase since the 1980s. Yes, keen observers may say that Jager was boosting his credentials at a time when the preeminent star of the on-track cross-country event, Conseslus Kipruto, was struggling with injury, but the American did finish the year with the best time.

The 23-year-old Kenyan may have won gold at Rio 2016, but had two World Championships silver medals to fuel his recovery and motivation for London 2017.

As it happened, Kipruto needed to call on that motivation as both Jager and Morocco's Sofiane El Bakkali matched him stride for stride in the initially slow race. In the closing stages Jager faltered first, but El Bakkali made sure that Kipruto truly earned his first world title by a mere 0.37 seconds.

A couple of weeks later the trio finished in the same order at the IAAF Diamond League final in Brussels.


Ask any athlete about their list of goals, and holding the Olympic Games and World Championships titles at the same time will undoubtedly feature high up on it.

For Faith Kipyegon that became a possibility after winning gold in the 1500m at Rio 2016 and then starting the 2017 season in blistering form. That said, after the 23-year-old Kenyan won the Shanghai and Eugene legs of the IAAF Diamond League, she didn't have it all her own way.

Instead, Sifan Hassan, the Ethiopian-born Dutch runner, went about racking up four of the five fastest times of the year, which included a win over Kipyegon at the Paris Diamond League meeting in July -- just a month out from London 2017.

However, when the 'big one' came around Hassan faded while Kipyegon held her nerve to beat the fast-finishing Jennifer Simpson, and then for good measure she finished the year by claiming the Diamond League spoils in Brussels too.


The marathon at IAAF World Championships doesn't necessarily have the same prestige as the six major marathons around the world, but that doesn't take any lustre off the gold medal available to the winners.

Of course, Geoffrey Kirui can look back at 2017 having achieved success in both variants. In April, in just his third marathon, the Kenyan hit the tape first in Boston to edge out USA's Galen Rupp and Suguru Osako of Japan.

The 24-year-old then seized his moment again in August (while some of the world's leading marathoners were in training for the lucrative end of season swing) by running his best marathon time to date, 2:08:27, to win gold at London 2017.

Kirui didn't achieve much success during his track career, but after a breakthrough season on the road he'll be eager to show that he is a name to be reckoned with in the future.


Following the relative high of picking up a silver medal at the 2015 IAAF World Championships in Beijing, Elijah Manangoi's standing in the men's 1500m field was dented somewhat by an exit during the heats at Rio 2016.

But the 24-year-old Kenyan showed that he was not one to take a permanent hit from such disappointment by winning at the opening IAAF Diamond League meeting of 2017, in Doha. His compatriot, Timothy Cheruiyot, then set the pace as the season progressed and Manangoi was even outrun by another Kenyan in Ronald Kwemoi at their national championships.

In truth, it seemed like the jolt Manangoi needed at just the right time of pre-World Championships preparations as he ran the world leading time of 3:28.80 at the Monaco leg of the Diamond League -- the last before London 2017.

A few weeks later he was in similarly confident form to again outrun Cheruiyot on his way to claiming a maiden world title and steal a march in the race to replace the legendary Asbel Kiprop as the man to beat over 1500m.


Manyonga alerted the world to his long-jumping prowess and his fascinating back story with his unexpected silver medal at the 2016 Olympic Games, but this year was going to be all about living up to expectations.

Suitably, the 25-year-old laid down a marker by leaping to a world leading 8.62m during a varsity competition in March, before bettering it to 8.65m at the South African national championships a month later.

As it happened, Manyonga went on to compile a perfect season, staying undefeated through nine meetings with his winning performance averaging 8.52m, while the No.2 on the world list (compatriot Ruswahl Samaai) had a best mark of 8.49m.

The crowning glory, of course, was his first world title which he confirmed with an 8.48m jump in the London Stadium, and he added gloss by adding the IAAF Diamond League title in Zürich.


At Rio 2016, Obiri got the better of Almaz Ayana in the 5000m, but that was still not good enough for gold as her Kenyan compatriot Vivian Cheruiyot upgraded her silver medal from London 2012 with an Olympic Record run.

Subsequent injuries meant that neither Ayana nor Cheruiyot started the 2017 season, and it gave Obiri the opportunity to build momentum. She did just that by winning the Shanghai and Rome IAAF Diamond League legs with the two fastest times of the whole year (the latter in a blistering 14:18.37 which set a new Kenyan record).

Obiri was thus the clear favourite by the time the World Championships came around in August... but Ayana was back in action.

Nonetheless, the 28-year-old put in an assured performance to ease away from the Ethiopian in London to match her world title in the 3000m from the 2012 World Indoor Championships.

Obiri then also sealed the IAAF Diamond League title with a dominant run in Brussels to conclude the season of her life.


There are few guarantees in sports, but Caster Semenya is among a short list of athletes who win a race by virtue of being on the start line, such is her dominance in the 800m.

However, there are still some achievements left for the South African, and it was perhaps with that in mind that she 'diversified her portfolio in 2017 by running some 400m races (hinting that the 800m world record remains an ambition), setting a new world record for the little-run 600m, and seeing if she had the stamina to compete at 1500m too.

Her one world level attempt at 400m ended with a seventh place at the Rabat leg of the IAAF Diamond League in July, but the 26-year-old showed her aptitude for the longer distance by hanging on long enough to claim a bronze medal at the World Championships.

All the while Semenya remained untouchable at 800m, winning four Diamond League races (and the end-of-season final in Zürich) at the distance, and retaining her world title with the eighth-fastest time (1:55.16) ever.


For two years in a row Wayde van Niekerk has lost out on the official World Athlete of the Year award, but there isn't much more that the South African could have done in 2017 to win it.

In 2016 he became the first sprinter in history to run faster than 10 seconds for 100m, 20 seconds for 200m and 44 seconds for 400m, so for good measure in late June 2017 he went and broke Michael Johnson's 300m world record in Ostrava -- it now sits at 30.81.

Johnson, for his part, is still the only man in history to win the 200m-400m World Championships double, but for that he has Ramil Guliyev to thank -- the Turkish sprinter who nipped past Van Niekerk to win the 200m at London 2017.

Van Niekerk, though, did cruise to gold in the 400m to defend his world title, and the only blot on his copybook in 2017 came via the serious knee injury he suffered while playing in a charity tag rugby event which not only ended his season prematurely, but was also career-threatening.

The hope is that his recovery goes smoothly and athletics' leading star is back thrilling crowds before 2018 is complete.