Top 100 Athletes of 2012

Chris Stephens@@chris_stephens6Correspondent IIDecember 27, 2012

Top 100 Athletes of 2012

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    This past year has provided a multitude of memories that will linger in the minds of sports fans for many years.

    From the Miami Heat winning it all in their second year featuring the "Big Three" to the London Olympics, 2012 gave sports fans everything they could ever want.

    During the year, there were hundreds of athletes that stood out. So, who stood out the most during the year?

    Recently, I took some time to enlist help from many experts on specific sports around Bleacher Report for their opinions. While it's impossible to truly rank athletes across multiple sports, this will be an attempt to do so.

    Here's a look at the top 100 athletes from 2012. Keep in mind, stats and highlights are from Jan. 1 until now (Dec. 27).

    Let me know what you think in the comments below. (And for more year-in-review lists, check out B/R's ranking of the top stories and top moments of 2012.)

100. Kohei Uchimura, Gymnastics

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    Team: Japanese Olympic team

    Key Achievements: Men's all-around gold, silver medals in team finals and floor exercise

    Uchimura had his struggles during the preliminary portion of the men's Olympic gymnastic competition.

    However, the three-time defending world all-around champion rebounded when it counted, winning the all-around gold and helping his team take silver in the team finals.

99. David Rudisha, Track and Field

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    Team: Kenyan Olympic team

    Achievement: 800-meter gold medalist

    Rudisha cemented his legacy as the greatest 800-meter runner ever, becoming the only person ever to break the 1:41 mark.

    His performance was lauded as "the most extraordinary piece of running I have probably ever seen," (via The Guardian) from London organizer Sebastian Coe.

98. Agnieszka Radwanska, Tennis

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    Achievements: World No. 2, runner-up at Wimbledon

    Radwanska reached the first Grand Slam final of her career at Wimbledon, ultimately losing to Serena Williams. She won the Dubai Tennis Championships and the Sony Ericsson Open.

97. Candace Parker, Basketball

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    Teams: Los Angeles Sparks, U.S. Olympic team, UMMC Ekaterinburg

    Achievements: Olympic gold medal

    Parker has long been one of the top players in women's basketball. During the WNBA season, she helped the Sparks reach the Western Conference finals after having helped the U.S. women win team gold in London.

    She also helped her Russian basketball team win the league title this year.

96. Petr Cech, Soccer

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    Team: Chelsea, Czech Republic national team

    Achievements: UEFA League champion

    Cech came up big in the UEFA League finals against Bayern Munich as he saved a penalty kick in extra time before stopping two kicks in the penalty shootout to give the Blues their first title.

    During Euro 2012, Cech helped the Czech Republic to the knockout round, where they were eliminated by Portugal.

95. Ye Shiwen, Swimming

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    Team: Chinese Olympic team

    Achievements: Gold medals in the 200- and 400-meter individual medleys

    Shiwen showed her dominance in the individual medley races as she won double gold.

    In the 200-meter individual medley, she finished with a time of 2:07.57, while the 400-meter race saw her win with a time of 4:31.73.

94. Maria Sharapova, Tennis

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    Achievements: Olympic silver medalist, French Open champion, No. 2 world ranking

    Sharapova had a strong 2012, winning silver in London and winning the French Open. She also won in Rome and Stuttgart.

    Sharapova was honored by the Russian Olympic Committee to carry the country's flag in the Opening Ceremonies.

93. Sergio Aguero, Soccer

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    Teams: Manchester City, Argentine national team

    Achievements: Premier League title

    Aguero was named Manchester City's player of the year after helping lead the team to its first Premier League title in 44 years.

    Aguero nailed a header in the 94th minute against the Queens Park Rangers to help seal the title for the Blues. He finished 2012 with 23 total goals.

92. Tim Duncan, Basketball

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    Team: San Antonio Spurs

    Achievement: Helped lead the Spurs to the best record in the NBA

    Duncan is a player that goes quietly about his business and gets the job done.

    While there are many more flashy stars in the league, Duncan has remained one of the best players due to his work ethic and basketball IQ.

91. Inbee Park, Golf

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    Achievements: Two tournament wins, No. 1 on money list

    Park won two LPGA tournaments this year—the Evian Masters and Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia. She also won one tournament on the Japanese tour, finishing the year first on the money list.

90. Ranomi Kromowidjojo, Swimming

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    Team: Dutch Olympic team

    Achievements: Gold medals in the 50- and 100-meter freestyle, silver in the 400-meter freestyle relay

    Kromowidjojo proved she was the fastest female swimmer on the planet with a sweep of both freestyle sprint events in London.

    She set an Olympic records in both events, finishing the 100 with a time of 53.00 and the 50 with a time of 24.05.

89. Roger Federer, Tennis

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    Team: Swiss Olympic team

    Achievements: No. 1 world ranking, Wimbledon champion, Olympic silver medal

    Federer won the Wimbledon, dominating the competition as he only dropped four sets throughout the tournament. Soon after Wimbledon, Federer took silver on the same court during the Olympics.

    Federer also won events in Rotterdam, Dubai, Indian Wells, Madrid and Cincinnati.

88. Nonito Donaire, Boxing

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    Achievements: WBO, IBF and WBA super bantamweight world title holder

    For those who don't follow boxing, Donaire may be a name you're not familiar with. However, he's still one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world.

    Donaire won all four of his matches in 2012, garnering two decisions and two knockouts.

87. Matt Kemp, Baseball

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    Team: Los Angeles Dodgers

    Achievements: All-Star

    Kemp may have only played in 102 games this year, but he still performed well while he was healthy. Kemp finished the year with a .303 average with 23 home runs and 69 RBI.

    Had he stayed healthy all year, Kemp likely would have finished in the top 50.

