Some notes on sport in 2016 as we let the alphabet guide our journey through a year which saw curses broken, corruption exposed and records shattered.
A Muhammad Ali. The legendary boxer passed away in Arizona at the age of 74. His funeral was carried live on television stations around the world and there were a host of re-runs of the brilliant ‘When We Were Kings’ documentary. Not just an athlete but a cultural icon and one who transcended his sport the Louisville native will be missed.
B Beauden Barrett. The Taranaki fly half has easily taken over the mantle from All Black legend Dan Carter as the world’s premier number 10 (and number 15 if he needs to play there) and claimed world player of the year honours in rugby union. England skipper Sarah Hunter was female player of the year and Australia’s Charlotte Caslick, thanks largely to gold in Rio, won the sevens female award.
C Chicago. Speaking of Barrett’s All Blacks they fell to defeat to the Irish rugby union side for the first time in history beaten at Soldier Field home of the NFL’s Chicago Bears. Chicago is also home to the All Blacks primary sponsor AIG. Steve Hansen’s side beat the Irish a fortnight later on their end-of-season tour but who remembers that after the historic 40-29 result two weeks earlier which was Ireland’s first win in 29 attempts?
D Dublin. The Irish Capital. Whilst a host of sporting curses were broken in 2016 the one that lives on into 2017 is the ‘Curse of 51.’ Mayo’s senior (gaelic) football side has been in eight finals since 1989 and has been in search of a win since the last of their three crowns which was won in 1951. The story goes a priest cursed the celebrating winners in ’51 after they upset a funeral ceremony. This year Mayo came back to nab a draw against Dublin in the final at Dublin’s Croke Park before losing the replay by a point.
E Eagles. Crystal Palace has offered a way back into football for one-match England manager Sam Allardyce after he was sacked as national boss in the wake of the ‘Football for sale’ scandal. Allardyce had, within weeks, of obtaining the England role agreed to meeting football intermediaries to arrange speaking gigs for himself in Singapore and elsewhere. Amongst the secretly-recorded meetings he gave a few involved in football roasting but his advice around third-party agreements to people he’d only met showed a naivety someone of his experience simply should not have. But the threat of relegation was enough for Palace to see him as their saviour.
F Caitlin Foord. The Matildas winger and Sydney FC player claimed the Asian Football Confederations’ Player of the Year award in the female category (Omar Abdulrahman of the UAE won the men’s award) Foord, 22, was crucial in the Matildas’ run to the Rio quarter finals before they were beaten on penalties and is among the host of top Australian female footballer who split her time between the W-League and playing overseas.
G Laura Geitz, The Queensland Firebirds skipper has finished her elite netball career due to her pregnancy but did so in dramatic fashion as Queensland won the final Trans-Tasman netball title 69-67 in double extra-time beating the NSW Swifts. The tournament now splits into national tournaments which, I think, is disappointing but will allow a tribalism factor in each nation’s re-born domestic competitions.
H Jarryd Hayne. The former Kangaroos rugby league international played an astonishing three elite level sports in 2016 playing an NFL game for the 49ers on the 3rd of January before he quit to then pursue a brief rugby sevens which didn’t end up in Olympic selection before his six games with the Gold Coast Titans in the NRL. He made a big mistake in the elimination final against Brisbane as the Titans exited this season. The new dad is contracted to play for another two seasons for the Titans.
I In Passing. Legendary boxer Muhammad Ali and (only months later) his friend and long-time photographer Howard Bingham, footballers Johan Cruyff, Carlos Alberto, Cesare Maldini, English pioneer Sylvia Gore, England under 19s player Zoe Tynan, cricketers Martin Crowe of New Zealand, Pakistan’s ‘first star’ Hanif Mohammad plus Australian John Gleeson, South African Lindsay Tuckett, Australian Jennifer Jacobs, former aussie rules player and test cricketer Max Walker, aussie rules premiership winner Bill Barrot plus Laurie Dwyer, Paul Couch and Neville Crowe, swimming coach Forbes Carlile, three-time Olympian and Australian rower Sarah Tait, Irish rugby union player and Munster coach Anthony Foley, NBA Hall of Famer Nate Thurmond, New Zealand jockey Rebecca Black, British jockey Walter Swinburn, and American hoop Garrett Gomez who was a two-time Eclipse Award winner, broadcaster Craig Sager, journalist Bud Collins, cricket commentator Tony Cozier, and Australian sports broadcasting icon Norman May. Also legendary golfer Arnold Palmer, baseballer Jose Fernandez, basketball coach Pat Summitt, NHL legend Gordie Howe, rugby league’s Ron Massey, Brian Johnson, Ronan Costello Grant Cook and Chad Robinson, 22-year veteran of the Harlem Globetrotters Meadow Lemon, sailor Bob Oatley, controversial Australia sporting administrator Arthur Tunstall and Australia’s first female Paralympian Daphne Hilton.
J Kris Jenkins. The Villanova basketballer dropped a three-pointer as time ran out in the NCAA Men’s basketball decider which gave his side victory 77-74 over the top ranked North Carolina – the alma matter of Michael Jordan.
K Colin Kaepernick. At various times of the season Kaeprernick was the first string quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers but more prominently, now and in the future, Kaepernick will be known for his social justice work during the year which crystalised most noticeably with his refusal to stand for the USA anthem during pre-season and regular season games. This was to protest a range of social justice issues but the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement.
L Feyisa Lilesa. Second in the Rio 2016 men’s marathon the Ethopian crossed his arms above his head at the finishing line in protest at the plight of the Oromo people in his homeland. Sadly, students will write of Lilesa’s signal in future years but his sign was almost glazed over by broadcasters with one vacuous comment at the medal ceremony of ‘he enjoyed his moment on the podium’ almost as if it was deliberately not mentioning the historical protest so as to preserve the ‘perfect’ IOC product. In his most recent comments Lilesa said he is yet to return home. The 26 year-old has a wife and two children, aged three and five.
