Following an online voting period that garnered thousands of votes from all corners of the world, American figure skating superstar Nathan Chen and Estonian freestyle skiing sensation Kelly Sildaru were selected as the United States Sports Academy’s 2019 Male and Female Athletes of the Year.
Chen became the first American man since 1984 to win back-to-back world championships. Chen also won his third consecutive ISU Grand Prix Final and captured championships at the Internationaux de France and Skate America. He also won his third consecutive U.S. title, smashing the record for the highest margin of victory at 58.21 points.
At age 16 Sildaru became the youngest freestyle skiing halfpipe world champion of all time when she won gold in the event at the International Ski Federation (FIS) Snowboard, Freestyle and Freeski World Championships in Utah on 10 February 2019. Sildaru completed the first-ever switch 1080 performed by a female skier and won with a high score of 95.00 points. Sildaru also won gold, silver, and bronze in ski events at the Winter X Games in Aspen, Colo., in January 2019.
The male runner-up was Argentinian soccer star Lionel Messi and third place went to Norwegian biathlete Johannes Thingnes Boe.
Messi won the Ballon d’Or, soccer’s most prestigious individual prize, for a record sixth time in 2019. Messi scored 54 goals for Barcelona and Argentina and became Europe’s top scorer for the third consecutive season.
Boe finished the 2019 biathlon season with a clean sweep of World Cup titles in sprint, pursuit, mass start and in the overall standings. Boe won gold in the sprint, relay, mixed relay and single mixed relay events at the International Biathlon Union (IBU) World Championships in Osterund, Sweden, in March. Boe also started the 2019-2020 season with a run of three victories in 10 kilometer sprint and 12.5 kilometer pursuit events in December.
The female runner-up was American gymnast Simone Biles and third place went to American swimmer Regan Smith.
Biles won five gold medals at the 2019 FIG World Championships in Germany, improving her career total to a record 25 world medals. During the competition, she completed two skills never performed by a female gymnast in competition: a double-double dismount on beam and a triple-double on floor. She also became the first woman since 1952 to win six U.S. all-around titles.
Smith broke Missy Franklin’s 2012 world record in the women’s 200-meter backstroke with a time of 2:03.35 at the 2019 FINA World Aquatics Championships in Korea in July. Smith also swam the backstroke leg in the 4×100 medley relay and set a world record in the 100-meter backstroke in that event. She was named USA Swimming’s Breakout Performer of the Year. The Athlete of the Year awards are the culmination of the Academy’s yearlong selection process through which outstanding accomplishments of men and women in sports from around the globe are recognized. Each month, the public is invited to participate in the Academy’s worldwide Athlete of the Month program by nominating athletes and then voting online during the first week of every month.