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Formula One, Swimming, Athletics Feature Triumph, Controversy in 2009

Formula One, Swimming, Athletics Feature Triumph, Controversy in 2009

The past year in International Sports featured Jamaican Usain Bolt's continued dominance of sprint records, a stunning number of new standards in swimming, and a cheating scandal in Formula One. The International Olympic Committee also awarded the Summer Olympics to Rio de Janeiro, despite some last minute lobbying by U.S. President Barack Obama.

An announcement in October stunned the world and set off samba-themed celebrations in the streets of Rio de Janeiro.

After mounting an extensive campaign to host the 2016 Summer Olympics, including staging the Pan American games in 2007 and spending billions on new facilities, the South American candidate triumphed. IOC President Jacques Rogge made the announcement. "I have the honor to announce that the Games of the 31st Olympiad (in 2016) are awarded to the city of Rio de Janeiro," he said.

The South American city beat out Madrid, Tokyo and the U.S. city of Chicago (in the state of Illinois), despite last minute appeals in person by U.S. President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama.

Mr. Obama had flown to Copenhagen to lobby for his adopted home town, but not even his efforts were enough to swing the IOC, which awarded the Summer Games to South America for the first time ever.

Formula One

As the 2009 Formula One auto racing season opened, the big controversy appeared to be a lot of hot air. Brawn GP, Williams and Toyota had special diffusers on the rear of their cars, and other teams said the devices gave the three teams an unfair advantage.

The dispute threatened the opening Grand Prix of the season in Melbourne, Australia, but the International Automobile Federation's Court of Appeals ruled the diffusers complied with the regulations.

Reigning driving champion Lewis Hamilton of Britain was the center of the season's first scandal when he was accused of lying about an overtaking incident at the Australian Grand Prix. Hamilton crossed the finish line fourth, but was promoted to third after Jarno Trulli of Toyota was penalized for passing the British driver under caution in the final laps.

The International Automobile Federation investigated the incident, found Hamilton had cheated, and the British driver was stripped of his points for the race.

But diffusers and Hamilton's ethics would pale by year's end, as one of the leading teams in the sport - Renault - would be embroiled in a cheating scandal.

The controversy - dubbed "Crashgate" by the media - involved the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix. Renault team officials had ordered Brazilian Nelson Piquet, Jr., to deliberately crash at the night race, a move, which allowed former two-time champion Fernando Alonso of Spain to win.

The scandal would result in Renault receiving a two-year suspended ban and team principal Flavio Briatore banned for life. Chief Engineer Pat Symonds was handed a five-year ban. FIA head Max Mosley said that the sport would continue and the proper people had been punished.

"The blame has been placed where the blame should be placed, and I think that was the proper decision. We have had problems from time to time, but as long as we solve them and deal with them properly, that's fine," he said.

On the track, Britain's Jenson Button won six of the season's first seven races, including the Grand Prix of Monaco in his Brawn GP car. The British driver secured the 2009 championship with a fifth place finish at the Brazilian Grand Prix.

German driver Sebastien Vettel of Red Bull, a four-time winner on the Grand Prix circuit, was Button's main competitor.

FIA head Max Mosley agreed to step down after 16 years as president. His decision followed a controversy in which all 10 teams threatened to abandon Formula One and form their own rival racing circuit.

Mosley had proposed a spending limit on teams, which would benefit four newcomers in 2010 - Lotus, Campos, Virgin and US F1. The dispute was resolved late in the year, when teams signed a new Concorde Agreement that runs until 2012.

Two more teams - BMW and Toyota - withdrew from Formula One because of economic trouble.

Mercedes announced it would field a team after splitting from McLaren, but will continue to supply the British-based squad with engines. Ross Brawn, whose team won the constructors' title in 2009, will head the German squad.

In December, seven-time Formula One driving champion Michael Schumacher of Germany announced he would come out of retirement to race for Mercedes. The so-called "Red Baron" will partner with countryman Nico Rosberg in 2010.

Frenchman Sebastien Loeb continued his domination of the World Rally Championship in 2009, winning his sixth WRC title. The Citro├źn driver won seven times in 2009 and edged Mikko Hirvonen of Finland by one point in the season standings.


The swimming world championships in Rome saw a total of 43 world records set in July.

Beijing Olympics superstar Michael Phelps of the United States - whose year started with a three-month ban following revelations of marijuana use - broke two world records and won two individual and three relay gold medals in Rome.

But the focus in Rome landed on controversial, high-tech swimsuits that had helped athletes crush world records in Beijing the year before. The Speedo LZR Racer, a seamless polyurethane suit designed with the help of the U.S. Space agency - along with its competitors by Arena and Jaked - helped prevent fatigue, aided buoyancy and provided a sleeker profile for swimmers.

After several coaches and athletes - including Phelps - protested against using the suits, the International Swimming Federation banned them beginning January 1, 2010.


The World Athletics Championships in Berlin provided its share of controversy in 2009. But it did not involve Usain Bolt who continued to dominate the men's sprints, breaking his own world records in the 100-meter and 200-meter races.

