Sport : Other Sports

A year in the Life

24th December 2012, 03:22pm

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This year of sport will never be forgotton

This year of sport will never be forgotton

Our team of writers look back at an unforgettable year of sport in 2012 and pick out some of their personal highlights.

There can be no doubts whatsoever that 2012 will go down as one of the greatest ever years of sport and not just because of Great Britain's gold-medal winning exploits at London 2012.

Drama, tension, celebration and ecstasy were seemingly met at every turn of the sporting calendar while record-breaking achievements and historic moments almost became the norm.

Even non-believers of the Sporting Gods were left to question their scepticism on more than one occasion.

Working here at Sporting Life, we've been fortunate to cover them all but unfortunately, yet inevitably, a number of incredible magic moments have failed to make the cut for our annual festive feature - not least Chelsea's epic Champions League journey which ended so dramatically with Didier Drogba's winning penalty in Bayern Munich's own back yard.

There can be only one winner for each sport which we cover but if you disagree feel free to get in touch and tell us why!

FOOTBALL

Aguerooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo.

And with that the Premier League trophy ended up in the blue half of Manchester for the first time.

Sunday May 13 will never be forgotten by Manchester City fans but just remember how close we were to a different ending.

Roberto Mancini's men needed victory against QPR to become champions for the first time in 44 years and all was looking good when Pablo Zabaleta opened the scoring before half-time.

Wayne Rooney struck early as rivals Manchester United won 1-0 at Sunderland and the Red Devils could only wait on the monumental twists and turns from the Etihad that ended their day in despair.

It was looking like delight for United as Djibril Cisse and Jamie Mackie turned the tables to put QPR ahead. The fightback was all the more remarkable as Joey Barton was dismissed between the goals to leave the strugglers down to 10 men.

Barton's moment of madness saw him exit Loftus Road for Marseille and it could have seen QPR swap the Premier League for the Championship if Bolton had managed to secure victory at Stoke.

Bolton didn't and that meant it was City with everything on the line as we arrived at the most remarkable conclusion to a Premier League season.

The home fans were contemplating football's Devon Loch moment just before Edin Dzeko made it 2-2 and more importantly put City only one goal away from the title.

Would the winner arrive with time nearly up?

You know it did. Sergio Aguero showed incredible composure to work himself into space and beat Paddy Kenny with the most important goal of his career and one of the most memorable in the history of English football.

Sir Alex Ferguson won't take any solace in it but he had it right when he said: Football, Bloody Hell.

By Nick Hext

RACING

Probably the greatest horse many of us will ever see, not to mention a near-miss at Triple Crown posterity and the arrival of the most-hyped sprinter in the history of the Southern Hemisphere. With the exploits of Frankel, Camelot and Black Caviar to chew over, racing fans were not left short in 2012.

Frankel's destruction of his opponents throughout the year will, in particular, long leave a satisfied glow. An injury scare, a step up in trip and various tactical permutations were unable to derail his progress throughout the year, with Sir Henry Cecil's battle against cancer an ongoing thread in the fascinating story.

But it was away from the Ascots and Yorks and Goodwoods that one of the sport's most remarkable stories took place as bargain-basement Hunt Ball began one of the most amazing climbs up through the grades that British jumps racing has ever seen.

A winner of a handicap chase at Folkestone in November off an official mark of just 69, he defied a raise in the weights of more than five stone to win at the Cheltenham Festival off 143 less than five months later - no horse has ever shown such improvement in such a short space of time.

But as much as Hunt Ball was taken to the racing public's hearts, it was ebullient owner Anthony Knott, a dairy farmer from Dorset who claimed to have won almost a million pounds by backing his horse for each of his seven successes.

Most memorably of all, Knott really let the occasion get to him at Wincanton in February when he joined jockey Nick Schofield in the saddle and the pair rode back into the winner's enclosure together to roars of approval from the crowd. It was one of the most entertaining sights ever seen on a racecourse - and this can be a sport where fun is so often forgotten amidst the big-bucks breeding operations and high-pressure lifestyle of its most famous participants.

Only the Wincanton stewards failed to agree. They fined him £100 for "improper conduct".

By Will Hayler

GOLF

Midway through Saturday afternoon, an event which comes around once every two years and brings the golfing world to a virtual standstill threatened anti-climax as Team USA looked set to run riot in the Ryder Cup.

