Athletes of the Year – 2011 Edition

    There’s no doubt in my mind about who deserves to be crowned 2011 athlete of the year. Novak Djokovic’s dominance in the ATP World Tour, winning three grand slams and finishing the season with a 70-6 record makes him’s pick for best of the past 12 months.

    The rest of our selected few? Well, Nadal joins Djokovic from the Tennis world. No list would be complete without Lionel Messi, proving again he is the best soccer player in the world. Dirk Nowitzki finally won an NBA title, Aaron Rodgers is slowly becoming the best quarterback in the NFL while Usain Bolt and Ryan Lochte positioned themselves, as expected, to be the men to beat in the 2012 Olympic games.

    Novak Djokovic

    Pretty much perfect, almost that is. Three Grand Slam titles (Australia, Wimbledon, US Open), breaking the Federer-Nadal dictatorship, becoming #1 in the world, and setting an incredibly high bar from himself to chase in 2012.

    Rafael Nadal

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    A rough year for Nadal, losing the #1 in the world, and losing some of his passion for the game at times. Still, three grand slam finals and his sixth Roland Garros title were the second best in the Tennis world. He added a Davis Cup trophy to finish 2011 on a high.

    Luis Suarez

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    If 2010 was still a Diego Forlan show, 2011 changed everything for Uruguay and Luis Suarez. The best South American nation in the World Cup continued to dominate, winning the 2011 Copa America and scoring four goals in the process. The goals aren’t coming with Liverpool right now, but the ability and influence is there. The end of the year was marred by the racism incident with Patrice Evra, with the feeling that Suarez is getting punished too severely without actual evidence.

    Robin van Persie

    Finally, a year without injuries for the flying Dutchman who seems like the only real asset Arsenal have left, making an incredible stride in the acknowledgment for his ability. Since his return from that long injury, he has scored 34 goals for Arsenal in 42 league matches over the last two seasons.

    Lionel Messi

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    Nothing new about Messi being once again the best Soccer player in the world. His mention here means all of Barcelona, with Xavi above all others, were that great as well in 2011. Another Champions League title, another La Liga title, the usual amazing skills and performances that never cease to stun us and his ability to make a discussion of him being the greatest ever despite his very young age (24).

    Cristiano Ronaldo

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    Titles are hard to come by in the current Barcelona era, but Cristiano Ronaldo scored Real Madrid’s only goal in their only win over Barcelona since May 2008, bringing Real their first trophy since… May 2008. And goals that just don’t stop coming. He finished last season with 40 league goals, a new record in Spain. So far, in 2011-2012? 20, in 16 league matches.

    Dirk Nowitzki

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    No one expected them to win. After the 2006 NBA finals and the early exits after winning the regular season MVP, it seemed that Dirk Nowitzki will never be an NBA champion. Well, the man who owns nearly every possible record for the Mavs led a veteran group, with Jason Kidd, Tyson Chandler and Jason Terry playing big roles, over the favorites Miami Heat to bring Dallas their first NBA title and enter a season for the first time as NBA champions.

    Derrick Rose

    I’m pretty sure Derrick Rose would be willing to trade the MVP award he won, the first for a Bulls player since Michael Jordan, for an NBA title. They were stopped by the Miami Heat in the Eastern finals, and expect the two teams to meet again to battle for Eastern supremacy. Rose winning the MVP put an official stamp of this being the era of the point guard.

    LeBron James

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    Probably the most polarizing figure in the NBA this past season, making him and the Miami Heat, for a short while, the most hated team in the NBA. A media machine worked to push LeBron into a villain, which he embraced, reluctantly according to him. Despite the disappointing end, LeBron put up another MVP-like year, immediately making Miami the best show in town. This season, according to the scorching start, they plan on finishing the campaign with a smile.

    Aaron Rodgers

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    If winning the Super Bowl and the Super Bowl MVP award with the Green Bay Packers in a great game against the Pittsburgh Steelers wasn’t enough, came the Packers’ blazing 2011 NFL season, aiming to go undefeated until the Kansas City Chiefs came along. Rodgers continued to prove he’s an elite quarterback, maybe even the best in the NFL today. Brett Favre? Who’s Brett Favre?

    Cam Newton

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    After leading Auburn to their second national title, Cameron Newton immediately sparked the Carolina Panthers, as expected from a no.1 draft pick, proving from the first moment he is a quarterback to build on for years to come. Breaking Peyton Manning’s passing yards rookie record is just another one of the positive signs.

    Usain Bolt

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    It began with 100 meter catastrophe, as Bolt was the first major victim of the rule changes regarding a disqualification and coming out ahead of the gun shot. It didn’t matter. Bolt easily won the 200 win a brilliant 19.40 and finished, along with the Jamaican relay team, with a new world record in the 4×100 race, setting it 37.04.

    Andre Ward

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    Despite the fact that the Super Six boxing classing didn’t become the hit Showtime expected it to be, Andre Ward winning the title, cementing himself as the #1 fighter in Super Middleweight, maybe even the best pound for pound fighter in the world to some was the best outcome the sport could have asked for. Ward might not fight with plenty of style, but is a great champion with the potential of being more than just the best in his division.

    Luke Donald

    The 34 year old Englishman didn’t win any Majors, but he did finish first on both the PGA money list ($6.6 Million) and the European Tour (€5.3 million), the only man in history to do so. He won the WGC tournament and later received the PGA player of the year award.

    Sebastian Vettel

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    At 24, Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull racing is already a two time Formula one World Champion, pretty much holding every available “youngest ever” the sport has to offer. The perfect fit between car and driver, Vettel won 11 of the 19 races in 2011, finishing with 392 points, 122 points better than the runner-up.

    Tony Stewart

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    Tony Stewart won his third NASCAR Sprint Series title but the even bigger achievement – Ending Jimmie Johnson’s reign after five years.

    Ryan Lochte

    The 27 year old American placed himself as the number one swimmer in the world after years of Phelps dominating the pool. His five gold medals in the 2011 World championships included two by beating Michael Phelps head on. He also broke the 200 IM record, a rare post suit record.