The year in international sports began badly when Lance Armstrong went on Oprah Winfrey's show and admitted to being a liar, a bully and a fraud while still refusing to tell the whole truth about his doping.
It would get worse when Russia passed anti-gay laws that have become a flashpoint in the buildup to the 2014 Winter OIympics, and the International Olympic Committee reacted with a spineless acquiescence.
Then track and field's diminished stature in the United States got a little lower when the fastest U.S. sprinter in history, Tyson Gay, failed a doping test.
Near the end of the year, Chinese swimming superstar Sun Yang was fined and banned from competition and training for being in an accident while driving without a license, which diminished his having swept the three distance freestyle races at the world championships.
And, in mid-April, the most awful: the bombing at the Boston Marathon that would leave four dead and dozens maimed and injured.
All that makes one long for the athletes and moments that came brightly through the muck.
Fortunately, there were many.
Before recognizing them, though, we owe special recognition to the people of Boston, especially the first responders, some of them runners, who reacted to unspeakable horror with unstinting humanity, who filled the darkest of hours with the cleansing light of courage and compassion.
There also was the noteworthy humanity of a U.S. runner, Nick Symmonds. He became the first international athlete to speak out against the Russian anti-gay laws and, thereby, for human rights, a stance later echoed by figure skater Ashley Wagner and skier Bode Miller.
Here are the medalists in the Tribune's 27th annual international sports awards, for whom the eligibility criterion is that an Olympic gold medal is the ultimate prize in their sport.
World Athlete of the Year
Gold: Usain Bolt, Jamaica, track and field. Swept both sprints and anchored the sprint relay to victory for the second time at the world championships, tying him for first in gold (8) and total (10) medals at worlds and further cementing his place as the greatest sprinter in history.
Silver: Ted Ligety, U.S., skiing. Became the first since Jean-Claude Killy in 1967 to win three events at the world meet and won six of the eight World Cup giant slaloms, giving him a fourth season title in that discipline.
Bronze: Kohei Uchimura, Japan, gymnastics. The reigning Olympic all-around champion won a record fourth straight all-around title at the world championships by a margin as great as that between second and eighth place.
Gold: Katie Ledecky, U.S., swimming. The high school junior set two world records and a U.S. record while sweeping the women's distance events at the worlds. Ledecky, 16, also swam a leg on the winning 800 relay.
Silver: Tina Maze, Slovenia, skiing. Won 11 World Cup races and four of the six season event titles (second in the other two). Scored 2,414 World Cup points, breaking Hermann Maier's season record by 414. Won a gold and two silvers at the world championships.
Bronze: Brittney Reese, U.S., track and field. After making the final as the last qualifier, Reese continued her remarkable streak of global championship success with a long jump win at the outdoor worlds. She has now won the event at the last three outdoor worlds, last two indoor worlds and last Olympics.
U.S. Athlete of the Year