Led by one of the most popular captains they're ever likely to find in Davis Love III, America had extended their day one lead into an 8-4 advantage after three sessions, and looked well on their way to making it 11-7 come the close of day two.

But when Europe needed inspiration they found it in the form of Ian Poulter, who single-handedly rescued hope.

Playing alongside world number one Rory McIlroy and against an American duo who had looked unflappable, Poulter birdied holes 14, 15, 16, 17 and 18 to steal a vital point for Europe, one that gave them the faintest glimmer of hope.

"Incredible. Incredible," was the reaction offered by McIlroy, a man used to receiving the plaudits himself, but he knew that the real work was still to be done.

Never before had a 10-6 deficit been overturned on foreign soil and pundits generally agreed that Poulter's heroics would be rendered irrelevant by the Sunday singles, a session traditionally dominated by the Americans.

How wrong we all were.

Luke Donald led from the front in beating a determined Bubba Watson on the 17th, where Poulter would eventually see off Webb Simpson after a prolonged battle produced what's now a predictable result.

Paul Lawrie completed an emotional thumping over top-of-his-game Brandt Snedeker, McIlroy won the battle of the PGA champions over Keegen Bradley and Justin Rose produced an incredible finish to turn deficit into a point over Phil Mickelson.

Now we started to believe.

Lee Westwood was on course to beat Matt Kuchar and when Sergio Garcia took advantage of a shaky Jim Furyk to salvage yet another point the scores were on course to meet at 13 apiece.

But now, failure for Europe would hurt more than a crushing defeat would have. The pressure, previously camped firmly on the backs of each man in red, divided itself between four men left on the golf course.

Fortunately for Europe, they had a man whose performance levels increase when pressure comes knocking, so when Steve Stricker opened the door with a heavy-handed chip on the 17th, Martin Kaymer strode through without hesitation.

Par gave the German a lead to the last and when he'd put his approach to 20 feet, it looked like Europe had completed perhaps the most incredible comeback in the competition's grand history.

But this Ryder Cup had even more to give and for European fans the hard part was to come.

Kaymer's birdie putt raced five feet past the hole and somehow Stricker picked himself up off the floor to rescue par, and with Francesco Molinari about to go one down to Tiger Woods, Europe needed Kaymer's point.

Five feet for par. Five feet for the Ryder Cup.

At this point I was on my knees, quite literally. Unable to stand, shaking with fear, five feet from my television, I could barely watch. I'm not old enough to remember Kiawah Island, but I know the details. I know a German man whose temperament was rarely questioned missed a short putt for the Ryder Cup.

Martin Kaymer knew that too, but he didn't let it cross his mind. This was his time; his chance to show the world that he has something that most don't, even if by his own standards 2012 had so far been a year to forget.

The putt never left the hole. Europe had the 14 points they needed to retain the Ryder Cup, and to most it didn't matter that Woods was set to square the match if he could hole from a similar distance to Kaymer just minutes later.

Of course, Woods missed, and Europe had done more than they could've dreamed - they had won the Ryder Cup. It was an achievement beyond any I've seen from any team in any sport. The sweetest of successes over a supremely talented American team on a course tailor-made for home victory.

Some called it the Miracle Of Medinah, but there's no need for a miracle when you've Poulter and Kaymer among your ranks.

By Ben ColeyTENNIS

When a final ends with chairs being brought out for the players to sit down at the presentation ceremony, you know something special has taken place and that was the case when Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal met at the Australian Open.

However, with a British hat on you simply can't ignore the achievement of Andy Murray. His triumph at September's US Open was not the moment of the year, it was the moment of the last 76.

It had been that long since Britain had produced a Grand Slam men's singles champion but Murray did it in style. Taking on Djokovic, the man who would end the year as world number one, Murray played some cracking stuff at times in New York, although the standard did have its highs and lows. Crucially though, Murray found his top tennis just when he needed to - having blown a two-set lead the momentum was with his opponent but the Serb was brutally dispatched in the fifth.

Sinking to his haunches after Djokovic went long on match point, Murray's long wait for success at the highest level ended. Few should begrudge him his success.

A player of immense talent, it is widely regarded he would have won Slams by now in most other eras. Neither should the weight of history factor - one which has laid heavily upon his shoulders since his teenage years - be ignored. You cannot decide when you are born; Murray was unfortunate enough to follow in the footsteps of British players who simply could not cut it.

