LONDON (AP) — The dominant forces in tennis and football were honored Monday, with Novak Djokovic winning the top individual prize and Barcelona capturing the team trophy at the 2012 Laureus Sports Awards.
The top-ranked Djokovic won sportsman of the year at the ceremony in London, one week after the Serbian triumphed at the Australian Open to become the fifth man in the Open Era to win three Grand Slam titles in a row.
He’s already targeting a fourth at the French Open in Paris in June.
“I have to stay optimistic, believe in what I can do, believe in my abilities and believe that I can win on all surfaces,” Djokovic said. “I have proven on numerous occasions that I can really be one of the candidates to win every Grand Slam on every surface. I need to keep that up. Roland Garros is the one to win this year.”
Barcelona was recognized as the best team after a stellar 2011 in which Pep Guardiola’s players won the Spanish league and Champions League.
But Barcelona trails Real Madrid by seven points in the domestic title race and coach Pep Guardiola is yet to sign a new contract to keep him at the club beyond the end of the season.
“It is not affecting the team,” Barca president Sandro Rosell said. “We are used to this way of renewing his contact. He likes to do it year by year. We 100 percent respect what he think he wants.
“The reason he is doing that is something easy to understand: he wants to be motivate himself and (ensure) the players are motivated. We think both are happening. We hope that in the coming weeks he will renew — but one day it will not happen.”
Kenyan distance runner Vivian Cheruiyot, who won the 5,000- and 10,000-meter titles at the world championships last year, took the sportswoman’s award.
Darren Clarke was honored with the comeback of the year award. The 43-year-old Northern Irishman won his first golf major by capturing the British Open at Royal St. George’s last year.
Compatriot Rory McIlroy won the breakthrough of the year award for the 22-year-old’s eight-shot win at the U.S. Open at Congressional, becoming the second-youngest player to win a major since 1934.
“It was a great year to win my first major and to get into the top three in the world rankings,” McIlroy said. “I think 2012 is going to be a really exciting year. I’d love to back up my U.S. Open win with another major this year, and hopefully try and get to No. 1.”
Bobby Charlton was supposed to attend to receive the lifetime achievement award 54 years to the day after surviving the Munich air disaster that killed eight members of his Manchester United team.
But the 74-year-old Charlton, who won the 1966 World Cup with England and the European Cup two years later with United, fell ill on Sunday and returned to Manchester on Monday for unspecified minor surgery, Laureus said.
Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson accepted the award on Charlton’s behalf.
“Sir Bobby is fine, but it was felt he should go back to Manchester — he is very annoyed not to be here to receive this award,” Ferguson said.
Double amputee Oscar Pistorius won the disability award. The South African 400-meter specialist won a silver medal in the relay at the able-bodied world championships last year in Daegu, South Korea.
The winners were chosen by 47 sports stars who make up the Laureus sports academy.