Yelena Isinbayeva
At just 22, she was voted IAAF Athlete of the Year for her remarkable pole vaulting in 2004. Isinbayeva won the Olympic gold medal in Athens with a world record of 4.91m.  It was the climax of an 18 month period which had seen her, driven on by competition with her fellow countrywoman Svetlana Feofanova, to break the world record seven times.
Isinbayeva, who during the year accumulated world records at the same rate as former men's champion and Laureus Academy member Sergey Bubka, defied difficult, windy conditions to win the gold medal.
Her dramatic victory came from an inspired gamble. In the bronze position and one jump away from defeat after failing at 4.70 and 4.75 metres, and with Feofanova  ahead of her, Isinbayeva put up the bar to 4.80 metres and cleared majestically, earning one of the biggest roars of the night from a sell-out Olympic stadium. She then emphasised her domination by clearing 4.85 metres, then sailed over the record height of 4.91m as tears welled up in her eyes.