It’s been another bumper year of top quality action in elite athletics again with eye opening performances (and a few shocks) at every distance from the sprints to the marathon.  Athletics correspondent James Sullivan takes us through the first part of his A – Z of 2010…

PART 1 (A – H)

A: Africa

2010 proved to be another year of overwhelming African dominance of the Men’s Marathon. The first 53 fastest runners on the 2010 IAAF top list for the event were from this continent with the highest ranked non-African runner being Musinschi Iaroslav of Moldova who ran a decent if unspectacular time of 2:08:32. In times gone by this would have been deemed an impressive performance but the Kenyans and Ethiopians have raised the bar so much that such a clocking is now considered as also-ran material. The most notable performance of the year was by Patrick Makau of Kenya who ran a stunning personal best of 2:04:48 when winning the Rotterdam Marathon this April. Not only was this the fastest time of the year but it also moves him up to 4th on the all time list. It is believed that had it not been for a disrupting wind that he may even have broken Haile Gebrselassie’s world record. Few would bet against him achieving this feat over the coming season.

B: Barcelona

The Olympic Stadium in Barcelona played host to the 20th European Athletics Championships this year with the cream of Europe’s elite athletes battling it out for gold, silver and bronze over 47 events. In total 50 nations competed with 27 winning at least one medal. Russia topped the medals table winning 10 gold, 6 silver and 8 bronze, finishing ahead of France in second place, who enjoyed a fantastic championships winning 8 gold medals. From an Irish perspective the championships were all about Leevale sprint hurdler Derval O’Rourke who once again peaked when it mattered most and claimed a brilliant silver medal in the Women’s 100m Hurdles and in the process has announced herself as a serious contender for medals at the World Championships in Deagu next year and at London Olympics in 2012.

C: Cheats

Unfortunately doping remains a problem in the sport of athletics and 2010, like any other year, has had its fair share of scandals. The most high profile disgrace related to Olympic and World 400m Champion LaShawn Merritt. On 22nd April of this year it was announced that the US quarter miler tested positive for the banned steroid Dehydroepiandrosterone and was handed a two year ban from competing. Merritt claims that he consumed the banned substance accidently through the use of a male enhancement drug but it is hard to believe that an Olympic and World Champion would be so stupid and careless and long time followers of the sport will no doubt see this as just another excuse from a top athlete!

D: Diamond League

2010 was the first year of the revamped IAAF Diamond League. Formerly known as the Golden League, a 6 meet competition across Europe involving the cream of World Athletics, the competition was expanded this year with the aim of enhancing the worldwide appeal of athletics by going outside Europe for the first time with the number of race meets increasing to 14. However despite the fact that meetings are now being held in Doha, Shanghai, New York and Eugene the other 10 are all being held in Europe, something which seems contradictory to the competition’s aim. Perhaps bringing an event to Australia and South America would be more beneficial with regards promoting the sport than having two events in Switzerland! In addition the quality of some of the races this season have not been up to the level seen when the competition followed the Golden League format with the large number of meets causing the talent on show to be a bit watered down at times. It remains to be seen if the Diamond League experiment will prove to be a successful one.

E: Ennis

GB poster girl Jessica Ennis had another fantastic year winning gold at both the World Indoor Championships (pentathlon) in Doha and the European Athletics Championships (heptathlon) in Barcelona. With former Olympic and World Champion Carolina Kluft of Sweden seemingly out of the picture with regards the heptathlon Ennis will be the big favourite to take home the Olympic gold in front of her home fans in London in two years time.

F: Felix

US sprinting sensation Allyson Felix had an outstanding 2010 winning 21 of her 22 races and became the first person to win the IAAF Diamond League title in two different events during the one year (200m and 400m). The three time World Champion over 200m has already declared her intention to double up in London 2012, though there are many who believe that she should focus on the 200m solely, her stronger event.

G: Gay

Tyson Gay shocked the sporting world this August when comfortably beating superstar phenomenon Usain Bolt over 100m in Stockholm. However the second fastest 100m runner of all time was quick to downplay the importance of the victory stating that Bolt was visibly far from full fitness. Regardless of the Jamaican’s condition it certainly sets up an intriguing showdown at the World Championships next year. Gay ended the year as Diamond League Champion over the blue ribboned event and clocked the fastest run in the world this year (tied with Nesta Carter of Jamaica) with a time of 9.78 seconds in the London Diamond League event at Crystal Palace.

H: Haile

After dropping out midway through the New York Marathon due to a knee injury a devastated Haile Gebrselassie announced his retirement from the sport of athletics. However it didn’t take the two time Olympic 10000m Champion and world record holder for the marathon very long to reverse his decision stating “Running is in my blood and I decided to continue competing. My announcement in New York was my first reaction after a disappointing race.” This will come as a relief to fans of the sport desperate to see the Ethiopian legend have a crack at Olympic marathon gold in 2012 after pollution fears forced him to miss the event four years ago in Beijing.

This was the begining of James’ review, read Part 2 here and the final instalment is here

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