Fanny Blankers-Koen 200m Gold London Olympics 1948 () © Copyright
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Lewis and Blankers-Koen voted top athletes of the 20th century - Johnson and Szabo the athletes of 1999

In a glittering ceremony at the World Athletics Gala 99, in Monte-Carlo's Grand Hotel, Carl Lewis and Fanny Blankers-Koen were announced as Top Male and Female Athletes of the 20th Century while Michael Johnson and Gabriela Szabo were selected as World Athletes of 1999.

The winners were chosen by the Council of the International Athletic Foundation from nominations received after a worldwide poll.

By coincidence, both Athletes of the Century are chiefly remembered for winning four Olympic golds in the same Games. Blankers-Koen, of the Netherlands, won the 80m hurdles, the 100m, the 200m and the 4x100m at the 1948 Games in London. The sprightly 81 year-old delighted a press conference earlier today with her astonished reaction when congratulated on her achievement. "You mean it is me who has won. I had no idea!" Blankers-Koen said. "When I think of all the great women athletes of this century, and the young people who are doing so well, I must say that I am surprised … but quite pleased as well! I can still remember every detail of every heat and final in London. Thankfully, my memories are still very vivid."

Lewis matched Blankers-Koen's 4 golds but in the 100m, 200m, long jump and 4x100m relay at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.

His international career extended from 1980 until 1996. He won three golds at the inaugural IAAF World Championships in 1983, broke the world record in a memorable 100m final at the World Championships in 1991 and won an unprecedented four consecutive Olympic titles in the long jump.

Lewis defeated another legendary sprinter-jumper Jesse Owens in the men's category. "I have a tremendous respect for Jesse Owens and in many ways he was my mentor - since I could follow his example of Berlin 1936 when planning my own target of winning four titles. I don't think I was better than him because how can you compare different eras?. More important for me is the thought that this award is something that other people have reflected on carefully. Obviously this means that my career has given them as much pleasure as it gave me. This is a tremendous honour and humbling too."

Sweden's Ludmila Engqvist, who battled back from cancer to win a bronze medal at 100m hurdles at the recent World Championships in Seville, was also honoured by the Foundation with a special award for her exceptional courage.

International Athletic Foundation
Male Athlete of 1999
1, Michael Johnson (USA)
2, Maurice Greene (USA)
3, Hicham El Guerrouj (MAR)
4, Haile Gebrselassie (ETH)
5, Tomas Dvorak (CZE)
6, Wilson Kipketer (DEN)
7, Abel Anton (ESP)
8, Colin Jackson (GBR)
9, Paul Tergat (KEN)
10, Maksim Tarasov (RUS)

Female Athlete of 1999
1, Gabriela Szabo (ROM)
2, Marion Jones (USA)
3, Tegla Loroupe (KEN)
4, Ludmila Engquist (SWE)
5, Gete Wami (ETH)
6, Eunice Barber (FRA)
7, Gail Devers (USA)
8, Svetlana Masterkova (RUS)
9, Mihaela Melinte (ROM)
10, Ludmila Formanova (CZE)