86. Iker Casillas, Soccer

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    Teams: Real Madrid, Spanish national team

    Accomplishments: Won fifth La Liga title as goalkeeper, La Liga best goalkeeper, Euro 2012 championship

    Casillas has continued to show he is one of the best goalkeepers in the world, winning titles in La Liga and Euro 2012.

85. Diana Taurasi, Basketball

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    Teams: Phoenix Mercury, U.S. Olympic team, UMMC Ekaterinburg

    Achievements: Olympic gold medal

    Taurasi was a major player for the U.S. women's basketball team and helped her Russian team win a league title. She continues to show why she is one of the best players in the world.

84. James Harden, Basketball

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    Teams: Oklahoma City Thunder, Houston Rockets, U.S. Olympic team

    Achievements: Top-five scorer in the NBA, Olympic gold medal

    Since being traded to the Rockets, Harden has become one of the top scorers in the league. No longer relegated to the sixth-man role, Harden is starting to show his true skills in a starting role.

    Harden also averaged 5.5 points per game in Olympic play.

83. Montee Ball, Football

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    Team: Wisconsin Badgers

    Achievements: Doak Walker Award winner

    To say it's surprising to see Ball as the Doak Walker winner would be an understatement. On Aug. 1, Ball was attacked by five men near campus.

    Still, he showed up throughout the year, rushing for 1,730 yards and 21 touchdowns.

82. Robert Griffin III, Football

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    Team: Washington Redskins

    Achievements: Helping the Redskins to their first winning season since 2007

    RGIII has helped breath life back into the Redskins, bringing them to within one game of the playoffs. He's brought excitement back to football in D.C. with over 3,000 yards passing and 700 yards rushing.

81. Tiger Woods, Golf

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    Achievements: No. 3 world ranking

    After a tough 2011, Woods rebounded well in 2012. Although he didn't win a major, Woods took second or third in four events during the year.

80. Jimmie Johnson, Auto Racing

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    Team: Rick Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 team

    Achievements: No. 3 in NASCAR points

    Johnson is without a doubt the best driver over the last decade in NASCAR. Although 2012 didn't result in a title for Johnson, he still won five races and had a top-10 finish in 24 races.

    He also had 18 top-five finishes, which led all of NASCAR.

79. Rebecca Soni, Swimming

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    Team: U.S. Olympic team

    Achievements: Won two golds and one silver at Summer Olympics

    Soni took home three medals from London. She won gold in the 200-meter breaststroke and 400-meter medley relay, while also winning silver in the 100-meter breaststroke.

    The 200-meter race saw Soni break the world record in both the semifinals and finals, with her finals time being 2:19.59.

78. Brandon Marshall, Football

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    Team: Chicago Bears

    Achievements: Ranks second in the NFL in receiving yards

    Marshall doesn't get the same publicity as Megatron does in Detroit, but he is still one of the best receivers in the league.

    In his first season in Chicago, Marshall has finally given the Bears a legitimate top-flight receiver.

77. Rafael Nadal, Tennis

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    Achievements: French Open champion, No. 2 world ranking

    Nadal is another one of those guys who spent most of the year injured, but he performed well when he was healthy.

    He lost in the second round of the Wimbledon, which was also his last match of the year. He did win the French Open, however, and events in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Rome.

76. Radamel Falcao, Soccer

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    Team: Atlético Madrid, Colombian national team

    Achievements: Scored 45 goals in La Liga competition

    Falcao performed well in his first year with Atletico Madrid. He had four hat tricks on the year, including a five-goal game against Deportivo.

75. Marshawn Lynch, Football

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    Team: Seattle Seahawks

    Achievements: Leading the Seahawks to the playoffs

    Lynch ranks second in the NFL in rushing and has helped the Seahawks get back to the playoffs. Lynch has a knack for unleashing seismic runs, and 2012 has been no different.

74. Dwyane Wade, Basketball

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    Team: Miami Heat

    Achievements: Won NBA title

    Now playing second fiddle to LeBron James in Miami, Wade is still one of the best players in the NBA. Wade helped the Heat win the league title in his ninth stellar season in the pros.

73. A.J. Green, Football

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    Team: Cincinnati Bengals

    Achievements: Leading the Bengals to the playoffs

    If there's anyone in the NFL who could eventually break Calvin Johnson's receiving record, Green would be the player who could do it.

    Green has another 1,000-plus-yard season again and has 11 touchdowns, which leads the league.

72. Manti Te'o, Football

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    Team: Notre Dame Fighting Irish

    Accomplishments: Leading the resurgence of Notre Dame football, Heisman Trophy finalist, multiple postseason awards

    When you look at Te'o's accomplishments this year, one should ask (other than the Heisman Trophy), what didn't he accomplish in 2012?

    Te'o won the Lott Trophy, Maxwell Award, Chuck Bednarik Award, Walter Camp Award, Bronko Nagurski Trophy, Butkus Award, Lombardi Award and was named first-team All-American.

    Simply put, he got the job done.

71. Aldon Smith, Football

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    Team: San Francisco 49ers

    Achievements: No. 2 in NFL in sacks

    When it comes to linebackers, there are few more feared than Smith. The 49ers lineman currently has 19.5 sacks on the year with 64 tackles.

    He's helped the 49ers become one of the best defenses in the league and is a big reason why they are considered one of the favorites to make the Super Bowl.

70. Jonathan Quick, Hockey

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    Team: Los Angeles Kings

    Accomplishments: Stanley Cup champion, Conn Smythe Trophy winner

    Quick helped lead the Kings to the Stanley Cup crown. During the Kings' postseason run, Quick went 16-4 with a 1.41 GAA, a .946 save percentage and posted three shutouts.

    It's easy to see why he won the Conn Smythe.

69. Marta, Soccer

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    Teams: Tyresö FF, Brazilian Olympic team

    Accomplishments: Led Brazil to the knockout round in the Olympics and Damallsvenskan champions

    Marta scored two goals in Olympic competition as the Brazilians went 2-2 in the tournament. She also helped her club team to the Swedish title.

