Carolina Klüft, our national athletics queen who has not lost a heptathlon competition in nearly five years, was voted the female Waterford Crystal European Athlete of the Year for 2006 - the second such accomplishment in her four-year professional career.
Klüft was voted number one by a tally of three different vote criteria which was open on the European Athletics Federation's homepage (click here for full press release) up to 31-December.
Klüft collected the fewest points (four) on the tally system, three fewer than runner-up Kim Gevaert of Belgium.
The Waterford Crystal European Athlete of the Year internet poll on the European Athletics website was open to Member Federations, the media and the public through three different voting forums.
All athletes' points were calculated by adding their position in each of the three voting categories.
Klüft, who was narrowly beaten for the award last year by pole vault world-record holder Yelena Isinbayeva - four points to seven - has not had a setback in the heptathlon or indoor pentathlon since finishing third (4535) to Russia's Yelena Prokhorova (4622) and Portugal's Naide Gomes (4595) at the 2002 European Indoor Championships in Vienna.
Klüft, according to our national federation's homepage (Friidrott) as well as the EAA, is planning on defending the pentathlon crown she won in Madrid in 2005 (4948) in Birmingham in March.
"For me the sport is all about performing at the major championships and I am really looking forward to the European Athletics Indoor Championships in Birmingham" she said.
"I won the World Indoor title there in 2003 and my great rival Kelly Sotherton (GBR) will have the home crowd willing her on this time, so it will certainly be a big challenge."
Sotherton (4733) finished second to Klüft in Madrid by 215 points, with Natalya Dobrynska (4667) of the Ukraine finishing third.
The three last met here in August at the European Championships, with Klüft (6740) winning the title over Holland's Karin Ruckstuhl (6423), with Germany's Lilli Schwarzkopf (6420) earning the bronze medal.
Sotherton finished a disappointing seventh with 6290 points.
Gevaert, who won the 100m/200m European sprint double here in Göteborg (11,06/22,68), and Isinbayeva - the 2005 Waterford Crystal European Athlete of the Year winner and 2006 European pole vault champion (4,80m - Championship Record), tied for second place just ahead of reigning Olympic long jump champion Tatyana Lebedeva (Russia) and high jumpers Kajsa Bergqvist (Sweden) and Tia Hellebaut (Belgium).
Lebedeva won the triple jump (15.15m) in exciting fashion over Greece's Hrisopiyi Devetzi (15.05m), jumping a championship record on her final attempt to secure her first outdoor European Championships title.
Bergqvist and Hellebaut were part of an exciting high jump final which saw no fewer than four women successfully manage the 2.00-metre barrier.
Hellebaut won the competition with a life-time best, national- and championship record jump of 2.03m, which was equalled by Bulgaria's Venelina Veneva, who finished with a silver medal on misses. Bergqvist, the indoor world record holder after a 2.08m jump in Arnstadt earlier in the year, jumped 2.01m in front of our home crowd, good enough for third. Blanka Vlasic, who had finished second to Bergqvist in the world-record meeting, finished fourth, also at 2.01m.
Klüft first won the prestigious trophy in 2003, following a spectacular break-out year where she improved from beating the best juniors in the world to winning two IAAF world titles (indoor pentathlon and outdoor heptathlon).
Klüft is a finalist for the 2006 Gerringspriset, a very coveted prize which Radiosport here in Sweden awards for the year's best Swedish athletic performance. Susanna Kallur, who won the European Championships in the 100m hurdles (12,59) is also among the finalists.
One amazing feat which deserves notice is that Klüft has been atop the heptathlon world rankings for 223 weeks, and was awarded a spot among the world's top-10 best females by Track & Field News magasine (link) - the fourth-straight year she has appeared on the list. Klüfts appearances there are spectacular, because the magasine takes into consideration every athletic event when selecting its top-10 list. Klüft on average participates in three heptathlons per year.
Friidrott.se ran a great analysis (link) of Klüft through the years, netting the following great points:
- Three losses in her career, the latest in the 2001 European Cup; she's racked up 17-straight victories.
- Since she established herself as a senior in 2002, she has only twice (Euro Champs 2002 and World Champs 2005) not beaten her competition by at least 200 points, and her average score over 2nd-placers in those 15 competitions is 367 points.
- Her average hep the past 12 competitions (between 2003-2006) is 6,780 - a mark which only 12 other people in world history have surpassed in a single competition.
- 24 competitions without pulling out of one (she didn:t contest the 2000 Swedish Junior Nationals, because she was merely along to help a teammate chase the World Junior qualification mark).
Klüft was voted the fourth-best European female athlete by a panel of European sports journalists at the New Year. Klüft tallied 13 points in the voting. Isinbayeva (21) ranked third, and Gevaert (11) finished two points behind Klüft with a fifth-place spot.
Tennis player Justine Henin-Hardenne pulled in the most votes with 28 points.
2006 Waterford Crystal European AOY results:
1. Carolina Klüft, (SWE), 4; 2. Kim Gevaert, (BEL), 7; 2. Yelena Isinbayeva, (RUS), 7; 4. Tatyana Lebedeva, (RUS), 14; 5. Kajsa Bergqvist, (SWE), 15; 6. Tia Hellebaut, (BEL), 17; 7. Susanna Kallur, (SWE), 25; 8. Tatyana Lysenko, (RUS), 26; 9. Lornah Kiplagat, (NED), 32; 9. Vanya Stambolova, (BUL), 32
1. Yelena Isinbayeva (RUS), 3 points; 2. Carolina Klüft (SWE), 7; 3. Tatyana Lebedeva (RUS), 11; 3. Paula Radcliffe (GBR), 11; 5. Kajsa Bergqvist (SWE), 12; 6. Christine Arron (FRA), 18; 7. Tatyana Kotova (RUS), 26; 8. Yuliya Nosova-Pechonkina (RUS), 28; 9. Christina Obergföll (GER), 31; 10. Eunice Barber (FRA), 32; 10. Olimpiada Ivanova (RUS), 32
Klüfts heptathlon/pentathlon portfolio (Source: IAAF):
- 1st 28th European Indoor Athletics Championships 4948 Madrid 04 03 2005
- 1st 9th IAAF World Indoor Championships 4933 Birmingham 14 03 2003
- 3rd 27th European Indoor Championships 4535 Wien 01 03 2002
- 1st 10th IAAF World Championships in Athletics 6887 Helsinki 07 08 2005
- 1st 28th Olympic Games 6952 Athens 21 08 2004
- 1st 9th IAAF World Championships in Athletics 7001 Paris Saint-Denis 24 08 2003
- 1st 18th European Championships in Athletics 6542 München 10 08 2002
- 1st IAAF/Coca Cola World Junior Championships 6470 Kingston, JAM 20 07 2002
- 1st IAAF/Coca Cola World Junior Championships 6056 Santiago de Chile 21 10 2000