Bolt's time of 9.58 seconds in the 100 meters and 19.19 in the 200 meters cemented the Jamaican's reputation as the world's fastest man. U.S. sprinter Tyson Gay had run a U.S. record time of 9.71 seconds in the 100, but he watched Bolt speed ahead to take the gold.

Jamaica also won the men's four-by-100-meter relay race, where the United States again struggled with the baton exchange and was disqualified. Nevertheless, the United States earned the most gold medals at the championship, 10, while Jamaica finished second with seven golds.

Ethiopian distance runner Kenenisa Bekele also won two titles in Berlin, taking gold in the men's 5,000-meter and 10,000-meter races. Bekele easily sprinted away in the 5,000, but had to hold off American Bernard Legat to win the 10,000 meters.

A gender controversy almost overshadowed the athletic achievement of South African Caster Semenya in Berlin. The 18-year-old crushed the competition to take the women's 800-meters gold medal, but her rapid gains on the track prompted questions about her gender.

Test results showing Semenya has both male and female sexual characteristics leaked to the media, sparking anger in South Africa. The runner was allowed to keep her gold medal and the results of further tests were not made public.

Russia's Yelena Isinbayeva suffered a rare defeat in Berlin, losing the women's pole vault to Poland's Anna Rogowska. But the Russian would rebound later in the year, setting a new world record of five meters, six centimeters at the Zurich Golden League meet.

Usain Bolt was voted the IAAF's men's athlete of the year. The young Jamaican told the awards gala in Monaco that his achievements were a result of his dedication to be the best. "I'm honored to receive this award. I have worked really hard this season to live up to my expectations because other people are looking for me to do some great things. I just want to thank everybody for supporting me over the years, and I will try to work harder and try to live up to all the expectations in years to come," he said.

Bolt's achievements came despite an interrupted training schedule caused by a foot injury he suffered when his car ran off the road. Sanya Richards of the United States, who won two gold medals in Berlin and shared the IAAF's Golden League jackpot with Kenenisa Bekele and Yelena Isinbayeva, was voted female athlete of the year.

Doping again plagued athletics, with Bahrain's Rashid Ramzi stripped of his Beijing 1,500-meters bronze medal for using the banned endurance booster CERA, a derivative of EPO. French runner Medhi Baala was to be awarded the medal in January.

The International Olympic Committee also decided not to re-award the women's 100-meters gold medal from the 2000 Sydney Olympics, stripped from American Marion Jones. The second place finisher in Sydney, Greek sprinter Ekaterina Thanou, was embroiled in a doping scheme in 2004, so the IOC left the gold medal slot blank.

American cyclist Lance Armstrong occupied an unusual place in 2009 - third. Armstrong, a seven-time winner of the Tour de France - returned to the bike for the powerful Astana team in 2009 after a four-year absence. Still, at age 37, he was the second oldest rider to stand on the podium in Paris.

But Astana had a lead rider - former Tour champion Alberto Contador of Spain - who won the 2009 Tour de France in July. Armstrong later announced he would form a new team - Radio Shack - based in his home state of Texas.

Rabobank rider Denis Menchov of Russia took the Tour of Italy, while the Tour of Spain title went to Spaniard Alejandro Valverde. Throughout the year, a number of cyclists tested positive for banned substances as tougher testing measures were introduced.


The cricket world was shocked in 2009 when gunmen attacked Sri Lanka's team motorcade outside Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore in March. Six policemen and two civilians were killed, while seven players, an umpire and a coach were wounded in the attack.

The International Cricket Council later ruled that Pakistan could not host any matches in the 2011 World Cup. Still, the Pakistani team won the World Twenty20 title in England.

The English team won the Ashes series over Australia, 2-1, even though the Aussies led on almost every individual statistic.

The past year also saw the emergence of video replay in cricket, with a television system allowing teams to challenge an umpire's verdict.

India ended the year as the No. 1 ranked Test team, while Australia topped the one-day standings. Even though they lost the Ashes, the Australians beat New Zealand in South Africa to take cricket's Champions Trophy title in 2009. The tournament had originally been scheduled for Pakistan in 2008, but was moved to South Africa because of security concerns.

On the ski slopes, American Lindsey Vonn won the overall World Cup women's title in 2009 for the second year in a row. Vonn looks to continue that form in 2010, where she will race for Olympic gold in Vancouver in February.

Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway won his second overall World Cup crown in men's alpine skiing.

China led the men's standings while the United States took the women's title at the World Gymnastics Championships in London. China won four gold medals in men's events, while the United States took two golds in women's competition. China had the most golds - six - while the United States finished second overall with two gold medals.

China also dominated the medals standings at the East Asian Games in Hong Kong. Chinese competitors took home 113 gold medals, nearly twice as many as second place finisher Japan. At the Southeast Asian Games in Laos, Thailand topped the medal table, with 266 medals, including 86 golds.

The past year has seen many controversies and triumphs. With the coming year including a winter Olympics in Vancouver and the World Cup football championship in South Africa, fans can look forward to more excitement both on and off the field.