Bolt, Phelps and Messi (Photo: AO)
Messi, the four-time FIFA world player of the year, scored a record 91 goals last year to cement his status as the world's top footballer. He is one of six nominees at the Laureus World Sports Awards, where the other favorites include two-time winner and Olympic sprint champion Usain Bolt, swimmer Michael Phelps and Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins.
Formula One champion Sebastian Vettel and double Olympic champion Mo Farah are also nominated.
The winners of the annual awards, chosen by 46 members of the Laureus sports academy, will be announced in Rio de Janeiro in a televised ceremony hosted by actor Morgan Freeman.
Selected sports editors, writers and broadcasters around the world voted for shortlists of nominees in five categories — sportsman, sportswoman, team, breakthrough and comeback.
LeBron James is represented twice in the team category as both his Miami Heat and the U.S. Olympic basketball team are nominated.
Serena Williams and Lindsey Vonn are both nominated for sportswoman of the year, along with British heptathlete Jessica Ennis, Jamaican sprinter Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Americans Allyson Felix and Missy Franklin.
Vonn captured her fourth overall World Cup title in five years, while Felix won three gold medals in London.
The 17-year-old Franklin won four swimming gold medals, while the 30-year-old Williams won Wimbledon for a fifth time, the U.S. Open for a fourth time and the singles and doubles gold at the Olympics.
Spain's football team is also nominated after defending its European championship title, along with the European Ryder Cup team, F1's Red Bull and China's Olympic table tennis team.
Phelps, who is in Rio for the awards ceremony, won four gold and two silver medals in London to take his career total to 22, becoming the most decorated Olympian of all time with 18 gold, two silver and two bronze.
Wiggins won the time trial gold in London and the Tour de France in an 11-day span, while Vettel became the youngest F1 driver to win three straight titles.
Novak Djokovic won the men's award last year and Rafael Nadal was the winner in 2011.
Andy Murray is among the candidates for breakthrough athlete of the year after capturing the Olympic singles gold and his first Grand Slam title at the U.S. Open.
Ernie Els is nominated in the comeback category after winning his fourth major at the British Open.
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