World Athletes of the Year - Bekele and Isinbayeva (AFP / Getty Images) © Copyright
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Isinbayeva and Bekele – the weight of tragedy and expectation

MonteKeeping in tune with the “new generation” theme that emerged from last summer’s Olympic Games, Kenenisa Bekele and Yelena Isinbayeva confirmed that they are indeed that generation’s driving force after earning their second consecutive World Athlete of the Year awards.

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"Bekele and Isinbayeva win Athletes of the Year titles for second year"

Both Bekele, the reserved Ethiopian, and Isinbayeva, the ebullient Russian, are just barely 23, and like many of the sport’s current young major stars, have time and time again illustrated their ability to perform with the poise and conviction of seasoned veterans.

Bekele and Isinbayeva are the Overall IAAF World Rankings number ones as well of course dominating their own individual Event Rankings. Click here for Overall Rankings which can be downloaded in pdf format

For both, despite their dominance, staying at the top of the athletics world in 2005 had its difficulties.

Mature, wise and dominant

For Bekele, who successfully defended his World title at 10,000 metres, the season will forever be remembered as the one where he was forced to overcome great personal tragedy after his fiancée died suddenly while accompanying him on a training run. For Isinbayeva, the challenge didn’t stem from tragedy, but rather from expectations, those she herself along with others placed on her young, strong shoulders. And both ended the year more mature, more wise, and even more dominant.

Most predicted of medals

"As you know, I started the year with great grief," said Bekele. "Let alone to be eligible to be for this award, I never expected to return to competition in such a way to do this well."

But after a few early season indoor losses, it didn’t take long for Bekele to return. After he ran to his fourth consecutive double victory at the World Cross Country Championships in late March, the athletics world knew that Bekele would not only remain a force, but that he would return from the mourning of a loved one even faster and stronger.  His second consecutive World title in the 10,000 was among the most easily predicted medals in Helsinki, while his 26:17.53 World record in Brussels simply reminded the world of what an exceptional athlete we have to have the pleasure to watch.

Undefeated in 13 competitions

Meanwhile, Isinbayeva, remarkably fulfilled the expectations heaped upon from the moment she emerged as the world’s top female pole vaulter. Undefeated in 13 competitions indoors and out, Isinbayeva raised the World record in all but five of those contests, most recently to 5.01 at the World Championships to capture her first World title. Her dominance of the event is not in doubt; indeed, even her rivals readily admit that any competition in which the Russian competes is one for second. With her constant smile and down-to-earth demeanor, Isinbayeva ends the season’s as one of the sporting world’s biggest stars.

"I’m so happy to win this two years in a row," she said. "The season was so interesting for me and so difficult. It was exciting because I jumped five metres and won the world championship. I didn’t think about (winning again). I just jumped, broke World records, and won competitions. I didn’t really think that I could win this for the second time."

Thank you to his ‘team’ of supporters

Bekele was eager to thank family, friends and supporters without whom, he said, his second athlete-of-the-year honor would not have been possible.

“It’s due to the people that are around me,” he said. “There are those who have run with me during my gold medal efforts, and there are people who have cried with me during my times of grief. And I understand that it is the love of the people around me that has enabled me to reach this position. I never understood that people could be so supportive to others not just in sports, but in life. And I am very moved by this."

Sport is ultimately entertainment, an occasional but very necessary distraction from the difficulties and tragedies we all either face in our personal lives, or see each day on our televisions or in our newspapers. To have the likes of Bekele and Isinbayeva at the forefront of our sport, a pair of athletes who thrill us and even spoil us with their achievements is an extremely rare treat the Athletics world shouldn’t take for granted. How the pair will follow up in 2006 is uncertain. But if Isinbayeva’s hopes come to pass, we can be certain that we’ll remain entertained for quite a long time to come.

“I’m just so happy,” she said. “I just hope that next season will be the same as this year.”

Bob Ramsak for the IAAF

2005 competitions of the male and female World Athletes of the Year  

Kenenisa Bekele (ETH)

7:41.42i   2 Boston 29 Jan 
7:34.57    1 Lausanne 5 Jul 
7:32.59    1 WK Zürich 19 Aug  
Two Miles
8:15.49i   2 Birmingham 18 Feb  
12:40.18  1 Paris 1 Jul 
12:55.55  1 London 22 Jul  
26:28.72     1 Hengelo 29 May 
27:08.33     1 Helsinki 8 Aug 
26:17.53     1 Brussels 26 Aug  WRec*

World Cross Country Champs
11:33     1 St-Etienne/St-Galmier 19 Mar 
35:06     1 St-Etienne/St-Galmier 20 Mar

Yelena Isinbayeva (RUS)

Pole Vault
4.87i  1 Donetsk 12 Feb  WIrec
4.88i  1 Birmingham 18 Feb  WIrec
4.89i  1 Liévin 26 Feb  WIrec
4.50i   Qualification European Indoor Champs, Madrid 4 Mar 
4.90i   1 Final Madrid 6 Mar WIrec
4.93    1 Lausanne 5 Jul  Wrec
4.70    1 Réthimno 10 Jul 
4.95    1  Madrid 16 Jul  Wrec*
4.96 and 5.00  1 London 22 Jul  Wrec x 2*
4.79     1 Stockholm 26 Jul 
4.45     Qualification World Championships Helsinki 7 Aug 
5.01     1 Final Helsinki 12 Aug  Wrec*
4.93     1 Brussels 26 Aug 
4.60     1 Moscow 4 Sep 
4.74     1 Monaco 10 Sep 

*subject to ratification