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Duplantis and Rojas Named World Athletics Athletes of the Year

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Armand Duplantis. Photo: Hassan Ammar/AP

By Mike Rowbottom |

Sweden’s 21-year-old pole vaulter Armand Duplantis, who set two world records this season, today became the youngest-ever Male World Athlete of the Year winner, with the Female World Athlete of the Year award going to Venezuela’s Yulimar Rojas, who set a world indoor triple jump record.

Duplantis began the year by improving upon the world record of 6.16 meters set by Renaud Lavillenie in 2014 with efforts of 6.17m and 6.18m, and on November 10 he broke the 26-year-old outdoor world record of 6.14m set by Ukraine’s Sergei Bubka when he cleared 6.15m in Rome.

The United States-based Swede – whose parents Greg and Helena also received the Coaching Achievement of the Year award – was not the only record-breaker in the shortlist of five.

“This is a double surprise,” said Duplantis after the awards had been handed over at his family home in Louisiana by Trinidad and Tobago’s 1997 world 200 metres world champion Ato Boldon, co-hosting an event that combined recorded and live footage with the London 2012 400m champion Sandra Richards-Ross of the US.

“It was a really strange season, for me and everybody, but I was able to put it together and get some pretty good results,” added Duplantis, who received the Rising Star Award in 2018.

“I just wanted to go out there and show the world what I was capable of and put my name out there with some big performances. 

“I was able to do that and had some good heights, especially during the indoor season.

“When everything got shut down and things were pushed back to the end of the season, I was able to find some good form there as well which, for me, was more impressive than my indoor season because I’d had two months off.”

The men’s field also included the Ugandan phenomenon Joshua Cheptegei, who broke three marks as he ran 12min 51sec for 5 kilometers on the road before turning to the track to set a world 5000m record with 12:35.36 and then a best-ever 10,000m mark with 26:11.00.

Of the other shortlisted male athletes, Norway’s world 400m hurdles champion Karsten Warholm remained unbeaten all season, missing the 28-year-old world record of 46.78sec set by Kevin Young of the US by just 0.09 in Stockholm, where he hit the final hurdle.

American Olympic shot put champion Ryan Crouser, who was undefeated in 10 events, set a 2020 world-leading performance of 22.91 metres that moved him to equal third on the world all-time list.

Johannes Vetter of Germany won all but one of his nine javelin competitions this year and produced the second-best throw of all time in September with 97.76m, 72cm short of the world record set by Czech Jan Železný in 1996.

The women’s award was something of a surprise given that the exuberant 25-year-old Rojas – who said she can not just break the current world record of 15.50m but become the first woman to beat the 16m barrier – faced competition from three other women who had broken world records this year.

Letesenbet Gidey of Ethiopia registered a world 5,000m record of 14min 06.62sec at the Valencia World Record Day event in Spain in October.

Peres Jepchirchir of Kenya bettered her own world record for a women-only race when she won the world half-marathon title in Gdynia in Poland, clocking 1 hour 5min 16sec.

Sifan Hassan of The Netherlands set a world record in the one-hour track event at Brussels, covering a distance of 18,930 metres, and also set a European 10,000m record with a time of 29:36.67, the fourth-fastest in history.

But Rojas – coached by the former Cuban Olympic and world champion Ivan Pedroso – got the nod after a year in which she broke the indoor triple jump record, leaping 15.43 metres.

That has only been better outdoors once, when Inessa Kravets of Ukraine set the current world record of 15.50m at the 1995 World Championships.

Rojas, named as World Athletics Rising Star award winner in 2017, was also unbeaten all year – but was clearly overwhelmed when the decision was announced.

Covering her face with her hands on a live link, she exclaimed: “I didn’t expect this! 

“It’s such a joy!”

The award will serve as additional “encouragement for me for 2021”, Rojas added, and revealed she could also compete in the long jump at Tokyo 2020..

“Every day I wake up to train for the target of the Tokyo Games next year – the energy and the focus are always there.

“I believe 2021 will be even better for me, and I am ready to give everything at the Olympic Games.”

Reflecting upon her 15.43 performance in Madrid on February 21 this year, Rojas said she had achieved the mark because she was not concentrating upon how far she would go, but rather upon the mechanics of the jump.

“When I saw that Ivan was more nervous than me before the competition I knew something big was in the air.

“15.50 is something I can do – but my ambition is to become the first woman to break 16 metres.

“I know I can do it because I am young and I am still improving.”

A three-way voting process determined this year’s finalists, with the World Athletics Council and the World Athletics Family casting their votes by email and fans selecting their favourite on social media.

The COVID Inspiration Award went to France’s former world pole vault record holder, Renaud Lavillenie, who came up with the idea of the Ultimate Garden Clash events, where athletes competed with each other in separate locations, sometimes their own back gardens, linked by video.

Speaking after presenting his parents with the Coaching Achievement of the Year honour, Duplantis said he is “nothing without them”.

Asked what had helped him to achieve the records in 2020, Duplantis’ father responded: “I think he has been a lot more focused this year, but he has always had a really good attitude towards competition.”

Mother Helena added that the fact Duplantis had finished high school, and had also spent a lot of time at home this year, had helped him concentrate on his eating and sleeping.

“Physically there is still so much more he can improve upon,” she said.

“He hasn’t been over-trained or over-worked – I think there is still more to come.”

The Athletics Photograph of the Year Award went to Michael Steele, of Getty Images, for a picture of young Kenyan children taking part in a cross country event in Eldoret.

The Member Federations of the Year award was won by the Polish Athletics Association, which was responsible for hosting the World Half Marathon Championships.

The Athletes Community Award was given to athletics clubs around the world for their efforts in keeping the sport going despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

Republished with permission from insidethegames.biz.

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