68. Xavi Hernandez, Soccer

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    Teams: FC Barcelona and Spanish national team

    Achievements: Euro 2012 champion

    Xavi scored 12 goals and had 12 assists at central midfield during 2012. Xavi is one of the better passers in the world and is one of the reasons why Lionel Messi experienced so much success in the year.

67. Henrik Lundqvist, Hockey

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    Team: New York Rangers

    Achievements: Vezina Trophy winner

    Lundqvist was the best goalie over the course of the regular season in the NHL. He had a 1.97 GAA, helping lead the Rangers to the Eastern Conference finals.

66. Deron Williams, Basketball

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    Teams: Brooklyn Nets, U.S. Olympic team

    Achievements: Gold medal, leading Nets into playoff contention

    Williams faced a big decision this past offseason. He could have left the Nets and gone somewhere else as a free agent or stay with the team that traded for him and build them into a winner.

    Williams chose the latter. Paired with Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez, the team still has very strong odds of making the playoffs, even after head coach Avery Johnson was fired early in the season.

    Williams averaged nine points and 4.6 assists per game in the Olympics as well.

65. Stacy Lewis, Golf

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    Achievements: Four-time LPGA tournament winner, No. 3 world ranking

    Lewis had an excellent 2012, winning four tournaments.

    She also had a good major schedule, finishing second at the LPGA Championship, fourth at the Kraft Nabisco Championship and eighth at the Women's British Open.

64. Victoria Azarenka, Tennis

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    Achievements: No. 1 world ranking, mixed doubles gold medal, singles bronze medal, Australian Open champion

    Azarenka had a full year, finishing with a No. 1 world ranking.

    She began the year with wins in Sydney, Doha, Indian Wells and the Australian Open. Azarenka won in Beijing and Linz. She also had runner-up finishes at Stuttgart, Madrid and the U.S. Open.

    In the Olympics, Azarenka won bronze in the singles tournament and gold in mixed doubles. She had success throughout the year, which is why she finished with a No. 1 ranking.

63. Drew Brees, Football

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    Team: New Orleans Saints

    Achievements: leads NFL in passing yards and touchdowns

    A year after setting the NFL record for passing yards in a season, Brees is continuing to throw the ball up and down the field.

    Through Week 16, he has 4,781 yards and 39 touchdowns. With only 219 more passing yards, Brees will further cement his legacy as one of the best passers ever in the NFL.

62. Andy Murray, Tennis

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    Team: British Olympic team

    Achievements: Olympic gold medalist, U.S. Open champion, No. 3 world ranking

    Murray lost a heart-breaker at Wimbledon, but he rebounded to win the gold medal in London. He then won his first Grand Slam by winning the U.S. Open. He also won in Brisbane.

    Murray captured the hearts and minds of all Brits during his Wimbledon and Olympic play at Wimbledon. His gold-medal win will long be remembered.

61. Clayton Kershaw, Baseball

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    Team: Los Angeles Dodgers

    Achievements: All-Star, NL Cy Young runner-up

    Kershaw followed up his 2011 Cy Young Award with another dominant year in 2012. He went 14-9 with a league-leading 2.53 ERA and 229 strikeouts.

    His 1.023 WHIP also led the league. Kershaw led the Dodgers staff as their No. 1 pitcher and should continue to have the same kind of success in 2013.

60. Christine Sinclair, Soccer

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    Team: Canadian Olympic team

    Achievements: Led Canada to a bronze medal in the Olympics

    Sinclair scored six goals in Olympic competition, leading all players in the tournament. She also helped Canada to a bronze medal, only losing to Japan (group play) and the U.S. in the semifinals.

59. Dwight Howard, Basketball

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    Teams: Orlando Magic, Los Angeles Lakers

    Achievements: Top five in rebounds and blocks

    Like him or not, Howard is one of the premier centers in the NBA.

    After being traded from Orlando to Los Angeles, Howard continues to control the middle, staying in the top five in rebounds and blocks in the NBA.

58. Dana Vollmer, Swimming

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    Team: U.S. Olympic team

    Achievements: Gold medals in 100-meter butterfly, 400-meter medley relay and 800-meter freestyle relay

    Vollmer set a new world record in the 100-meter butterfly with a time of 55.98. She also helped the U.S. medley relay team set a world record with a time of 3:52.05.

57. Ka'Deem Carey, Football

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    Team: Arizona Wildcats

    Achievements: Led NCAA in rushing yards

    Carey finished the year with 1,929 yards rushing and 23 touchdowns. He helped lead the Wildcats to an 8-5 record with a victory over Nevada in the New Mexico Bowl.

56. Aaron Rodgers, Football

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    Team: Green Bay Packers

    Achievements: Second in the NFL in touchdown passes

    Rodgers has continually shown he is one of the best players in the NFL, as he has thrown for 3,930 yards and 35 touchdowns. All this while only throwing eight interceptions.

    Rodgers currently has the Packers in the No. 2 spot in the NFC playoffs, hoping to win his second Super Bowl in three years.

55. Kayla Harrison, Judo

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    Team: U.S. Olympic team

    Achievements: First American to win judo gold in the Olympics

    Harrison became the first American to win gold in judo in the Olympics.

    After tearing her MCL during training for the Olympics, Harrison went out and dominated in the 78-kilogram division, beating Gemma Gibbons in the gold-medal match by two yukos.

54. Marqise Lee, Football

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    Team: USC Trojans

    Achievements: Led NCAA in receptions and was second in receiving yards and touchdowns

    Lee showed he was the best receiver in college football, catching 112 passes for 1,680 yards and 14 touchdowns. He had eight games with more than 100 yards receiving, including a 345-yard performance against Arizona.

    When Lee does declare for the NFL draft, he will be the first receiver taken.

