Athlete of Year & Perfmance of Year: Gay, Defar & Powell, Vlasic

Athletics stars Gay and Defar take top IAAF awards

MONACO (AFP) — World champion sprinter Tyson Gay of the United States and Ethiopian middle-distance starlet Meseret Defar were on Sunday named by athletics’ world governing body, the IAAF, as the top athletes of 2007.

Gay claimed a sprint double at the world championships in Osaka in August, and also helped the US 4x100m relay team to victory to become only the fourth man to win three titles at a single world meet.

Gay, 25, won the 100m in 9.85 seconds, then captured the 200m in 19.76sec and ran the third leg on a relay that was triumphant in 37.78 seconds.

Gay said he would now target the 100m world record, currently held by Jamaica’s Asafa Powell.

“To follow in Carl Lewis’s footsteps (the first winner of the IAF Athlete of the Year) is just a great honour,” he said.

“I think for this year (winning the World Championships) makes me the fastest man in the world, but I honestly think that I need to have the world record like some of the other great sprinters like Carl Lewis, Maurice Greene. I think that sets you apart, having medals and having the world record.”

Defar, the 23-year-old reigning Olympic champion over 5,000 metres, has been in startling form on the track, winning all her races this season and setting two world records and a world best.

She set world records of 14:16.63 for the 5000m at the Bislett Games in Oslo in June, and 8:23.72 for the indoor 3000m in Stuttgart in February.

In May, she also ran two miles, a distance not recognised by the International Olympic Committee, at Carson in a world record time of 9:10.47.

Defar, who won 5000m gold at the Osaka World Championships, said: "This is very special for me. This is very special for Ethiopian women.

“Those who struggle very hard and who don’t have very many opportunities to achieve the highest levels of athletics. So I dedicate this award to them.”

The 2007 Performances of the Year award was presented to Jamaica’s Powell for his world record breaking 100m performance of 9.74sec in Rieti, Italy, and Croatian high-jumper Blanka Vlasic for her 2.07m third all-time best clearance in Stockholm.