Sport : Other Sports

Is this as good as it gets?

24th December 2012, 10:19am

Bradley Wiggins: Olympic champ and Tour winner

Bradley Wiggins: Olympic champ and Tour winner

Frank Malley reflects on 2012, which goes down in history as perhaps the greatest-ever year in British sport.

Where do you start to tell the remarkable story of arguably the greatest-ever year in British sport?

The grounds of Hampton Court Palace, perhaps, where on August 1 Bradley Wiggins secured Olympic gold in the cycling time trial just 10 days after becoming the first Briton to win the Tour de France, the race generally regarded as the most gruelling in sport.

After Wiggins had received his medal and saluted his adoring fans on a sun-splashed afternoon he took a lingering look at the magnificent palace where heads used to roll under the reign of Henry V111 and was gripped by sadness.

"There is almost slight melancholy," he admitted. "I realised on the podium that that is it for me. I don't think anything is going to top that. To win the Tour and then win Olympic gold in London at 32. I'll look back in 10, 15 years and think that was as good as it got."

For so many sportsmen 2012 truly was as good as sport gets.

Such as Andy Murray who won silver and gold at the Olympics following his loss to Roger Federer in the Wimbledon final and then went on to rewrite 76 years of tennis history by becoming the first British man since Fred Perry in 1936 to win a Grand Slam singles title when he beat Novak Djokovic in five dramatic sets at the US Open.

In any other year Murray would be the undisputed king of British sport. In 2012 he merely joined an array of sublime performers across a multitude of disciplines. In rugby union, Wales, with an exciting blend of youth and experience, won the Six Nations Grand Slam for the third time in eight years.

In rugby league Wigan finished top of Super League, Warrington won the Challenge Cup final and Leeds took the Grand Final prize with a blistering display to eclipse Warrington.

Football saw the arrival of moneybags Manchester City as a major force, wrenching the Premier League title from neighbours Manchester United with a last-ditch winner from Sergio Aguero against QPR in as dramatic a finale as you are likely to witness.

As if to prove money makes football's world spin like never before Chelsea won the FA Cup and then lifted the Champions League trophy for the first time, winning a penalty shoot-out 4-3 against Bayern Munich, with departing star Didier Drogba slotting the decisive spot kick.

It was the stuff of dreams and yet football, with its penchant for controversy and cheating, was the biggest loser in 2012. England once more failed to achieve at a major tournament, going out on penalties, how else?, against Italy at Euro 2012 under new manager Roy Hodgson.

The English game, however, was dominated by the accusations of racist language against Chelsea's John Terry which saw him acquitted in a court of law but found guilty by the Football Association. The punishment of a four-match ban and a £220,000 fine was debated as heatedly as the fact that he continued as Chelsea captain. There was even talk of a breakaway union for black players. In truth, however, football was simply overwhelmed by sports and characters determined to play hard but fair.

That was evident in golf where Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy polished his aura as the 'new Tiger' by winning his second major, the USPGA, at the age of 23, by a record eight shots. If that was stunning then the events at Medinah Country Club, Illinois, in September were extraordinary.

Trailing by 10-6 going into the final day singles Europe appeared to be playing for pride alone against the USA in the Ryder Cup. McIlroy and the rest had other ideas and inspired by a day dedicated to the memory of the late Seve Ballesteros they produced a recovery in the swashbuckling tradition of their former captain. Eight singles matches won, one halved, to deliver a 14.5-13.5 victory which deserves its place in the pantheon of great sporting comebacks.

Yet, despite such wondrous moments, for centuries to come 2012 will be remembered for what took place during six weeks in which the London Olympics and Paralympics captured the hearts and minds of a nation.

Who can forget the Saturday night it rained British gold in the Olympic stadium for heptathlete Jessica Ennis, the poster girl of the Games, plus long jumper Greg Rutherford and the incomparable Mo Farah in the 10,000m, all swept on by jet-engine roars from a crowd whose passion brought a lump to the throat?

Who can forget Farah making it a golden double in the 5,000m and celebrating zanily trackside with Usain Bolt, the Jamaican sprinter who successfully defended his 100m, 200m and relay sprint titles?

The velodrome, meanwhile, rocked as Britain's Jason Kenny and Laura Trott won double gold and Victoria Pendleton won gold and silver before bidding farewell to the sport in a river of tears.

Sir Chris Hoy was there, too, embracing Sir Steven Redgrave after surpassing him as Britain's greatest Olympian, the cycle king's victories in the team sprint and the keirin taking his golden tally to six over four Games.

Truly that was the night of knights and while cycling was to be rocked when America's Lance Armstrong was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles later in the year after compelling evidence emerged of systematic drug cheating there was a growing conviction that the sport currently has never been cleaner.

At the Paralympics the four gold medals of wheelchair athlete David Weir and the irrepressible charm of blade runner Jonnie Peacock as he won the 100m epitomised a Games with the emphasis on ability, not disability. So what will we remember most from 2012, apart from 29 Olympic and 34 Paralympic gold medals?

It has to be the pride and the sound of patriotic fervour, which prevailed on land and sea from Wembley to Weymouth in those six sumptuous weeks.

To paraphrase Wiggins, it was as good as sport gets.


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