If I was a betting man - and my bank manager, among others, should be duly grateful I am not - I would put money on Eliud Kipchoge stepping up to the stage at the Grimaldi Forum in Monaco next Tuesday (December 4) to take possession of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World Athlete of the Year award.
This is not a startlingly original judgement given the magnitude of the Kenyan’s achievements at the marathon distance in 2018. But nor is it an obvious statement, given the nomination of French decathlete Kevin Mayer, who began the year with a World Indoor Championships gold in Birmingham and signed off on home soil by breaking the world record set by 2015 World Athlete of the Year Ashton Eaton.
Now that Usain Bolt’s star is no longer in the athletics firmament this sporting universe has settled down a little. The Jamaican sprinter par excellence won a record six IAAF World Athlete of the Year Awards from his breakthrough year of 2008 onwards. His extraordinary talent and charisma distorted the competition during that era, although three men did get ahead of him to the Monaco stage.
In 2010, when Bolt was operating below top gear during an "off" year, even getting beaten by Tyson Gay in his last race, the prize went to Kenya’s David Rudisha, who had twice beaten Wilson Kipketer’s 1997 world record. Just as well Rudisha was acknowledged then, as even running a gun-to-tape first sub 1min 41.00sec 800 metres en route to London 2012 gold was not enough to beat Bolt that year.
France’s Renaud Lavillenie won the award in 2014 for his historic achievement in breaking Sergey Bubka’s 1993 world pole vault record of 6.15 metres at Donetsk with an effort of 6.16m in the same arena. Hard to see how that wouldn’t have won the award, but it did help the calculations that Bolt had another relatively relaxed season.
Eaton’s win was less certain the following year given the extraordinary manner in which Bolt, injured and sub-par for the bulk of the season, rose to the occasion in the IAAF world Championships 100m final in Beijing to defeat a field including Justin Gatlin of the United States, who had run consistently fastest in the world up to that point.
Neither Kipchoge nor Mayer has to contend with the Bolt factor –but in many other years each would have been assured of the award for their achievements this season.
Two factors are likely to tip the award the Kenyan’s way. Mayer’s successes sandwiched a massive disappointment at the European Championships, where his status as favourite vanished in nightmarish fashion when he failed to register a distance at the long jump - one of his strongest events.
Of course that bitter disappointment in Munich served as massive motivation for his finishing flourish in Talence, where he set a new mark of 9,126 points to eclipse Eaton’s mark of 9,045 set at the 2015 IAAF World Championships in Beijing.
But that relative lapse may have told against him in the final reckoning.
A three-way voting process has determined the finalists in the men’s and women’s awards.
The IAAF Council and the IAAF Family cast their votes by email, while fans voted online via the IAAF's social media platforms. The IAAF Council’s vote counted for 50 per cent of the result, while the IAAF Family’s votes and the public votes each counted for 25 per cent of the final result. Voting closed on November 13.
For the Kenyan Olympic marathon champion, 2018 was a year of unalloyed success. He won in London in April, and then, on the same day of Mayer’s world record, took more than a minute off the world record in Berlin as he became the first man to break two hours and two minutes in a legal race, finishing in 2 hours 01min 39sec - way inside the mark of 2:02:57 set at the 2014 Berlin race by fellow Kenyan Dennis Kimetto.
It was by far the biggest improvement to have been made in the record since 1967.
Had it not been for these two huge athletic peaks of achievement, the three other shortlisted nominees for the men’s award could have harboured realistic hopes of success.
Twenty-two-year-old US sprinter Christian Coleman set what he thought was a world indoor 60m record, then had to do it again to earn a ratified mark, clocking 6.34sec, before living up to the pressure of being favourite to win the world indoor title in Birmingham. He also finshed the season by taking the IAAF Diamond League 100m title with a time of 9.79 in the Brussels final - the fastest time run all year.
The 23-year-old Abderrahman Samba, born and raised in Saudi Arabia but now naturalised as a Qatari athlete, became only the second man to better 47 seconds for the 400m hurdles in the course of winning nine main events this season and earning double gold at the Asian Games.
The 23-year-old’s clocking of 46.98 at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Paris was just 0.20 seconds off the world record set by Kevin Young in winning the 1992 Olympic title in Barcelona.
Youngest man on the list, at 19, is Sweden’s Armand "Mondo" Duplantis, winner of the European Championships pole vault title with 6.05m, which put him equal second in the all-time outdoor rankings.
