Hamburg: Usain Bolt sprinted his way into the history books again while Michael Phelps added another five swimming world titles and classy Barcelona became toast of the football world.
But there was a thin line between joy and despair in these showcase sports and many others in 2009.
South African runner Caster Semenya found herself engulfed in a sex-test affair and the swimmers’ bodysuits made more headlines than the people who actually wore them.
Formula One saw a fierce row between ex FIA president Max Mosley and the leading teams, Renault were caught deliberately causing a crash and Felipe Massa suffered a life-threatening injury.
The doping saga in American baseball continued, Swiss skier Daniel Albrecht almost crashed to death, while in football another major match-fixing investigation started and Germany goalkeeper Robert Enke committed suicide after suffering from depression for six years.
“The Robert Enke tragedy gives us cause to think about certain things which are accepted as usual in this business,” said managing director Joerg Schmadtke from Enke’s club Hanover 96.
Enke’s death Nov 10 prompted other athletes such as Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon to go public that they had suffered from depression as well in the often brutal world of top sport.
On the pitch, Lionel Messi, Xavi and others led brilliant Barca to a stylish 2-0 win over English champions Manchester United in the Champions League title, with the Spanish league and Cup trophies also going to the Catalan giants.
Rivals Real Madrid responded in the summer with the biggest spending spree in football history, with World Footballer of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo alone costing more than 90 million euros.
On the national team side, the 2010 World Cup drew closer with the tune-up Confederations Cup in South Africa won by Brazil over the US and the qualifying campaign wrapped up.
Spain were surprisingly beaten by the US in the semis of the Confed Cup, but the Euro 2008 champions won all 10 World Cup qualifiers for a place at the finals. Argentina struggled to make it under new manager Diego Maradona while Euro 2008 semi-finalists Russia failed to qualify.
Formula One saw stunning world titles for Briton Jenson Button and his Brawn GP team which was born out of the ashes of Honda after the Japanese carmaker quit the sport over the global recession.
The team will be renamed Mercedes Grand Prix next year and Button moves on to McLaren-Mercedes for 2010.
The row between the ruling body FIA and the teams overshadowed the sport, Massa suffered severe head injuries in a crash in Hungary in late July while fellow-Brazilian Nelson Piquet Jr revealed after his firing at Renault that team boss Flavio Briatore told him to crash at the 2008 Singapore GP to benefit team-mate Fernando Alonso.
But there was reason to cheer for Brazil when Rio de Janeiro was elected host of the 2016 Olympics, and IOC boss Jacques Rogge won another four-year term at the same meeting in Copenhagen.
The Jamaican sprint star Bolt won another three world titles to go with his Olympic treble from last year, lowering his own records in the 100m to 9.58 seconds and in the 200m to 19.19 seconds.
“My aim is to become a legend. I am working on it. It is getting there. But two seasons isn’t enough,” he said.
South Africa’s Semenya was not so lucky. She won the women’s 800m gold but had to undergo a gender test which allegedly showed that she has male and female sex organs. The affair caused a huge stir and is not settled yet, although she will reportedly not lose her medal and world title.
In swimming, the eight-times 2008 Olympic gold medallist Phelps added five more golds at the worlds, but also had to suffer defeat as 43 world records were set in the Rome pool before the controversial body suits are to be outlawed again next year.
“We all want to see swimming back to what it was. I want to see people talk about swimming and not about bodysuits,” said Phelps.
Roger Federer returned to the top of the men’s tennis rankings as he completed a Grand Slam with his first French Open crown and recorded 15th trophy at the majors a few weeks later at Wimbledon.
Kim Clijsters won the US Open just weeks after her comeback from retirement on the women’s side.
The US celebrated big winter sport success a year ahead of the Vancouver Olympics led by alpine skiing World Cup and double world champion Lindsey Vonn and got a first ever women’s ski-jumping world champion in Lindsey Van.
South Korea got a first figure skating world title from Kim Yu-Na, Austrian ski hero Hermann Maier retired and German speed skater Claudia Pechstein was banned over suspicious results from blood screenings in what could be a landmark doping ruling.
In US sport, the New York Yankees won the World Series, the LA Lakers another NBA crown and the Pittsburgh Steelers a sixth Superbowl.
In golf, Angel Cabrera of Argentina won the Masters, Americans Lucas Glover and Stewart Cink the US and British Open, respectively, while Yang Yong Eun of South Korea dominated the PGA championships.