In ending the most famous win drought in British sport, Murray remarkably also managed to nail down one of the ugliest moments of the year at the same time - the antics about putting a sponsor's new watch on for the presentation ceremony summed up everything that's wrong with modern-day sport.

Thankfully though we know which one he'll be most remembered for - here's to many more in 2013 and beyond.

By Andy Schooler

CRICKET

In a summer of sport the like of which we have never seen before and will never see again, cricket's contribution was pathetic.

It would actually have been better had it made no contribution. Instead it gave us the Kevin Pietersen Affair, an embarrassing if very modern mess of BlackBerry messages, face-punchingly awful spoof Twitter accounts and self-promoting YouTube videos in which all parties involved emerged with dignity shredded as England's best player was sacrificed on the altar of Team Unity; a nebulous concept at the best of times and one generally incapable of scoring runs at number four.

Pietersen sat out the final Test of the summer as England meekly surrendered their hard-earned World No. 1 status with defeat to South Africa and also missed the equally tame surrender of the World Twenty20 title he had done so much to win in the Caribbean two years earlier.

His name was initially absent from the touring party for India but after what the ECB ludicrously termed the "reintegration process" at a press conference in which Giles Clarke genuinely compared Pietersen to convicts returning to society, he was restored.

After two failures in the first Test in Ahmedabad in which his Troubles Against Left-Arm Spin were on display for all to see, he went away and remodelled his whole defensive technique. It's not the first time, either, that he has shown the ability to do this.

He turned up in Mumbai on a used pitch offering outrageous turn and bounce for the spinners - a pitch built to order by India in a spectacular backfire - and promptly played the finest Test innings of the year.

On a pitch where only a handful of others were able even to resist the bowling - including in Alastair Cook and Cheteshwar Pujara two men in record-breakingly good form themselves - Pietersen dominated.

Cricket is a complex game. All runs are not created equal. The true value of Pietersen's 186 was in what followed. When he fell, England lost their last five first-innings wickets for just 31. India then lost all 10 of their second-innings wickets for 149. Fifteen wickets for four runs shy of Pietersen's startling 233-ball counter-attack as England cruised to the unlikeliest of - and one of their very, very best - Test victories.

Pietersen has achieved much in his career. Making this spitting bunsen of a deck appear flat may be top of the list.

It was an innings only he could've played. It was also, after the match-winning 151 in Colombo and match-saving 149 at Headingley, the third such innings he'd produced in seven months when his career was in turmoil.

As an England fan, you don't have to like him. But you should cherish him. The hunt for the "next Pietersen" is likely to be a long and fruitless one.

By David Tickner

RUGBY UNION

As 2012 rolled into December, I don't mind admitting I was struggling for this feature.

A third Wales Grand Slam in eight years was on course to be the moment of the year - because I simply couldn't see England rewriting history by beating the all-conquering All Blacks.

How wrong was I?

Three tries in eight sensational second-half minutes helped Stuart Lancaster's men to a 38-21 triumph that few pundits had seen coming after defeats by Australia and South Africa.

But it was the manner of the victory that was so impressive.

Never before had England scored more than 31 points against the All Blacks - and never before had they beaten them by more than 13 points (and that came back in January 1936).

In fact only once in a staggering 498 Tests had New Zealand lost by a bigger margin.

This was a result that shifted the plates of world rugby and was by some distance my moment of the year.

By Reece Killworth

RUGBY LEAGUE

For all the fast, frenetic, fantastic sport that was played in the rugby league season, I have one memory above all others this year and that was the sheer eye-watering bravery of Warrington prop Paul Wood.

For Wood, 31, was kneed in the groin, suffering a ruptured testicle, in the Wolves' 26-18 defeat to Leeds Rhinos in the Super League Grand Final at Old Trafford in October.

The injury occurred a minute into the second period of the season-ending extravaganza, and Wood played the remaining 39 minutes of the match unaware of the damage he'd done.

He even appeared in a post-match interview where he didn't mention the undoubted pain he must've felt.

Reflecting on his injury, Wood was phlegmatic to say the least.

Taking to twitter to give his thoughts on his situation, he said: "Ruptured my right testicle, got a knee 1 minute into the second half, had to have it removed."

Another read: "Just coming out of hospital to go home... Seriously felt like I've lost something?"

And making reference to the team talk given by his Warrington coach the previous night, Wood remarked: "Tony Smith did say in his pre-match team talk last night "your balls are on the line here guys!" I didn't think he meant literally."

