Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt stand out on Planet Olympia
Hamburg - Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps starred on Planet Olympia while Spain were Europe's football stars and Lewis Hamilton prevailed in a galactic Formula One finale.
Jamaica's Bolt rewrote sprint history in Beijing with three earth- shattering world records. The American swimmer Phelps won eight gold medals and became the most successful Olympian ever with a total 14 golds.
Two months earlier, in June, Spain finally shrugged off their image of underachiever when their classy football gave them the Euro 2008 crown.
Britain's Hamilton, meanwhile, shot like a rocket past German Timo Glock in the final lap to prevail over Brazilian Felipe Massa in the most dramatic F1 season ever.
In Beijing, competition took place in a world of its own, a Planet Olympia, while host China's communist government ruled outside as if Olympic values had never come to town. Olympic supremo Jacques Rogge named the Games "truly exceptional" in his final verdict.
China dethroned the United States atop the final medal standings with 51 gold, 21 silver and 28 bronze for a total 100 medals - even though poster boy Liu Xiang limped out of the 110m hurdles.
Phelps, 23, was the king of the pool as he won eight gold medals with seven world record results, surpassing Mark Spitz' seven golds at one Games from 1972.
Bolt, 22, ruled the track when he won the 100m in 9.69 seconds, the 200m in 19.30 seconds and helped the 4x100 relay team to 37.10 seconds, a feat never achieved before.
"You have Einstein. You have Isaac Newton. You have Beethoven. You have Usain Bolt. It's not explainable how and what they do," said Jamaican athletics coach Stephen Francis.
There was also the hug and kiss between medal-winning shooters Natalia Paderina of Russia and Georgia's Nino Salukvadze three days into the armed conflict between their countries, but also several doping offences highlighted by Ukraine's Lyudmila Blonska being stripped of heptathlon silver.
In the Euro 2008 football tournament in Austria and Switzerland, Spain boasted amazing skill from the likes of Andres Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas, Fernando Torres and David Villa for an unbeaten run to the trophy it clinched 1-0 over Germany.
"Spain stood for this Euro: for a tournament with a positive attitude which rewarded those who wanted to play football," said Swiss daily Tages-Anzeiger.
Andrei Arshavin's Russia also provided lots of flair before losing to Spain in the semis, world champions Italy crashed in the quarters and England didn't even qualify.
But England at least got Champions League glory when Premier League champions Manchester United beat Chelsea on penalties in the Moscow final. Zenit St Petersburg won the UEFA Cup, Egypt the African Cup of Nations and Diego Maradona was appointed Argentina coach.
The whole of Britain rejoiced when McLaren-Mercedes driver Hamilton stole the F1 title from Massa in the season-ending Brazilian GP in the third from last turn before the finish line. "It's pretty impossible to put into words," said Hamilton, the youngest F1 world champion at 23 years. But Honda's withdrawal from F1 late in the year and big cost- cutting measures indicated that the global financial crisis has started to affect sports. There was more joy for Spain as Rafael Nadal dethroned Swiss ace Roger Federer after four years atop the men's tennis rankings courtesy of another French Open title, a first Wimbledon crown and Olympic gold. Serb Jelena Jankovic is the women's number one after the May retirement of Belgian Justine Henin. Spain also dominated cycling, with a Tour de France crown from Carlos Sastre while Alberto Contador won the Giro d'Italia and Vuelta. But Doping ruled the sport as well with several caught a new generation of the blood booster EPO. India's Sachin Tendulkar became cricket's new test run record holder, and the US also got both alpine ski World Cup champions for the first time in 25 years from Lindsey Vonn and Bode Miller.
The US team won golf's Ryder Cup again over Europe, Ireland's Padraig Harrington captured two of the four majors in winning the Open and PGA Championships, South Africa's Trevor Immelman won the Masters, while Tiger Woods, after triumphing in the US Open, spent the rest of the year recovering from a knee injury.
The Boston Celtics got another NBA basketball title, the Philadelphia Phillies won baseball's World Series for the second time, the New York Giants won Super Bowl XLII and ice hockey's Stanley Cup went to the Detroit Red Wings. Vitali Klitschko returned into the boxing ring to beat Samuel Peter in October for the WBC heavyweight world title, with his brother Wladimir the IBF, WBO and IBO champ in a unique achievement of siblings in the sport. (dpa)