As the NACAC region embarks on a new season, let’s review a successful 2021 for the North American and Caribbean area.
The election of Jamaica’s sprint star Elaine Thompson-Herah as AIPS Best Female Athlete of 2021 and World Female Athlete of the Year at the World Athletics Awards 2021 capped a magnificent year for the sport. Thompson-Herah retained her Olympic 100m and 200m titles in Tokyo and added a third gold medal in the 4x100m relay. She also ran world-leading times of 10.54 and 21.53 over 100m and 200m respectively, moving to second on the world all-time lists for each discipline.
Thompson-Herah paid the way for 10 other individual champions at Tokyo 2020 from the region, including USA’s Sydney McLaughlin and Ryan Crouser, who smashed the world record in their respective events.
McLaughlin, 22, ran a mind-blowing 51.46 in the 400m Hurdles final, in repeat of another epic battle with her countrywoman and former world record holder Dalilah Muhammad, who finished a close second with 51.58, well inside the previous record set by McLaughlin (51.90) at the Olympic Trials.
Crouser, who erased the 31-year-old record in the Shot Put with 23.37m at the USA Olympic Trials in June, his best season ever. With all six tosses over 22.50m, he sealed the Olympic title with 23.30m.
Another superlative performance came in the Decathlon with Canada’s Damian Warner, who became the fourth man in history to break the 9000-point in his event (9018), en route to the Olympic gold. His effort earned him the best sportsperson of the year in his country.
Four events signaled the NACAC prowess at Tokyo 2020. Thompson-Herah led a Jamaican sweep in the women’s 100m, joined by 2-time Olympic champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Shericka Jackson . Fraser-Pryce led the first Jamaican sweep in the event at 2008 Games.
In the 400m, Bahamas’ gold medallist Shaunae Miller-Uibo was flanked by Dominican Republic’s Marileidy Paulino and USA’s Allyson Felix in 400m podium. Felix capped a 5-Games Olympic campaign with 12 medals, including the individual bronze and the 4x400m relay gold. Seven of the eight finalists in the women’s 400m were from the NACAC region.
Three other women from the area completed a medal sweep for NACAC, led by Puerto Rico’s Jasmine Camacho-Quinn in the 100m Hurdles, her country’s first Olympic gold in athletics. USA’s World record holder Kendra Harrison and Jamaica’s Megan Tapper joined her on the podium.
The male sprint hurdles also delivered a medal sweep to the region, led by Jamaica’s Hansle Parchment (13.04), USA’s world champion Grant Holloway and fellow Jamaican Ronald Levy in the 110m Hurdles.
The other individual Olympic champions were: Canada’s Andre De Grasse in 200m, taking his Olympic medal tally to six, Bahamas’ Steven Gardiner in 400m and USA’s Athing Mu (800m) and Valarie Allman in the Discus. Jamaica’s Briana Williams, Elaine Thompson-Herah, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Shericka Jackson ran 41.02 seconds, the second fastest time ever, for gold in the 4x100m relay.
USA’s Sydney McLaughlin, Allyson Felix, Dalilah Muhammad and Athing Mu combined their efforts to take the 4x400m gold in 3:16.85 minutes, the sixth fastest time in history and the quickest in 28 years.
Only a world record by Norway’s Karsten Warholm (45.94), winner of World Male Athlete of the Year at the World Athletics Awards 2021, deprived USA’s Rai Benjamin of the Olympic gold in the 400m Hurdles. Benjamin ran 46.17 seconds, the second fastest time ever in the event.
Nineteen-year-old Athing Mu’s talent in the 800m, shown in her Olympic gold with an American record and World Lead of 1:55.21 was rewarded as World Athletics Female Rising Star. The teenager improved her record to 1:55.04 weeks later and set the world U20 indoor record of 1:58.40.
Fourth at the Olympics, Erriyon Knighton broke Usain Bolt’s world U20 200m record of 19.84 at the Olympic trials. The 17-year old American was rewarded the Male Rising Star by World Athletics.
The region received other awards: the Members Federations Award to Costa Rica, host to the NACAC U18 and U23 Championships, the Coaching Achievement Award to USA’s Bobby Kersee. Under his guidance, Allyson Felix became the most decorated female track and field Olympian in history after winning her 10th and 11th Olympic gold medals in Tokyo, while training partner Sydney McLaughlin broke two world records in the 400m hurdles and claimed Olympic gold in the discipline.
NACAC Competition director Michael Serralta received the World Athletics Veteran Pin.
The 2022 season will have a special feature as the World Athletics Championships will be held for the first time in history in the United States as Eugene will welcome the planet’s best athletes July 15-24. After the two-year hiatus, the CARIFA Games are scheduled to return to Kingston, Jamaica, April 16-18.
For the English-speaking Caribbean nations and Canada, the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, August 2-7, will also be a major feature on their calendar.
For the full NACAC calendar, visit https://www.athleticsnacac.org/calendar
By Javier Clavelo
(Javier Clavelo Robinson is a member of the NACAC Sports Journalists Working Group. The group, which is chaired by Kwame Laurence, also includes Katya Lopez, Eyleen Rios Lopes, Gisele Ericher, Terry Finisterre, Andre Lowe, Brent Stubbs and Dean Greenaway)