53. Juan-Manuel Marquez, Boxing

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    Achievements: Knocked out Manny Pacquiao, won WBO "Champion of the Decade" belt

    Marquez pulled one of the greatest upsets of the year in boxing when he knocked out Pacquiao. He knocked Pacquiao to the mat in the third round with a right hook and then again in the sixth round.

    It was the sixth-round hit that put Pacquiao out for the count, giving Marquez his first win in the four-part series.

52. Rajon Rondo, Basketball

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    Team: Boston Celtics

    Achievements: Leads NBA in assists

    Rondo currently leads the NBA in assists, and he is the only player averaging double figures. He is certainly one of the best point guards in the game today.

51-50. Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh, Volleyball

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    Team: U.S. Olympic team

    Achievements: Third straight beach volleyball gold medal

    Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh won their third straight beach volleyball gold medal when they beat fellow U.S. players Jennifer Kessy and April Ross.

    May-Treanor and Walsh came into the tournament as the No. 3 seed and went 3-0 in pool play. Once in the Round of 16, the pair didn't drop a set, facing their toughest test in the semifinals against China's Xue Chen and Zhang Xi.

    The pair has since retired, going down as the greatest beach volleyball duo in history.

49. Brad Keselowski, Auto Racing

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    Team: Roger Penske Racing No. 2 team

    Accomplishment: NASCAR Sprint Cup champion

    Keselowski was strong throughout 2012, winning five races en route to the Sprint Cup title. He finished in the Top Five 13 times and had 23 Top 10 finishes.

    He won races at Bristol, Talladega, Kentucky, Chicago and Dover. Simply put, he was dominant.

48. Hope Solo, Soccer

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    Team: U.S. national team

    Achievements: Olympic gold medal

    Solo helped lead the U.S. women's soccer team to a gold medal in London. She had three shutouts, including a 2-0 win against New Zealand in the quarterfinals.

    Throughout the tournament, she conceded six goals, including three to Christine Sinclair in an exciting semifinal game against Canada.

47. Arian Foster, Football

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    Team: Houston Texans

    Achievements: Third straight 1,000-yard rushing season

    Foster has rushed for over 1,300 yards this season, helping the Texans to the playoffs for the second straight year.

46. Aliya Mustafina, Gymnastics

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    Team: Russian Olympic team

    Achievements: Four medals in London Olympics

    Mustafina won a gold medal in the uneven bars, a silver medal in the team competition and bronze medals in the all-around and floor exercise.

    Overall, she was consistent throughout the Olympics.

45. Jordan Lynch, Football

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    Team: Northern Illinois Huskies

    Achievements: Led team to first BCS bowl, third in NCAA in rushing

    Lynch is the sole reason why the Huskies are in a BCS bowl. He finished third in the NCAA in rushing with 1,771 yards and also passed for 2,962 yards.

    He combined for 43 total touchdowns. Lynch rushed for more than 100 yards in 12 of 13 games.

44. Russell Westbrook, Basketball

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    Teams: Oklahoma City Thunder, U.S. Olympic team

    Achievements: Helped Thunder reach NBA Finals and won Olympic gold medal

    Westbrook is the other All-Star on the Thunder. He's averaging over 20 points per game so far and has helped the Thunder to the best record in the NBA.

    During the Olympics, Westbrook averaged 8.5 points per game as the U.S. won the gold medal.

43. Ryan Lochte, Swimming

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    Team: U.S. Olympic team

    Achievements: Five-time medalist in London

    Lochte came into the London Olympics with a lot of hype that he would be the next Michael Phelps. Although Lochte didn't reach that level, he still won five medals in London.

    He won gold in the 400-meter medley and 800-meter freestyle relay. He also took silver medals in the 200-meter medley and 400-meter freestyle relay, and a bronze medal in the 200-meter backstroke.

    While he didn't reach the levels Phelps did in 2008, five medals is still a big accomplishment.

42. Anderson Silva, Mixed Martial Arts

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    Achievements: UFC middleweight champion

    Silva only had two matches in 2012, but he dominated both, beating Chael Sonnen and Stephan Bonnar both by TKO.

    The first-round knockout was the first time in Bonnar's career he had been knocked out via strikes.

    Silva now awaits a possible matchup with Georges St-Pierre. Will it happen in 2013?

41. Steven Stamkos, Hockey

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    Team: Tampa Bay Lightning

    Achievements: No. 2 scorer in NHL at end of 2011-12 season

    Stamkos is one of the best young players in the game, and when the NHL gets back to playing, he'll be looked at to bring the fans back to the league.

    For the 2012 portion of last season, Stamkos had 34 goals and 20 assists.

40. Buster Posey, Baseball

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    Team: San Francisco Giants

    Achievements: World Series title, NL MVP, Silver Slugger

    For all the talk about Miguel Cabrera and his Triple Crown chase, Posey was arguably just as important for the World Series-winning Giants.

    While Posey didn't have the same numbers as Cabrera, he shined in many more ways. Posey finished the year batting a league-leading .336 with 24 home runs and 103 RBI. He also led the league in wins above replacement (7.2), adjusted OPS+ (172) and baserunners thrown out (38).

    To put it plainly, Posey is the best catcher in all of baseball.

39. Robin van Persie, Soccer

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    Teams: Arsenal, Manchester United, Dutch national team

    Achievements: Currently is No. 2 in goals scored in the Premier League

    The Dutch striker spent time with both Arsenal and Manchester United in 2012.

    While with Arsenal, he scored 16 goals before scoring 12 goals for Manchester United after the transfer.

    In international play, van Persie had six goals for the Netherlands in friendlies and Euro 2012.

38. J.J. Watt, Football

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    Team: Houston Texans

    Accomplishments: Challenging Michael Strahan's single-season record for sacks

    Watt has been dominant on the defensive line for the Texans this year, putting up 20.5 sacks through Week 16. Watt's dominance has been so impressive that he's gone without a sack in only three games.

