INDIANAPOLIS - Tyson Gay and Sanya Richards on Thursday were named winners of the 2009 Jesse Owens Awards by USA Track & Field. This marks the second time in their careers that Gay and Richards have earned this prestigious distinction. Gay initially won the award in 2007, and Richards was the recipient in 2006.
Established in 1981, the Jesse Owens Award is USA Track & Field's highest accolade, presented annually to the outstanding U.S. male and female track and field performers. This year's awards will be presented on Saturday, December 5 at the Jesse Owens Awards and Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, held at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Indianapolis, Ind. The event is held in conjunction with USA Track & Field's 2009 Annual Meeting.
Jesse Owens became one of the most iconic figures in sports history when he won four gold medals at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, Germany, while conducting himself at all times with grace and dignity. Owens, who with his remarkable performances forever destroyed Adolf Hitler's notions of Aryan supremacy, was remembered fondly at the 2009 World Athletics Championships in Berlin at the Olympic Stadium where he became an international star.
All Team USA athletes who competed in the championships proudly wore the letters "JO" on their competition singlets to pay homage to Owens, and they also wore 1936-inspired throwback apparel provided by Nike. Additionally, a USA Track & Field initiative brought Owens' granddaughter Marlene Dortch and family members of 1936 German Olympic long jump silver medalist Luz Long together to present the medals to the men's long jumpers in Berlin, an event won by American Dwight Phillips.
"All of us at USA Track & Field congratulate Tyson and Sanya on winning the Jesse Owens Award, particularly in a year when the legacy of Jesse Owens was at the forefront of all our minds," said USATF CEO Doug Logan. "Like this award's namesake, Sanya and Tyson in 2009 conducted themselves like champions in both victory and defeat. Although still young, they already rank among this country's all-time great track athletes, and we look forward to watching them for years to come."
Gay never better than in 2009
Although he suffered from a nagging groin injury that hampered him during the majority of the 2009 outdoor season, Tyson Gay put on an amazing display of sprinting that will not soon be forgotten.
A triple gold medalist at the 2007 World Outdoor Championships in Osaka, Japan, Gay suffered a hamstring injury at the 2008 Olympic Trials that kept him from performing at his best at the Olympic Games in Beijing. Gay leaped back on to the world stage in a major way in 2009 by posting the then third-fastest time ever in the men's 200 meters with his win at the May 30 Reebok Invitational in New York in 19.58 seconds.
Also last summer, Gay equaled or improved upon his American 100-meter record a remarkable three times within a three-month time frame. Gay equaled his American record of 9.77 seconds with his July 10 win at the Golden Gala in Rome, running the identical time he first posted at the 2008 Olympic Trials in Eugene, Ore.
In capturing the silver medal at the World Athletics Championships in Berlin, Gay lowered his AR to 9.71 seconds before lowering it again to 9.69 seconds with his commanding win in Shanghai on September 20. In 2009, Gay posted the second, third and fourth-fastest 100m times in the world that season, and he is currently tied with Jamaica's Usain Bolt for the second-fastest time ever recorded in the men's 100 meters of 9.69 seconds. He also owns the third-fastest 100m time ever of 9.71. Gay's 200m time of 19.58 from the 2009 Reebok Grand Prix ranks as the fifth-fastest in history.
"After competing in Berlin's Olympic Stadium, I better understand what Jesse Owens accomplished and where and how he did it," said Gay. "I learned that he is not only a hero for Americans like me, but he is a guy that is still respected by people around the world for the way he acted on and off the track. This is why I am honored that the media and track fans chose me for this award and look forward to accepting it in Indianapolis next month."
Richards wins world title
2005 World Outdoor Championships silver medalist Sanya Richards entered the 2009 campaign as the #1 world ranked women's 400m runner by Track & Field News over the last four years. Recognized worldwide as the dominant force in her event, Richards had yet to capture the elusive individual Olympic or World Outdoor Championships title needed to fill a nagging hole in her glittering resume.
The 2008 Olympic Games bronze medalist, Richards was even with Russia's Antonina Krivoshapka with 200 meters to go in 400m final at the 2009 World Athletics Championships in Berlin. After leaving Krivoshapka behind, Richards still had to hold off a strong challenge from Jamaica's Shericka Williams down the final stretch.
Richards broke away from Williams with 70 meters to go and ran by her lonesome the rest of the way to victory, crossing the finish line in the third-fastest time in the world this season of 49.00 seconds. With her victory, Richards joined Jearl Miles (2003, Stuttgart) as the only Americans ever to win the women's 400 meters at a World Outdoor Championships.
Richards, who ran the anchor leg on Team USA's gold medal winning 4x400m relay team (3:17.83, World leader), finished the season with the four fastest women's 400m times in the world this year, and her world-leading time of 48.83 seconds from her win in Brussels, Belgium, earned her a share of the IAAF Golden League Jackpot for the third time in her career. Richards' performance in Brussels equaled the second-best time ever by an American first posted by National Track & Field Hall of Famer Valerie Brisco-Hooks in winning the gold medal at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles.
"To be named the recipient of the Jesse Owens Award, having earned my first world title in the very same stadium where he became a legend, is an honor," said Richards. "His history-making accomplishments inspire me to continue to work hard at making my mark on the sport of track and field."
About the Jesse Owens Award
2009 Jesse Owens Award winners were selected in balloting of members of the U.S. track and field media, and for the first time ever a fan vote was held on the USATF website that comprised 10% of the total vote. Other finalists for the men's Jesse Owens Award were Christian Cantwell, Kerron Clement, Trey Hardee, Bernard Lagat, LaShawn Merritt and Dwight Phillips. Women's finalists included Jenny Barringer, Allyson Felix, Carmelita Jeter and Brittney Reese.
The permanent commemorative Jesse Owens Award is maintained at USATF National Headquarters, and a replica is provided to each of the winners. Previous winners are Edwin Moses (1981), Carl Lewis (1982 and 1991), Mary Decker (1983), Joan Benoit (1984), Willie Banks (1985), Jackie Joyner-Kersee (1986 and 1987), Florence Griffith Joyner (1988), Roger Kingdom (1989), Lynn Jennings (1990), Kevin Young (1992), Gail Devers (1993, 1996), Michael Johnson (1994, 1995, 1996), Allen Johnson (1997), Marion Jones (1997, 1998), John Godina (1998, 2001), Inger Miller (1999), Maurice Greene (1999), Stacy Dragila (2000 and 2001), Angelo Taylor (2000), Khalid Khannouchi (2002), Deena Kastor (2003), Tom Pappas (2003), Justin Gatlin (2004 and 2005), Joanna Hayes (2004), Allyson Felix (2005 and 2007); Sanya Richards (2006, 2009), Jeremy Wariner (2006), Tyson Gay (2007, 2009), Bryan Clay (2008) and Stephanie Brown Trafton (2008).
For full biographies of Tyson Gay and Sanya Richards, visit the Athlete Bios section of USATF.org.
About USA Track & Field
USA Track & Field (USATF) is the National Governing Body for track and field, long-distance running and race walking in the United States. USATF encompasses the world's oldest organized sports, some of the most-watched events of Olympic broadcasts, the #1 high school and junior high school participatory sport and more than 30 million adult runners in the United States.
For more information on USATF, visit USATF.org.