PARIS, December 16 – Chinese hurdles star Liu Xiang made a triumphant comeback in a year when Tyson Gay made the most of Usain Bolt's absence through injury and Kenyan David Rudisha exploded onto the 800m scene.Liu claimed his third successive Asian Games title in the 110m hurdles and immediately set his sights on reclaiming the Olympic gold he won at the 2004 Athens Games.
Having limped out injured at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Liu made sure to live up to the soaring expections of a demanding nation, coming home in an impressive 13.09 seconds.
"I used to be unwilling to mention what happened (in Beijing) because it would take me into a depression," said Liu, the former world record holder.
"But that shadow isn’t following me around anymore.
"I think about the demons facing me now when I race. I know that I can conquer them if I face them head on."
Elsewhere on the track, Kenya’s David Rudisha made history by twice breaking the long-standing 800m world record, the previous best mark set by Denmark’s Kenyan-born Wilson Kipketer in August 1997.
The 21-year-old, coached by renowned Irish priest Colm O’Connell, first broke the world record in Berlin on August 22 with a time of 1min 41.09sec before bettering that mark with 1:41.01 in Rieti, Italy, a week later.
He was also crowned African champion in July in Nairobi and was unbeaten in his 16 races during the outdoor campaign.
O’Connell warned, however, that he must keep his feet on the ground.
"Rudisha should realise there is much work to be done and what he has achieved this year is a phase in his career," 0’Connell said.
"The next two years are very important since we have the world championships and the Olympics coming up and he can only consider himself a great if he adds his name to these categories."
Rudisha and Croatian high jump star Blanka Vlasic were named male and female athletes of the year by the sport’s governing body, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF).
Alongside Rudisha’s record-breaking runs, the 27-year-old Vlasic won both the European outdoors and world indoors titles.
It was a quiet season for the biggest global draw in athletics, Jamaican Usain Bolt, ahead of the 2011 world championships in Daegu, South Korea.
The reigning treble gold medallist in world and Olympic competition and world record holder in the 100 and 200m missed most of the season through injury.
Bolt raced 11 times, seven individually, but stopped his season early on the advice of doctors because of a lower back problem after missing a month earlier in the season with a tight Achilles tendon.
The Jamaican, who has since resumed training, was a loser in his final appearance of 2010, dropping a 100m race in August to US rival Gay in Sweden.
After spending the last two years in Bolt’s shadow, Gay emerged with the right to be called the best sprinter over the blue riband distance.
The 28-year-old finished atop the standings for the shortest event in the inaugural 14-leg Diamond League, which replaced the six-event Golden League and associated Grand Prix meetings.
"You have to change your training around a little bit," Gay said of the season-long structure, bemoaning a lack of synchronicity in complementing events. "If I run the 100m, I like to watch the women run the 100."
Doping again reared its ugly head, the most high-profile case being that of American 400m Olympic champion LaShawn Merritt, who received a 21-month ban for failing three dope tests.
The 24-year-old — who is also the world champion at the distance — tested positive three times for anabolic steroid dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), which he claimed was contained in an over-the-counter penis enlargement product.
Spanish athletics has been rocked by a doping scandal that has seen the detention of 14 people, six of whom — including the coach of former world 3,000m steeplechase champion Marta Dominguez — were charged with public health offences and trafficking in illegal substances.
Sadly, American ex-world 400m champion Antonio Pettigrew, who was stripped of a 2000 Olympic 4x400m relay gold medal for doping, committed suicide with a sleeping pill overdose in August.