Phelps wins male athlete at ESPYs

July 19, 2009 6:35:16 PM PDT
Michael Phelps is still reaping rewards for his record haul of eight gold medals at the Beijing Olympics. He won a leading five ESPY Awards, including male athlete of the year, ending the five-year reign of Tiger Woods, who earned his record 22nd trophy Wednesday night.

The 14-time Olympic gold medalist also collected trophies for record-breaking performance, championship performance, and male Olympian while sharing the best moment award as part of the victorious 400-meter freestyle swimming relay at the Beijing Games.

"This all started with a dream when I was a kid to do something no else has done before," Phelps said on stage. "I was able to do it in such an amazing year in sports."

Olympic all-around gymnastics champion Nastia Liukin won female athlete of the year.

The show honoring the previous year's top athletes, events and teams airs Sunday on ESPN.

Phelps' only other ESPY came in 2005, when he was chosen male Olympian following his haul of six gold medals at the 2004 Athens Games.

Phelps' relay teammates Cullen Jones and Garrett Weber-Gale joined him in accepting the best moment, with relay anchor Jason Lezak appearing via satellite from Israel, where he's competing.

"Every time I watch that race, I still can't believe we actually did win. A lot of this goes to Jason," Phelps said. "It definitely couldn't have been done without him, Cullen and Garrett."

He wasn't the only swimmer honored. Dara Torres, who at 41 won three silver medals in her fifth Olympics, received the comeback award. She asked for a chair to sit on backstage to rest her ailing left knee that will require surgery later this summer.

"At my age, it's really hard to say I'm going to do this in three years," Torres said backstage. "I love racing the youngsters, but I don't really know how my body will hold up."

Liukin defeated Wimbledon winner Serena Williams, Los Angeles Sparks star Candace Parker, Olympic swimmer Natalie Coughlin and Connecticut basketball player Maya Moore for female athlete.

"It's still a little surreal," Liukin said backstage. "It's definitely going to add a little bit of weight to my purse on the way home."

Woods won male golfer honors for the fifth consecutive year, giving him a career total of 22 ESPYs. He is in Scotland to play in the British Open beginning Thursday.

Besides Woods, Phelps outpolled NBA superstars Kobe Bryant and LeBron James and NASCAR driver Jimmie Johnson for male athlete. Bryant still took home some hardware, sharing the team award with his NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers team.

"We have to thank the Buss family for bringing us all here," Bryant said in accepting the award with some of his teammates. "We want to thank the fans for all your support. It's a remarkable team. We were able to overcome the odds."

Phil Jackson, who earned his record 10th NBA title, won the coaching award. James was chosen NBA player.

Samuel L. Jackson returned for the fourth time as host of the show taped at the Nokia Theatre. He targeted Phelps in his opening monologue.

"You know something special must have happened this year when a swimmer has got as good a seat as Kobe," Jackson said, noting Phelps' front-row seat next to his mother Debbie. "You must be glad to be back in the pool, nobody gives you a hard time when you smoke the competition."

Phelps, his mother and coach Bob Bowman all laughed at the reference to the swimmer being photographed using a marijuana pipe, which resulted in a three-month suspension.

Jackson noted the recent spat between Los Angeles Galaxy teammates David Beckham and Landon Donovan.

"First you beat Spain, then you take Brazil to the brink, then most shocking of all, you call David Beckham an (expletive)," Jackson said as a bemused Donovan looked on.

Jackson took shots at rookie quarterbacks Mark Sanchez and Matthew Stafford, the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft.

He told Sanchez: "I admire you for leaving USC so early to go to the NFL. Most people wouldn't want to take a pay cut like that."

Jackson encouraged Stafford to "enjoy yourself tonight. Once you actually start playing for the Lions, they stop inviting you."

The Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers were honored in the best game category for their title win over the Arizona Cardinals. They also won for best play, when Ben Roethlisberger connected with Santonio Holmes for the game-winning touchdown in the closing seconds.

Former South African president Nelson Mandela received the Arthur Ashe Courage Award. His daughter Zindzi Mandela and grandson Zondwa Mandela accepted from presenters Serena and Venus Williams. The Jimmy V Award for Perseverance went to Northern State men's basketball coach Don Meyer, who battled cancer after surviving a near-fatal car accident.

"There's a lot of people who got it a lot tougher than I do," said Meyer, who uses a walker and wheelchair to get around since his left leg was amputated.

Winners in all but the Jimmy V, Arthur Ashe and comeback categories were determined by online and mobile phone fan voting.


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