With 2018 winding down, RunSportBet looked back at the previous 12 months and voted on the top 25 sportspeople of the year. Here’s the final installment, highlighting Nos. 5-1.
25-21 | 20-16 | 15-11 | 10-6 | 5-1
5. Tiger Woods, PGA Tour
Woods put golf back on the map in 2018 with a historic comeback season. He was ranked 668th, coming off his fourth back surgery, and many questioned whether a return to the sport was the right move for his legacy. And then came the Open Championship in July, when he captivated the sports world by taking the solo lead on Sunday. Woods ultimately fell short at Carnoustie but pressed on. He recaptured that magic at the PGA Championship, firing the lowest final round of his major career to finish alone in second and set the stage for a storybook ending. At the season finale Tour Championship, Woods never relinquished his first-round lead to win for the 80th time on the PGA Tour and climb to No. 13 in the world. Chaos ensued as Woods walked up the 18th fairway en route to his first title since 2013, surrounded by fans storming the grounds in hopes of catching a glimpse of history. After so many years defined by turmoil, 2018 was, by all accounts – including his own – one of the best seasons of Woods’ legendary career. – Eric Patterson
4. Alexander Ovechkin, LW, Washington Capitals
Ovechkin finally got it done in 2018. His seventh Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy was an afterthought in the shadow of his heroic playoff performance, during which Ovi posted 27 points in 24 games en route to a Conn Smythe and Stanley Cup win. The 33-year-old finally added the most glaring omission to his resume – which was already among the most polished in the history of the sport – and the raw emotion he displayed upon hoisting the Cup after 13 years of shortcomings will forever serve as one of the NHL’s most iconic images. And if you think he’ll rest on his laurels, take a peek at this season’s goal leaders. You’ll see a familiar face. – Sean O’Leary
3. Luka Modric, MF, Real Madrid
It took over a decade, but the Lionel Messi-Cristiano Ronaldo duopoly finally ended when do-it-all Croatian midfielder Modric captured the 2018 Ballon d’Or. In doing so, the 33-year-old proved that, contrary to popular belief, players for whom goal-scoring isn’t the primary attribute can indeed be celebrated. Voter fatigue was a factor, sure – more than ever before, 2018 saw the football world grow numb to the continued excellence of Messi and Ronaldo – but Modric was the deserved winner of the sport’s grandest individual honor. He was central to Real Madrid’s third consecutive Champions League triumph, and his combination of subtle brilliance, crafty playmaking, and tireless, almost superhuman effort carried Croatia all the way to the World Cup final. – Gianluca Nesci
2. Simone Biles, Aly Raisman, Rachel Denhollander, and members of USA Women’s Gymnastics
The past three years have been both the best and worst for gymnastics in the United States: transcendent flashes of triumph on the bars, beams, and mats underscored by the exorcism of the monsters who plagued the sport for decades.
This year saw Biles elevate her craft to new heights, as she dominated the field of world-class competitors to take gold in the vault, floor, all-around, and team events at the 2018 World Artistic Gymnastics Championships in Doha, Qatar. Even if she chose to walk away from the sport tomorrow at just 21 years old, she already has a legitimate claim to the title of greatest gymnast ever.
But, by no fault of Biles or the dozens of other American gymnasts who excelled in competition this year, those accomplishments will only ever be part of their story. This was also the year that former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State team doctor Larry Nassar was sentenced for the decades of crimes he committed against the athletes entrusted to his care.
For years, these young women were forced to relive their trauma as those responsible avoided accountability. But the persistence and bravery of Denhollander, Raisman, and so many others ultimately culminated in the trial and sentencing hearing, and brought Nassar and the institutions that enabled him to their reckoning.
The courage, strength, and perseverance of the American gymnasts, regardless of whether they competed in 2018, is why RunSportBet chose to honor the individuals (Biles) and the whole as one entity. – Andrew Joe Potter
1. LeBron James, F, Los Angeles Lakers
Ruminate on the 2003 NBA Draft class for a moment. Dwyane Wade, coming off the bench for a mediocre Heat team, is in the midst of a farewell season. Carmelo Anthony has made more highlights in an empty gym than he has on an NBA court in 2018. Chris Bosh hasn’t played in nearly three years. Luke Walton, the 32nd pick in that famed draft, is coaching the Lakers. And then there’s James; now 34 years old, in season No. 16, with more than 55,000 NBA minutes (regular season and playoffs) logged, and still at the height of his powers, both in terms of on-court production and off-court impact.
If you want to know why James remains one of the most scrutinized athletes on the planet despite all of his accomplishments, it’s because the man, himself, continues to raise the bar for what we thought possible of him – or any other athlete, for that matter.
James nearly went the entire calendar year without missing a game, shifted the NBA’s balance of power with another monumental move in free agency, and cemented his perennial status as the best player alive for the umpteenth time by dragging an obviously flawed Cleveland Cavaliers team to the NBA Finals, marking his eighth straight trip to the league’s championship round.
Most importantly, the foundation James laid from a humanitarian standpoint in 2018, with the I Promise School, ensured that even long after Father Time finally catches up to him, LeBron’s legacy will endure.
For continuing to defy the odds and perfect his craft on the court, and refusing to “shut up and dribble” off of it, LeBron James is RunSportBet’s 2018 Sportsperson of the Year. – Joseph Casciaro