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Who is the athlete of the noughties?

Clockwise from top left: Radcliffe, Holmes, Edwards and Idowu

Mark Butler
By Mark Butler
BBC Sport's athletics statistician

Now is the time of year when fans and writers vote on their athletes of the year and, looking back on the 2009 season, that is a pretty easy job.

But, after 10 years of the 'noughties', how about picking an athlete of the decade?

For 2009, from a British point of view, there can be no other candidates than our Berlin world champions Phillips Idowu and Jessica Ennis.

Similarly the world male athlete of the year will certainly be judged to be Usain Bolt.

Among women, 400m runner Sanya Richards, shot putter Valerie Vili and high jumper Blanka Vlasic ought to be vying for the honour.

As athletes of the decade, Bekele and Isinbayeva are reasonably clear picks but who are the best British male and female athletes since 2000?

It may be that New Zealander Vili gets the nod as she was the only one of these three without a defeat in 2009, and her 21.07m mark at the World Athletics Final represents a greater level of superiority than the other candidates.

As to athletes of the decade, taking as a shortlist the yearly choices by Track & Field News , I feel that Kenenisa Bekele and Yelena Isinbayeva emerge as reasonably clear picks.

Each have multiple Olympic and world golds and world records spanning most of the decade.

A more difficult question is who are the best British male and female athletes since 2000? I am using as a guide the yearly choices of the British Association of Athletics Writers .

Do we go for Kelly Holmes or Paula Radcliffe for the women?

And who to choose among the men? There have been eight different British male athletes of the year including all four members of the Olympic-gold winning sprint relay team in 2004.

In addition to the BAWA selections I would also shortlist Colin Jackson, Dean Macey, Tasha Danvers, Lisa Dobriskey, Ashia Hansen and Kelly Sotherton because of their excellent championship showings throughout the decade.


I would argue that Holmes's Olympic middle distance double of 2004 was the high point of Britain's athletics decade.

She also won other big medals from 2000-03 before retiring in 2005.

Radcliffe has had a lesser showing at the Olympics but has won several world titles on the road and in cross-country.

In 2003 she set a world marathon record which has been described as the greatest performance in the history of women's athletics.

In this decade, no other British male athlete has matched the Olympic performance by triple jumper Jonathan Edwards.

He won gold in Sydney and went on to take world and Commonwealth golds in 2001/2002 before retiring in 2003.

GB's 2004 relay team
Gardener, Campbell, Devonish and Lewis Francis gained a joint award

Jason Gardener, Darren Campbell and Marlon Devonish were all individual athletes of various years, in addition to their 2004 share with Mark Lewis Francis.

Gardener won five world or European titles indoors at 60m; Campbell took Olympic 200m silver and world 100m bronze and Devonish became world indoor 200m champion in 2003.

Steve Backley, too, won Olympic silver in Sydney and returned to place fourth in Athens before retiring.

Idowu has a strong case. Like Edwards he has world and Commonwealth golds. Is his lack of an Olympic gold offset by his world and European titles indoors?

To help answer these questions I have used a system of points, based on that used by Mel Watman in his definitive compilation of the greatest ever British athletes by event.

Points are awarded for championships and world records, with the highest reward given to placings at Olympic Games and world championships.

The points say that our athletes of the decade are Phillips Idowu and Paula Radcliffe.

The chart shows that Radcliffe's six world titles (half marathon in 2000, '01 and '03, cross country in 2001 and '02 and marathon in 2005) and her two world marathon records (2002 and '03) have pushed her score beyond that of Holmes.

Similarly Idowu's medals from 2006-09 convert into a greater overall score than Edwards, with Gardener and Campbell close behind.

I'd be the first to admit these statistics can't tell the whole story, though. I would welcome your alternative suggestions .

British Athletes of The Year since 2000 (according to the BAWA)

2000 Jonathan Edwards, Denise Lewis

2001 Jonathan Edwards, Paula Radcliffe

2002 Dwain Chambers*, Paula Radcliffe

2003 Darren Campbell, Paula Radcliffe

2004 Men's 4x100m relay (Jason Gardener, Darren Campbell, Mark Lewis Francis, Marlon Devonish), Kelly Holmes

2005 Jason Gardener, Paula Radcliffe

2006 Mo Farah, Rebecca Lyne

2007 Marlon Devonish, Christine Ohuruogu

2008 Phillips Idowu, Christine Ohuruogu

* In 2002 the original selection was Chambers but, as he has since admitted to cheating in that year, I would include instead Steve Backley, who won Commonwealth and European javelin golds that season.

World Athletes of The Year since 2000 (according to "Track & Field News")

2000 Virgilijus Alekna LTU, Stacy Dragila USA

2001 Hicham El Guerrouj MAR, Stacy Dragila USA

2002 Hicham El Guerrouj MAR, Paula Radcliffe GBR

2003 Felix Sánchez DOM, Maria Mutola MOZ

2004 Kenenisa Bekele ETH, Yelena Isinbayeva RUS

2005 Kenenisa Bekele ETH, Yelena Isinbayeva RUS

2006 Asafa Powell JAM, Sanya Richards USA

2007 Tyson Gay USA, Meseret Defar ETH

2008 Usain Bolt JAM, Tirunesh Dibaba ETH

British Athletes of the Decade in points

MEN 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 Total
Phillips Idowu 8 12 8 28 16 72
Jonathan Edwards 24 24 16 64
Jason Gardener 8 11 4 18 10 8 57
Darren Campbell 16 15 12 6 3 52
Steve Backley 16 24 8 48
Marlon Devonish 15 12 6 2 7 2 2 46
Dean Macey 8 8 8 12 36
Colin Jackson 28 28
Mark Lewis Francis 4 4 6 2 3 2 21
Mo Farah 8 8 16

Considering only those nominated as British athletes of the year plus Backley, Jackson and Macey

WOMEN 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 Total
Paula Radcliffe 20 36 52 28 16 152
Kelly Holmes 12 16 20 48 96
Christine Ohuruogu 2 2 12 18 24 1 59
Kelly Sotherton 12 4 12 12 16 56
Ashia Hansen 28 12 40
Lisa Dobriskey 12 8 12 32
Jessica Ennis 4 4 16 24
Denise Lewis 24 24
Tasha Danvers 8 12 20
Rebecca Lyne 4 4

Considering only those nominated as British athletes of the year plus Danvers, Dobriskey, Hansen and Sotherton

Points system
(Relays divided by four)
Olympics: 1st - 24 points, 2nd - 16, 3rd - 12, 4th - 8
World Champs: 1st - 16, 2nd - 12, 3rd - 8, 4th - 4
European Champs: 1st - 12, 2nd - 8, 3rd - 4
Commonwealth Games: 1st - 12, 2nd - 8, 3rd - 4
World Indoor/Cross Country/Road Championships: 1st - 12, 2nd - 8, 3rd - 4
European Indoor Championships: 1st - 8, 2nd - 4, 3rd - 2
World record (from 2000): 16

see also
Life without Paula
08 Oct 09 |  Athletics
World athletics predictions
13 Aug 09 |  Athletics
When Boxer set the standard
04 Aug 09 |  Athletics
Richards set for 400m landmark
09 Jul 09 |  Athletics
Medals, money or both?
12 Jun 09 |  Athletics
GB women show Berlin credentials
03 Jun 09 |  Athletics
When is a record not a record?
19 Feb 09 |  Athletics

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