2012 has been a pretty big year for sports. I’ll put down my pick of a few of my favourite sporting moments from this year in this post.
Cavendish wins on the Champs Elysée
The Tour de France is undoubtedly the toughest cycling race in the world and, sadly for people like Mark Cavendish, heavily favours climbers. Cavendish, widely regarded as one of the best road cyclists in the world, had not had the best time at the 2012 Tour de France. He was not even close to winning the coveted green jersey for the points classification and his teammates Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome were stealing the show. His victory on the final stage – a stage which prefers sprinters - was one of the best moments in sport for me this year largely for two reasons. This day coming less than 2 weeks before the Olympics, there was a lot of talk of Cavendish getting his last chance at an Olympic medal in London and people kept reminding us of the fact that he was the only member of the Britain cycling team who did not win a medal in Beijing. So in light of all this – I really wanted him to win. The past two weeks or the next two weeks meant nothing and the Champs Elysee was his and his alone. The other reason I rate this as one of my favourite moments from sport in 2012 is that Bradley Wiggins – holder of the yellow jersey and on the verge of becoming the first Briton to win the tour said before the stage that his only goal was to ensure than Cavendish won. And did he live up to that promise or what! Normally we see the yellow jersey holders just chill out in the final stage of the tour – wave at the fans, soak it in etc. Bradley Wiggins kept pace for Cavendish himself. How many times do you see a yellow jersey holder bursting to the forward of a crowded peloton on the last stage of the biggest race in the world ? I’ll tell you – Never. But Wiggins did it. He stormed to the front with Cavendish in tow and when the time came, the Manx Missile went through the gears and showed the everyone that he was indeed the best sprinter in the world.
Europe wins the Ryder Cup
I must confess, I have watched very little golf in my life. I follow the sport, but hardly ever actually watch it on TV. This changed with the Ryder Cup. The Europe team in their blue sweaters – a tribute to Seve Ballesteros – were down and out, written off . The US – historically the much more successful side in this tournament – seemed to be on their way to win the Ryder cup for the 26th time. Europe were no under-dogs of course having won the cup in 2010, but with the score at 10-6 on the final day with the US needing just 4.5 points to win out of a possible 12 on the day, things looked really bleak for the defending champions. I started watching out of curiosity – more to do with the fact that I was awake and had nothing else to watch on TV at the time – and I witnessed the one of the most amazing comebacks in golf history as Europe won hole after hole and took the score to 14-13 with the last hole still to play. Then of course, Tiger Woods, who has had quite a terrible year, missed his putt on the 18th hole and the point was halved giving Europe the extra satisfaction of not just retaining the Cup on a draw, but winning it outright.
Zambia 2012 wins it for Zambia 1993
If one has to list down all major tragedies in the history of sport – that of the Zambian team from the early 1990s would be up there with both the Munich disasters. In 1993, Zambia, one of the better teams in Africa, at a time when African football had not reached the heights it has today, lost 18 players (almost their entire team) in an air crash just outside Libreville on their way to a World Cup qualifier there. Their captain, Kalusha Bwalya survived as he was on a different flight. A team was hastily assembled – from scratch – for Bwalya to lead in the remaining qualifiers as well as the African Cup of Nations. Despite the massive tragedy, Zambia reached the finals of the Cup of Nations in 1994, they even took the lead, but then Nigeria were just too good on the day. This was the backdrop as Zambia went back to Gabon in 2012 to take part in the African Cup of Nations. Zambia played some great football to reach the final against arguably the best team in Africa – Cote d’Ivoire. The Ivorians with their superstar line up including Didier Drogba and the Toures were overwhelming favourites to win in Libreville. But the Zambians had other plans. The match finished 0-0 and went into the most dramatic event in all of sport – a penalty shootout. Both teams scored their first 7 penalties. Then to add to the drama, both missed their 8th penalties. Then Gervinho (who plays for Arsenal) stepped up and missed. And finally, the moment of glory, 23 year old Stoppila Sunzu scored! Zambia won their first African Cup of Nations beating the favourites. It was a perfect moment and poetry of the fact that just a small distance away was the exact the venue of that fateful crash that would set back Zambian football significantly just makes it all the more perfect. The side fittingly dedicated their victory to those who died in 1993.
