Athletics
Carlo Jonkerman, KweséESPN 10d

Van Niekerk, Ayana vie for Athlete of the Year titles

Wayde van Niekerk is set to be out of action for a long time with a knee injury, but the South African remains in line for the IAAF World Athlete of the Year award; as is Ethiopia's Almaz Ayana.

On Monday, the IAAF announced the men's and women's finalists for the yearly award and 400m star Van Niekerk has been short-listed alongside Somalia-born Briton Mo Farah (5000m/10 000m) and Qatari high-jumper Mutaz Essa Barshim for the men's award which Usain Bolt won for a record sixth time in 2016.

Meanwhile, 2016 women's winner Ayana will be up against Greek pole-vaulter Ekaterini Stefanidi and Belgian heptathlete Nafissatou Thiam -- who has a Senegalese father -- following a three-way process which involved The IAAF Council, the IAAF 'Family' and athletics fans on social media.

Of the two African candidates, Van Niekerk (25) has to be more favoured to claim the honours than Ayana, who'll turn 26 three days before the winners are named on 24 November.

As with all six finalists, both Van Niekerk and Ayana won the world titles in their favoured events -- 400m and 10 000m respectively -- and the pair also added silver medals in their alternate events at London 2017.

However, Van Niekerk's 200m silver (considering the scheduling during the world championships) and indeed his exploits in the 100m, 200m and 400m throughout the year and setting a new 300m world record in June arguably places him as favourite in the men's category.

That is not to discount Barshim going through the season unbeaten, but his peerlessness perhaps -- ironically -- counts against him. Farah (34), too, ended his track career with another 10 000m world title, but he did fall just short of adding the 5000m for an unprecedented third straight double.

Ayana reaching the final three ahead South Africa's Caster Semenya or even Kenya's Hellen Obiri could be considered a surprise. The Ethiopian may have slightly bettered her Rio 2016 exploits by claiming a 5000m silver (rather than bronze) to go with 10 000m gold at the world championships, but apart from that barely competed this year; while Semenya ran her personal best (the eighth-fastest of all time) in retaining her 800m world title and also added a 1500m bronze during a dominant 2017.

Be that as it may, Stefanidi couldn't be outjumped in 2017 in a competitive pole vault field and won the world title to seal her dominance (adding to her Olympic crown), while Thiam added the world heptathlon title to her gold from Rio 2016. Both also crept up the all-time lists, Stefanidi by clearing 4.91m at London 2017 with Thiam in May accumulating the most points in 10 years.

The male and female World Athletes of the Year will be announced live on stage at the IAAF Athletics Awards 2017 in Monaco on Friday, 24 November.

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