The quartet of women in the running for the European Athlete of the Year award are a Formidable Foursome and together they share an amazing quality - of being unbeaten this summer.
High jumper Mariya Lasitskene, pole vaulter Aikaterini Stefanidi, heptathlete Nafissatou Thiam and hammer thrower Anita Wlodarczyk have all had sensational summer seasons which will make the choice an unenviable one ahead of this Saturday’s Golden Track awards night in Vilnius, Lithuania.
Competing as an Authorised Neutral Athlete, Lasitskene is once more the world champion, having defended her title in London in August two years on from her first title in Beijing.
Rarely in sport is anything certain before a competition begins but when Lasitskene entered the London Stadium for the final on the night of 12 August, she began as the overriding favourite and then duly delivered.
By the time gold was hers with a clearance of 2.03m, she had only recorded one failure - at 1.99m - as she soared her way to success in a year where she won all 24 competitions that she entered. She also surpassed the 2.00m barrier on 15 occasions.
She improved her personal best to 2.06m in Lausanne in July, won the IAAF Diamond League title in Brussels in September and once more set her sights on trying to break the now 30-year-old world record of 2.09m which stands to Bulgaria’s Stefka Kostadinova.
“A gold medal here was my main goal for this season. But I would like to raise the bar a bit higher,” said Lasitskene who, at 24, could dominate the event for years to come.
As the Olympic and European champion, Stefanidi had set quite a standard for herself in 2016 but what would the following year bring? Would it be possible for her domination to remain?
The answer was emphatic as Stefandi, 27, won two more gold medals by demonstrating the qualities that have always been the key to the greatest of performers – delivering at your best when it matters most.
Two years after winning silver in Prague, Stefanidi won gold at the European Athletics Indoor Championships in Belgrade with a world-leading 4.85m to win by 10 centimetres. The margin of success in London was even greater as she became world champion with a first-time clearance at 4.91m to win by 16 centimetres.
“I can’t believe what’s happened. It’s amazing, the crowd were amazing, my parents are here. I‘m glad to make my country proud,” said Stefanidi, whose clearance in London was also a world-lead and a Greek record.
There was more to come as she ended the summer by retaining the Diamond League title in Brussels to conclude the outdoor season unbeaten.
Twelve months ago in Funchal, Portugal, Thiam was on stage holding the trophy as the female Rising Star of 2016 at the Golden Track awards and now she is back as a contender for the Athlete of the Year.
She might have been one of the surprise stars of last year with her Olympic glory but this time, she was the woman the rest had to match – and nobody could.
There were three landmark moments for Thiam in 2017. It began with her winning the pentathlon title at the European Indoor Championships in Belgrade, scoring a world-leading 4870 points to show she means business.
Next came the heptathlon in Gotzis where her victory at the Hypo-Meeting came with a stunning score of 7013 points which puts her third on the world all-time list behind world record-holder Jackie Joyner-Kersee and European record-holder Carolina Kluft.
And just over two months later, Thiam consolidated her status as the world’s best multi-eventer by claiming the world title in London with 6784 points. "It was a really difficult year, with a lot of pressure but I managed to produce a great performance," she said.
Wlodarczyk has become one of the most consistent performers on the world stage and she proved that once again this summer by winning the eighth major gold medal of her career when she made it to the top of the podium once more at the World Championships in London.
That success was her third world title after winning in Berlin in 2009 and in Beijing in 2015.
Wlodarczyk won in London with 77.90m and the standard she sets herself were revealed by what she said afterwards. “This was not the performance I expected tonight but come on, I am the world champion and that is the most important thing now. I expected to throw 80 metres or even a world record attack. I am happy for gold,” she said.
Wlodarczyk had the nine best throws of the year and she twice smashed the 80m barrier with 82.87m in Cetniewo - to come within eleven centimetres of her world record - and 80.79m in Bialystok.
She achieved 12 successive victories which saw her remain unbeaten for the third year in a row and she was not alone.
Losing is not something the Formidable Foursome know about.