    He is one of the major reasons why the Texans currently have the No. 1 seed in the AFC.

37. Justin Verlander, Baseball

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    Team: Detroit Tigers

    Achievements: First in strikeouts and innings pitched in American League, helped lead Tigers to World Series, All-Star selection

    Although Verlander failed to match his MVP and Cy Young 2011 campaign, he still had a great 2012. He went 17-8 with a 2.64 ERA, and he threw a league-leading six complete games, 238.1 innings and 239 strikeouts.

    For his achievements on the mound, he finished second in Cy Young voting and eighth in MVP voting.

36. Carli Lloyd, Soccer

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    Team: U.S. national team

    Achievements: Helped lead the U.S. to a gold medal in the Olympics

    Comments: Lloyd simply dominated on the U.S. national team throughout 2012. In Olympic qualifications, she came away with six goals, including a hat trick against Mexico in the group stages.

    She scored two more goals in matches leading up to the Olympics before scoring four goals in the Games. In fact, her two goals against Japan in the gold-medal match were the only two goals the U.S. scored.

    Lloyd then finished the year with three more goals in friendlies to bring her total to 15.

35. Novak Djokovic, Tennis

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    Achievements: Australian Open champion, No. 1 world ranking

    Djokovic ended the year ranked No. 1 in the world, winning the first major of the year in Australia. He also won events in Miami, Toronto, Beijing, Shanghai and the ATP World Finals.

    Couple that with runner-up finishes in the French Open and U.S. Open, and it's easy to see why Djokovic is the highest-ranked men's player.

34. Evgeni Malkin, Hockey

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    Teams: Pittsburgh Penguins, Metallurg Magnitogorsk

    Achievements: MVP IIHF World Championships, Hart Memorial Trophy

    Malkin was good in many facets in 2012. Although the Penguins were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs, he was still named the NHL's MVP.

    He then played for Russia in the IIHF World Championships, scoring 11 goals and getting eight assists as the Russians took home the gold medal.

    With the NHL in a labor dispute, Malkin signed with his former Russian league team.

33. Brittney Griner, Basketball

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    Team: Baylor Bears

    Achievements: National title at Baylor, AP Player of the Year

    Griner helped lead her Baylor squad to a national title, as the Lady Bears won their final 27 games of the season en route to the title.

    Griner came up big when it mattered most, scoring 26 points and had 13 rebounds in the final against Notre Dame.

    Baylor began the 2012-13 season with two wins before losing a two-point contest to Stanford. Since then, Griner has led the Lady Bears to seven straight wins, including wins over Notre Dame and Tennessee.

32. Collin Klein, Football

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    Team: Kansas State Wildcats

    Achievements: Led Wildcats to Fiesta Bowl, Heisman Trophy runner-up

    Had Klein and the Wildcats not gotten thumped by Baylor, Klein likely would have been this year's Heisman Trophy winner.

    While Johnny Manziel had superior numbers, the fact that the Wildcats were undefeated was what kept Klein in the conversation. Even with one loss on the year and no Heisman Trophy, Klein still had a great season.

    He finished with 2,490 yards passing and 890 yards rushing with 37 total touchdowns. Klein showed himself to be one of the best players in college football and should be a good pro—just not at the quarterback position.

31. Mo Farah, Track and Field

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    Team: British Olympic team

    Achievements: Two gold medals in distance events in Olympics

    Farah captured the imagination of his countrymen as he won gold medals in the 5,000-meter run and 10,000-meter run.

    His 10,000-meter race was one of the best events of the entire Olympics, as he and training partner Galen Rupp (U.S.) came from the back of the pack to overtake the leaders and finish first and second.

    It was a moment most people watching will always remember. His gold medal in the 10,000 was Britain's first at that distance.

30. Carmelo Anthony, Basketball

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    Teams: New York Knicks, U.S. Olympic team

    Achievements: Olympic gold medal, leader of resurgent Knicks

    Melo rebounded from a rough finish to the 2011-12 NBA season to win gold in London. During the Olympics, he averaged 13.2 points per game and broke Team USA's record for points in a game with 37 against Nigeria.

    Now, he is the dominant offensive force for the division-leading Knicks, averaging 28.5 points per game.

29. Andrea Pirlo, Soccer

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    Teams: Juventus, Italian national team

    Achievements: Led Italy to a runner-up finish in Euro 2012 and Juventus to a Serie A title

    Known more of as a great passer, Pirlo has seven goals and 13 assists for Juventus in 2012.

    In Euro 2012, Prilo helped Italy to the championship match, where it eventually lost to Spain.

    In total, Pirlo was named "Man of the Match" three times, which tied him for the lead in the tournament.

28. Abby Wambach, Soccer

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    Team: U.S. national team

    Achievements: Led U.S. to Olympic gold

    When it comes to the best female soccer player in the world, there are none better than Wambach.

    In the Olympics, Wambach showed just how good she could be with five goals in six games. Wambach never scored more than one in any match, but she was always leading the charge and making plays.

    Her successful penalty kick against Canada in the semifinals tied the game at 3-3, which the U.S. went on to win 4-3.

27. R.A. Dickey, Baseball

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    Team: New York Mets

    Achievements: NL Cy Young Award

    Dickey had a very unexpected Cy Young season in 2012. He finished the year with a record of 20-6, a 2.73 ERA and 230 strikeouts.

    His knuckleball kept hitters off balance throughout the year and gave Mets fans something to look forward to every fifth day.

    Dickey has been traded to the Toronto Blue Jays, and the only question now is: Was 2012 a fluke?

26. Ryan Braun, Baseball

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    Team: Milwaukee Brewers

    Achievements: Led NL in runs scored, home runs and OPS

    Braun gained vindication in 2012 as he put up equal numbers a year after being said to have tested positive for PEDs.

    The Milwaukee slugger batted .319 with 41 home runs, 112 RBI, scored 108 runs and stole 30 bases. He finished second in the NL MVP voting behind Buster Posey, was named an All-Star and won a Silver Slugger.

