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Bolt, Richards win Athlete of the Year awards

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MONACO (AP)

Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt and 400-meter runner Sanya Richards of the United States have won their second IAAF World Athlete of the Year awards.

Bolt retained the honor Sunday by winning the 100 and 200 meters finals in record times at the World Championships in Berlin, matching his 100 and 200 double from the 2008 Beijing Olympics. He won a third gold in the 400-meter relay.

"It's been an amazing year for me," said Bolt, whose training was hampered by a foot injury after he crashed his car in April.

"I had to refocus my goals and put in a lot of hard work. I did extremely well and I'm proud of myself."

Richards, the 2006 winner, got her first major individual gold medal at the worlds in August. She also won at all six Golden League meetings in Europe to claim a share of the $1 million jackpot (?673,000) offered to athletes who swept their event.

"I am so excited and overwhelmed," said the Jamaican-born Richards, who was Olympic favorite in Beijing but took bronze. "You work so hard to be a world champion. It's right up there with winning the title in Berlin."

Lamine Diack, president of the IAAF governing body, praised Bolt for raising his performances to "an unimaginable level."

"We need stars in the sport," Diack said. "He brings a lot of prestige to our sport and is one of the best-known people on the planet."

The 23-year-old Bolt said he aimed to go unbeaten through the 2010 season, when he will compete at seven of the 14 meets which make up the new global Diamond League circuit.

He has signed a contract to race against Tyson Gay of the U.S. and fellow Jamaican Asafa Powell - the three fastest men in history who went 1-2-3 in Berlin.

"A lot of people are going to watch out for the showdowns," Bolt said.

Gay told The Associated Press on Saturday that he wanted a 100 rematch with Bolt at the New York City meeting June 12.

"That would make track and field huge again in the United States," Gay said at a Diamond League launch.

Richards credited Bolt and other Jamaican sprinters for inspiring her in Beijing with their obvious love of the sport.

"These athletes were just having so much fun," Richards recalled. "I was so focused on winning, the medals and the money and everything that came with being a champion that I forgot the simple enjoyment and fun of track and field."

Richards said she watched videos with her parents of her running as a child aged seven, and began to relax during races.

"I just felt like I was running a lot lighter, the races became a lot easier," she said.

Richards said her goal for 2010 is to break the U.S. record of 48.70 she set in Athens three years ago.

Her next main event is marriage to New York Giants cornerback Aaron Ross in Austin, Texas, on her 25th birthday in February.

Bolt topped a shortlist that included his sprint rival Gay and three other world champions: 5,000 and 10,000 winner Kenenisa Bekele of Ethiopia, pole vaulter Steven Hooker of Australia and Norwegian javelin thrower Andreas Thorkildsen.

Richards beat world champions Valerie Vili, the shot putter from New Zealand, Croatian high jumper Blanka Vlasic and Poland's Anita Wlodarczyk, who set a world record winning the hammer throw title, plus Russian pole vault world record holder Yelena Isinbayeva.

Votes were cast by nearly 1,800 athletes, officials and journalists.