Before winning his European title in Berlin, Duplantis earned gold at the IAAF World Under-20 Championships at Tampere in Finland.
This is one of the strongest short-lists since these awards were first made in 1988. In recent years, only Olympic years have produced a similar depth of quality. London 2012, as discussed. And 2016, which contained towering achievements. Bolt secured – at that point – the "triple triple" of Olympic sprint gold medals, Britain’s Mo Farah retained his 5,000m and 10,000m titles, and South Africa’s Wayde Van Niekerk beat Michael Johnson’s world 400m record from lane eight in Rio de Janeiro.
What may make it easier for Duplantis to miss the big award is the fact that, God willing, he has only just begun, despite his startling level of performance already. And the fact that - more money going down here - he will probably win the Rising Star Award for under-20 athletes.
Even here, however, there is a dizzying range of quality. Norway’s Jacob Ingebrigtsen, who turned 18 in September, won 1500m silver and 5,000m bronze at the World Under-20 Championships in Tampere, and then took his running to a new level at the European Championships, winning 1500m and 5,000m titles.
He also finished the season by lowering his 1500m personal best to 3:31.18.
Ethiopia’s Selemon Barega began his year by taking world indoor silver in Birmingham over 3,000m before finishing fourth at the African Championships.
Disappointingly, as defending IAAF World Under-20 champion at 5,000m, he only finished fourth in the final.
But he recovered his fortunes gloriously in the IAAF Diamond League final at Brussels, becoming 5,000m champion in a world under-20 record time of 12:43.02 – the world’s fastest time since 2005.
Money on the women’s award? Another tough call. You could make a case for each of the five finalists.
Britain’s 100m and 200m European champion Dina Asher-Smith, a brilliant emerging talent who will turn 23 on the night of the awards, finished joint top of the season’s world listings with 10.85 and top of the 200m lists with 21.89.
Colombia’s 33-year-old former Olympic and world triple jump champion Caterine Ibarguen, finished top of the season’s list with 14.96m having had another unbeaten season and won golds at the IAAF Continental Cup and Central American and Caribbean Games, as well as the IAAF Diamond League title.
Last year’s winner Nafi Thiam of Belgium, the world and Olympic heptathlon champion, added the European title in peerless fashion.
Kenya’s Beatrice Chepkoech took eight seconds off the world 3,000m steeplechase record in Monaco, having earlier set the third best time ever. She won the IAAF Continental Cup, African Championship and IAAF Diamond League titles, as well as Commonwealth silver.
As the only world record breaker this year, Chepkoech has a strong claim to the award but - theoretical clink of theoretical money going down - I would back the irrepressible Olympic 400m champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo for the big prize given that, after a year when she had to settle for world silver and bronze, she has added a new level of serene assuredness to her performances this season, during which she has been unbeaten in 15 races across five events, including a 200 and 400m double at the IAAF Continental Cup.
She won the Commonwealth and IAAF Diamond League titles, withstanding the challenge of Asher-Smith in both events. And her winning time at the Monaco Diamond League meeting, 48.97, was the fastest run since 2009. She needed it to hold off the threat of another rising talent, 20-year-old Salwa Eid Naser of Bahrain, who was second in 49.08.
The 24-year-old Bahamian is top of her game, and now would be a good time to recognise her vivid contributions to world athletics over the past three seasons.
And while we’re at it – female Rising Star award to go to Jamaica’s American-born sprinter Briana Williams, coached by multiple world and Olympic sprint medallist Ato Boldon, who was a surprise - and patently surprised - winner of the 100 and 200m titles at the IAAF World Under-20 Championships - aged just 16.
She also became Carifta Games Under-17 champion at both sprints and the 4x100m.
Surpassing yourself in the biggest competitions is a mark of outstanding athletes, which is why she may get the nod ahead of two other hugely talented 19-year-olds.
Sydney McLaughlin of the United States, who produced a world junior indoor 400m record of 50.36 in March, and followed up two months later with an outdoor 400m hurdles mark of 52.75 - a world junior record and the fastest time recorded this year.
Kenya’s Celliphine Chespol became African senior cross-country champion and also took silver in the 3,000m steeplechase at the Commonwealth Games in the Gold Coast and African Championships.
Her season’s best time of 9:01.82 earned her the IAAF world under-20 title and was the fastest recorded in that age group all year.