    Braun cleared the PED cloud surrounding him, and it's something he can now move on from.

25. Chris Paul, Basketball

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    Team: Los Angeles Clippers, U.S. Olympic team

    Achievements: Mayor of "Lob City" and won gold medal in Olympics

    Paul is perhaps the best point guard in the NBA right now. He's second in the league in assists with 9.4 per game and is also averaging 16.1 points for the Clippers, who also happen to have the best record in the NBA.

    Paul has given the Clippers a distributor and made them legitimate title contenders. Just watch him throw it up to Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. The end result is pretty, except if you're the opposing team.

24. Andres Iniesta, Soccer

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    Teams: FC Barcelona, Spanish national team

    Achievements: Helped Spain to Euro 2012 title, multiple team titles with Barcelona

    Iniesta had five goals and 16 assists for Barcelona in 2012 as the team won Copa del Ray, the UEFA Super Cup and the FIFA World Cup.

    Iniesta is constantly overshadowed by his teammate Lionel Messi, but without Iniesta, Messi wouldn't have the same success.

23. Maya Moore, Basketball

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    Teams: Minnesota Lynx, U.S. Olympic team, Shanxi Xing Rui Flame

    Achievements: Gold medalist, WNBA finalist

    Domination is the only word to describe Maya Moore.

    After getting the Lynx to their second straight WNBA Finals, Moore helped the U.S. to a gold medal in London. There, she averaged nine points and 5.6 rebounds per game.

    Then, Moore signed with the Flame and has dominated the Chinese league ever since. She's averaging 45.5 points per game, with her best game being a 60-point effort against Yunan.

    Everywhere Moore goes, her teams win. It's no wonder why she's considered one of the best women's basketball players in the world.

22. Rory McIlroy, Golf

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    Achievements: No. 1 world ranking, PGA Championship

    McIlroy had his struggles in 2012, but when he was on his game, he was on his game.

    He ended the year as the No. 1-ranked player in the world and won one major. He also won at the World Tour Championship, BMW Championship, Deutsche Bank Open and Honda Classic.

    He coupled that with eight more top-five finishes, showing how dominant he was throughout the year.

21. Peyton Manning, Football

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    Team: Denver Broncos

    Achievements: Leading Broncos to playoffs

    Manning is one of the best quarterbacks who has ever lived. Coming off neck surgery, he has proven it once again as he's helped lead the Broncos into the playoffs.

    After early-season struggles, Manning has led Denver to 10 straight victories and within one game of a first-round bye.

    Through Week 16, Manning has thrown for 4,355 yards and 34 touchdowns and is the favorite to win the NFL MVP by some writers.

    For anyone to come back from neck surgery like he did is an accomplishment within itself. For someone to come back from it at the top of their game (maybe better) is all the more astounding.

20. Gabby Douglas, Gymnastics

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    Team: U.S. Olympic team

    Achievements: Olympic all-around champion, team gold medal

    The Flying Squirrel captured the hearts and imaginations of many young girls around the world, as she became the best gymnast in the world with her performance at the Olympics.

    Gold medals in the all-around and team competition made her the first gymnast ever to win both in one Olympics.

    In the all-around, she posted the top scores on vault (15.966) and balance beam (15.500) while putting the third-best score up on the uneven bars and fourth-best score up on the floor exercise.

    The individual event finals didn't end well for Douglas, as she finished seventh on the balance beam and eighth on the uneven bars. Still, her performance in the individual all-around and team event is one many will remember for a long time.

19. Jon Jones, Mixed Martial Arts

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    Achievements: UFC light heavyweight champion

    Jones is the best fighter in UFC, regardless of weight class. He's currently the light heavyweight champion and has owned the competition since coming to the UFC.

    In 2012, Jones had two fights. He garnered a unanimous decision over Rashad Evans and got Vitor Belfort to submit. Now, Jones has a date with "The Mouth" Chael Sonnen on April 27.

18. Miguel Cabrera, Baseball

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    Team: Detroit Tigers

    Accomplishments: AL Triple Crown winner, AL MVP

    To win the Triple Crown and the MVP and then be No. 18 on the list would seem almost like it's too low.

    Cabrera batted .330 with 44 home runs and 139 RBI, winning a Silver Slugger as well. He became the first Triple Crown winner since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967, showing he could do it all at the plate.

    He provided baseball fans with a season to remember, and it's hard to tell when we'll see the next Triple Crown winner in baseball.

17. Tom Brady, Football

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    Team: New England Patriots

    Achievements: Led Patriots to 2012 Super Bowl

    Brady led the Patriots to the Super Bowl in January, throwing six touchdowns against Denver in the divisional round before outlasting Baltimore in the AFC Championship Game.

    This season, Brady has thrown for 4,543 yards and 32 touchdowns, having thrown at least one touchdown in every game this season.

    He currently has the Patriots in position to possibly earn a bye in the first round of the playoffs. However, even if that doesn't happen, the Patriots are still favorites to make it to the Super Bowl.

    Brady has a created a dynasty in New England, as the Patriots are expected to be in the thick of things as long as he is under center.

16. Cristiano Ronaldo, Soccer

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    Teams: Real Madrid, Portuguese national team

    Achievements: Became first La Liga player to score 40 or more goals in two seasons

    Ronaldo is commonly thought of as the second-best soccer player in the world.

    In playing with Real Madrid in 2012, Ronaldo scored 49 goals and had 10 assists, including 15 games with two goals or more.

    Ronaldo scored seven goals in Euro qualifying. He then scored three goals in the tournament itself as Portugal advanced to the semifinals before falling to Spain.

15. Alex Morgan, Soccer

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    Team: U.S. national team

    Achievements: Olympic gold medal, the next "big thing" in women's soccer

    Morgan is slowly becoming the new face of women's soccer.

