So here we are for my 24th annual international sports awards, at the end of another year, finding ourselves looking back at an Olympics with tragedy and triumph, with good sports and sore losers (you know who you are, Evgeny Plushenko), a year with stirring achievements and the taint of doping charges on yet another Tour de France winner.
It also was a year marked by the passing of an old potentate, former IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch, who died at 89 after a life in which he utterly transformed the Olympics, for better and for worse.
Normally, I pick people for whom an Olympic gold medal is the ultimate goal. I’m making an exception for hockey this year, because Canada’s gold medal is as big as it gets.
World athletes of year
• Gold: The U.S. and Canada men’s hockey teams. In an Olympic final of stunning intensity and skill, with the United States tying in the final 25 seconds of the third period and Canada winning in overtime, they made a champion of hockey itself.
• Silver: Bode Miller, alpine skiing, U.S. After winning nothing but the jerk of the games award for his uncaring attitude as an strong favorite four years earlier, a Miller matured by the 2008 birth of his daughter and chastened by poor results in 2009 turned into one of the feel-good stories in Vancouver, enjoying his full assortment of medals (gold, silver, bronze) and leaving everyone glad for his success.
• Bronze: Simon Ammann, ski jumping, Switzerland. Not only did he win both individual events, duplicating his feat of eight years earlier as a 20-year-old, but he was sensitive enough to bring up the sad contrast between his good fortune and the horrible fate of luger Nodar Kumaritashvili.
• Gold: Yuna Kim, figure skating, South Korea. Despite the enormous weight of her country’s expectations, the most celebrated athlete in South Korea gave her nation the celebration it wanted with breathtaking skating and a runaway victory.
• Silver: Lindsey Vonn, alpine skiing, U.S. Not only did she win the Olympic downhill despite a badly bruised shin and the pressure of being the most publicized U.S. athlete, Vonn won a bronze in Super-G; a third straight World Cup overall title; a third straight World Cup downhill title; and 11 Cup races.
• Bronze: Wang Meng, short track speedskating, China. The unpredictability of this sport makes it more impressive that Wang, a heavy favorite in the shorter races, won both the Olympic 500 and the 1,000 as well as gold in the relay.
U.S. athletes of year
• Gold: Miller.
• Silver: Shani Davis, speedskating. He became the first man to win back-to-back Olympic golds at 1,000 meters; made it back-to-back silvers in the 1,500; and won his third straight World Cup titles at the two distances.
• Bronze: Johnny Spillane, Nordic combined. He won Olympic silver medals in all three races in a discipline where the United States never before had won any, and he worked to help teammate Bill Demong win gold in one of those races.
• Gold: Vonn.
• Silver: Julia Mancuso, alpine skiing. The free-spirited counterpoint to the more methodical Vonn won two silver medals in Vancouver, adding to a 2006 gold and becoming the most decorated woman in U.S. Olympic ski history
• Bronze: Alicia Sacramone, gymnastics. After taking a year off following her 2008 Olympic disappointment, when her failures on two events may have cost the team gold, she returned to win the world title on vault – five years after her first world title, on floor exercise.