2016 is coming to an end, and what a year it has been in the sporting world.
We had the Rio Olympics, several clubs and nations broke championship droughts, a small Scandinavian nation inspired the world and gave us a new way to ‘clap’ and an oil-lathered Tongan made the world take notice in a big way.
But is hasn’t all been success, inspiration and oil.
They’ve been a few sinners this year as well, but some of them depend on your point of view. What do we mean by that?
Read on, and you’ll find out.
Here is Part One – our Sports Saints for 2016.
Leicester City – English Premier League Champions
The club established 132 years ago in 1884 took the footballing world by storm in 2016. Before the 2015-16 English Premier League season, the ‘Foxes’ were paying a tidy 5000-1 to win their first premiership before a ball was kicked. Even as the incredible season was developing before our very eyes, most were wondering when the bubble was going to burst. When were the likes of Chelsea, Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal or Liverpool going to stop the rot? Well, it never happened and on the 8th of May 2016, manager Claudio Ranieri, captain Wes Morgan and the rest of the Foxes team lifted the trophy, and became legends.
Chicago Cubs – Major League Baseball World Series Champions
Remember the ‘Back to the Future Part II’ scene where Marty McFly travels forward to 2015 from 1985, and the Cubs are announced as the World Series Champions? Well, for many in Australia, the significance of that happening was lost on us, but now it makes sense. Unless you were an avid follower of the Major League when the movie was made in 1989, you probably didn’t realise that the “Cubbies” hadn’t actually won the bloody thing since 1908. Yet, here we are in 2016 and the Chicago Cubs are the Major League Champions. They had to wait 108 years and go into extra innings in the seventh game of the seven game series to do it, but they did it.
Incidentally, the team the Cubs defeated, the Cleveland Indians, have been waiting since 1948 to clinch their next World Series Championship. So, either way, someone was going to have a huge party.
Western Bulldogs – AFL Premiers
At the start of the 2016 AFL season, the young Bulldogs team were seen as a team on the up but probably needed a couple more years to mature before they posed a true threat for the AFL premiership. When captain and soul of the club, Bob Murphy went down with a ruptured ACL early in the season, many thought the team from Footscray would miss out in 2016. How wrong we were. Led by young guns Marcus Bontempelli, Tom Liberatore and eventual Norm Smith medallist Jason Johannisen, the young Bulldogs finished the season in 7th place on the ladder. In order to make the Grand Final, the club had to win three finals in a row against teams that finished much higher than them on the ladder. The young Dogs came out on top in all three finals games including an instant classic against the GWS Giants in the Preliminary Final. On the big day, they proved to be too good for the more fancied Sydney Swans and won the club’s first premiership since 1954.
62 long years of waiting had finally come to an end.
Cronulla Sharks – NRL Premiers
The late Super Coach Jack Gibson once famously said “Waiting for Cronulla to win a premiership is like leaving the porch light on for Harold Holt.” Well, in the words of Cronulla captain Paul Gallen “Turn your porch lights off because we are coming home with the trophy.”
The NRL club from ‘The Shire’ in Sydney’s south-east celebrated it’s 50th year in the competition in 2016, and as much as that milestone is one to be proud of considering the financial instability the club has gone through, the one thing that was missing was an elusive premiership.
Despite the Sharks making Grand Finals in 1973, 1978 and 1997 as well as having some of the all-time greats play for the club, the club had not tasted the ultimate of rugby league success. However, 2016 will forever be known as the greatest year in the club’s history after the Sharks defeated the Melbourne Storm by two points to win their maiden premiership.
It may have been 50 years in the making, but we get the feeling the people of ‘The Shire’ may not have to wait as long for their next one.
Cleveland Cavaliers – NBA Champions
The Cleveland Cavaliers have been around since 1970. Their football cousins, the Browns have been around for much longer, but their last championship was back in 1964. That was the last time any of Cleveland’s sporting franchise’s had won a national championship. So, to say that the people of Cleveland were desperate for a championship is an understatement.
