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Jamaican Usain Bolt and American Sanya Richards 2009 World Athletes of the Year

Monte-Carlo – While their names and faces have become familiar, the roads paved by Jamaican Usain Bolt and American Sanya Richards on the way to their World Athlete of the Year honours were anything but ordinary. Indeed, the pair continued to add superlatives to their already extraordinary resumes with total dominance in their respective events in 2009.

Well known to the athletics world since their junior days in the early part of this decade, both have since assumed lead roles in the sport, fine tuning that precocious talent to each take World Athlete of the Year honours for the second time. And at just 23 and 24 respectively, the only question that remains is how much faster Bolt and Richards can and will go.

Bolt, redefining human limits

With his mind-boggling 2008 campaign, where he set World records in the 100m and 200m dashes at the Olympic Games in Beijing, Bolt scripted himself the toughest of acts to follow in 2009. With an infectious relaxed demeanor, he managed to succeed in every sense seemingly possible.

Already the biggest name in the sport, Bolt continued to make significant strides in becoming one of the biggest names in all of sport. His every appearance attracted media in numbers not seen in a generation. And he always succeeded in producing the drama the sporting world has come to expect. It’s not over-reaching to state that anytime the Jamaican stepped onto the track, a World record was a distinct possibility. For much of the season, the only factor that didn’t seem to cooperate was the weather. But even then, Bolt managed to shine.

His big meet season began in Ostrava in mid-June with a solid but marginally wind-assisted 9.77 in the 100m, and after his return home to take both the 100 and 200m titles at the national championships, he jetted back to Europe to clock 19.59 in a torrential downpour in the Lausanne 200m. Cold and rain followed in Paris, but he seemed unaffected, clocking 9.79. With cooperative conditions, the conventional wisdom went, big things would come. They did in Berlin for the World Championships, where sell out crowds held tickets to history.

He began by demolishing his 100m World record, for the second consecutive 16 August, with an unfathomable 9.58 dash during which he reached a peak speed nearing 47 kilometres per hour. His follow-up was no less jaw-dropping when he replicated his Beijing performance with another World record in the 200m, in which he sliced another 0.11 seconds from his previous standard, reaching the line in 19.19. Suddenly, the 19-second barrier didn’t appear that far out of reach. A 100m victory in Zurich, along with dominating 200m wins in Brussels and Thessaloniki, followed, cementing 2009 as another year in which the tall Jamaican stood head and shoulders above all challengers, ending the season with 11 race win streaks at both the 100 and 200.

For Richards, finally a global title

While her performances didn’t quite measure up to those of Bolt – and whose could? – Richards was no less a dominant force in the women’s 400m. For several seasons the world’s finest one-lap sprinter on the one-day meeting circuit – this season she won a share of the $1 million Golden League Jackpot for the third time – Richards chased and finally captured the one prize missing from her massive trophy case: the title of World champion.

She set the tone early with a comfortable and graceful 49.23 victory in Oslo in the early days of July, then her fastest performance since she set her American record at the 2006 IAAF World Cup. She won by a massive 0.75 seconds, half of the dominating margin which separated her from the runner-up at Berlin’s ISTAF a month earlier. Victories in Rome (49.46) and Paris (49.34) followed, with winning margins of 0.85 and more than a full second, respectively. Once again, Richards would enter the World Championships as the clear favourite. It was a role she carried and finally fulfilled admirably with her 49.00 run at Berlin’s Olympic Stadium.

Her follow-up in Zurich was even faster where she dipped under 49 seconds for the first time in 2009, stopping the clock in 48.94 to again win by nearly a full second. She was faster yet in Brussels where her 48.83 performance broke the Memorial Van Damme meet record set in 1982, three years before Richards was born. Underscoring her dominance, reigning Olympic champion Christine Ohuruogu, who finished second, was more than a second-and-a-half behind.

Capping her season with another victory at the World Athletics Final, Richards will bring a 10-race win streak in her specialty into the 2010 season.

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