Even by his lofty standards, Lance Armstrong's return to the mountaintop in 2004 was pretty special.
The question now facing Armstrong and his legion of fans is whether he'll return to challenge the Pyrenees and the French Alps again in 2005.
Already recognized as one of the truly inspiring athletes of his generation, Armstrong took his cycling legacy a step further when he won a record-breaking sixth consecutive Tour de France in July.
And for his accomplishment, he was honored Monday as The Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year for the third straight year.
Armstrong joined Michael Jordan (1991-1993) as the only athletes selected by American sports writers and broadcasters three straight times since the honor was first awarded in 1931.
"For me it was a special year," Armstrong said. "It's always nice to win the Tour, but this year was special simply because I broke the record and made history."
Armstrong received 51 first-place votes and 312 total points. Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning was second with 17 first-place votes and 156 points.
She won early and often, and often by overwhelming margins. She won on four continents -- in Australia, Sweden and Japan and in six US states. She won a major, the most money and a remarkable 10 times in just 20 starts worldwide.
Small wonder then, that what was an average year for golfer Annika Sorenstam was more than good enough to earn her recognition as The Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year for the second year running
Sorenstam received 40 first-place votes and 263 total points. Diana Taurasi, who led Connecticut to the NCAA women's basketball title and then captured the WNBA's Rookie of the Year award, finished second. She had 15 first-place votes and 154 points, two more than Russian teen tennis sensation Maria Sharapova.
Consistency has been the hallmark of Sorenstam's 11-year career in pro golf.