Bolt won his third Laureus Award after another dominant Olympic performance on the track at London, winning the gold in the 100, 200 and 4x100-meter relay. The European Ryder Cup team was rewarded for its remarkable rally against the United States at Medinah.
British heptathlete Jessica Ennis was chosen the sportswoman of 2012, while Andy Murray was named the top breakthrough athlete and Felix Sanchez the main comeback athlete.
Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner was the winner in the action category after becoming the first skydiver to go faster than the speed of sound. Brazilian swimmer Daniel Dias won the disability award.
Michael Phelps won a special Laureus Academy award as the most decorated Olympian of all time with 18 gold, two silver and two bronze medals, and former Olympian and London Games organizer Sebastian Coe won the Laureus' lifetime achievement award.
"The most honoured and sincere awards that can ever be given are those by your peers," Coe said. "This is an extraordinary honour. You only have to look at the good people you are surrounded by."
The winners of the annual awards were chosen by nearly 50 members of the Laureus sports academy.
Bolt got the top individual prize again after another outstanding Olympic performance in London, where he also set the world record in the 4x100-meter relay with Jamaica.
"This last season was a tough year," said Bolt, who also won the award in 2009 and 2010.
Bolt, who said through his video remarks that he will "definitely" be back in Rio for the 2016 Games, was contending against Phelps, Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins, Formula One champion Sebastian Vettel, double Olympic champion Mo Farah and four-time FIFA world player of the year Lionel Messi, who scored a record 91 goals last year to cement his status as the world's top footballer.
Novak Djokovic won the men's award last year and Rafael Nadal was the winner in 2011.
The European Ryder Cup team, captained by Jose Maria Olazabal and inspired by the late Seve Ballesteros, got the team honour for its incredible victory at Medinah. It trailed the U.S. 10-6 entering the final day but pulled off a series of epic singles victories to win the gold trophy.
"This is truly special, it means an awful lot to us," Ian Poulter said in a recorded message.
Other nominees for the team award were the U.S. Olympic basketball squad, the Spanish football team, the Miami Heat, Red Bull's Formula One team and the Chinese table tennis squad which won all possible medals in London.
Ennis, one of the faces of the British athletics team which thrived in London, had a strong performance at the hepthlaton, beginning with an impressive win at the 100-meter hurdles.
"It's so surreal to stand here," Ennis said. "It's an incredible feeling."
She was contending with Americans Serena Williams, Lindsey Vonn, Missy Franklin and Allyson Felix, as well as Jamaican sprinter Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce. Vonn won the award in 2011.
Murray won the breakthrough prize after capturing the Olympic singles gold and his first Grand Slam title at the U.S. Open.
"Without a doubt it was the best year of my career," he said.
Sanchez got the comeback award after winning gold in the 400 hurdles eight years after his victory in Athens in 2004.
"After eight years without winning, it was difficult," he said. "To comeback and cross the line and win my second gold medal was obviously a special achievement for me."
Dias, who won six individual gold medals with world-record times at the Paralympic Games in London, was up against former F1 driver Alex Zanardi, who won two hand-cycling golds. Oscar Pistorius won the disability award last year.
Among the voting members in the Laureus academy are Jack Nicklaus, Boris Becker, Cathy Freeman, Dan Marino, Edwin Moses, Martina Navratilova, Franz Beckenbauer, Bobby Charlton, Steve Redgrave and Emerson Fittipaldi.
The televised awards ceremony, for the first time taking place in Rio de Janeiro, was hosted by actor Morgan Freeman and actress Eva Longoria.
The Super Bowl got a lighthearted reference at the awards. After Freeman called the American football final one of his favourites, all the lights at the theatre were turned off for a few moments, in a clear reference to the power outage that marked this year's game in New Orleans. Freeman was heard asking "how long is this going to last?"
He showed relief when the lights came back on.
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