Given Wood's reaction to his injury, you could come to the conclusion that his team's loss hurt him harder than his own.

For Warrington fell short at the final hurdle despite being favourites to overcome the Leeds Rhinos after being much the more consistent of the two clubs throughout the campaign.

They also beat the West Yorkshire side in the Challenge Cup Final at Wembley.

But when the play-off series begins, the Rhinos come alive. Led by inspirational skipper Kevin Sinfield, the Headingley outfit won their fifth Grand Final in six years, this time from a position of fifth in the league.

Yet while Leeds' triumph in the face of adversity is yet again commendable, the commitment to the cause shown by Wood despite his horrific injury is an excruciating example of how rugby league players put their bodies on the line week in week out in the name of entertainment.

Paul Wood, we salute you.

By Ben Linfoot

BOXING

Debates still rage about where super-middleweight Carl Froch should be placed in British boxing folklore.

But for me, he belongs right up there with the very best and his five-round demolition of Lucian Bute in his hometown of Nottingham last May only served to cement his legacy as one of the finest boxers these shores have produced.

The popular Nottingham 35-year-old was regarded as the underdog heading into the contest with the previously unbeaten Bute, coming on the back of an emphatic defeat at the hands of Andre Ward in the Super Six Series.

IBF title holder Bute, 30-0 with 24 knockouts going into the fight , also wanted to answer his critics who questioned his unblemished but untested record as he made a rare foray outside of his native Canada.

But it proved to be the night that Bute's world collapsed as 'The Cobra' produced arguably his finest display as a professional.

From the first bell he was first to the punch and his power visibly shook Bute whose resolve quickly evaporated as he struggled to cope with a Froch fighting like a man possessed.

The crowd were in a frenzy by the time the home favourite pinned his man on the ropes and launched a devastating salvo of punches that saw the referee step in, before Bute's corner interrupted the count and pulled their bewildered man out of the one-sided contest.

Froch had become a three-times world champion and proved himself to be one of the finest fighters on the planet.

By Simon Crawford

SNOOKER

The term 'genius' can be used all to freely when it comes to describing those talented enough to be at the top of their chosen sport.

But in the case of Ronnie O'Sullivan, genius can be the only way to describe the mercurial talents which have seen him widely hailed as the most naturally gifted player the game has ever seen.

However, there is a very real chance the sport of snooker may never see the unpredictable cueman again after he announced in November that he had pulled out of the season's remaining tournaments - including the defence of world title next year - so he could deal with personal issues.

Retirement appears to drawing ever closer for the 36-year-old, but if that is the case then winning his fourth world crown at The Crucible last May will certainly be seen as going out in a blaze of glory.

O'Sullivan comfortably saw off the spirited challenge of Ali Carter 18-11 in the final, but my abiding memory is how focused and determined he was from his opening match right through to lifting the coveted trophy.

A lack of consistency has dogged 'The Rocket' throughout his glittering career, but there was no wavering here. He treated each match as though it was the final, almost as though he knew this might be his swansong, and as a result we saw O'Sullivan at his awesome best.

Quite simply, if O'Sullivan decides he is going to win a tournament then no other player is good enough to stop him - his most difficult opponent has always been himself.

If Shefffield was indeed the last time we will see him in a major event, then thanks for the memories Ronnie.

By Simon Crawford

FORMULA ONE

While there have been moments aplenty that will be remembered, such as the first seven races producing seven different winners and the first corner of the Belgian Grand Prix that saw five drivers eliminated; there is one particular race that stood out in the Formula One Season.

On November 4, we were witness to arguably the greatest race of the year at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, as Kimi Raikkonen's first win in three years came after a fuel pickup problem caused Lewis Hamilton to break down while in the lead.

It was celebrations for the Finn at the Yas Marina Circuit, whose triumph was certainly not his only contribution to the entertainment that day.

"Leave me alone, I know what I'm doing," the enigmatic Raikkonen told his Lotus team on lap 20, who had informed him over the radio on that Fernando Alonso was five seconds behind him in second.

However, it was the performance of Sebastian Vettel that grabbed the headlines in Abu Dhabi, as the Red Bull driver came from the back of the grid to incredibly secure a podium finish.

Vettel's car had been found to have insufficient fuel after qualifying and subsequently he was made to start from the pit lane. Initially, he benefitted from a safety car that was deployed after a chaotic opening corner, and from there he began working his way up the field.