Federer’s Wimbledon No. 7
Roger Federer is special. At least for me, he is one of the greatest sportspersons of this or any era. What makes him special for me is that in a time when tennis was starting to move towards a brutish game where more power and more stamina meant more victories – Roger Federer showed us that there was a place for elegance and beauty in the sport. And this started 10 years ago, at Wimbledon, against the Scud. Since that day, I have been a Federer fan and despite his performance or age or the effects of both, I wanted him to match the feats of the greatest from the previous era. Everyone knew Federer was probably not at his best when his supremacy at Wimbledon was looking suspect. And in the last few years as he goes past 30 years of age, I am sure he is thinking of retiring in the short term. Given that, and given how he had lost in the previous two Wimbledon editions really did not matter – for every Wimbledon I expect Fed to win, much like every time Sachin walks in to bat, I expect a century. And this time, he did not disappoint. Not only did he show his former class, he also beat the best player in the world at the moment to get to the final. And what a performance in the final against Murray. Absolutely sublime. The Federer of old – turning the clock back 5-6 years. A very special performance and a very special record that came with it.
Bolt’s double triple
Most sprinters are arrogant. But sprinters tend to be arrogant in the way that pisses me off. Like Justin Gatlin or Maurice Greene. Too much attitude. But Usain Bolt does not show attitude nor is he arrogant. He is simply telling the truth. When he says he is fastest man alive, he means it very earnestly. I also like the fact that his arrogance is less aggressive and more on the playful side. Like most Indians, I too stayed up till ungodly hours of the night to watch Usain Bolt in the finals of his three races. The ‘will he-won’t he’ was getting exciting, especially with Yohan Blake’s amazing performance in the Jamaican trials. Then came the actual races – the 100m, the 200m and the 4x100m relay – and the actual victories. It took a while to sink in – that in a sport where athletes are lauded for even making it to take part in multiple Olympics – this guy just won 3 golds in three of the most competitive races in the world – in back to back Olympics. To me, it just shows his dominance that a few of us were actually feeling a wee bit disappointed that only one world record was set. What an athlete – what a moment.
South Africa beats Australia in Australia
I, like most Indians, have had my share of watching the Indian team getting walloped in Australia. And I mean absolutely hammered. The only time India did not lose a series in Australia – we considered it a great success, a moment to be celebrated – and I found this quite sickening. And I, like most Indians, have known only an era of Australian dominance in the sport of cricket. A few anomalies here and there, but Australia are an amazing side and unbelievably consistent. At this point I should also say that I have a bit of a soft corner for the South African team. I like a lot of South African players and the fact that the team lost out on so many years of possible greatness always stings. so needless to say I get particular satisfaction when South Africa beat Australia. And in 2012, South Africa beat Australia in Australia. First a run fest where the South Africans held their own. Then the amazing century by Faf du Plesis to save the 2nd test. So much for the chokers tag!
Then the clincher. Great job by the South African bowlers to restrict Australia in the 1st innings and the superb 196 by Amla to set Australia a ridiculous target. Then a routine job by the South Africans to take out the Australians and win the match by 309 runs. Not just a victory, but a resounding thumping in just 4 days. A great way to end a great series and all in all a memorable moment for South Africa.
Kimi on the radio
Unlike the other top moments on this list, this one is not one of great glory or a great underdog story or any deep historical story finding an appropriate end in 2012. It was simple, humourous and simply put, fucking awesome. I was sad when Ferrari kicked out Kimi Raikonen – and I was especially sad they did it to bring in Alonso. So sad, that I stopped watching F1. Then Kimi – the Ice Man – came back. This time with Lotus. Team radio conversations are always fun to listen to – it gives you some idea of the kind of things a team thinks about and the kind of information that drivers need to know. All said and done at the end of the day, it is all about the driver. And Kimi drove home that point at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, when he asked his crew to stop bothering him with the now legendary “Leave me Alone, I know what I am doing”, did his thing and went on to win the race. Nothing particularly dramatic about it – just so different, so cool – that this moment had to be on this list.