M Liam Malone. The 22 year-old Kiwi from Nelson on New Zealand’s South Island won gold in the the 200 and 400 metre events in the T44 category at the Rio Paralympics to go with his silver in the 100 metres when he was beaten by Britain’s Jonnie Peacock. Significantly Malone’s victories both registered Paralympic record times – both had been held by Oscar Pistorious until that point.
N Keylor Navas. The Real Madrid goal-keeper might have thought he was bound for a bit of stick in the Spanish media after Gaku Shibasaki scored two goals past him for J-League side Kashima Antlers’s to go 2-1 up after 53 minutes in Yokohama’s International Stadium during the Club World Cup final. Eventually a hat-trick from Ronaldo from the 60th minute onwards gave the La Liga giants a 4-2 triumph in extra-time.
O Open Golf. Royal Troon saw Henrik Stenson win a maiden golf major title with a score of 20 under which matched major records. The Swede and Phil Mickelson raced away from the field in the fourth round with Mickelson’s 17 under final score 11 strokes better than third-place getter JB Holmes.
P Prince. The ‘In passing’ entry has been thoroughly depressing to collate in recent years and in 2016 the death of a host of celebrities was immense with rock star Prince amongst those. The Minneapolis-born was a huge supporter of his local teams from the WNBA side to the twin cities’ NFL team. The singer was honoured by the Vikings in their first home game of the NFL season in September following his death in April.
Q Carla Qualtrough. The two-time Paralympian, human rights lawayer and as of last year member of cabinet in Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Canadian government. Calgary native Qualtrough sits on the WADA board as a member of government organisations from The Americas. Given the upheaval the organisation has gone through and the relative lack of financial support from governments Qualtrough would seem a logical future leader of the organisation as CEO. Departing CEO David Howman of New Zealand, and also a lawyer, has said the organisation and national bodies need more funds to support anti-doping work.
R Anthony Rizzo. The Cubs first baseman nabbed the ball for the final out as the Chicago side roared back from 3-1 down in the best of seven series to claim the World Series in what was a gripping denouement to Major League Baseball and broke the Cubs’ curse but extended that of the Cleveland Indians. Rizzo’s pool room has a marquee item which will be hard to top in the annals of sports memorabilia.
S Yuliya Stepanova. The Russian 800 metre runner was the athlete-whistleblower at the heart of the ongoing saga involving Russia’s state sponsored doping which has infected most Olympic and Paralympics games this decade and, in some cases, earlier. Journalist David Walsh, who investigated Lance Armstrong for years in writing Seven Deadly Sins is producing a book about Stepanova which will no doubt be a must read.
T Toowoomba. Whilst Nick Kyrgios has notoriety as the enfant terrible of Australian tennis the Queensland city of Toowoomba, or at least a tournament held there in 2013, was in the spotlight earlier this year. Former Australia touring pro Nick Lindahl was convicted of match-fixing in April in relation to a futures event he was competing in three years ago in Toowoomba. Lindahl was not the only player to fall foul of authorities of similar offences in 2016 but it was mainly unknowns.
U Upton Park. The iconic East London venue staged it’s final Premier League game, but not it’s final match, too much fanfare in May with All Whites international Winston Reid scoring with ten minutes to go against Manchester United for a 3-2 triumph. West Ham’s move to the London Stadium has not started well.
V Viking Clap. Iceland’s run to the quarter finals at Euro 2016 in France became synonymous for the Viking Clap but also bought to light their sensible investment in sport infrastructure and coaching development. Portugal won the tournament despite the exit of this year’s Ballon d’Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo 24 minutes into the final.
W Tiger Woods. The now 40 year-old returned to the tour after a 15-month hiatus year playing in the Hero World Challenge invitational tournament in the Bahamas. The 14-time major winner finished 15th in the 18 player event but his second round 65 which was bogey-free and his tournament high figure of birdies show maybe the return is not pie in the sky, plus there was an array of ratings records.
X Xing Huina. The Chinese runner’s victory in 2004 breaks up the Ethiopian domination of the 10,000 metres at the Olympics with the African nation having won four of the last five editions of the race. This year Almaz Ayana produced a breathtaking effort when she posted a time of 29 minutes 17:45 which took 14 seconds off the 23 year-old record held by another Chinese runner in Wang Junxia. Assuming the time is legit it’s the best effort on the track at Rio at the Olympics.
Y Yorkshire. Test cricket has given us some thrilling finishes in 2016 from Mirpur to Melbourne but county cricket’s climax in September will take some topping in coming year. The Jason Gillespie-coaches Yorkshire entered the final day which a chance of claiming a third consecutive first-class title but Middlesex (who were Yorkshire’s opponents) and Somerset were also in with a chance. Middlesex, skippered by Kiwi James Franklin, ended up winning dramatic fashion with 28 balls remaining after Toby Roland-Jones claimed a late hat-trick. The Guardian’s Mike Selvey does the day better justice than I can in this piece.
Z Zentralstadion. In the year of ‘football romance’ the former Zentralstadion in Leipzig is home to RB Leipzig who currently occupy second spot in the German Bundesliga. For a brief period before the winter break this season the side, who in 2009 occupied a spot in Germany’s fifth tier, were top despite having only been promoted to the top tier for the first time after they came second in Bundesliga 2 last season. The Red Bull-owned franchised have managed to somehow usurp Bayern Munich as the most hated team in German football.
Images via punditarena.com, sbs.com.au, time.com, and nytimes.com, and coventrytelegraph.co.uk