With their displays of nearly unrivaled speed and endurance, American sprinter Tyson Gay and Ethiopian Olympic champion Meseret Defar confirmed that their generation remains the sport’s driving force after earning the World Athlete of the Year Awards for 2007.
Gay, who turned 25 in early August, and Defar, barely 24, have each 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 Osaka as dominating World champions.
Defar without peer
For Defar, the reigning Olympic 5000m champion and the World record holder in the event, the challenge for 2007 was to earn her first World crown to add to her Athens victory and back-to-back indoor 3000m titles. She did so with ease in Osaka, gracefully beating back the challenge of a solid field en route to her 14:57.91 victory.
“I don’t have words to describe how happy I am,” said Defar, who dedicated her award to all women in Ethiopia whose daily struggle for survival Defar was able to overcome through her determination on the track. She also shared her reward with her husband, “Who supports me through the good times and the bad. This is our award,” she said.
She began her season with a run at the World record indoors in the 3000, but illness ‘slowed’ her to a 8:30.31 victory at the Boston Indoor Games. She rebounded exactly one week later in Stuttgart where she clocked 8:23.72, demolishing Liliya Shobukhova’s year-old standard record by more than four seconds.
But that sizable improvement would dwarf what was to come at the Bislett Games, the Golden League opener, in Oslo on 15 June. There she produced a jaw-dropping 14:16.63 clocking, an effort which knocked nearly eight seconds from her own World record from 2006.
“No, I had no doubts,” Defar said. “I didn’t think I would break the record by such a big margin, but I was aiming under 14:20. So I think I did a good job.”
Just 12 days later a solid 14:30.18 performance in Ostrava followed, and in mid July she added the All Africa Games 5000 title to her massive collection, her final tune-up before striking Osaka gold. She capped her season with a brisk 8:27.24 3000m victory at the World Athletics Final in Stuttgart.
For good measure, she twice lowered the World best for the rarely-contested 2 mile distance, first in Carson in late May where she clocked 9:10.47, then again at Brussels Van Damme Memorial Golden League meeting where, in a scintillating largely solo performance, dipped under nine minutes with an 8:58.58 performance. En route she clocked a national record 8:24.51 for 3000m, the year’s fastest run outdoors. After her fourth World record or World best of the year, Defar understated in Brussels, “Yes, this year has been great.”
Gay blasts to the front
In 2006, Tyson Gay emerged from a crowded field as history’s fastest combined 100/200m sprinter, while consistently giving chase to 100m World record holder Asafa Powell. In their eagerly awaited showdown in Osaka this season, Gay finally chased down and decisively beat the Jamaican to win the world 100m title to claim his stake for the title of world’s fastest man.
His 9.85 victory in Japan was but one phenomenal performance by the American who is now firmly targeting Olympic gold in Beijing.
Gay began the season on a rampage of speed, taking wind-aided 9.79 and 9.76 victories at home in Carson and New York. In late June, he underscored his role as the top U.S. sprinter after a sensational double victory in Indianapolis, first taking the 100 in 9.84 to equal his personal best, then following up with a 19.62 victory in the 200, a career best and a performance that would remain the fastest of the year.
After a brief period of rest and recuperation from some minor aches and strains, he returned with a solid 19.78 200m victory in chilly and wet conditions in Lausanne, and finished his Osaka build-up with a pair of 100m victories in Sheffield and London. Then it was onward to Osaka.
In the season’s most eagerly-anticipated battle, Gay powered to 100m gold in 9.85, leaving Powell a well-beaten third. It was his first victory ever over the Jamaican on one of the world’s biggest stages, with Gay declaring, “I think for this year it makes me the fastest man in the world.”
Next up was the 200 where Gay had no peer. He took a decisive 19.76 victory, breaking World record holder Michael Johnson’s championships record. Running the third leg on the U.S 4x100m relay squad, Gay added a third gold after the American quartet sped to a 37.78 win. He became just the fourth man to take triple gold at a single World Championships. In all, he won 11 of his 12 competitions in the 100 and 200, producing one of the finest competitive records in the sport in 2007.
2007 competitions of the male and female World Athletes of the Year (finals only):
Tyson Gay -
9.79w 1 Carson CA 20 May
9.76w 1 New York NY 2 Jun
9.84 1 Indianapolis IN 22 Jun
10.13 1 Sheffield 15 Jul
10.02 1 London 3 Aug
9.85 1 Osaka 26 Aug
10.02 2 Shanghai 28 Sep
10.23 1 Yokohama 30 Sep
19.97 1 Kingston 5 May
19.62 1 Indianapolis IN 24 Jun
19.78 1 Lausanne 10 Jul
19.76 1 Osaka 30 Aug
Meseret Defar -
8:30.31i 1 Boston 27 Jan
8:23.72i WR 1 Stuttgart 3 Feb
8:24.51* NR Bruxelles 14 Sep
8:27.24 1 Stuttgart 23 Sep
9:10.47 WB 1 Carson CA 20 May
8:58.58 WB 1 Bruxelles 14 Sep
14:16.63 WR 1 Oslo 15 Jun
14:30.18 1 Ostrava 27 Jun
15:02.72 1 Alger 18 Jul
14:57.91 1 Osaka 1 Sep
14:49.06 1 Shanghai 28 Sep
* en route performance
Bob Ramsak for the IAAF