1996 – Michael Johnson:
Johnson won his first major 200-400 double at the 1995 World Championships, then became only man to win the Olympic 200- and 400-meter races in the same year at the 1996 Atlanta games. First, however, Johnson set the world record in the 200 with a time of 19.66 seconds at the U.S. Olympic Trials. In Atlanta – where he first donned his signature custom-designed golden racing spikes – Johnson won the 400 in an Olympic record time of 43.49, almost a full second better than runner-up Roger Black (44.41). Johnson that bettered his 200 record, winning in 19.32 seconds. The mark stood until Usain Bolt broke it
at the 2008 Olympics.
1997 – Wilson Kipketer:
Kipketer – not to be confused with Wilson Boit Kipketer, the former steeplechase world record holder – gave the 800-meter world record a pounding in 1997, both indoors and out. The Kenyan-born Kipketer, who became a Danish citizen after studying at Copenhagen University, first broke the indoor mark in a preliminary heat at the 1997 World Indoor Championships, finishing in 1:43.96. He then topped himself in the final, winning in 1:42.67. Entering the 2012 indoor season, Kipketer’s record still stands.
Later that year, Kipketer tied Sebastian Coe’s 16-year-old outdoor record of 1:41.73 in Stockholm. He broke the record in a Grand Prix meet in Zurich (1:41.24), then lowered the mark to 1:41.11 just 11 days later, during another Grand Prix event in Cologne. He topped off the year by winning the World Championship 800-meter final in 1:43.38.
About a dozen years later Kipketer told a young Kenyan that he was capable of beating the 800-meter world record. Kipketer was proved correct when David Rudisha topped Kipketer’s mark in 2010.
1998 – Haile Gebrselassie:
The distance running legend set 27 world records as his career evolved from 800 meters to the marathon, but in 1998 Gebrselassie
was still doing plenty of running on indoor and outdoor tracks. Indoors, the Ethiopian established the world record for 2000 meters with a time of 4:52.86 in Birmingham. As of 2012 the record still stands. Gebrselassie also set the 3000-meter mark in 1998, with a time of 7:26.15 in Karlsruhe, but that mark didn’t last a month as Daniel Komen broke it by more than a second.
Moving outdoors, Gebrselassie ran a remarkably consistent 10,000 meters in Hengelo, with splits of 13:11 to set a new world record of 26:22.75. In Helsinki two weeks later, Gebrselassie needed a strong final lap of 56.77 to break the 5000-meter record with a time of 12:39.36. Additionally, Gebrselassie won all six distance races in the initial Golden League season to share the $1 million jackpot with with Hicham El Guerrouj and Marion Jones. Both of Gebrselassie’s outdoor marks were broken by Kenenisa Bekele in 2004.
1999 – Michael Johnson:
Johnson was injured for much of 1999, but became the second man to win the Athlete of the Year prize twice, mainly on the strength of his World Championship performance. Johnson missed the U.S. Championships due to injuries, but was an automatic World Championship entrant as the defending 400-meter gold medalist. He was certainly healthy in Seville and might’ve broken the 400-meter world record in the semifinal, as he shut it down well short of the finish and still ran 43.95. In the final, Johnson pulled away from the field around the second turn and ran hard through the line to win his fourth consecutive 400-meter World championship, in a record time of 43.18 that still stands in 2012.
2000 – Jan Zelezny:
The second javelin thrower to win the Athlete of the Year honor, Zelezny won his third consecutive Olympic gold in Sydney. Indeed, if Tapio Korjus hadn’t beaten Zelezny with his final throw at the 1988 Olympics, the Czech javelin ace would’ve won four times in a row. In 2000, Zelezny took just one qualifying attempt, topping all competitors with a throw measuring 89.39 meters (293 feet, 3 inches). He then took the lead with a first-round 89.41/293-4. Steve Backley edged in front by throwing 89.85/294-9 in the second round, but Zelezny won it in the third with an Olympic record toss of 90.17/295-10.