Boxer Manny Pacquiao (left) and Russian pole vaulter Yelena Isinbaeva
Two outstanding international athletes, each with strong cases to be considered the best-ever in their respective sports, have been named the 2009 United States Sports Academy’s Male and Female Athletes of the Year.
Boxer Manny Pacquiao of the Philippines and Russian pole vaulter Yelena Isinbaeva were selected through a worldwide ballot that saw the public cast more than 1.9 million votes thanks to distribution through the websites of NBC Sports and USA Today.
The Academy’s international reach has always been strong, and that was reflected in the final vote results. Each of the top three finishers on the men’s and women’s sides hailed from countries other than the United States.
The Athlete of the Year competition consisted of 12 male and 12 female candidates from around the world, representing a dozen countries. And as the resumes of the runners-up show, the field had plenty of tremendous candidates.
Finishing second in the men’s balloting was Swiss tennis star Roger Federer, who won his record 15th Grand Slam title at Wimbledon, less than a month after completing the career Grand Slam at the French Open. In third place was another amazing 2009 performer, Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt. Already the defending Olympic champion in the events, Bolt stunned the sports landscape at the world track and field championships by lowering his already world-record times in the 100 and 200. Bolt won the 100 in 9.58 seconds and the 200 in 19.19, lowering each mark by a stunning .11 seconds.
Still, it’s hard to fault sports fans for choosing Pacquiao in 2009. “Pac-Man” became the first boxer to win titles in seven different weight classes, claiming the light welterweight title over Ricky Hatton in May before winning the welterweight title over Miguel Cotto in November. A highly anticipated match with American Floyd Mayweather looms in early 2010. Pacquiao has a career record of 50-3-2 with 38 knockouts.
Isinbaeva, 27, says goodbye to 2009 with the outdoor (16 feet, 6 inches or 5.06 meters) and indoor (16 feet, 4 inches or 5 meters) world records. That shouldn’t be a surprise, considering she has broken 27 total during her career. But this year she became the first woman to clear 16 feet indoors, an amazing accomplishment. Among her other honors in 2009 were the Laureus World Sportswoman of the Year and the Prince of Asturias Award for Sports.
Finishing second in the women’s balloting was Mexican golfer Lorena Ochoa, who won her fourth straight Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) Player of the Year crown and fourth straight Vare Trophy for lowest scoring average. Kenyan distance runner Linet Masai placed third after winning the 10,000 meters at the world track and field championships and leading her team to first place in the World Cross Country Championships.
The Athlete of the Year ballot is the culmination of the yearlong Athlete of the Month program, which recognizes the accomplishments of men and women in sports around the globe. The Athlete of the Month is selected by an international voting committee comprised of media members and representatives of sports organizations and governing bodies.