With their displays of unrivaled speed and agility, Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt and Russian pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva confirmed that their generation remains the sport’s driving force after earning the World Athlete of the Year Awards for 2008.
NOTE - See 'Related Content' to the right of this story under the photo, for the Athlete of the Year announcement and other awards from the 2008 World Athletics Gala
Bolt, who celebrated his 22nd birthday in Beijing, and Isinbayeva, 26, have time and again illustrated their ability to perform with the poise and conviction of seasoned veterans. Each ended their respective seasons with virtually untarnished records, and left Beijing as dominating Olympic champions with feats that aren’t likely to be duplicated any time soon.
For long-time observers, neither is a new name. Both illustrated their raw talent and promise at the youth and junior levels before stamping their authority on their respective events to end the year among the most talked about athletes not only in athletics, but in the wider sporting world as well.
Bolt - left the world stunned
Until this season, Bolt was primarily seen as a leading force in the 200m, with his promise he exhibited as both the World youth and World junior record holder in the event reaching its fruition at the World Championships in Osaka a year ago where he dashed to silver. But that conventional wisdom held true only because he hadn’t yet seriously contested the 100. That view was shattered in the early days of May in Kingston when he sped to a 9.76 performance to become the second fastest man in history in just his second 100m race of the year. Immediately and ferociously, there was a new kid on the block gunning for bragging rights as the World’s Fastest Man.
After a 9.92 follow-up two weeks later, Bolt seized that title on 31 May when he succeeded compatriot Asafa Powell as World record holder with his stunning 9.72 run in New York, defeating reigning World champion Tyson Gay in the process. After his solid 200m debut in Ostrava, where he was unchallenged in 19.83, the talk of the summer turned to a possible double dash bid in Beijing. The young care free Jamaican didn’t disappoint.
After taking the sprint double at Jamaican championships, Bolt suffered his only defeat of the year, finishing second to Powell in Stockholm by a scant 0.01. But once in the Chinese capital, nobody came even remotely close to raining on Bolt’s date with destiny.
His 100m victory in a World record of 9.69 is already the stuff of legend. But those numbers don’t even come close to illustrating the magnitude of his dominating achievement. His early celebration some 20 metres before the finish simply left the world stunned, wondering how fast he could have run had he not gotten caught up in the emotion of the moment.
There was no early celebration in the 200m final four days later when he took down another legendary mark, Michael Johnson’s 19.32 World record set at the Atlanta Games 12 years earlier. Indeed, his coach Glen Mills confirmed that he had never seen his charge run so powerfully. In another dominating performance, Bolt stopped the clock at 19.30 to firmly etch his place in sports history.
Isinbayeva - record rampage
For Isinbayeva, 2008 signalled a strong return to the form which brought her World Athlete of the Year honours in 2004 and 2005. While still the leading force in her event in 2006 and 2007, she patiently waited for her technical changes and coaching switch to pole vault guru Vitaly Petrov to firmly take hold. In 2008, they finally did.
Opening her indoor campaign in her now customary manner – with a World record indoors in Donetsk, leaping 4.95m – Isinbayeva ended her indoor season collecting another World Indoor Championship title in Valencia. But nothing prepared the world for the record rampage she embarked upon in her Beijing build-up.
It didn’t take long for her record spree to begin. In her outdoor debut, she added two centimetres to her three-year-old mark with a massive 5.03m clearance at Rome’s Golden Gala. Clearly, she showed her critics that her best was still ahead of her. Following more solid record assaults in Stockholm and London, she showed her pre-Olympic form in Monaco where he again improved her mark, this time to 5.05m.
Her dominance continued in Beijing, where she not only defended her title, but for the second consecutive Olympic Games, took gold with a World record, this time leaping 5.05m with her dramatic final attempt. It was the 24th World record of her career.
In all, she won each of her nine competitions outdoors, and 12 of 13 overall. And again she ended the year without peer.
2008 competitions of the male and female World Athletes of the Year (finals only):
Usain Bolt –
10.03 1 Spanish Town 8 Mar
9.76 1 Kingston 3 May
9.92 1 Port-of-Spain 17 May
9.72 WR 1 New York 31 May
9.85 1 Kingston 28 Jun
9.89 2 Stockholm 22 Jul
9.69 WR 1 Olympic Games 16 Aug
9.83 1 Zürich 29 Aug
9.77 1 Bruxelles 5 Sep
19.83 1 Ostrava 12 Jun
19.97 1 Kingston 29 Jun
19.67 AR 1 Athens 13 Jul
19.76 1 London 26 Jul
19.30 WR 1 Olympic Games 20 Aug
19.63 1 Lausanne 2 Sep
4 x 100m Relay -
37.10 WR 1 Olympic Games 22
(Nesta Carter, Michael Frater, Usain Bolt, Asafa Powell)
Yelena Isinbayeva -
4.95i WR 1 Donetsk 16 Feb
4.61i =2 Bydgoszcz 20 Feb
4.61i 1 Aubière 26 Feb
4.75i 1 World Indoor Championships 8 Mar
5.03 WR 1 Roma 11 Jul
4.85 Stockholm 22 Jul
4.93 London 25 Jul
5.04 WR 1 Monaco 29 Jul
5.05 WR 1 Beijing 18 Aug
4.88 1 Zürich 29 Aug
4.72 1 Bruxelles 5 Sep
4.60 1 Shanghai 20 Sep
4.60 1 Daegu 25 Sep
Bob Ramsak for the IAAF