David Beckham, the most recognizable face in the world's most popular game, was the biggest newsmaker in international sports in 2003. The England captain's $43 million transfer from Manchester United to Real Madrid was voted the top sports story of the year in a worldwide poll of Associated Press subscribers.
The Beckham saga finished comfortably ahead of the doping scandals that rocked sports, Michael Schumacher's record sixth Formula One title, Lance Armstrong's fifth straight Tour de France victory and England's World Cup rugby triumph.
Beckham received 15 first-place votes and 321 total points from 55 ballots cast from sports editors and broadcasters on all continents — not counting the United States, which has its own survey.
Even before this year, Beckham was magnet for attention: his hairstyles, fashion statements, sponsorship ads and marriage to a former Spice Girl Victoria — not to mention his trademark free kicks and brilliant passes.
But Beckham mania grew to a frenzy in June with his transfer from Manchester United, his home for 13 years, to Real Madrid, a nine-time European champion. He joined a roster that includes Ronaldo, Zinedine Zidane, Luis Figo, Roberto Carlos and Raul Gonzalez.
"If I have become a better player it's because these players around me have made me step up to another level," Beckham said. "I would say coming to Real Madrid was one of the best decisions I have ever made."
A series of high-profile drug cases finished second in the AP voting with 13 first-place votes and 297 points.
British sprinter Dwain Chambers, four U.S. track and field athletes and four NFL players have tested positive for the THG, a previously undetectable steroid.
The scandal has widened with dozens of prominent stars, including baseball's Barry Bonds, testifying before a federal grand jury in San Francisco investigating the California lab accused of being the source of the drug.
Third in the voting with 279 points, including seven first-place votes, was Schumacher's F1 title. The Ferrari driver won his latest championship by just two points over Kimi Raikkonen, with an eighth-place finish in the season's final race.
Armstrong was fourth in the poll with 225 points. The Texan matched Eddy Merckx, Miguel Indurain, Bernard Hinault and Jacques Anquetil with his fifth Tour de France victory.
England's first World Cup rugby championship, an overtime victory against Australia in Sydney — was fifth with 196 points.
Roman Abramovich's transformation of Chelsea's soccer team was sixth followed by the death of Cameroon soccer star Marc Vivien Foe at the FIFA Confederations Cup. Kobe Bryant's arrest on sexual assault charges was voted eighth.