12/17/2008 AT 08:30 AM EST
, Michael Phelps and David Cook, but Time
's Person of the Year is Barack Obama, the magazine's managing editor, Rick Stengel, announced on Wednesday's Today
"He hit the American scene like a thunderclap, upended our politics, shattered decades of conventional wisdom and overcame centuries of the social pecking order," Time
reports in its cover story
The president-elect, which was, by most predictions, the likeliest candidate for the publication's yearly honor, was singled out for being a "transformational figure" in a transformational year, Stengel said on Today
. He added that the two other possibilities for the distinction were the American voter or the economy.
Five others spotlighted by Time
for their accomplishments in 2008 were, in order: Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, France's President Nicolas Sarkozy, GOP vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin ("who either alienated or united people," said Stengel) and Zhang Yimou, who directed the opening ceremony of summer's Beijing Olympics.
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