Johannes Vetter and Yulimar Rojas
We continue our countdown to the World Athletics Awards 2020 on 5 December by taking a closer look at the five men and five women who were earlier this week confirmed as the finalists for the Athlete of the Year awards.
German javelin thrower Johannes Vetter could have easily taken a break from competition in 2020, as many other athletes decided to do. But after finally recovering from a persistent ankle injury that had hampered his previous two seasons, he was keen to make the most of this year.
He was clearly – and understandably – a bit rusty in his first outing, recording three fouls. But the 2017 world champion found his groove in Kuortane on 1 August, winning with 86.94m. He improved to 87.36m eight days later to win the German title and then hopped back to Finland two days later to win at the World Athletics Continental Tour Gold meeting in Turku with a meeting record of 91.49m.
Vetter was back.
His European tour continued with an 84.30m victory in Leverkusen, a 90.86m triumph in Chorzow and an 84.03m win in Offenburg.
But the high point of his season came at the World Athletics Continental Tour Gold meeting in Silesia on 6 September. After taking an early lead with 83.77m and 86.41m in the opening two rounds, Vetter launched his spear out to 97.76m – the second-best throw in history and just 72 centimetres shy of Jan Zelezny’s world record that has stood for 24 years.
His big throw hardly let the wind out of his proverbial sails. That throw came in round three; in the fourth, he unleashed another mammoth effort that landed well clear of the 90-metre line, touching down at 94.84m, the fifth farthest throw ever. His next flew 89.95m before he capped the day with an 87.28m.
“I just don't know what to say, it was really close to a perfect moment," said Vetter, who already sat at No.2 on the world all-time list but threw more than three metres farther than he’s ever thrown before.
“You can feel it in your body when you have a good throw,” he added. “Mostly you feel the whole energy behind it, from your whole body - from the right toe to the chest to the hands. In the javelin you need your whole body. But it's really hard to explain - you feel it for less than one second. But then you realise that it was a huge throw.”
Vetter competed twice more in 2020, completing a nine-meeting winning streak with victories in Dessau (86.17m) and Berlin (87.26m).
By the end of the season, Vetter owned the eight best throws in the world in 2020. He also surpassed the fabled 90-metre mark for a fourth successive season, a feat only three men have done before him: Jan Zelezny (6), Aki Parvianian (4) and Andreas Thorkildsen (4).
“I’m just here to throw,” he said. “If it’s going far, it’s going far, and that’s fine.”
Yulimar Rojas may have competed just four times in 2020, but the Venezuelan triple jumper still managed to piece together a flawless campaign while also breaking new ground in her discipline.
In her first competition of the season, Rojas showed she was in the form of her life as she sailed out to a South American indoor record of 15.03m in Metz, France, producing the longest indoor jump in the world for a decade.
She was just getting started, though.
Her only other competition of the indoor season was at the World Athletics Indoor Tour meeting in Madrid, the city in which she has produced some of the biggest jumps in her career. Following the promising start to her season, there was talk of her threatening the world record in the Spanish capital.
It took a few rounds for the two-time world champion to find her rhythm, opening with a foul, landing 14.65m in the second round and then registering another foul in round three. In round four, however, everything clicked into place and she landed at 15.29m – the second-best indoor jump ever, and just seven centimetres shy of the world record.
Following another foul in round five, Rojas commanded the attention of the packed-out Polideportivo Gallur for her sixth and final attempt. She nailed every stage and landed at 15.43m, adding seven centimetres to the world indoor record that had stood since 2004.
Making 15.43m look easy.— World Athletics (@WorldAthletics) February 21, 2020
Yulimar Rojas in full flow on her way to breaking the triple jump world indoor record🤩
It was also two centimetres farther than her outdoor PB and is the absolute second-best triple jump performance, indoors or outdoors.
“I’m over the moon; I can’t believe I’m the world record-holder,” said Rojas. “I want to get home and cry. I need to cry to release the adrenaline I have right now.”
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Rojas didn’t compete again for another six months and she made her outdoor debut at the Wanda Diamond League meeting in Monaco. Although she was understandably a little rusty, she emerged victorious with a best of 14.27m.
She wrapped up her outdoor season a few weeks later by leaping 14.71m, an outdoor world lead, at a low-key competition in Castellon.