The romance of sports is not always in the moment of victory, but often in that second of madness that denies the moment.It’s not always in holding aloft the trophy, but in the overflowing stream of tears running down the face of the vanquished.It’s not always in the triumph of the young, but in the poignancy of the passing of the old.
And so it was in 2016.
Not even Hollywood could have scripted the story of the underdog better than the English Premier League (EPL) triumph
of Leicester City. Beating both the odds of 5000-1 and the prospect of relegation, Leicester City showed the world their version of walking on water.
It took 108 years, but by winning the Major League Baseball title, the Chicago Cubs proved that while hope is eternal, eternity has a finish line too.
When a man has the time to smile at the camera, allowing the moment he crosses the 100m Olympics finish line in record-breaking time to be captured for eternity, you know you have been lucky to live at a time when Usain Bolt ruled the track.
You have to have been made of stuff harder than the clay at Roland Garros, if you didn’t jump off your chair, and applaud madly as Novak Djokovic finally emerged from the lengthening shadow of Rafael Nadal, holding the French Open trophy aloft on the red clay, with the bright lights of Paris shining upon him.
For the first time since 2008, the Ryder Cup went back to the USA on the back of an incredible match between Patrick Reed and Rory McIlroy on the last day. On the front nine, these two exceeded expectations as we got phenomenal play and incredible emotion in arguably the greatest Ryder Cup match of all time.
In a story that showed dreams do come true, a young boy from Singapore who had hero worshipped Michael Phelps all his life, came from nowhere to win the Men’s 100m Butterfly at Rio in a record time of 50.39 seconds. When Joseph Schooling pipped Phelps to the finish, he was living his dream.
In an astonishing three-way tie for silver, defending champion Michael Phelps, five-time Olympic medallist Laszlo Cseh of Hungary and defending world champion Chad le Clos of South Africa all clocked 51.14sec to share second place.
Write off West Indies cricket at your peril. After decades of humiliating defeats and decline of the sport, when Malcolm Marshall’s fearsome deliveries and Viv Richards’ swagger had become fading memories, 2016 was a year of great celebration and renewal for cricket in the Caribbean.
West Indies won the Under-19 World Cup. West Indies won the Women’s World T20. And then West Indies won the World T20.
Set 156 to beat England and win the championship, West Indies found themselves needing 19 off the last over, to be bowled by Ben Stokes.
It was all down to Carlos Brathwaite, the all rounder who had emerged on the previous Test tour of Australia.
Six. Six. Six. Six. Job done with two balls to spare. An incredible come back for the West Indies to the forefront of world cricket.
In perhaps the best batting performance in the cause of defeat in about 20-years in Australia, unpredictable, mercurial Pakistan almost pulled off an incredible victory at the Gabba as the year was coming to a close.
Bowled out for 142 after a pathetic batting display, 287 behind, and set 490 to win the match by Steve Smith, Pakistan decided to play, as only Pakistan can.
For a few hours, they made the 950 spectators at the Gabba, dream of the impossible. The 945 Pakistanis in the crowd even chanted “Aussie, Aussie” to bring some competition in the proceedings in the stands.
But when Yasir Shah was dismissed, the over zealous scribes of the record books quickly corrected themselves to reflect a victory for the deserving team – Steve Smith’s Australia.
And then there was India.
Led by the phenomenally talented and aggressive Virat Kohli, a supremely talented, victory-hungry all round Indian team ground Alistair Cook’s England to the dust 4-0 on wickets as sporting as any that India has had for about 10-years.
Virat Kohli’s 650+ runs at an average of 101, the injury hit, constantly changing, but successful opening pairs putting
on large stands, a triple century first up from young Karun Nair, and all the while the new spin-twins of cricket, Jadeja and Ashwin, coming in to do their job, was, in the end, too much for England to handle.
When you win 4 tosses out of 5 in India, make 3 first innings scores
above 400, and still lose 4-0, there is little you can do other than what the hapless Englishman did – bow to your destiny and vow revenge at Lords on the return visit.
But like everything in life, the highs and the lows of 2016 were accompanied by the sadness that goes beyond the sporting fields.
A senseless encounter with a knife-wielding intruder left the talented Tennis player Petra Kvitova with a badly
damaged playing hand which one only hopes, will heal with time.
After floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee, in the boxing ring and outside, with his lightning speed, deadly punches and inimitable wit, after gamely battling Parkinson’s disease for 32-years, Muhammad Ali passed on earlier this year.
Without “Total Football”, the modern game would be a pale shadow of itself.
It’s inventor, Johan Cryuff, the European Player of the 20th century, and arguably the greatest player to have ever played the game, lost a long battle with cancer this year.
A hundred years on, every time a player makes the ‘Cryuff Turn’, the world will fondly remember this genius in an orange shirt.
And on a final sad note, perhaps the greatest modern exponent of the game of Golf, the first superstar of televised Golf, and one of the best loved characters on the links, Arnold Palmer played his final 18th on this earth.
‘The King’, as he was known, was a man of the people – willing to sign every autograph, shake every hand, and trying to look every person in his gallery in the eye. He will be sorely missed.
As the last notes of Auld Lang Syne die out, and we ring in 2017, the cycle of life will begin anew, and with it, new
moments that redefine sport.
Wishing all readers of my columns a Very Happy New Year and a wonderful year of sport to come.