Cleveland had hoped that a home-grown talent would be the answer when a kid from St. Vincent High School was drafted straight into the NBA to play for his hometown Cavaliers in 2003. That kid was LeBron James. You may have heard of him? James did his best and eventually led the Cavs to their first Finals series in 2007, but the San Antonio Spurs were too good. Then, in 2010, their “King” left them for the sunny beaches of Miami.
Not only did the Cavs struggle without their star, their prodigy then rubbed salt into the wounds of the people of Cleveland by leading the Miami Heat to four straight Finals series, winning two championships for his adopted home.
However, in 2014, the prodigal son returned. It took him a couple of years, but “King James” eventually led his hometown Cavaliers to their first NBA Championship. The City’s first Championship in 52 years. If that isn’t worth celebrating, we don’t know what is.
Usain Bolt – 100m, 200m and 4x100m Olympic Sprint Champion
We all know that Usain is one of sport’s true characters, but the Jamaican sprinter is also an incredible athlete. Just how incredible may surprise you.
In 2016, Bolt bid the Olympics “adieu” after winning his third straight 100m gold medal. He also happened to win his third straight 200m gold medal. And he also helped the Jamaican 4x100m relay team win their third straight gold medal as well.
Nobody in the history of athletics has achieved this feat. Nobody.
Think about some of the great sprinters throughout the years. Carl Lewis, Linford Christie, Maurice Green, Jesse Owens, Asafa Powell. None of them dominated both the 100m and 200m for as long as Bolt has.
To make it even clearer, Bolt has competed in three Olympics and competed in three events in each of those Olympics. He has nine gold medals. He has never lost at the Olympic Games.
Michael Phelps – Most Decorated Olympian of All Time
The five-time Olympian came into the 2016 Rio Olympic Games knowing that this would be his last hurrah, but he didn’t exactly cruise into the wall so to speak.
Before he jumped off the blocks at the Olympic Aquatic Stadium, the Carioca, Phelps already had 22 Olympic medals (18 Gold, 2 Silver, 2 Bronze). By the time he was finished, he had an astonishing 28 medals and had added no less than five more gold medals and one silver to his collection.
Before Phelps, the most Olympic medals won by a single athlete had been 18 by Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina. This total included only nine gold medals, a much lower ratio to Phelps.
The icing on the enormous cake of success for Phelps was his fourth consecutive victory in the 200m individual medley. Only discus thrower Al Oerter and long jumper Carl Lewis have achieved this feat.
So, we say farewell to the Flying Fish, the Baltimore Bullet and basically the Best of All Time.
Chloe Esposito – Australian Gold Medalist in Modern Pentathlon
What is the Modern Pentathlon? It is an Olympic event made up of five singular events, and they are:
- 200m Freestyle Swimming
- Show Jumping
- Pistol Shooting
- 2km Cross-Country Running
At the Rio Olympics, the first three events were conducted with results converted into a points system. Those points were then converted into a time handicap for the final event which was the combined cross-country/pistol shooting event. The handicap system enabled the points leader to start the course first with each other competitor having a delayed start based on how many points behind they were. The finishing order of the cross-country/pistol shooting would dictate who won gold, silver and bronze medals.
Our Chloe went on to win the gold medal after starting in 7th position with a 45-second handicap against her. She also set a new Olympic record of 1372 points.
Iceland Football Team – UEFA Euro 2016 Quarter-Finalists
Iceland, the small island nation that only 331,778 people call home, made history at UEFA’s Euro 2016 tournament. Not only was it Iceland’s first major tournament, but they also ended up within a couple of games of making the final.
In the same group as Austria, Hungary and eventual winners Portugal, Iceland was up against it to even get through the group stage. However, after two draws and a victory, the Viking nation were on their way the knock-out stages and the footballing world started to take notice.
England stood in the way of any further advancement, themselves a nation looking for their own successes after a lean period. What happened was incredible for the small nation, for football and for sport itself. Just ask this guy:
Their fairytale ended thanks to a dominant French side, but the Icelandic people welcomed them home as heroes. And, of course, they did it in in traditional style:
Pita Taufatofua – The Tongan Oil Man from Rio
We don’t know a whole lot about Pita, but he was in Rio competing in Taekwondo and, unfortunately, he didn’t win a medal.
But we have a feeling he’s going to be remembered anyway.