A closer look at the female finalists for Golden Tracks

A closer look at the female finalists for Golden Tracks
European Athletics

What a year it has been for the three women in contention for this award - Ruth Beitia, Ekaterini Stefanidi and Anita Wlodarczyk, who simply dominated their events this summer.

RUTH BEITIA

In the moments after winning gold in Rio, Beitia took in what it really meant.

"I am happy," she said. "Never did I think I would be competing again after the London Olympics. My dream has become a reality."

With gold came the smile that was seen all across world athletics this summer after an another astonishing chapter in the story of this Spaniard politician who just happens to be one of the greatest high jumpers of all time.

Beitia is now 37 - it is impossible not to mention her age - because that is so much of the romance of her glory. As she said, even she cannot believe she is still here looking down at the rest from the top of the podium. And not once in 2016, but twice.

Beitia’s first celebrations came in Amsterdam in July when she completed a hat-trick of golds at the European Athletics Championships.

Like the rest of the field, she entered the competition at 1.84m, but unlike the rest, she knocked the bar down only once, at 1.93m, before clearing it second time and then reaching 1.98m for gold.

It was after her European success in Helsinki in 2012 that she went to the Olympic Games in London a few weeks later where she finished fourth and took a break from the sport, with retirement on her mind.

Famously she returned, while pursuing her career as a politician aswell, and winning golds on the way, but now Rio beckoned and it could not have been sweeter for her.

With a height of 1.97m, Beitia won Spain’s first Olympic gold medal in women’s athletics and became the oldest Olympic champion in a jumping event.

"I am proud to still be continuing," said Beitia. "I have the same enthusiasm and happiness, even at my age."

Her success was not over yet as she then completed a successful defence of her Diamond League title in Zurich and instantly starting talking about 2017, where she will focus first on the European Athletics Indoor Championships in Belgrade.

Did someone once say retirement?

EKATERINI STEFANIDI

Whatever Greek pole vault star Stefanidi touched this summer turned to gold.

Stefanidi, 26, built on her bronze at the IAAF World Indoor Championships in Portland in March to achieve a sensational triple triumph - as she won the Olympic title, the European title and the Diamond League.

And perhaps the most amazing aspect of this glory was that the woman seen soaring through the air at venues all across the world is actually still frightened of heights.

"I am still scared of them, I just get dizzy," revealed Stefanidi. “My husband (American pole vaulter Mitchell Krier) does a lot of construction and I won't get over the third step of the ladder. But (I am not scared) for the pole vault –it is something I have done since I was 10 and maybe it is because I am in control."

A control which led her to this amazing success and at the European Athletics Championships in Amsterdam, she created history, too, as she won with 4.81m to break the Championship record mark of 4.80m which Russian Yelena Isinbayeva set in Gothenburg 10 years earlier.

Athens-born and now based in Ohio in the USA, Stefanidi said: "I am so excited with gold. We came here with the No 1 goal to win and the second was to break the record – it was in our minds."

But that was only part one of the success.

In this greatest year of her sporting life, Stefanidi then became the Olympic champion as she won in Rio on countback on 4.85m from American Sandi Morris.

"I cannot believe what has happened and it is amazing," she said. "I am glad to make my country proud."

It was Greece’s first medal of the track and field programme as Stefanidi proved what a championship performer she is, with 4.70m proving decisive in the countback as Stefanidi cleared it at the first time of asking with Morris needing two attempts.

Next stop was Brussels in September where she was crowned Diamond Race winner in the last IAAF Diamond League meeting of a summer for Stefanidi of which dreams are made of.

ANITA WLODARCZYK

It was another extraordinary outdoor season for Polish hammer thrower Wlodarczyk, 31, who won gold at the Olympic Games and European Athletics Championships, twice broke her own world record and had the 12 leading throws in the world.

When she reflects on those achievements, it is arguably not possible to have done any more to dominate an event like Wlodarczyk has.

And all this success arrived on the back of 2015 when she was crowned world champion and became the first woman to smash the 80m barrier.

To lift yourself to go beyond that glory in the following summer shows what an amazing athlete Wlodarczyk has become.

Wlodarczyk rarely fails to deliver and so that proved again with a sensational series of throws as she completed a European hat-trick in Amsterdam.

She improved with every throw, with a series of 72.82m, 75.73m, 77.11m, 77.65m, 78.12m and, finally, 78.14m and she said: "I am very happy with my third European title. It was a test and I am really satisfied that each throw tonight went further."

Still she remains the only woman to have broken 80m, having set the world record mark of 81.08m in 2015, and in Rio, she then took it to another level with 82.29m in the third round as she won this gold medal for the first time.

It was not just the distance that caught the eye. As she unleashed the hammer, Wlodarczyk was punching the air and celebrating because she knew how good it was even before it landed.

And just to, literally, hammer home her message of success, she then reached 81.74m in the fifth round.

It was an amazing performance but she still had a longer distance in her repertoire.

That came at the end of August, when she threw 82.98m at the 7th Kamila Skolimowska Memorial in Warsaw, a fitting place for such a record because the meeting remembers Poland's 2000 Olympic hammer champion who died unexpectedly eight years later.

"I was saying that I want to improve the record and I was able to keep my word," said Wlodarczyk.

Ominously for the rest, she added: "It was close to 83 metres but let us save something for the next season."