    She scored 28 goals and had 21 assists between the Olympics and friendlies this year, including hat tricks against Ireland and Sweden.

    In the Olympics, Morgan shined throughout. She scored the equalizer and game-winning goals in the U.S. comeback victory over France.

    In the next three matches, all game-winning goals were assisted by Morgan.

    Morgan's goal in the 123rd minute against Canada in the semifinals was not only her 20th of 2012, but it was also the latest goal ever recorded by a U.S. player in international play.

14. Michael Phelps, Swimming

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    Team: U.S. Olympic team

    Achievements: The greatest Olympian in history, six total medals at Olympics

    For anyone who doesn't think Phelps is the greatest Olympian in history, they're only kidding themselves. Phelps became the most decorated Olympian ever as he won six medals (four gold, two silver) in London. Those six medals brought his total to 22, with 18 of those being gold.

    In London, Phelps won gold in the 100-meter butterfly, 100-meter medley, 400-meter medley relay and 800-meter freestyle relay. He also took silver in the 200-meter butterfly and 400-meter freestyle relay.

    While London wasn't as good to him as Beijing, the hype surrounding his rivalry with Ryan Lochte was all for naught. Phelps showed Lochte was no match for him. In fact, no Olympian will ever compare to Phelps.

    Now Phelps is retired, although his mom wants him to give the Olympics one more go in 2016.

13. Calvin Johnson, Football

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    Team: Detroit Lions

    Achievements: Broke Jerry Rice's single-season receiving mark

    "Megatron" showed why he is the best receiver in the league, as he broke Jerry Rice's single-season receiving yards mark in Week 16. With one game to go in the regular season, Johnson is currently sitting at 1,892 yards and five touchdowns.

    With just 108 more yards, Johnson will enter uncharted territory at 2,000 yards. For a running back to hit that mark is almost impossible. For a receiver, who generally touches the ball 50 percent less in a game, it's even more improbable.

    Johnson is the best receiver in the NFL. Case closed. End of story.

12. Kobe Bryant, Basketball

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    Teams: Los Angeles Lakers, U.S. Olympic team

    Achievements: Olympic gold medal, leads NBA in scoring

    Bryant may be 34, but he is still one of the best players in the NBA.

    After a disappointing end to last NBA season, Bryant helped the U.S. to a gold medal in the Olympics, averaging 8.2 points per game.

    As this season rolled around, excitement grew in Los Angeles as the Lakers acquired Dwight Howard and signed Steve Nash from free agency. While the season hasn't been what he's hoped for in the beginning, he's still the same dominant player on the floor.

    Bryant currently leads the NBA in scoring with 30.1 points per game. If the Lakers are going to make a run at the NBA title, which most people think they will, Bryant is going to have to continue to dominate.

11. Aly Raisman, Gymnastics

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    Team: U.S. Olympic team

    Achievements: Gold medal in team competition and floor exercise, bronze medal on balance beam

    This is honestly one I know will cause more controversy than any other selection. How can I put Raisman ahead of U.S. Olympic teammate Gabby Douglas after Douglas won the individual all-around gold medal and Raisman finished fourth?

    For starters, Raisman took home one more medal than Douglas and just missed out in the individual all-around medal due to tiebreaker rules. While Raisman didn't perform as well as Douglas in all four events, she still performed well enough to earn a tie for the bronze. But the "count-back tiebreaker" ended up taking it from her.

    Outside of that, Raisman was equally as good in her other events.

    She took gold on the floor exercise, giving a dominant routine that bested the rest of the competition by 0.4 points. Raisman also took bronze on the balance beam. This time the tiebreaker rule worked in her favor, as she had a higher execution score than Romania's Catalina Ponor.

    Sure, Raisman didn't get the same kind of press that Douglas and Jordyn Wieber did, but she outperformed them both over the course of the entire Olympics. Because of that, she is ranked higher than Douglas.

10. Serena Williams, Tennis

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    Achievements: Olympic singles gold medalist, Olympic doubles gold medalist, Wimbledon singles and doubles champion, WTA Tour Championship, U.S. Open champion, No. 3 world ranking

    Williams dominated the last half of the WTA season. It will be no time until she is back at No. 1 in the world.

    She won singles titles at Wimbledon, the U.S. Open, the WTA Tour Championship and in the Olympics. Williams also won in Charleston, Brisbane and Stanford.

    In doubles play, Williams won the gold medal with her sister, Venus, and the U.S. Open title. In total, Williams earned almost $7 million from her play.

    Where the year turned around for Williams was after her first-round loss in the French Open. From there, Williams won five of her final six singles events on the year. In that time, she only lost six sets, including an Olympics where she allowed a total of 17 set points.

    Williams earned her spot in the top 10 for how she finished the year. If her play continues into 2013, there's no doubt she'll finish 2013 even higher.

9. Kevin Durant, Basketball

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    Teams: Oklahoma City Thunder, U.S. Olympic team

    Achievements: Reached NBA Finals, won Olympic gold medal

    Durant is the second-best player in the NBA, and he shows why on a nightly basis. Currently averaging over 28 points per game, Durant has led the Thunder to the second-best record in the league.

    In Olympic play, Durant was second on the team in points (17.6) and also averaged five rebounds per game. Partnering with Russell Westbrook, Durant gave opposing defenses fits.

    Durant looks primed to lead the Thunder back to the NBA Finals, where he hopes he gets a rematch with James. That way, he can try to dethrone "the King" from the top.

8. Missy Franklin, Swimming

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    Team: U.S. Olympic team

    Achievements: Won four Olympic gold medals and one bronze medal, World Swimmer of the Year

    When it comes to the new face of women's swimming, Franklin is at the top of the list. Still in high school, Franklin took home five medals from the London Olympics.

