Renaud Lavillenie and Valerie Adams were crowned the male and female World Athletes of the Year at the World Athletics Gala on Friday night (21), a fitting climax to their stunning seasons.
It was the first time in the history of the awards that field event athletes had won both accolades. It was also the first time that a male pole vaulter or a female thrower had won the World Athlete of the Year award.
Even before 2014 got under way, Lavillenie had shown promising shape when clearing 5.93m in late December of 2013. His incredible form continued through the winter, setting French records of 6.04m and 6.08m before the end of January.
Then in February, somewhat audaciously at Sergey Bubka’s own ‘Pole Vault Stars’ meeting in Donetsk, the 28-year-old broke the pole vault world record with a perfect first-time clearance of 6.16m. Bubka’s record was no more.
When attempting to go even higher with the bar set at 6.21m, the Olympic champion sustained a minor injury which delayed the start of his outdoor campaign, but he soon picked up where he left off.
His first IAAF Diamond League win of the season came in Shanghai, where he cleared 5.92m. He followed it with victories in Eugene, Oslo, Lausanne and Paris as he built up towards the defence of his European title.
In Zurich in August, Lavillenie duly won his third successive European title, clearing 5.90m to win by the staggering margin of 20 centimetres.
Three weeks later, he set an outdoor world-leading mark of 5.93m to win at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Brussels, thus becoming the only athlete in history to win a fifth Diamond Race title in any event.
Lavillenie ended his season by winning at the IAAF Continental Cup in Marrakesh, fittingly captaining the European team to the overall victory.
Of his 22 competitions in 2014, indoors and outdoors, Lavillenie’s only blemish came when he failed to clear a height in Stockholm; an outstanding record in an event that is known for its unpredictability.
Another undefeated year for Adams
Adams may have thrown farther in previous seasons than she did in 2014, but assessed on its own merits, the shot putter from New Zealand still had a year to remember.
The Olympic champion added a ninth senior global title to her collection when she successfully defended her world indoor crown in Sopot with 20.67m, the outright best throw in the world in 2014 and the second-best performance in the history of the championships. It was also the best mark Adams has ever achieved indoors during the winter season.
Despite some injury worries throughout the season, Adams was still able to defeat the rest of the world’s top shot putters, time after time.
She was the only athlete in the world to win at all seven IAAF Diamond League fixtures in any discipline. A 20.20m triumph in Doha was followed by victories in Rome, New York, Lausanne and Monaco.
In July she won her third successive Commonwealth title with 19.88m. Even the worst throw in her series that day would have been enough to win by more than a metre.
Her best throw of the 2014 season came in Brussels at the last IAAF Diamond League meeting of the year, where she broke the meeting record with a world-leading 20.59m.
Adams was set to compete at the Continental Cup, but was forced to withdraw from the event at the last minute after an adverse reaction to a painkiller injection left her without any feeling in her hand.
Nevertheless, for the fourth year in succession, the world and Olympic champion ended the season undefeated, having won all 14 competitions she started. It brings her unbeaten streak to 56 competitions.
Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF