2008 was a banner year in the world of sports, topped by the Summer Olympics in Beijing.
Phelps smashes Olympic swimming records
The athletic high point of the Beijing Olympics was almost certainly the record-setting performance by American swimmer Michael Phelps. He won eight gold medals, breaking the single-Games record of seven set by countryman Mark Spitz at the 1972 Munich Olympics.
"I have dreamed of a lot of things, you know, I have written down a lot of goals. This was the biggest one I really ever wrote down and everything was accomplished. It has been a fun last four weeks and it has been one fun week, that is for sure," Phelps said.
Phelps set seven world records and one Olympic mark in Beijing to become the winningest Olympian ever with a total of 14 career victories.
The 23-year-old Phelps also became the first swimmer honored as Sportsman of the Year by Sports Illustrated magazine.
Host-nation China finished the Summer Games with the most gold medals - 51 and a total of 100. The United States had the most overall medals with 110, including 36 golds. Russia was third with 23 gold medals and 72 overall.
Bolt amazes in Olympic track and field events
Other notable Olympic performances included the three gold medals won by Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt, with world records in the 100- (9.69 seconds) and 200-meter (19.30) sprints, and as part of Jamaica's world record-breaking four-by-100 meter relay team (37.10).
"It means a lot to me and I know it means a lot to the country also because I talked to the prime minister and he told me every road in Jamaica is blocked off pretty much. Everybody is in the street. So it means a lot to me, I have written history, pretty much so I am happy with myself, I am just real proud," Bolt said.
He later captured the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World Athlete of the Year award.
Russian pole-vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva won the women's World Athlete of the Year award after successfully defending her Olympic title with a world-record-breaking leap of 5.05 meters, and going undefeated in outdoor competitions.
No. 1 Golfer Tiger Wolf struggles with injury
World No. 1 golfer Tiger Woods of the United States won his third U.S. Open title, while struggling with a serious knee injury. Wincing in pain and limping down the fairways, Woods survived a 19-hole playoff with fellow-American Rocco Mediate at Torrey Pines near San Diego, California.
"I think this is probably my best ever," he said. "All things considered I do not know how I ended up in this position to be honest with you. A long week, a lot of doubt, lot of questions going into the week and here we are, 91 holes later."
A week later Woods had surgery to repair a torn ligament in his left knee. He also revealed that he had won the U.S. Open, despite a double stress fracture in his left tibia. Woods will not begin practicing again until early 2009.
Irish golfer Padraig Harrington became the first European named PGA Tour player of the year, after winning two major tournaments. In July, he successfully defended his title at the 137th British Open Championship at Royal Birkdale in Southport, England.
"Definitely last year was a thrilling win and it was exciting, and I was on top of the world when I won. This year is more satisfying. I feel more accomplished this year. It is the first time I was in the last group in a major tournament on a Sunday, so it is a different pressure, it is a different stress. And I am delighted that I managed it," he said.
Just three weeks later, Harrington won the 90th PGA Championship near Detroit, Michigan, by two-shots over Spain's Sergio Garcia and Ben Curtis of the United States.
South African golfer Trevor Immelman won the first major of the year, the Masters at Augusta, Georgia. Immelman survived swirling winds and a late double-bogey in the final round for a three-shot win over Tiger Woods.
The United States Ryder Cup team, without Tiger, used a mix of experience and six rookies to defeat the 12-man European team 16.5 to 11.5 at the Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky. The American squad, captained by Paul Azinger, won the biennial event for the first time since 1999.
"[For] two years, I honestly did not think about what the outcome could be. I never tried to get ahead of myself. I never tried to think about what the outcome might be. I started to dream about it a little bit today, thinking this could actually happen. This could happen. It feels great to have it [the Ryder Cup] back," Azinger said.
Lorena Ochoa of Mexico was named the LPGA Tour's Player of the Year for the third season in a row. The Guadalajara native won seven times this season and recorded 10 additional top-10 finishes in 21 starts on the LPGA Tour.
The game also bid farewell to former world number-one Annika Sorenstam. The 38-year-old Swede said she wants to start a family and is stepping away after winning 72 tournaments on the LPGA Tour.
Spain's Nadal enjoys stellar tennis season
In tennis, Spaniard Rafael Nadal extended his success past the clay-courts, winning the French Open, Wimbledon, and the Olympic gold medal. He took the world No. 1 ranking, ending Swiss star Roger Federer's 237-week reign at the top.
Nadal beat Federer in the finals of the French Open and Wimbledon, but says he has a lot of respect for the Swiss player.
"He is a great champion, no? He is positive when he loses, when he wins," he said. "We have a very good relationship, but at the same time I am very happy for me. But sorry for him because he deserves his title too, no?"
But Federer won his fifth-straight U.S. Open men's title.
"It really means a lot to me. I really thank the fans as well, the crowds. They were great. I mean, from the beginning that is really what I was hoping for. And losing my number-one ranking, I mean, that is also what meant a lot to me this season. So to come, to bounce back straight-away after losing the number-one ranking, this is the best scenario ever," he said.
Serbian tennis players, Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic both spent time at the top of the women's rankings before Jankovic ended the year at number-one. While Serbia's Nenad Zimonjic teamed with Canada's Daniel Nestor to break American brothers Mike and Bob Bryan's three-year reign as the men's top-ranked doubles team.
Maria Sharapova of Russia and Novak Djokovic claimed the Australian Open titles. Ana Ivanovic took home the French Open trophy, while the Wimbledon woman's title went to Venus Williams of the United States. American Serena Williams captured the women's U.S. Open crown.
Without the an injured Rafael Nadal, Spain was able to defeat host Argentina (3-1) in the best-of-five Davis Cup men's team tennis final in Mar del Plata, while Russia captured its fourth Fed Cup women's team tennis title in five years with a 4-0 victory over Spain in Madrid. In the best-of-three Hopman Cup mixed team tennis competition in Perth, Australia, Mardy Fish and Serena Williams of the United States upset top-seeded Serbia, 2-1.
Giants upset Patriots in US football championship
In January, Super Bowl XLII (42) provided one of the biggest upsets in the history of the National Football League's championship game. New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning threw a 13-yard touchdown pass with just 35 seconds left to beat the New England Patriots, 17-14.
The Giants win destroyed New England's chance to be the first undefeated NFL team since the 1972 Miami Dolphins. Manning, the game's Most Valuable Player, says the Giants were confident.
"Unbelievable the fight on this team. I am so proud of our players, our coaches, everybody, just for always believing. Having faith in each other, having faith in our team that no matter what is thrown at us we can find a way to win. We had no doubts, we believed the whole time and we made it happen," Manning said.
Spain aces European football championships
In June, at the European Football Championships, Spain became just the second team in history to win all of its group stage matches on the way to capturing the title, in the event jointly hosted by Austria and Switzerland. Fernando Torres scored the only goal of the match to send Spain to a 1-0 win over Germany in Vienna.
A month earlier, defending champion Manchester United defeated fellow-English side Chelsea on penalty kicks, 6-5, to retain the European Champions League title in Moscow.
And Zenit St. Petersburg of Russia topped Rangers of Scotland, 2-0, to win the 37th edition of the UEFA Cup, European football's second-tier club tournament. The victory in Manchester, England was the Russian team's first UEFA Cup title.
At the Beijing Olympics, Argentina scored a 1-0 victory over Nigeria and a second-straight men's gold medal. The United States claimed the women's gold with a 1-0 extra-time win over Brazil.
Major League Soccer's Columbus Crew won their first MLS Cup with a 3-1 win over the New York Red Bulls at the Home Depot Center in Carson, California.
Celtics win NBA championship, US men's team wins Olympic gold
In the National Basketball Association finals, the Boston Celtics defeated the Los Angeles Lakers four games to two in the best-of-seven series. It was Boston's first title since 1986 and 17th overall.
The U.S. men's basketball team won the Olympic gold medal and the international stature it has been seeking to regain since 2000. Head coach Mike Krzyzewski says his players rose to the challenge against Spain for a 118-107 win in the final.
"Spain was fabulous. Everything we did, we tried to stop them. We could not stop them completely. It was a great basketball game, where everybody involved played at the highest level. And I think it brought out the best in us," he said.
The United States women's basketball team claimed its fourth straight Olympic gold medal with a dominant 92-65 triumph over Australia in the final.
The Kansas Jayhawks won the U.S. men's college basketball national championship tournament, known as March Madness, with a 75-68 overtime victory against the Memphis Tigers.
The women's collegiate title went to the defending champion University of Tennessee which defeated Stanford, 64-48. It was Tennessee's eighth title under Hall of Fame coach Pat Summitt.
And, in the National Hockey League (NHL), The Detroit Red Wings held off
a last-gasp rally by the Pittsburgh Penguins to capture the team's
Stanley Cup, four games to two.
Hamilton becomes youngest Formula 1 champion
Britain's Lewis Hamilton became the youngest world champion in Formula One auto racing history, thanks to a fifth place finish in the season-ending Brazilian Grand Prix. It was first driver's title for McLaren Mercedes since 1999.
