Whew! As we lay to bed another year of sport, reflecting on the last twelve months, it’s time again for my sports year in review.
Again, this list could go on for days, but it’s my top 10 sporting stories and/or moments of 2012 that gained nomination. Working backwards:
10. The AFL All Australian nominations
There’s always one or two nominations and omissions that make a few people scratch their heads, but this year, it was also the positional selections that left a few (including myself) wondering.
The omission of both Matthew Pavlich (who led a Fremantle revival earlier in the season) and Sam Mitchell (undoubtedly one of the best players in the competition) surely had to be an oversight. Pavlich had one of his strongest seasons in years and Mitchell was instrumental in the Hawks midfield as he led them to the minor premiership and an ultimate grand final berth – but no.
Cyril Rioli however, was selected after what I thought was well below is best and a lack lustre year.
Darren Glass was named All Australian captain in the back pocket yet received a total of zero Brownlow votes (well done, captain) but my favourite part was Nic Naitanui being named in the ruck over team mate Dean Cox, who was shifted to forward pocket.
Nic Nat was only 17th in the league for hit outs. I would have thought that “hitouts” was an integral KPI of being a ruckman, but meh.
9. The re-vamp of Australia’s A-League
Before kick-off this year, it looked like the A-League were in a load of strife. Gold Coast United were pulled from the competition, rumours were abound that it was going to struggle, a new team was hurriedly constructed from nothing to enter, draw-card Harry Kewell was not returning and a feud with Nathan Tinkler over the Newcastle Jets license was just the icing on the cake. It looked like football was going to go downhill and fast.
The fact that the competition has not only survived, but flourished, is testament to the hard work put into the sport by Football Federation Australia. I’m rarely one to praise the FFA and/or A League, but credit where it is due. The injection of international stars Alessandro del Piero, Shinji Ono and Emile Heskey, the introduction to A League of young gun Marco Rojas, some slick marketing, use of social media and some of the best football games in the competition to date have guaranteed growing crowd numbers and solidified the game into the Australian Summer line-up.
I never grew up with football as a passion. As a non-lover of football per se, it takes a lot to sway me, and this year, the A-League have done it. Well done.
8. One of the most competitive Formula One series in years
2011 was a year of total domination for Team Red Bull, with Sebastian Vettel virtually unstoppable. However, it was not until the Bahrain GP at the end of April, the fourth GP of the year, that Vettel even managed to notch up a win.
His second win of the season was then in Singapore. In September. Round 14, to be precise.
The 2012 season saw the first seven races be taken out by different drivers. That’s right, seven races, seven winners, five different constructors.
It was certainly a year of mixed fortunes but overall, eight different drivers finished with a round win next to their name. Not bad for a competition that was allegedly “so one sided”. With the shuffling of teams and retirement of drivers, I can’t wait for season 2013.
7. Western Province winning the Currie Cup
There were a few rugby highlights for me during the year; the Rebels win over the Crusaders in their first ever Super Rugby match, the introduction of Argentina into the old Trinations competition re-named The Rugby Championship, the All Blacks ending their unbeaten run in England, but for me, the highlight was Western Province FINALLY bringing home some silverware.
I can’t imagine how bad it was for Province fans in South Africa over the years, let alone the players and administration, but it was getting to the point of violence for me in Australia, hearing the perennial choker tag competition after competition, year after year. So to take the Currie Cup against the Super Rugby runners up in the Sharks, in Durban, was a beautiful thing.
It was nail biting until the final seconds, but with Demetri Catrakilis converting 17 points off his boot, Province walking away with a 25-18 win to claim the trophy was poetic.
Now, to get the Rebels to beat them..
6. The bout between Manny Pacquaio and Timothy Bradley
If you asked me to use one word to describe my reaction immediately after the Pacman/Bradley fight, I would have said “elated”. That quickly turned into disbelief when Timothy Bradley was announced the winner by unanimous decision.
The scorecard clearly reflected a Pacquaio win. The fighters thought it was a Pacquaio win. The crowd DEFINITELY thought it was a Pacquaio win. In fact, the only people that didn’t think it was a Pacquaio win were the three people that mattered – the judges. As a result, Pacquaio lost the WBO Welterweight title.
Pacquaio’s follow up fight also ended in devastating fashion – a knock out blow that had him seeing stars before he hit the canvas in round six, at the hands of Juan Manuel Marquez. Pacquaio seemed to walk into a huge hit, catching him flush on the chin, and later admitted to not even seeing it.
Here’s hoping those two defeats don’t signal the end of a fighter who was screwed out of his own title.
5. Black Caviar’s win at Royal Ascot
She was attempting to extend her undefeated record overseas, to prove to the world that she was a global phenomenon, not just an Australian one; and win, she did – by the closest margin in her career.
