This was a tough one.
It’s impossible to argue with the success of Jamaica’s Usain Bolt at this year’s London Olympics.
After taking the world by storm in Beijing with three golds, one each in the 100m, 200m and 4×100 relay, Bolt did it again in London.
And it wasn’t just the medals, but how he won them. In several races, Bolt was in the middle of the pack halfway through, until his God-given talents took over, driving him to the finish line at what must be the limits of human speed.
Bolt wasn’t just the best in London. His legendary performance brought him into consideration for “best Olympian of all time.” (Even if International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge refused to call him a “legend.”)
Bolt, one of the great showmen in athletics today, reminded the world of the impact of the Caribbean region— far beyond the size of its population — and particularly that of Jamaica, which made a lasting imprint on the world with its 12-medal haul this year in London.
And in any other year, Bolt’s exploits would have made him an easy choice for Sportsman of the Year.
But there was another compelling story this year coming from the island of Grenada.
Young Kirani James, the youngest-ever 400m champion 2011 at 18 years of age, became the first-ever Caribbean champion of the men’s 400m in London, putting the young sprinter from Gouyave — and his country — on the sporting map.
It was the first-ever gold medal for Grenada (and, we imagine, the first of several in the near future, if James has anything to say about it).
But it was something that happened, not in the 400m final, but even earlier in London, that also brought James into consideration for this award, which measures not just athletic prowess but athletic comportment.
After winning his semifinal heat in the 400, James didn’t celebrate. Instead, he turned to another athlete in the race.
You see, South Africa’s Oscar Pistorius had come to London as the first amputee of any kind to compete in the Olympic Games, racing with a pair of “blades” that gave him the opportunity to run. (And not without generating controversy).
While James finished second in his heat, just behind Trinidad’s Lalonde Gordon, Pistorius finished with the 23rd-best time in a semifinal field of 24.
But after crossing the line, James waited, calmly, and turned to Pistorius, approaching to exchange bib numbers with the double-amputee.
It was a quintessential act of sportsmanship — a sign that James was not just a young sprinting star, but someone who represented the true values of sport.
Kirani’s grace in that moment, and his demeanor throughout 2012, has been unparalleled.
Faced with these two stories, it became an easy choice. And so we’re proud to name both Usain Bolt and Kirani James our co-sportsmen of the year for 2012.