Upon receiving a fresh set of tyres after being forced to pit during the safety car period, Vettel benefitted thanks to making passes and crashes involving other drivers, and during the closing laps he found himself pressuring Jenson Button for third.

On lap 52, Vettel caught and passed Button to complete the podium, concluding a truly remarkable race where the German kept a ten-point World Drivers' championship lead as a result.

Vettel went on to win his third consecutive championship, despite fierce competition up to the final race at the Brazilian Grand Prix from Ferrari's Alonso, whose performance this year is also a standout highlight of 2012.

By: Jack Woodfield

NFL

There is no question that Peyton Manning's golden era in Indianapolis will ensure him a place at Canton when he finally hangs up his cleats but followers of the game waited with bated breath ahead of the second chapter of his career in Denver.

A year on the sidelines following multiple neck surgeries raised a major issue as to whether Manning would ever the scale the heights he had with the Colts - and few sports fans like to see one of the game's greats going through the motions as a shadow of their former selves.

There were plenty of suitors interested in Manning's services but it was the legendary John Elway who lured him to the Broncos and was confident enough in what he saw and heard from Manning to offer him a contract reportedly worth a tidy $96 million over five years.

The early omens were promising enough with a victory against Pittsburgh on opening day but subsequent defeats at the hands of New England and Houston seemed to highlight a deficiency in his arm strength.

But Manning argued that it would take a little time to find top form following his enforced absence but one thing could not be denied - an unwavering belief in what he could still achieve in the game and his ability to raise the levels of those players around him.

Following the week five loss to the Patriots that left them with a record of 2-3, Manning took his new team on a run of eight straight victories at the time of writing which clinched the AFC West Divisional crown along the to secure another trip to the post-season.

His incredible understanding of how to find an opponent's weakness remains undiminished at the line of scrimmage while players like Demaryius Thomas, Eric Dekker - and even Knowshon Moreno - have blossomed under his tutelage in the Denver offense.

It remains to be seen how far this side can go under Manning - the player himself I am sure will feel his comeback will be a failure of sorts if he can't repay Elway's faith with a Lombardi trophy.

But however things play out over the rest of time under centre, Manning's return has provided one of the highlights of the 2012 season and to see one of the stellar performers of the modern game doing what he does best on a weekly basis is truly a time to be enjoyed.

By David John

GREYHOUNDS

From a people perspective, the resurgence of Paul Young's Burton Lodge kennels was the highlight of the year, but it was to be the Mark Wallis' trained Blonde Snapper that took the Derby.

Initially quoted at 80/1 by the bookmakers ahead of the sport's premier race, the three-year-old had landed the William Hill Classic at Sunderland the year previously, and had won the Sprint Classic at Romford en route to Wimbledon.

The Derby is however a different proposition to any other event in the calendar.

Raw speed can be enough to ensure qualification through the earlier rounds but the rat-a-tat schedule of six knockout rounds requires resilience from dog and trainer alike.

With a history of niggling injuries, Mark Currell's black hadn't sparkled in the earlier rounds, but the trainer had primed the dog to peak in the second half of the competition and he laid down a big marker in the semi-finals.

As the dogs loaded into the traps for the final, it was Farloe Ironman that was to be the subject of one of the most monumental gambles in living memory.

Drawn in one, the son of Premier Fantasy was chalked up initially at 9/2 trackside and the punters lumped on with no thought of failure. His starting price collapsing into 6/4.

As the boxes opened, he hesitated briefly as Coolavanny Bert edged left into his path, and reigning champion, Taylors Sky, found the break that had eluded him in the previous five rounds.

Charlie Lister's charge rushed to the first bend but crashed into Judicial Ruling as they searched for the same strip of sand, and it was to be game on between the peripheral traps of six and one.

The Snapper securing first run as Ironman lurked menacingly at his shoulder.

Bracing the penultimate turn, the backers of the favourite began to roar in expectation of passing a doubtful stayer - but the move never materialised and the margin of victory was one-and-three-quarter-lengths.

Though connections considered a defence of the Classic at Sunderland, with his fourth birthday approaching, the decision to retire Blonde Snapper was made.

A winner of 20 of his 39 starts, he now stands at the Dunphy Stud in Ireland.

By Ian Brindle

OTHERS

In years gone by, our 'others' moment of the year has been a battle between the minor sports, with recent winners coming from the world of athletics, cycling and even ice hockey.

