Whilst 2012 was dominated by the Olympic Games, British sport didn’t enjoy much success outside of those few weeks of madness in late summer and early autumn. 2013, however, provided us with many more reasons to celebrate. The year included long-awaited victories, new records, surprises, humiliations and the comeback of all comebacks. It’s fair to say last year was far from boring.
Let’s start with rugby. Wales won their second 6 Nations title in a row, fighting back from losing their opening game against Ireland to win their next three and set up a shoot-out for the title with England, who were on course to achieve only their second 6 Nations Grand Slam and their first for 10 years. They were, however, absolutely obliterated by the unstoppable Welsh, with 5 penalties and two Alex Cuthbert tries seeing them to a 30-3 win, their biggest ever over England.
The British and Irish Lions then toured Australia over the summer, hoping to exact revenge on the Aussies for their 2001 loss. The first two Tests were extremely tight, with the Lions taking the first game 23-21 before losing the next 16-15. Going into the game, both tour captain Sam Warburton and Irishman Paul O’Connell were injured, leading to widespread speculation that Brian O’Driscoll would captain the side in his last ever international game. However, he was surprisingly dropped to the bench as Warren Gatland picked Jamie Roberts and Jonathon Davies at centre. They were two of ten Welsh players in the starting line-up. Not long after half-time, the match was evenly poised with the Lions just in the lead. However, their superior fitness took over in the last twenty minutes as they scored three tries to win 41-16 and take the series 2-1.
In rugby league, Australia won the World Cup in style, thumping New Zealand 34-2 in the final and becoming world champions for the tenth time. The Wallabies were unstoppable throughout the tournament, not conceding a single try after their opening 28-20 win against England. The best moment of the tournament, however, came from New Zealand’s Dean Whare against the same opposition. After a period of sustained pressure near the England try line, the ball was eventually thrown wide in an attempt to find Whare on the wing. The pass was far too long, however, and it seemed as though the ball was going out of play. Whare never gave up though and produced a miracle pass behind him when he was in mid-air to set up Roger Tuivasa-Sheck to score. If you want to see it, here it is – http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/rugby-league/25067747.
As previously mentioned, Brian O’Driscoll, one of the game’s greatest ever players, retired from international rugby after the Lions’ victory. He played 128 times for Ireland and scored 47 tries, 26 of those coming in the 6 Nations, making him the top try-scorer in the competition’s history. He was also selected for four separate Lions tours, appearing in 8 Tests and scoring 1 try. The victory in Australia was the perfect finish to a wonderful career.
Cricket also said goodbye to two of its greatest players in late 2013. Sachin Tendulkar, the Indian run-machine, retired from international cricket at the age of 40. The ‘Little Master’ was the most prolific batsman there has ever been, scoring nearly 16,000 Test match runs at an average of 53.79 as well as 18,426 runs in One Day Internationals at around 45. His most remarkable statistic, however, is that he is the only batsman in the history of the game to score 100 international hundreds, with 51 in Tests and 49 in ODIs. It is likely to be the first and only time this ever happens and illustrates the God-like status of the man only 5ft 5in tall. He ended his career with an innings of 72 as India beat the West Indies by an innings and 126 runs.
South African Jacques Kallis, however, went one better by scoring a magnificent 115 in his final Test innings against India, his 45th in 155 Tests. The all-rounder is the most understated cricketer of all time – he has scored over 13,000 runs in Tests (putting him third in the all-time list), has taken 292 wickets and pouched 200 catches, with only Rahul Dravid having taken more. The stats are absolutely phenomenal, yet if you ask anyone who was only a loose cricket follower who he is, they will do well to identify that he is a South African. Arguably the greatest all-rounder of all-time, South African cricket will miss him dearly.
Other sports stars to retire in style in 2013 include David Beckham, Sir Chris Hoy and the greatest manager of all time – Sir Alex Ferguson. All went out in relatively quiet fashion after hugely successful careers, although Fergie’s autobiography caused some fuss in the media. Graeme Swann’s sudden retirement halfway through the current Ashes series, however, was far less dignified. If he’d said he would retire after the series there would have been little consternation, but the fact that he just suddenly went without any real reason why has led to much criticism from fans and journalists alike. Some have called him a bad loser, others say he’s selfish – it’s unclear exactly as to why he did what he did, but I think it’s clear that all is not well in the England camp.
