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2012: Once in a millennium
Whichever way you look at it, 2012 was a watershed year in sports. An Olympic year was always going to leave some lasting memories but very little prepared us for the emotional roller-coaster.
The year saw Usain bolt out of the human limits of speed, Lance Armstrong lose his balance and fall into an abyss of shame, one-day cricket lose its legend and the whole of England celebrate the feats of a Scot!
Add to it Lionel Messi ambushing Der Bomber, a Manipuri mom-of-two breaking the glass ceiling with a few timely punches, Yuvraj Singh incredible comeback from cancer and Michael Phelps swimming into the sunset after carefully strapping 22 Olympic medals into his waistband, and you have a highlights package that threatens to be longer than the match itself.
THE 'R' WORD IN FOOTBALL:
Racism and football are almost inseparable but Fifa would have us believe otherwise. Like previous years, 2012, too threw up some ugly incidents. Nothing topped the John Terry incident, though. Faced with a criminal charge, the wily England captain successfully dribbled past the prosecution only to be tripped by the FA and stripped of his armband for 'racially abusing' QPR's Anton Ferdinand. Terry, mindful that he had exhausted his quota of nine lives, announced his international retirement a day before the FA hearing.
THE EPIC FALL:
Not since Lucifer's fall in Paradise Lost has the human race heard such a loud thud! Lance Armstrong, the seven-time Tour de France champion, fell faster, deeper and more dammningly than John Milton's fallen angel and unlike Lucifer, lost all stomach for even a semblance of fight by the time USADA pulled the rug. The plot thickened as US Anti-Doping Agency, after years of investigation, claimed possessing overwhelming evidence that Armstrong was involved in "the most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping programme ever". One by one his closest teammates and allies confessed and Armstrong came unstuck like a Fu Ramsay potboiler as the victories that made him a legend were erased and the sponsors that made him a multi-millionaire fled faster than the investors in Bengal. He disassociated himself from his foundation and was asked to return his millions.
With grand-dads making national sports federations their personal fiefdoms, this was a long time coming. The positivity that was achieved by India's best-ever performance in Olympics at London Games was fully offset by bickering IOA officials who managed to provoke the International Olympic Council in suspending the game's governing body in India. Lalit Bhanot, a tainted official who has served a jail term for corruption, got himself elected unopposed as IOA secretary and in the process, earned IOC's ire.
But to focus on controversies alone would present an unfair picture of a year which featured some of sport's greatest achievements. The heroic efforts were made sweeter since they came at the cost of a lot of pain and buckets of tears. Boys don't cry? Ask Murray.
Fred Perry at last got some well-earned respite as a euphoric British media buried the 2000-yearold Anglo-Scottish rivalry and embraced Andy Murray, the Great Scot, who finally laid Perry and his 1936 record to rest. In the final of the US Open, Murray outlasted Super Serb Novak Djokovic in five sets and lifted the Grand Slam crown in his fifth attempt, becoming the first British man since Perry to lift a Major. Before that, though, macho Murray showed us his softer side by bursting into tears and turning British hearts into jelly by losing in Wimbledon final against Roger Federer. To his credit, Kim Sears's boyfriend took the loss in his stride and avenged his defeat against Federer by beating him in Olympic men's singles final. 2012 turned out to be a good year for the Scot who seems to have finally found the necessary self-belief after knocking on the door of greatness for long.
He has been laid low by a knee-injury and is yet to make a comeback after crashing out against Lukas Rosol (who?) in second round of Wimbledon in June, but Rafael Nadal still had enough time to secure his record seventh Coupe des Mousquetaires, surpassing Bjorn Borg's six French Open crowns. Federer fans can breathe easy. Rafa is stuck at 11 Majors still.
No wonder Cristiano Ronaldo is sad. Who wouldn't be? The supremely talented Portuguese would have easily won multiple Ballon d'Or awards and been considered the best had it not been for a diminutive Argentine who straddles the football world like a Colossus and continues to make a team sport his personal domain. Messi, the Argentina and Barcelona star added to his legend by breaking Gerd Mueller's 40-year-old record of 85 goals in a calendar year by scoring 91.