Technically we should give the 2012 award to either Bradley Wiggins for becoming Great Britain's first ever winner of the Tour de France or just one of our Olympic heroes who provided us with a standout memory from London 2012.

However, Wiggins has probably won enough accolades this year - including our title of Sportsman of the Year - so we're instead going to use this section as an opportunity to look back at the Olympics and pick out five additional moments which struck a chord with our writers.

Golden trio captivate a nation

I should really just give up on attending live sporting events now for I know nothing will ever beat being in the Olympic Stadium in London on the night of Saturday August 4.

The gold-medal efforts of Jessica Ennis, Greg Rutherford and then Mo Farah created a spine-tingling atmosphere.

National pride is not something Britain usually does particularly well; on this occasion that was certainly not the case - both inside the stadium, the Olympic Park and in millions of homes across the nation (17million people watched an athletics meeting that night in the UK).

While Farah's final-lap heroics provided the crescendo to the evening on the track - I still get goosebumps remembering the roar that accompanied him on that last 400m - what I will probably remember more than anything from that night came in the aftermath.

As virtually the entire 80,000 crowd waited patiently for Ennis to be awarded her medal, the stadium announcer decided to play The Beatles' All You Need Is Love, at which point seemingly the entire crowd joined in.

It was very un-British; usually we are a much more reserved bunch and slightly corny, I'll grant you. But the Olympics had brought people out of their shell and if anything summed at the mood of the nation at that point it was that impromptu sing-a-long.

The doubters who said the Games would not be inclusive, were a waste of money and an all-round disaster had been silenced, drowned out by a nation inspired by phenomenal athletes and simply enjoying themselves.

By Andy Schooler

'I love you mum'

Gemma Gibbons ended the 12-year wait for a British judo medal at the Olympics but that was only part of the story from the incredible competition in the women's -78kg.

The Londoner defeated reigning world champion Audrey Tcheumeo in the semi-finals to guarantee her place on the podium and that victory provided one of the most emotional moments of London 2012.

Gibbons fell to the floor in tears as she won with an ippon in extra time and looked up to the heavens to say 'I love you Mum' in tribute to her mother Jeanette, who passed away in 2004 at the age of 49 after suffering from Leukaemia.

There were plenty of tears as well from the people watching at the ExCel and live on television at the most poignant of British successes with Gibbons' memorable moment occurring at a venue just a 20-minute drive away from the flat she once shared with her mother.

The London crowd were now hoping for their dream gold medallist when Gibbons fought American Kayla Harrison in the final.

Harrison stopped the home fans getting their wish but there were certainly no hard feelings towards the winner given the incredible journey she had taken after enduring horrific times in her life.

The American was subjected to sexual abuse from her former coach, who was sentenced to 10 years in jail, and found the bravery to speak out after admitting she was suicidal before finding a way out of the ordeal.

Harrison managed to show the courage and fight needed to get on with life again and admits that the hope for her is "my past will help people's futures".

That should certainly prove the case with the women's -78kg providing a gold and silver medalist to be proud of.

By Nick Hext

Bronze as good as gold

If at first you don't succeed, try, try, try again.

At the ripe old age of 36, Katherine Grainger was indeed trying to win her first Olympic title at the fourth attempt having previously been forced to settle for three successive silvers.

The last of which in Beijing was particularly heart-breaking so another near miss - this time alongside Anna Watkins in the double skulls - was just too painful for Britain's queen of rowing to consider.

Gold was the only option now and each and every one of the raucous 30,000 capacity crowd - as well as the millions glued to their TVs at home - knew that, such had been the frequency of her story told.

As a result of all this hype, the anxiety levels were reaching breaking point in the build-up to the race, but the nerves and tension were swiftly replaced by a feeling of inevitable triumph when the British pair stormed ahead to leave the chasing pack trailing in their wake.

Victory sparked wild scenes of celebrations but there was no holding back the tears of joy and relief during a highly-emotional medal ceremony as Grainger's sporting dreams were finally realised.

But while her glorious gold was the ultimate reward for unrelenting perseverance and a determination not to settle for second best, sometimes the 'lesser' prizes can evoke exactly the same sense of pride and elation.

Later that same day at Eton Dorney, a lone single sculler from Northern Ireland was about to put his lungs and limbs through torture just to give himself a chance of coming away with something to show for years of sacrifice and hard work.

