Australian pole vaulter Paul Burgess, who on Sunday soared to 5.91m to place second at Perth's major annual track and field meeting, claimed The West Australian ANZ Sports Star of the Year title for 2006 on Tuesday night to complete a dazzling 72-hour period of time (link).
Burgess won the award for the first time, and is only the eighth athletics recipient in the 51 year history of the annual honour voted upon by a committee of sports writers from The West Australian and members of the WA Sports Federation, an award for Western Australian sportspeople.
The annual award has been running since 1956 and is chaired by Ron Alexander, director-general of the Department of Sport and Recreation in Australia.
Fittingly, the last track and field recipient was pole vaulter Dmitri Markov (2001), whose coach, Alex Parnov, now coaches both Burgess and Steven Hooker, his training partner who also cleared 5.91m in winning the vault in Perth. 2003 IAAF world champion Giuseppe Gibilisco of Italy relocated to Perth in October to work with Parnov, and has moved into Burgess' house (link).
Parnov, who guided Markov to the IAAF 2001 World Championship (6.05m, NR), was praised by Burgess.
“Without him nothing in my career would be the same,” he said.
Shirley de la Hunty, who won three Olympic golds, a silver and three bronzes, was the first track and field athlete to pick up the honour, earning the title in 1957, the second time The West Australian ANZ Sports Star of the Year award was handed out. Herb Elliott (1958), Dixie Willis (1962), Joyce Bennett (1963), John Gilmour (1974), Dean Capobianco (1993) and Dmitri Markov (2001) are the other track and field athletes who've won the award.
Burgess' mark at the Drug Free Track and Field Classic on Sunday propelled him to the number one ranking in equalling his best of last year, when he held that distinction for much of the season until losing his position to Hooker in Stuttgart.
With a $30,000 (Australian) bonus having been offered to beat Markov's national record on Sunday, Hooker and Burgess had the bar raised to 6.06m, a height which neither was able to successfully manage. Hooker won the event on countback and fewer misses.
World record holder Sergey Bubka (6.14m) is the only athlete to have ever cleared that height, having done so an incredible nine times, and tied 6.05m on four other occasions.
Markov is not alone in the Australian 6-metre club, as Burgess became the second Aussie - and the 13th in the world - to enter the exclusive club his vault in Perth in 2005 — the only time the height has ever been been cleared in Australia.
Burgess’ victory in the world athletics final at Stuttgart last September earned him the biggest payday of his career after he nudged American Toby Stevenson and German Tim Lobinger on a countback at 5.82m for the $40,000 first prize. Burgess' victory was a redemption of sorts, as he had lost his position as number one Australian vaulter to Hooker at the World Cup — an event in which Burgess did not compete.
Burgess had three IAAF ranking-meet wins in 2006, taking home firsts in Osaka (5.75m), Rome (5.82m) and Stuttgart (5.82m). He twice finished second (Zürich, 5.85m and Berlin 5.91m), and had a third place finish in Athens (5.75m) to land him 1357 points, good enough for second in the yearly rankings.
Hooker had four wins in IAAF ranking meets, taking home the Commonwealth gold (5.80m), as well as wins in Helsinki (5.83m), Berlin (5.96m) and Athens (5.80m). His finished second in two other IAAF meetings, Rome (5.77m) and Zürich (5.85m) to collect 1359 points, two ahead of Burgess when the final was tallied following the close of the 2006 season.
The pair's one-two world rankings was the first for Australians had achieved the feat since 1968 when Maureen Caird and Pam Ryan (nee Kilborn) won gold and silver in the 80m hurdles at the Mexico Olympics, running 10,49(A) and 10,46(A), respectively.
Burgess cleared 5.80m in 10 athletics meetings last season. Hooker managed the feat eight times.
Burgess has had mixed international success, having won the gold medal at the 1996 IAAF World Junior Championships in Sydney (5.35m PB), and finishing third in Annecy (5.20m).
He has twice finished second at the Commonwealth Games (5.50m in 1998, and 5.70m in 2002), and has a silver medal from the 2001 East Asian Games (5.50m) to add to his championship collection. However, Burgess has yet to make it to the Olympic medal stand. The other finalists up for the West Australian ANZ Sports Star of the Year award were vaulter Kym Howe and 400m sprinter John Steffensen, Amber Bradley of rowing, Bevan George of hockey, Eagles premiership captain Chris Judd, Clayton Fredericks of equestrian eventing, Daria Joura of gymnastics, Australian middle-order batsman Michael Hussey and cyclists Peter Dawson, Ryan Bayley and Sam Hill.
For more on pole vaulting, check out Pole Vault Power.