    She set world records in the 200-meter freestyle (2:04.06) and 400-meter medley relay (3:52.05) while setting American records in her gold-medal swims in the 100-meter backstroke (58.33) and 800-meter freestyle relay (7:42.92). She also won bronze in the 400-meter freestyle relay.

    At the end of 2012, Franklin was named World Swimmer of the Year by Swimming World Magazine.

    There's no doubt that if she continues on the path she's on, she could become not only the most decorated female swimmer of all time, but the most decorated female Olympian of all time.

7. Ashton Eaton, Track and Field

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    Team: U.S. Olympic team

    Achievements: Decathlon gold medal, world's best athlete

    The winner of the Olympic decathlon is generally referred to as the world's best athlete simply because of the 10 events the decathlon entails. Eaton was dominant in the decathlon, as he didn't even wait for the Olympics to set the world record.

    During the U.S. Olympic Trials, Eaton scored 9,039 points to break the world record. In fact, Eaton's long jump was longer than anyone in the preliminaries and would have tied him for second overall had he been in the competition.

    Then, in what was a lasting image for viewers, competitors urged Eaton on in the final 100 meters of the 1,500 (the last event of the decathlon) as we all witnessed history.

    In the Olympics, Eaton bested the entire field in three events, all on the first day, to build a big lead. From there, Eaton stayed consistent on the second day of the competition, beating out U.S. teammate Trey Hardee by almost 200 points with 8,869.

    Eaton has earned the right to be called the best athlete in the world.

6. Usain Bolt, Track and Field

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    Team: Jamaican Olympic team

    Achievements: Won three gold medals in London

    Bolt did the impossible and went double-triple, becoming the first athlete ever to win gold medals in the 100-, 200- and 400-meter relay events in two straight Olympics. Nobody has ever done it before, and it's likely nobody ever will again.

    The Jamaican sprinter came into London heavily favored in the 100, but he was challenged by fellow countryman Yohan Blake in the 200. Bolt won the 100 with a time of 9.63 seconds, while his 200-winning time was 19.32.

    Bolt will go down as the greatest sprinter in history. For someone to surpass him, they are going to have to duplicate his double-triple feat, at the very least.

5. Mike Trout, Baseball

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    Team: Los Angeles Angels

    Achievements: AL Rookie of the Year, AL stolen bases leader

    Trout has become a household name after only one year of being in MLB.

    Despite only playing in 139 games, Trout gave Miguel Cabrera a run for his money in the AL MVP race. Trout finished the year batting .326 with 30 home runs, 83 RBI, a league-leading 129 runs scored and 49 stolen bases.

    His 10.7 wins above replacement was the highest in all of baseball, while he also was in the top 10 of most offensive categories.

    Trout has cemented himself as one of the best players in all of baseball, and there's no doubt he'll win a few league MVP titles in his career.

    The young outfielder has a bright future ahead of him, especially if he can continue to put up the numbers he did in 2012.

4. Johnny Manziel, Football

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    Team: Texas A&M Aggies

    Achievements: First freshman to win the Heisman Trophy, Davey O'Brien Award

    Let it sink in for a moment: Johnny Manziel is the first freshman to ever win the Heisman Trophy. That is a major feat and one that isn't getting the recognition it deserves.

    Manziel threw for 3,419 yards and 25 touchdowns while also running for 1,181 yards and 19 touchdowns. His 4,600 total yards also gave him the single-season record for offensive production in the SEC.

    Oh yeah, and he beat No. 1-ranked Alabama at Tuscaloosa.

    Manziel deserved the Heisman Trophy after having one of the greatest seasons a college player has ever had.

3. Adrian Peterson, Football

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    Team: Minnesota Vikings

    Achievements: Leading the NFL in rushing, closing in on 2,000 yards in a season

    Peterson is sitting at 1,898 yards rushing with one game to go in the regular season.

    He's not only closing in on 2,000 yards, but he's also closing in on Eric Dickerson's single-season record of 2,105 yards. While Peterson needs to have another 200-plus-yard rushing game in Week 17 to break the record, his performance still goes down as one of the best of 2012.

    All of that aside, for those who saw his game on Christmas Eve back in 2011, in which he tore his ACL and MCL, it wasn't a pretty sight. However, Peterson rehabbed and recovered quicker than doctors expected, getting back on the field for Week 1.

    For him to come back from that says a lot. For him to near the NFL rushing record after that just shows you what a freakishly good athlete he is.

2. LeBron James, Basketball

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    Teams: Miami Heat, U.S. Olympic Team

    Achievements: NBA title, Olympic gold medal

    James finally got the NBA title he so desperately wanted, as he and the Heat beat the Thunder in the NBA Finals. In the playoffs, James averaged 30.3 points, 9.7 rebounds and 5.6 assists per game, being named the Finals MVP.

    After winning a title in Miami, James "took his talents" to London to help the U.S. win an Olympic gold medal. During the tournament, James averaged 18.6 points and 4.8 rebounds per game, as the U.S. dominated the competition throughout.

    Then, returning to Miami for the 2012-13 season, James and the Heat came in with the expectations of repeating. So far, the Heat are at the top of the Eastern Conference (again), batting with the Knicks for the top spot.

    James is averaging 25.9 points, 8.6 rebounds and 6.9 assists per game, showing again why he is the best basketball player in the world.

1. Lionel Messi, Soccer

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    Team: FC Barcelona

    Achievements: Greatest single-season goal scorer in world soccer history

    Messi became the all-time leader for goals in a season when he scored 91 goals over the course of 2012. Nobody in history has ever scored that many, and Messi may be the only person who ever does it again.

    The Argentine forward was dominant all season, as Barcelona won Copa del Ray, the UEFA Super Cup and the FIFA Club World Cup. All of those titles were due in large part to Messi, although his teammates deserve a lot of credit as well.

    To put it all in perspective, Messi was more likely to score two or more goals than he was to go scoreless.

    That's simply extraordinary, and it's exactly why he is at the top of this year's top 100 athletes.