TIME best of 2016

The Best Sports Photos of 2016

From new champions to farewells, a year in sports

It was a year of firsts, lasts, and loss in the world of sports documented in millions of photographs.

In one image, LeBron James bows his head, tears of joy in his eyes, as he fulfills a promise—for the first time in the franchise’s history, the Cleveland Cavaliers were NBA Champions. At the Rio Olympics, Usain Bolt preserved another title as World’s Fastest Man, grinning in a photograph captured by Getty’s Cameron Spencer. On the NFL field, football great Peyton Manning claimed a final Super Bowl trophy before an emotional retirement from the game. And around the world, mourners said goodbye to the greatest, Muhammad Ali.

There were milestone moments, records and champions made, but the images in between can be as monumental— a fog around a diehard crowd supporting its team on one of winter’s coldest days; a dog is groomed for its moment at Westminster; an Olympic diver disappears into the blur of motion and water, her ending and the water’s beginning indiscernible.

Here, TIME selects its favorite moments from this year in sports.

Chelsea Matiash, who edited this photo essay, is TIME’s deputy multimedia editor. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @cmatiash.

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