Sebastian Vettel's exploits are fast demanding a new nickname. The German became the youngest triple Formula One world champion in the history of the sport when he clinched the title this year in Sao Paulo. His job wasn't easy. Lewis Hamilton kept up the pressure and Fernando Alonso chased him to the last lap till the 25-year-old became only the third driver in history to win three successive titles. He equalled the feats of Argentine Juan Manuel Fangio and childhood-idol Schumacher.
V FOR VISHY:
In a country starved of champions, Viswanathan Anand remains the Kohinoor (the Brits are unlikely to steal this one). The mild-mannered Chennaite became the only Indian to be crowned a world champion in any sport five times, clinching the world titles in 2000, 2007, 2008, 2010 and in 2012. This year, he overcame Boris Gelfand's challenge in a nail-biting contest that went to rapid tie-break.
KNIGHT RYDERS EUROPE:
Cynics say Tiger Woods lost his mojo ever since... Anyway, the fact is, Woods has divorced himself of Major success since his messy break-up with wife and is struggling to become the Tour de Force he once was. He could do little in Ryder Cup too as Europe snatched a breathtaking comeback win over the US, trailing 6-10 at one point. Woods, the last man out for the home team, could have had the teams finishing 14-14 but he missed a three-foot putt on the final green!
There was some talk of a nail-biting contest with one Ryan Lochte but when it came to crunch, Michael Phelps showed his talent has not been smoked out. Phelps collected four gold and two silver medals to his tally, making him the most 'decorated' athlete in the history of Olympics. The American ended his Olympic career with an unprecedented 22 medals over three Olympic - Athens (2004), Beijing (2008) and London (2012).
ST LEO BOLT:
Bolt runs fast. He also sets people up. The Jamaican came into the Olympics after getting beaten by training partner Yohan Blake and with a question mark over his fitness. Little did critics know they were being ambushed. Because when the gun sounded, Bolt sprang past a cache of records. He defended his 100m gold in 9. 63secs, an Olympic record, and completed a golden Grand Slam by becoming the first man to defend the 100 and 200m titles in successive Olympics. Then, he capped it off by anchoring Jamaica's 4x100m relay team to gold in world record timing.
TON OF TONS:
When he started playing cricket, Margaret Thatcher was still British Prime Minister, mobile phones were unheard of and Russia was still part of USSR. So when Sachin Tendulkar finally got to his 100th international hundred by gently turning Bangladesh spinner Shakib-al Hasan to square leg in an Asia Cup match, it created a landmark likely to stand the test of father time.
MC Mary Kom, the five-time World Champion and mother of two from Manipur claimed her maiden Olympic medal, a bronze, at the London Olympics. Mary, whose titles have come in the 46 and 48kg categories, was fighting in a higher category (51kg).
Yuvraj Singh, who recovered from a rare germ-cell cancer and made a successful return to international cricket.
Indian batting mainstays Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman finally bid adieu but Sachin Tendulkar stole everyone's thunder by announcing his retirement from ODI cricket. In a career spanning 23 years and 463 matches, Tendulkar broke and rewrote all possible records. His departure left a gaping hole in the format he made his own.
NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR
Thiago Messi. Lionel Messi's month-old newborn was made a member of an Argentina club, Newell's Old Boys, and was presented a miniature Argentina kit by Sergio Aguero, Messi's teammate.
While it is unlikely that 2013 can match the preceding year in terms of sporting achievements, men's tennis in particular may witness a rearrangement. With Federer cutting down his schedule to remain fresh for a renewed Major bid and Rafa suffering from a nagging knee injury, Djokovic and Murray are likely to stretch their dominance. Things will be more open in women's tennis though. In golf, Rory McIlroy will stay as the leading force though one can never write Tiger Woods off.
In football, Jose Mourinho will continue to poke rival coaches in the eye, Arsene Wenger will not make any moves in the transfer window, Alex Ferguson's face will get redder and redder on the Manchester United sidelines and Barcelona will continue to keep passing the ball. Nothing will change. Sigh.
5 PREDICTIONS FOR 2013
Rafa Nadal will win his eighth French Open title.
More athletes will dope
Indian cricket will see split captaincy and have 3 coaches for 3 formats
Sachin Tendulkar may or may not call it a day.
Usain Bolt will break his world record in 100m.
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