SHANGHAI (AFP) - World number one tennis star Novak Djokovic and Ethiopian athlete Genzebe Dibaba were named Laureus sportsman and woman of the year Wednesday at an event in Shanghai that also honoured China's sporting trailblazers.
Germany's world-conquering footballers were chosen as team of the year at the Laureus Sports Awards, while a heavily pregnant Li Na, China's two-time Grand Slam winning champion, picked up the exceptional achievement award.
The pioneering tennis star, who bowed out from the sport last year, collected the award on a night of success for China, with former NBA superstar Yao Ming picking up the spirit of sport award in his home city. Among the sporting greats attending the show were China's 2004 Olympic hurdling champion Liu Xiang - another Shanghai hero - who retired earlier this month.
Djokovic is currently playing at the Monte Carlo Masters and was not at the event to collect his second sportsman of the year award. Earlier this year, the Serb won his eighth Grand Slam triumph at the Australian Open, and his first since becoming husband and father in 2014.
Middle and long-stance runner Dibaba, who broke three world records in different events in two weeks, was also not attending the glitzy ceremony.
For Li Na, who is only the second person to pick up a exceptional achievement award after 18-time Olympic gold medallist Michael Phelps, the first Laureus awards to be held in China was a moment to reflect on her retirement.
"I could never have imagined 2014 was my last year," said the former world number two, adding: "It was a very tough situation for me and for my team as well. "I love my job, but I didn't want to be in pain anymore."
The German national football team were recognised for their stunning World Cup victory last year, beating Argentina 1-0 in the final after overcoming hosts Brazil with a breathtaking 7-1 win in the semi-finals.
Among the nights other notable wins, South African rugby star Schalk Burger took the comeback of the year award. Burger developed meningitis after going into hospital for a cyst next to his spinal cord, but he battled back to recover and then re-claimed his place with the Springboks.
"The odds weren't on my side, as I gather," he said. "It's probably one that I shouldn't have come out being as normal as I am."
Other winners included Australian Formula One emerging star Daniel Riccardo, who picked up the Laureus breakthrough award, while American wheelchair skier Tatyana McFadden won the sportsperson with a disability award. Compatriot Alan Eustace won the action award for his free-falling exploits.
Indian cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar, former French footballer Eric Cantona and ex-New Zealand rugby captain Sean Fitzpatrick were just some of the other big names at the ceremony. Tendulkar and Yao Ming were both inducted as new members of the Academy.
"I never thought that guys whom I watched growing up, I will be sharing the stage with them," Tendulkar said.