Not since 2006 has Australia held such a strong position in world athletics, with 11 Australian athletes holding global top-10 positions in their chosen events.
Track and Field News’ annual global athlete rankings puts Jared Tallent (2nd, 50km walk), Dane Bird-Smith (3rd, 20km walk), Dani Samuels (4th, discus), Fabrice Lapierre (5th, long jump), Kathryn Mitchell (5th, javelin), Brooke Stratton (7th, long jump), Alana Boyd (8th, pole vault), Madeline Hills (8th 3000m steeplechase), Genevieve LaCaze (9th 3000m steeplechase), Regan Lamble (9th 20km walk) and Chris Erickson (10th, 50km walk) within their annual top ten lists.
“The numbers are indicative of the hard work of the athletes themselves and their coaches and support staff, getting consistent returns of what they’re capable of achieving at the major meets,” Head Coach Craig Hilliard said.
Australia’s walkers remain steady as the most prominent discipline among the 2016 top-10 placeholders, with Rio Olympic medallists Jared Tallent and Dane Bird-Smith leading the way. It’s the ninth time Tallent has been included in the top-10 rankings for both the 20km and 50km walks stretching back to 2008.
“The walkers have had a strong tradition of producing at major championships and 2016 was no different,” Hilliard continued.
“Jared is obviously one of the greatest athletes we’ve ever had represent Australia, and Dane has had a great year too and is really start to come into his own and has a really bright future ahead of him.”
At 35, Chris Erickson cracked the top 10 for the first time in his career with the Victorian’s 10th place finish in the 50km walk in Rio cementing his place on the list while 25-year-old Regan Lamble’s 2016 Olympic race put her ninth in the standings.
“Regan’s has really demonstrated her ability to finish in the top 10 of the world, she had a year or so in the wilderness but has really brought herself back into it and to what we all knew she was capable of producing – her performance in Rio was great.”
“Chris has been one of the great warhorses of our sport who just keeps on turning up and always going to finish 50km with a ‘never-say-die-attitude’. It’s a great reward for him to achieve a top 10 ranking.”
Other newcomers to the top-10 rankings include dual Olympic finalist Madeline Hills, newly crowned Australian long jump record holder Brooke Stratton, Genevieve LaCaze after her PB-filled breakthrough season and retiring Australian pole vault record holder Alana Boyd.
It’s the ninth time Dani Samuels has made the top-10 list, while Fabrice Lapierre makes his fourth appearance, Kathryn Mitchell her third and it’s Dane Bird-Smith’s second year in the list.
“Dani had one of her most consistent years in 2016. I know she was disappointed to not medal in Rio, but I don’t think even she believes she has reached her potential yet. She’s highly motivated for the next four year cycle - she’s a sublime performer and ranked highly for a number of years now.”
Not once in the past decade has Australia had so many athletes make the top-10 globally, with 2016’s effort more than doubling the five athletes Australia had in 2015. Similarly, athletics observers would have to trace back to 2000, when Sydney hosted the Olympics, to see a number that surpassed 2016’s mark.
The effort is remarkable considering Australia’s 2012 Olympic Champion Sally Pearson was sidelined for 2016 due to injury, and other Rio Olympic finalists such as Damien Birkinhead, Ryan Gregson and Henry Frayne just missing out on the lists.
As Australia sets its sights on the London world championships in August 2017 and the Commonwealth Games there is a promising future ahead for the Australian track and field team.
“What these numbers do is give a lot of focus and motivation to a lot of other athletes to feed off that success. A number of athletes really stepped up at Rio, and showed what Australians are capable of and what can be achieved. It provides great inspiration and motivation to other athletes and trickles down,” said Hilliard.
The annual Track and Field News rankings establish relative merit for an entire single season, and are not necessarily reflective of the Olympic champion.
The rankings are based on three criteria, in descending order of importance: 1. Honours Won; 2. Head-To-Head records with other athletes; 3. Sequence of marks.