It was a successful 2021 for the North American, Central American and Caribbean Area (NACAC).
The election of Jamaica’s sprint star Elaine Thompson-Herah as the AIPS Best Female Athlete and World Female Athlete of the Year at the World Athletics Awards 2021 capped a magnificent year for the sport. Thompson-Herah retained her Olympic 100 and 200 metres titles in Tokyo and added a third gold medal in the 4x100m relay. She also ran world-leading times of 10.54 and 21.53 seconds over 100m and 200m respectively, moving to second on the world all-time list for each discipline.
Thompson-Herah paved the way for 12 other individual champions from the NACAC Area at Tokyo 2020 Olympics held in 2021. Among the 12 were USA’s Sydney McLaughlin and Ryan Crouser, who smashed the world record in their respective events.
McLaughlin, 22, ran a mind-blowing 51.46 in the 400m hurdles final, in repeat of another epic battle with her countrywoman and former world record holder, Dalilah Muhammad, who finished a close second in 51.58, well inside the previous world record of 51.90 set by McLaughlin at the Olympic Trials a few months earlier.
Crouser, who erased the 21-year-old world record in the Shot put with 23.37m at the USA Olympic Trials in June, capped off his best season ever with the Olympic gold. With all six tosses over 22.50m, he sealed the Olympic title with 23.30m.
Another superlative performance came in the decathlon. Canada’s Damian Warner became the fourth man in history to break the 9,000-point barrier en route to the Olympic gold. His effort earned him the Best Sportsperson of the Year title in his country.
Four events signalled the NACAC prowess at Tokyo 2020. Thompson-Herah led a Jamaican sweep in the women’s 100m, joined by two-time Olympic champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Shericka Jackson.
In the women’s 400m, Bahamas’ gold medallist Shaunae Miller-Uibo was flanked by Dominican Republic’s Marileidy Paulino and USA’s, Allyson Felix on the podium. Felix capped a five-Games Olympic campaign with 11 medals, including the individual bronze and 4x400m relay gold. Seven of the eight finalists in the women’s 400m were from the NACAC area.
Three other women completed a medal sweep for NACAC. This feat was achieved in the Women’s 100m hurdles. The athletes were Puerto Rico’s Jasmine Camacho-Quinn, her country’s first Olympic gold medallist in athletics, USA’s World record holder Kendra Harrison, and Jamaica’s Megan Tapper.
The male sprint hurdles also delivered a medal sweep to the NACAC Area. Jamaica’s Hansle Parchment (13.04), USA’s world champion Grant Holloway, and another Jamaican, Ronald Levy finished one-two-three.
NACAC’s other individual Olympic champions were: Canada’s Andre De Grasse in 200m, taking his Olympic medal tally to six; Bahamas’ Steven Gardiner in 400m; and USA’s Valarie Allman in the Discus.
Jamaica’s Briana Williams, Thompson-Herah, Fraser-Pryce and Jackson ran 41.02, the second fastest time ever, for gold in the 4x100m relay.
Nineteen-year-old Athing Mu’s amazing 800m performance earned her the Olympic gold medal in an American record and world leading time of 1:55.21. She was fittingly rewarded with the World Athletics Female Rising Star award. The teenager improved her record to 1:55.04 weeks later and set the world U20 indoor record of 1:58.40.
USA’s McLaughlin, Felix, Muhammad and Mu combined their efforts to take the 4x400m gold in 3:16.85, the sixth fastest time in history and the quickest in 28 years.
Only a world record by Norway’s Karsten Warholm (45.94), winner of the Male Athlete of the Year at the World Athletics Awards 2021, deprived USA’s Rai Benjamin of the Olympic gold in the 400m Hurdles. Benjamin ran 46.17 seconds, the second fastest time ever in the event.
Fourth at the Olympics, Erriyon Knighton broke Usain Bolt’s world U20 200m record with 19.84 at the Olympic Trials. The 17-year-old American was rewarded the Male Rising Star by World Athletics.
NACAC received other World Athletics awards: the Member Federation Award to Costa Rica, hosts to the NACAC Under-18 and Under-23 Championships; and the Coaching Achievement Award to USA’s, Bobby Kersee. Under Kersee’s guidance, Felix became the most decorated female track and field Olympian in history, while training partner McLaughlin twice broke the 400m hurdles world record and claimed Olympic gold in the discipline.
NACAC’s competitions director, former general secretary and long-standing technical official Michael Serralta received the World Athletics Veteran Pin. And NBC’s Peter Diamond was honoured with the President’s Award.
The 2022 season will have a special feature as the World Athletics Championships will be held, for the first time in history, in the United States. Eugene, Oregon will welcome the planet’s best athletes for the July 15-24 meet.
After a two-year hiatus, the CARIFTA Games are scheduled for Kingston, Jamaica from April 16-18.
For the English-speaking Caribbean nations and Canada, the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England, between August 2 and 7, will also be a major feature.
The World Athletics Continental Tour 2022 will have multiple stops in the NACAC Area as the organisation is introducing its own NACAC Circuit under the leadership of the NACAC Circuit Working Group.
Six US cities will be part of the World Athletics Indoor Tour.
—Javier Clavelo Robinson is a member of the NACAC Sports Journalists