RALEIGH, North Carolina (Reuters) - A young Kenyan provided athletics’ biggest breakthrough in a year when injuries and American Tyson Gay bested Usain Bolt.
Twice in one week, David Rudisha, 21 at the time, shattered the 800 metres world record that had stood for 13 years.
“Fantastic,” said Rudisha who became the first Kenyan, and the youngest man, to be named the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) athlete of the year after his hot August runs of one minute 41.09 seconds and 1:41.01 eclipsed Wilson Kipketer’s 1997 mark of 1:41.11.
“This is a happy moment and I think this is only the beginning,” Rudisha said upon returning home.
Gold medals will be his next target as the African champion takes aim at victories in the 2011 world championships and 2012 London Olympics.
“Running under 1:40 is far away,” said the lanky runner. “But I think 1:40 is possible.”
Such barrier-breaking had been the norm for Jamaican Bolt until 2010.
The 100 and 200 metres world-record holder was twice felled by injuries, prematurely ending his season after Gay’s stunning triumph in the Stockholm Diamond League meeting.
“It was crazy,” Gay, the world’s second fastest man and 2007 world double sprint champion who was runner-up to Bolt over 100 metres in 2009, told Reuters recently.
“It was like I didn’t even exist until I beat the world-record holder.”
The victory, in 9.84 seconds to Bolt’s 9.97, was Gay’s first over the Jamaican in three tries at 100 metres. The American, though, holds a 6-2 edge at 200 metres.
“Both of us were not at our best but I felt I could come out with the victory,” said Gay, who will be ranked number one at 100 metres after running two of the season’s top three times.
Bolt did not compete after Stockholm because of a back injury. His late-season absence, and a rash of other injuries, thwarted ambitious plans by the newly-minted Diamond League to bring more head-to-head competition to the sport.
Bolt (sidelined earlier with Achilles problems), Gay (hamstring) and former Jamaican world record holder Asafa Powell (back) were all out of action at some point.
Ethiopian 5,000 and 10,000 world-record holder Kenenisa Bekele and American 400 metres world champion Sanya Richards-Ross missed the 14-meeting series due to injuries.
Another headliner, Russian pole vault world-record holder Yelena Isinbayeva, took leave from all 2010 outdoor competition for a much-needed rest, and injured Cuban 110 metres hurdles record holder Dayron Robles limited his appearances.
Isinbayeva’s break came after she shockingly failed to get a medal at the world indoor championships after winning the previous three titles.
Nagging leg problems led to Robles’s early shutdown. The result was just one meeting with red-hot new American record holder David Oliver who had the year’s five fastest times.
U.S. Olympic and world 400 metres champion LaShawn Merritt also missed the season after failing three tests for prohormones of the banned male sex hormone testosterone.
Merritt, whose lawyer said an over-the-counter male enhancement product caused the violations, was suspended for 21 months and will miss the 2011 world championships in Daegu, South Korea.
At the European Championships, France’s Christophe Lemaitre showed promise for the future by winning continental titles at 100 and 200 metres and the 4x100 metres relay.
The triumphs came a month after the 20-year-old become the first white man to run the 100 metres in under 10 seconds.
Another Frenchman produced the only world record of the world indoor championships.
Teddy Tamgho reached 17.90 metres on his final triple jump to erase by seven centimetres the joint record of Cuban Aliecer Urrutia (1997) and Swede Christian Olsson (2004).
Months later, China’s Liu Xiang also had reason to smile as the returning former world record holder and Olympic champion won the Asian Games 110 metres hurdles title in 13.09 seconds.
Equally emotional moments came from marathoner Haile Gebrselassie and high jumper Blanka Vlasic.
IAAF female athlete of the year Vlasic brought Croatia to its feet with her best performance of the season at the IAAF Continental Cup in her native Split.
“One of my biggest dreams came true that evening,” said the twice world indoor and outdoor champion. “Running the victory lap I was very emotional. It’s something I’ll never forget.”
Tears flowed from Gebrselassie for a different reason.
Shortly after dropping out of November’s New York City Marathon, an injured Gebrselassie shocked reporters by announcing he was retiring at the age of 37.
The departure proved short-lived, though, for the 27-times world-record holder.
Within days of returning to Ethiopia, Gebrselassie announced he would continue.
“Everyone in Ethiopia was passionate and wanted me to be back,” said the revered runner.
Editing by Clare Fallon