2016 was an eventful year whichever way you look at it, but for Australian athletics it was a year of record breakers. Four Aussies in four different events set new Australian marks, and all four of them finished in the top 10 at the Rio Olympics.
It should also be noted that several world and Australian para-athletics records were broken in this year, but at this time we've focussed on the four able-bodied records set in the past 12 months.
Dane Bird-Smith (Qld) was the first Aussie to better an Australian record in 2016 when in March he broke the 5,000m walk mark previously set by Jared Tallent (SA) in 2009. Bird-Smith’s 18.38.97 at the IAAF Melbourne World Challenge was almost three seconds faster than Tallent’s time and signalled the start of an incredible year for the 24-year-old Queenslander.
Remarkably, Bird-Smith has not lost a 5000m walk in his past 13 attempts at the distance stretching back to 2012. At the Rio Olympics, the "Bird-man" grabbed the bronze medal for Australia in the 20km walk.
Interestingly, the 10,000m Australian record is held by none other than his father, Dave Smith who clocked 38.20.9h in Sydney in 1985. Dane’s best time over the 10km is the 38:44.61 he set at the 2016 Australian Athletics Championships in Sydney – could this be a tantalising target for Bird-Smith in 2017?
After a tough couple of years hampered by illness and injury, rising star Brooke Stratton (Vic) leapt into another class in 2016 as she broke the Australian long jump record, jumping 7.05m (w:+2.0) at the Perth Track Classic in March. The jump broke Bronwyn Thompson’s 2002 mark of 7.00m and catapulted Stratton into the elite level of long jumpers in the world. At the end of 2016, Stratton's jump still sits as the 6th best recorded in the world.
Stratton took this confidence into her first Olympic campaign as she made the final of the women’s long jump finishing 7th in the 38 woman field.
"It's amazing, honestly I still can't believe it," Stratton said at the time of breaking the national record.
"I am sure one day someone will break it but for now I am the national record holder - Hopefully it is me that breaks it again,” Stratton said.
Australia’s greatest ever female pole vaulter saved her best for last. Months before she announced her professional retirement, Alana Boyd (Qld) capped off a stellar athletics career in 2016 by breaking her own Australian record to leap 4.81m at a meet in Sippy Downs (Qld). The jump was her best in four years, and the jump was an incredible nine centimetres higher than any other female Australian jump ever.
In 2016 she was dominant in her event, posting the top 11 jumps by an Australian, including her 4.80m jump in Rio de Janerio which saw her place fourth on countback at her third and final Olympic Games.
At the Paris Diamond League in August this year, Genevieve LaCaze (Vic) broke Donna MacFarlane’s 3000m steeplechase Australian record by more than 6 seconds to achieve her first Australian record. It capped off a stellar season for LaCaze who reached the finals in Rio for the steeplechase and 5000m events. LaCaze’s unprecedented 2016 season saw her post 17 personal bests across five different events.
“2016 is a year I will never forget,” said LaCaze, 27.
“Even though I know I have so much more to give, it was a break-through year for me and taking the Australia record in Paris was special,” LaCaze said.
“Crossing the line and seeing the clock was a moment I will store in my memory for life. Such a special experience that still motivates me everyday I wake up."
Other records achieved in 2016 are Josh Harris' (Tas) Australian best times for the 30,000m (track) in 1:36:39.7 and 25,000m (en route to 30km) in 1:19:56.4 he set in Hobart earlier in July. In February, Melissa Duncan (Vic) ran 4:06.93 for the 1500m at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix in Roxbury, USA, to set a new Australian indoor record. Likewise Fabrice Lapierre (NSW) jumped 8.25m at the IAAF World Indoor Championships in Portland to break the Australian indoor long jump record.
As far as 2017 goes, it could be anyone’s guess as to which records may fall in the next 12 months. Next week we’ll be previewing the 2017 season, and which current Australian records could be given a nudge.