The formidable New Zealander Mahe Drysdale proved just why he was almost a dead cert for gold by building up unassailable lead, leaving Britain's Alan Campbell, who finished fifth in Beijing, in a titanic battle for silver and bronze.

I'm sure I wasn't the only supporter in attendance to have an incredibly hoarse voice after a long day of screaming but we were all willing to finish our vocal chords off for good if it could inspire one final moment of jubilation.

However, with Ondrej Synek of Czech Republic moving clear in second, it was natural to fear the worse as Campbell went stroke for stroke with Sweden's Lassi Karonen in what was effectively a bronze or nothing showdown.

The final 500m was nail-biting to watch knowing how utterly dejected he'd be with fourth but as the decibels were cranked up a further notch, the man from Coleraine responded to edge ahead and his herculean effort was rewarded by taking what truly felt like a gold-plated third.

A visibly exhausted Campbell not only struggled to climb out of his boat but could hardly summon the strength to even stand during the medal ceremony.

Like Grainger, he failed miserably to hold back the tears but thankfully in both cases they represented personal fulfilment.

By Chris Hammer

A place in boxing history

It was one of the most unlikely, yet one of the most captivating gold medal triumphs as Nicola Adams became the first ever women's Olympic boxing champion.

Forced to work on a building site and as a soap opera extra to help cover the costs of her training, the 30-year-old from Leeds was almost forced to quit the sport due to a lack of support and then a serious back injury.

But her determination was rewarded in the best possible way when she triumphed against the world number one, China's Cancan Ren, in a thrilling 16-7 victory to take gold on home soil in London back in August.

Inspired to take up boxing by Muhammad Ali's famous 1974 fight, Rumble In The Jungle against George Foreman, Adams has developed her own version of the great man's signature move - the 'Nicki shuffle' - which became synonymous with the Olympic tournament.

Thrust reluctantly into the limelight after her success, Adams quickly won the hearts of the nation with her down-to-earth attitude and infectious smile.

A nomination for the BBC's Sports Personality of the Year was no surprise and even if she does not win it, the Yorkshire flyweight has already done so much to promote women's boxing in such a positive light.

By Simon Crawford

"Oh my God, we've won the Olympics"

Those the words which, for me, underline what a phenomenal thing the Olympics are. The words of Kat Copeland, a 21-year-year old daughter of two vets who as part of her job as a teacher runs an after school art club for autistic children.

She seems really nice. She seems really normal. But she's an Olympic champion.

When the Games began in the summer I, by no means a patriot, struggled to find the level of excitement which had clearly engulfed Britain.

There were elements of the preparation which I felt went beyond national pride; it was almost as if organisers felt that they needed to win their own gold medal, one awarded for being the biggest and the best Olympiad there had ever been in the history of the world and the universe.

I didn't like it. I felt that the Olympics should be a wonderful thing which we all enjoy wherever it takes place.

But then began a wonderful fortnight that showed exactly what sport can do. Whether the methods were always appropriate or not, the country I live in became a better place. Normal people were doing extraordinary things, and some of them were from near me. Some of them were normal people who had normal jobs.

Nothing underlined that more than gold for Kat Copeland and Sophie Hosking in the women's lightweight double sculls at Eton Dorney.

Their partnership had only begun at the start of the season and they arrived at the Games with only bronze in Belgrade to show for their efforts, yet on the 4th of August they lined up as favourites.

Third in the early stages, their progress was stealthy. By halfway they'd moved into second, reserving all they could for a final push which would see them roared over the line with some two seconds to spare over the fast-finishing Chinese boat.

As I and the rest of Britain tried in vain to remain in reality, so came the realisation for Copeland. A seemingly humble, honest, hard-working girl who nearly quit the sport two years earlier had put her name alongside greats: she had won a gold medal.

That Copeland still doesn't consider herself to deserve that place surely says all you need to know about her, and those words she uttered - senseless, semi-comedic but submerged in sheer joy - underline what the Olympics can do.

London 2012 saw elite athletes achieve extraordinary things. It saw Jessica Ennis do what she was meant to, Mo Farah show why he's the best of his kind that this country has ever produced and Bradley Wiggins stamp his class all over cycling's time trial.

But more than that, it introduced me to a girl I'd never heard of, and I'll always remember shouting the house down as Kat Copeland won the Olympics.

By Ben Coley

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