Jonathan Edwards and Paula Radcliffe were named Athletes of the Year on Saturday night (11) at the 39th annual British Athletics Writers’ Association Awards Dinner, in London.
The evening which was sponsored by Norwich Union, the principal supporter of domestic athletics and the national team, was attended by over 370 diners including IAAF General Secretary Istvan Gyulai and UKA Chief Executive David Moorcroft, and a host of Britain’s former Olympic and World champions including Alan Wells, Sebastian Coe, Steve Cram, David Hemery and Sydney Modern Pentathlon champion Stephanie Cook.
It was the third and second time respectively that Edwards and Radcliffe had won the best athlete awards. However, while they were exceptionally well deserved the recipients had not been too hard to predict, after what has been a somewhat mediocre year for senior British athletics.
Edwards’ World Triple Jump title and Radcliffe’s recent retention of the World Half Marathon crown, to go along with the her World Cross Country gold medal, were the few obvious highlights of 2001.
In contrast to the fortunes of their senior partners, Britain’s junior athletes have had another stunning year of success. In particular, Mark Lewis Francis won the European junior 100m gold, to add to his World championship win last year, and of course, was unluckily denied a World junior record by a faulty wind gauge in Edmonton. So it was again of little surprise that the sprinting revelation became the first athlete in the 39 year history of the Association to retain the Best Junior Athlete Award.
Of the other honours, Decathlete Dean Macey, who won a painful battle against injury to take the World championship bronze medal, was awarded the Norwich Union ‘Best Performance in a British Vest’.
There was also a special presentation made to double Olympic Champion Sebastian Coe to mark the 20th anniversary of the world record breaking summer of 1981, during which he twice set new marks for the mile and once for the 800 metres.
Possibly the most deserving presentation of the evening came with the The Ron Pickering Memorial Award which went to George Bunner, the inspirational figure behind the now world wide concept of Sports Hall Athletics, which has done so much to encourage children to become involved in the sport.
In a long and dedicated career of voluntary work, Bunner has helped to nurture a generation of British athletes. So it was very apt that when Paula Radcliffe stepped up to claim her ‘Best Female athlete’ title, she duly acknowledged that she “was just one of the many children that Bunner had helped to take their first steps into the sport.”
Edward’s award as the ‘Best Male Athlete’ was the last of those announced and the 35 year old World triple jump record holder was pleased to immediately scotch any rumours of an imminent retirement.
“I am looking forward to the Commonwealth Games next year which will be a fabulous opportunity to jump in the UK. Anyway I haven’t got a clue what to do after I finish competing in athletics, so I’ll just have to keep going as long as I can!”
Chris Turner for the IAAF