2013 was certainly a strange year for the England cricket team. It started with a hard-fought 0-0 series draw in New Zealand, in which England were only saved from a humiliating series defeat thanks to a wonderful hundred from Matt Prior. The Kiwis were then ruthlessly dismantled by England’s bowlers in the early summer before the first of two Ashes series got underway in July. A 3-0 victory for England was extremely flattering as they didn’t perform particularly well – the Aussies were just much worse! Coming into the current series then, there was much cause for concern for the English – Joe Root hadn’t performed well as an opener, Prior was out of any sort of form and none of the big fast-bowlers England had selected for the bouncy Australian pitches performed well in the warm-up games. No-one could have foreseen what was coming though – they are currently 4-0 with one Test to play, no batsman has scored a century, the team has only passed 300 twice and the bowlers haven’t been particularly impressive. Fair play to Australia, they have turned their fortunes around fantastically, but England are a shadow of their former selves.
It’s not all bad for England though, as the women won back the Ashes in the summer. Over 6 games (1 Test, three ODIs and two T20Is) England drew the Test (securing 2 points), won the final two 50-over games and both the T20s (securing 4 points for each) to win back the Ashes. They head out to Australia later this month to repeat the contest in what should be a hugely competitive series.
England women’s football team, however, had a much less successful year. Going into the European Championships in the summer, Hope Powell’s team were one of the favourites to win the tournament. But that couldn’t be further from what actually happened as the side choked and were knocked out at the group stages, stuttering to one draw and two losses. This lead to the sacking of Powell, widely regarded as England’s greatest coach. Things seem to be on the up now, with the side recording four wins from four in their bid to qualify for the 2015 World Cup, scoring 20 goals and conceding none.
England’s men secured their place at Rio 2014, finishing top of their group. They also beat Brazil 2-1 in February before drawing 2-2 with them four months later. This was then followed by losses to both Chile and Germany at home in November, which is a big worry given that the World Cup is just a few months away. Domestically, Sir Alex finished his fine managerial career with yet another Premier League title as Manchester United regained the trophy from their local rivals, whilst Swansea City ruined Bradford City’s hopes of a fairytale story by thumping them 5-0 in the League Cup final. Wigan Athletic, however, did produce a shock by beating Manchester City to win the FA Cup, before being relegated a few days later. Chelsea won yet another trophy by securing the Europa League, whilst Bayern Munich avenged their loss against Chelsea a year ago to win the Champions League at Wembley.
There were also many fantastic individual triumphs throughout 2013, starting with the remarkable efforts of young Welsh cyclist Becky James at the 2013 World Track Championships. She won two gold and two bronze medals as Britain topped the medal table with 9 medals in total (5 gold, 2 silver and 2 bronze) despite not having many big names, showing the future for British cycling is extremely healthy.
Sebastian Vettel won his fourth straight Formula 1 World Championship, recording 9 straight victories at the end of the season to bring him level with Alberto Ascari’s record of successive wins. Only Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher now have more Drivers’ Titles than him and, at the age of 26, the Germany still has plenty of time to surpass them both.
In MotoGP, rookie Spaniard Marc Marquez became the first rider in 35 year to win the title in their first season as well as becoming the youngest ever champion. With 6 wins, 9 pole positions and 16 podiums, it was a remarkable season for the 20 year-old, who defied everyone’s expectations, even his closest fans.
Ben Ainslie further cemented his place in sailing history by helping Team Oracle overturn an 8-1 deficit to win the America’s Cup in what many are calling the greatest sporting comeback of all time. A.P. McCoy was another legend achieving unbelievable milestones, with the jockey recording his 4000th on ‘Mountain Tunes,’ again winning in a seemingly impossible situation after being out of contention with two hurdles left. McCoy also reached the 150 winners landmark for the 2013/14 season, the 18th time he has done so in 20 seasons of racing. He is truly the greatest jockey there has ever been.
At the World Athletics Championships, Mo Farah once again won both the 5000m and 10,000m races whilst Christine Ohuruogu produced a superb last-gasp sprint to win the 400m title. The undoubted star of the meet, however, was Usain Bolt – he achieved the triple yet again (100m, 200m and 4x100m) despite not being in the best of form, making him the most decorated sprinter ever. The achievements of these athletes was perfectly timed as just four weeks before athletic greats Tyson Gay, Asafa Powell and Veronica Campbell-Brown were just three of many athletes found guilty of doping offences. The continued dominance of these greats allowed us to, temporarily at least, forget about the huge demon that underlies the sport.
Elsewhere, Justin Rose became the first Englishman to win a golfing Major since Nick Faldo won the 1996 Masters tournament. Although it may not have been the most exciting tournament, Rose still had to battle extremely hard to beat Jason Day and Phil Mickelson, both of whom are previous Major winners. Chris Froome also worked extraordinarily hard to win the 100th Tour de France, following on from Team Sky team-mate Bradley Wiggins last year. Although his victory wasn’t as big a landmark over here as Wiggins’, Froome can be immensely proud of the win – he came runner-up last year and the decision to make him team-leader wasn’t necessarily the most popular. Not only did he win one of the most physically tough events, he overcame all the pressure the public put on him.