Scott Dixon of New Zealand won the 92nd running of the Indianapolis 500 for his first triumph at the so-called "Brickyard."
"What a day, man. I just could not believe it. We seemed to have a good car and we just had to hold on to it. Coming toward the end, as long as we got a good jump on those guys, I do not think they were going to get past us," he said.
It was the first 500 since the Indy Racing League (IRL) and the Champcar open-wheel series came together under the IndyCar banner.
Philadelphia Phillies win MLB championship
The Philadelphia Phillies won Major League Baseball's best-of-seven World Series four games to one over the Tampa Bay Rays. The Fall Classic crown was only the second for Philadelphia after first winning in 1980. Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels was named the Series' Most Valuable Player.
In early December, All-Star pitcher Greg Maddux announced his retirement. The 42-year-old Maddux, considered a certain first-ballot Hall of Famer when he becomes eligible in five years, is eighth on the career win list. He compiled a 355-227 record during his 23-year career with a three-point-one-six (3.16) earned run average. Maddux said he was ready to retire.
"I pretty much knew last spring training. You know, I had kind of told some teammates and people in baseball that this was going to be my last year. I do not really think they believed me but I think I was telling the truth that time. I did not want the big show, whatever, you know, the dog and pony show going out the last couple of months of the career," Maddux said.
The right-handed Maddux won the Cy Young Award for pitching excellence four times and a record 18 Gold Gloves for fielding excellence.
Spain's Sastre wins Tour de France
Carlos Sastre of Spain won his first Tour de France title in 2008. Another Spanish cyclist, Alberto Contador, triumphed at the 2008 Tours of Italy and Spain to join a select club of riders to have won all three of the sport's major Tours. He won the Tour de France in 2007.
In cricket, The International Cricket Council (ICC) postponed September's Champions Trophy tournament because of security concerns in Pakistan. South Africa had pulled out of the event and Australia, England and New Zealand voiced concern for their players' safety. The ICC says Pakistan can host the event starting September 24, 2009, if it passes a security assessment in February.
Ireland defeated Namibia by nine wickets to win the ICC Intercontinental Cup in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, while the Under-19 World Cup title went to India. They topped South Africa by 12 runs in the final in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Another fatal injury mars horse racing season
Thoroughbred horse racing was marred by its second fatal injury in two years. Big Brown won the 134th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky. But seconds after galloping past the finish line in second place, filly Eight Belles collapsed on the track, both of her front ankles broken.
Big Brown won again two weeks later, winning the Preakness Stakes, but hopes for the first Triple Crown winner (sweeping the three races) in 30 years were dashed on June 4, when 38-to-1 longshot Da'Tara won the Belmont Stakes in New York.
Athletes nailed for illegal drug use
Away from the playing fields, illegal drugs in sports made headlines.
Major League Baseball pitching great Roger Clemens and his former personal trainer gave conflicting testimony to the U.S. Congress about claims the pitcher used performance-enhancing drugs.
Clemens' former trainer Brian McNamee testified he had injected Clemens numerous times with human growth hormone and steroids between 1998 and 2001. The claims were made public in 2007 with the release of the Mitchell Report, Major League Baseball's doping investigation headed by former U.S. Senator George Mitchell. Clemens denied the claims.
"I am not saying Senator Mitchell's report is entirely wrong. I am saying Brian McNamee's statements are wrong. Let me be clear: I have never taken steroids or HGH. Thank you," he said.
Clemens was among 80 current or former baseball players accused of using performance-enhancing drugs.
Disgraced Olympic track star Marion Jones of the United States was sentenced to six months in prison and community service for lying to federal prosecutors investigating her use of performance-enhancing substances.
After years of denying the use of performance-enhancers, Jones pled guilty to charges of lying to a federal agent in 2003 about her use of steroids.
"I stand in front of you today. I stand for what is right. I respect the judge's orders and I truly hope that people will learn from my mistakes," she said.
A new drug was discovered during this year's Tour de France when a number of riders tested positive for CERA, a new generation of the blood booster EPO (erythropoietin).
The drug raised its head again at the Beijing Olympics, where nine athletes failed doping tests. In early December, the IOC announced it would re-test around 500 doping samples from the Games. Endurance events such as cycling, rowing, swimming and athletics will be targeted.
Deposed 2006 Tour de France winner Floyd Landis, who was stripped of the crown for using synthetic testosterone, lost his final appeal to regain his title. Second-place finisher Óscar Pereiro of Spain was named the champion of the 2006 race.