Asafa and Sanya World Athletes of the Year

Jamaican sprinter Asafa Powell and American 400-meter runner Sanya Richards were honored Sunday as World Athletes of the Year by track and field’s governing body.

Powell won the men’s title after twice equaling his world record of 9.77 seconds in the 100 meters. Richards broke the U.S. 400-meter record long held by Valerie Brisco.

“It is a major accomplishment to realize that people recognize the hard work that I put in the sport and they actually vote for me,” Powell said.

He and Richards get $100,000 each.

Having set the world record in June 2005 in Athens, Greece, Powell equaled the mark at the British Grand Prix in June and again in August in Zurich, Switzerland.

“Zurich is definitely the best memory of my 2006 season. It’s a race that I won’t forget,” Powell said. “Brussels is also another good moment. … It would have been another world record if I hadn’t had such a bad start.”

Powell was timed in 9.99 at Brussels’ Van Damme Memorial in August.

In September, Richards finished in 48.70 at the Athens World Cup, beating Brisco’s mark of 48.83 at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.

“I was so excited when I found out that I was the Athlete of the Year,” Richards said. “This is more than just the icing on the cake.”

In the last two years, Richards has won Olympic gold in the 1,600-meter relay and earned the world’s No. 1 ranking.

There were six nominees for the two awards, which were judged by a special jury of members of the International Association of Athletic Federations.

Powell beat out Lithuanian discus thrower Virgilijus Alekna _ the two-time world and Olympic champion — and hurdler Liu Xiang of China.

Richards won the women’s title over Jamaican sprinter Sherone Simpson and Ethiopian distance runner Meseret Defar, the Olympic champion in 5,000 meters.

Liu won the IAAF performance of the year with a 110-meter world record of 12.88 at the Super Grand Prix in Lausanne in July. Defar’s 5,000-meter world record of 14 minutes, 24.53 seconds at the Reebok Grand Prix in New York in June earned her the women’s performance of the year.

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