Kenyan 800-meter runner David Rudisha and Croatian high jumper Blanka Vlasic have won the IAAF World Athlete of the Year award. The 21-year-old Rudisha became the youngest athlete to ever win the award and succeeded Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt on Sunday after breaking Wilson Kipketer's 13-year-old world record twice within eight days in August. Bolt missed the latter part of the season because of tightness in his lower back and was not nominated.
Rudisha clocked 1 minute, 41.01 seconds in the two-lap race on Aug. 29 at the Rieti meeting, shaving 0.08 seconds off the mark he set in Berlin the week before.
"I knew when I broke the record there will be a possibility I would be rewarded with this award and it's now a dream come true," Rudisha said.
Kipketer of Denmark set the previous mark of 1:41.11 in 1997 in Cologne, Germany. Vlasic won the world indoor championships and was also crowned European champion this year. She won 18 out of 20 competitions in 2010 and posted a season best of 2.05 meters.
American 400-meter runner Sanya Richards won the women's award last year. Rudisha and Vlasic, who both won the award for the first time, each defeated four other candidates on the shortlist voted for by nearly 1,800 athletes, officials and journalists.
Both will receive $100,000 checks, despite track and field's governing body pondering this week whether to cancel the bonuses because of its financial problems.
"I can guarantee they will receive their checks," IAAF president Lamine Diack told The Associated Press.
"We need to make cuts but I decided today they will get paid, we won't touch the athletes' bonuses." Rudisha said he started to think about the world record last year after breaking Sammy Koskei's 25-year-old African record in difficult weather conditions.
"I told my coach and we decided to try in Berlin because I felt I was ready to try for it," said the former world junior champion. "That is how we planned for it." Rudisha said he will now try to run the distance in 1:40 but his main goal will be to win a gold medal at world championships next year then at the 2012 Olympics.
Kipketer said it's too early to say whether Rudisha will be the first man to go under the 1:40 barrier.
"The door is open for someone to run that time and I'm not putting the pressure on him because I think anybody can come along," Kipketer said. "In two years time we will see. There's young people coming now running 1:42 so is too early to say that." Rudisha said the crowd support was a key element when he first claimed the record.
"When I was running, the pacemaker would only get me to 450 meters or possibly 500, then the last 300 I was alone," he said.
"The only thing you could hear and see was the crowd cheering and you realize you are running fast and you need to push. In Berlin, the crowd was crazy and I said: 'Oh my God. The last 100 I have to push because I feel I'm going to do something."' Vlasic, the reigning world indoor and outdoor champion, said she struggled all season both mentally and physically.
"All my wins were victories against my weaknesses, against my demons and against the other girls," she said.
"It was a fight against myself. Every time I enter a competition, I want to give 100 percent because sports is all about winning. Winning is one of my basic instincts and sometimes it's exhausting." Vlasic is still looking to break the world record in her sport, having failed in all her attempts to match the 2.09 meters set 23 years ago by Stefka Kostadinova.
"It's very hard, very high, but not impossible," Vlasic said. "It's like a perfect pair of shoes in a store when you are a child. They are there, they look so nice and you want them so much. But some day, you know, you'll have the opportunity to buy them." Vlasic said she will not compete this winter and will skip the whole indoor season as part of her preparations for the 2011 world championships at Daegu, South Korea.
"It will good for me to take a little rest, mostly mentally," she said. "There are very important competitions looming, the world championships, then the Olympics. I think I won't loose to much and will gain a lot. I already started training and will be able to take a fresh start in May."