David Rudisha Leads The Decade’s Top 10 Men

Athlete Of The Decade David Rudisha capped off his run of 3 straight years as Athlete Of The Year by winning Olympic gold with a stirring wire-to-wire 1:40.91 World Record run. (GLADYS CHAI/ASVOM AGENCY)

TALK ABOUT TOUGH DECISIONS! The best man of the Teens: was it Usain Bolt or David Rudisha? Our screening panel knew it had to be one of the two. But which? By the thinnest of margins imaginable the decision came down in favor of the Kenyan halfmile ace.

But first, some background on our decadenal (did we just make up a new word?) musings: as with any choice based on a fixed number of years, luck plays a big part. Luck in the form of when your career started and/or ended. Although we had a basic rule of valuing quality over quantity, one who competed in all 10 years of the decade obviously had an advantage over another who competed in just one. The prime component in all choices was “honors won,” including Rankings places and finishes in Annual Athlete of The Year voting. Road racing other than the marathon was not considered; neither was cross country.

The Top 10 Men of the Teens:

1. David Rudisha (Kenya)

In a marvelous string to open the decade Rudisha was the Athlete Of The Year in 3 straight years (2010–12), a feat only ever matched by Carl Lewis… When he was done he had broken the 800 World Record 3 times (1:41.09, 1:41.01, 1:40.91), the last of them being chosen as our Performance Of The Decade… His dominance of the all-time list was amazing, as his marks from that era still rate as Nos. 1-2-3-6-7-8 on the all-time list… He won both Olympic golds and a pair of WC golds and ended up with 5 No. 1s in the World Rankings.

2. Usain Bolt (Jamaica)

The No. 4 choice in the Noughties, Bolt is the only repeater from that decade’s Top 10. Even though his WR-setting years came in that previous decade, the world’s fastest human nonetheless made an impact on the all-time lists, producing the second-fastest 100 ever, 9.63, and the Nos. 5 & 6 clockings in the 200 (19.32, 19.40)… He dominated the World Rankings in each of the dashes, scoring 1-1-1-2-2-2-3 in the 100 and 1-1-1-1-1-3 in the 200… His individual medal haul was large: all 4 Olympic golds, plus G-G-B in the WC 100 and G-G-G in the WC 200… He had had no AOY titles, but was twice runner-up and thrice chosen as No. 3.

3. Christian Taylor (US)

The American TJ ace scored more World Rankings points (89 out of 100) in the decade than any other man. He also claimed more No. 1s, 8, than any other athlete, man or woman… His collection of major golds was also unmatched, with both of the top Olympic honors and 4 times being the WC winner… He moved to No. 2 on the all-time performer’s list, his 59-9 (18.21) missing the WR by just 3¼
inches. He claimed all-time performances 2, 5 and =8… Illustrating how tough it can sometimes be for a field eventer to get love from AOY voters, his 5 appearances in the Top 10 garnered him positions 2-5-7-10-10.

4. Mo Farah (Great Britain)

Distance medals galore came the Briton’s way: all 4 Oly golds in the 5 & 10, plus 3 more pairs in WC competition (to go with a couple of silvers)… He earned 5 No. 1 Rankings in each event (plus a No. 2 in the marathon)… A racer with a fearsome kick, not a time trialer, he lost some support for a higher spot than No. 4 because of his positions on the all-time list: 34 in the 5000, 16 in the 10 and 63 in the marathon. Interestingly enough, in an event in which he never ranked, the 1500, he’s got his highest status: No. 11.

5. Ashton Eaton (US)

He had seen his WR surpassed by the end of the decade, but what the Oregon decathlete accomplished in the 2010–16 window was enough to earn him the No. 5 spot. He actually twice set the WR, with 9039 in ’12 and 9045 in ’15. He ended up with all-time performances 2, 3 & 9… Along the way he captured both Olympic golds and added a WC pair (plus a silver)… The ’15 AOY, he also claimed positions of 2-5-7 in other years… Stepping away from the decathlon in ’15, he earned No. 6 in the 400H World Rankings.

6. Wayde van Niekerk (South Africa)

All records are made to be broken, even longstanding ones set by legends like Michael Johnson. Taking the honors in the 400 was van Niekerk, with his 43.03 to win in Rio. That Olympic gold was bracketed by WC golds in Beijing and London as he Ranked No. 1 three years in a row… The ’16 AOY, he was also voted as 4 and 7 in other years… He branched out in ’17, capturing WC silver in the 200 and ran the fastest 300 ever, 30.81.

7. Eliud Kipchoge (Kenya)

His fastest times may have been shoe-aided, but no matter what he had on his feet, the former track 5K world champ was the king of the roads, earning 5 No. 1s (plus a 2 and a 9) in the World Rankings. Like many top marathoners, he never appeared in a WC race, but did win Olympic gold and, more importantly, captured 7 World Marathon Majors wins… The ’18 AOY, he had other placings of 4-8-9-9 in that voting.

8. Renaud Lavillenie (France)

There was one minor flaw in the high-flying vaulter’s decade: he never won a WC gold, even though he did claim a silver and 3 bronzes (and 3 indoor golds). But he did win Olympic gold and silver for a total of 9 podium appearances… Most famously, in ’14—his AOY year—he joined Sergey Bubka in the 20-foot club, raising the WR to 20-2½ (6.16)… The only man to make the World Rankings in all 10 years of the decade, he claimed 7 No. 1s, was twice No. 3 and once No. 10.

9. Mutaz Barshim (Qatar)

He still hasn’t quite made it to the 8-foot (2.44) barrier, but the ’17 AOY came closer than any high jumper other than WR holder Javier Sotomayor, topping out at 7-11½ (2.43). He can claim all-time performances =2, =3 and =6… A 9-time World Ranker, his ratings were 1-1-1-1-2-2-2-5-7… Medal-wise he claims 3 golds (2 WC, 1 WIC), 3 silvers (OG, WC, WIC) and 1 bronze (OG) for a total of 7.

10. Robert Harting (Germany)

The jersey-ripping discus star dominated his event with 5 No. 1 Rankings (plus 4-7-8)… He claimed one of the Olympic golds (younger brother Christoph taking the other) and a pair of WC top spots… He climbs into the top 10 on the basis of being a solid performer in AOY voting, earning spots 3-5-6-6.

Previous AOD Winners

We first started picking the by-decade stars with the December 1969 edition, which was titled “The Sensational Sixties.” Our 5 winners since then:

The ’60s—Peter Snell (New Zealand)
The ’70s—Viktor Saneyev (Soviet Union)
The ’80s—Carl Lewis (US)
The ’90s—Michael Johnson (US)
The ‘00s—Kenenisa Bekele (Ethiopia) ◻︎