The greatest individual success, however, has to be Andy Murray’s. The Scot finally finished the wait for a Brit to win Wimbledon with a fantastic straight sets victory over Novak Djokovic. The tension released when the Serb hit his final backhand into the net was immense; the crowd erupted and Murray, ever the understater, just dropped his racquet and stared in disbelief. It was the perfect ending to a story that had so many twists and turns – there was a huge question mark over his fitness coming in to the tournament as he had been forced out of the French Open just a month before and, despite cruising through to the quarter finals, he never looked totally comfortable. He then had to battle back from two sets down against Fernando Verdasco in the quarters before overcoming the huge-serving Pole Jerzy Janowicz in the semis. Even the final point seemed to take forever. But, after 7 grueling matches, the 75 year-wait was finally over.
2013 wasn’t a good year for all individuals though. As well as the shocking drugs uncovering, the world of athletics was also rocked by the news that Oscar Pistorius had shot and killed his girlfriend at their home. Whether it was intentional or not, very few know, – all I can say is that this is undeniably the end of the South African’s career. Let’s just hope he can be remembered for all the right reasons.
Someone few have any sympathy for, however, is Lance Armstrong. Despite denying for years he took drugs, the 7-time Tour de France winner finally admitted that he had doped in an interview with Oprah Winfrey back in January. It was’nt just the doping, the constant denial or the accusations that others were trying to paint him in a bad light that upset everyone; it was also the way he came out. His interview felt very false, as though he was trying to seem like he cared that he’d let millions of people down when he really didn’t. To many, he was a hero. He was the most decorated road cyclist of all time as well as being a victor against testicular cancer. Now, he is just a serial cheat who no-one will ever trust again.
On the whole, 2013 was a wonderful year for sport. With the football World Cup, Commonwealth Games and Women’s Ashes amongst many other competitions coming up in 2014, it’s fair to say that this year has the potential to be just as inspiring, entertaining and downright brilliant.
On a more sombre not, here is my tribute to some of the greats the sporting world lost this year:
- Acer Nethercott (35) – Coxswain for Team GB rowing; won a silver medal with the Men’s 8 crew at Beijing 2008.
- Andrew Simpson (36) – Sailer; won gold at Beijing 2008 and silver at London 2012 in the Star class; drowned after the yacht he was training on for the America’s Cup capsized.
- Bert Trautmann (89) – German goalkeeper who played over 500 times in 15 years for Manchester City; most famous for playing on with a broken neck in the 1956 FA Cup final, which City won 3-1.
- Bill Hoskyns (82) – last British fencer to win an Olympic medal; won silver medals in the team épée at Rome 1960 and then in the individual épée four years later in Tokyo.
- Christian ‘Chucho’ Benitez (27) – Ecuadorian international footballer; played for Birmingham in 2009/10, making 30 appearances.
- Christopher Martin-Jenkins (67) – legendary cricket commentator on Test Match Special from 1973 to 2012; former president of the MCC; one of the most recognisable voices on the radio.
- David Oates (50) – broadcaster for the BBC and was a regular on 5Live for over 25 years; was the commentator when Fabrice Muamba collapsed in an FA Cup tie in 2011.
- Sir Henry Cecil (70) – one of the greatest racing horse trainers of all time; awarded the Champion Trainer award 10 times; trained over 25 domestic Classic race winners.
- Maria de Villota (33) – racing driver who tested with Renault in 2011 and then became Maurssia test driver in 2012; had a horrific crash whilst testing in 2012 that caused her to lose her eye and suffer other life-threatening injuries; suffered a huge cardiac arrest in 2013, possibly caused by her injuries from the crash.
- Mike Denness (72) – former England cricketer; scored 4 Test hundreds and averaged just under 40; captained England in 19 of his 28 Tests.
- Phill Nixon (50) – darts player best known for his surprising 2007 performance at the BDO World Darts Championship, where he qualified for the first time after 20 years of trying and got to the final against all odds (he was 150-1 before competition started); he lost 7-6 to Martin Adams but was 6-0 down at the internval,
- Sean Edwards (26) – racing driver; son of former F1 driver Guy Edwards; died in a crash during a private test session in Australia in which he was a passenger instructing another driver, who survived.
- Tony Greig (66) – former England Test captain; played a key part in setting up the infamous World Series Cricket; then became a well-renowned commentator for Channel 9 in Australia.
- Tony Gubba (69) – sports commentator and journalist; commentated on a huge number of sports for over 40 years, mainly for the BBC, including football, darts and ice skating.
Finally, thoughts must go out to Michael Schumacher and all his family and friends. Although I never liked him much as a driver, he is undoubtedly one of the greatest racers there has ever been. If anyone can pull through this, Schumi can.