Black Caviar shot to the front of the field in the Diamond Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot in her normal fashion, and was being eased down by jockey Luke Nolen with the winning post in sight. What Nolen didn’t realise was that she was being pursued by Moonlight Cloud on the rails, who came within a half head of snatching what would have been one of the boil over wins of the century.
After the race, it was revealed the mare had a tendon injury and would be flown home as soon as practicable. She’s got a hell of a lot of heart, that horse.
In a year where racing headlines in Australia were largely controversial, Black Caviar’s unbeaten stretch extending to 22 was a shining beacon of light.
4. South Africa’s Proteas obtaining the number one ranking in all three formats of the game
They’re not unbeatable, but the Proteas team of 2012 oozed strength, dependability and class, paralleled by few.
In a new age of cricket where players tour for a ridiculously long period of the year, in formats ranging from several hours to several days, to grab a number one title is a coveted thing – to hold it in all three forms is a feat to be admired by all.
Boasting some of the best batsmen in the world in Jacques Kallis, Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers, teamed with three of the top ten bowlers in the world in Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel, the Proteas crushed New Zealand in New Zealand, won convincingly against England in England and tore apart Australia in Australia. Their form was red hot despite suffering injuries – some horrific, like that to Mark Boucher which forced his retirement – yet the wagon rolled on.
Having been excluded for such a long period of time, it’s great to see some of the world’s best cricketers able to represent their home country and take them to the top.
3. The Australian Open mens tennis final
Oh. My. Gosh. It was the longest, the hardest and probably the greatest Grand Slam final that has ever occurred. An epic match lasting for almost six hours, saw the two best tennis players in the world pit strength against strength, tactic against tactic, body against body – and in the end, it was Novak Djokovic that broke through defeating Rafael Nadal 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 6-7, 7-5 after 5 hours and 53 minutes.
It was a match that tennis fans could only hope for, one that left spectators without words, drained of all strength and struggling to do anything but sit in adulation of such a feat in Melbourne’s January heat.
It had it all – long rallies, fight backs, amazing points drawing the crowd into standing ovations; it was a match that stood out in the minds of anyone that witnessed it as the best grand slam final they had ever seen, not for just the length, but for the sheer quality of the content.
Both players looked dead and buried at various stages throughout the match, but the one undisputed quality of a champion is that they never give up. Neither Djokovic, nor Nadal, were prepared to give an inch, but in the end, the Serbian reigned supreme.
If I ever see another tennis match in the quality of that one, I shall be a very privileged woman. Amazing.
2. Lance Armstrong’s fall from grace
Despite looking for every possible angle for the Armstrong scandal to be false, it appears to be stark reality that the man who wowed the world, winning seven Tour de France titles after successfully fighting off cancer, did so with the significant help of performance enhancing drugs.
It’s taken years to collate the evidence, interview witnesses and formally charge him, but the allegations were long. Allegations from the USADA ranged from use of and attempted use of EPO, blood transfusions, testosterone, corticosteroids and masking agents, through to possession, trafficking and conspiracy. Armstrong maintained his innocence, but after word got out that others in his team had rolled in favour of lesser sanctions, Armstrong withdrew his fight to maintain his innocence and said “Enough is enough.”
Whether or not Armstrong knew he had been caught, whether his withdrawal was part of a well thought out plan to evoke some public sympathy, whether Armstrong’s delusion was that he was innocent or whether Armstrong actually WAS innocent, we may never know conclusively with 100% conviction. What we do know is that Armstrong’s name has been stricken from the Tour de France record books, his name sullied as a habitual drug cheat and his legacy on cycling has been tarnished forever. Le sigh.
1. London Olympics
They were going to be the “best ever” Olympic Games that the world had ever seen, the most amazing Games that would leave us begging for more; and London did not fail to deliver.
The Opening and Closing ceremonies were entertaining, the stories behind the athletes incredible and the events themselves, breathtakingly good. From Usain Bolt retaining his 100m sprint Olympic title to Oscar Pistorius writing his name into the record books as being the first double leg amputee to compete in the able-bodied Olympics; from the Bahamas defeating the US in the mens 4 x 400m relay to the feats of 16 year old Ye Shiwen in the pool; from the heartbreak of South Korea’s Shin A-Lam in the fencing epee semi final to the amazing highs of the best 800m ever run by a man in David Rudisha, the Olympics had it all.
But my golden moment?
Mo Farah, the Somalian born British athlete taking gold in both the 5,000 and 10,000m.
Sheer brilliance, a nation united as one, as one of their favourite athletes carries their hopes across the line.
If 2013 can live up to half of 2012’s sporting memories, I can’t wait for it to begin.
** Here’s to a Happy New Year for everyone, may it be a safe, prosperous and blessed one for you all **