French pole vaulter Renaud Lavillenie and New Zealand shot putter Valerie Adams won the IAAF Athlete of the Year awards, becoming the first athletes from their nations to win track and field’s highest annual honor.
Lavillenie, the 28-year-old Olympic champion, broke the pole vault world record with a 6.16m clearance Feb. 15. Ukraine legend Sergey Bubka had held the mark since 1992.
Lavillenie won the award over fellow finalists Qatar high jumper Mutaz Barshim and Kenyan marathoner Dennis Kimetto. Jamaican Usain Bolt had won Male Athlete of the Year five of the previous six years.
“We’re used to seeing Usain Bolt for the last five years, so it’s a big difference,” Lavillenie said. “I’m much, much smaller, but I’m very, very proud.”
Lavillenie is the first men’s pole vaulter to win an Athlete of the Year. Women’s pole vaulters Stacy Dragila and Yelena Isinbayeva have also won.
Adams, a two-time Olympic shot put champion, has won 56 straight competitions dating to 2010. She was a finalist for Female Athlete of the Year the previous three years before winning for the first time Friday.
“I really want to scream,” Adams said. “I’ll save it for later. … It is the icing on the cake for what has been an awesome career. … I stand here as a proud New Zealander. We have four million people, but 60 million sheep.”
The other women’s finalists were Ethiopian middle distance runner Genzebe Dibaba and Dutch sprinter Dafne Schippers.
Adams is only the third thrower to win an IAAF Athlete of the Year award, which has been given since 1988. The others were javelin throwers — Brit Steve Backley in 1990 and Czech Jan Zelezny in 2000.