In a year that Andy Murray won Wimbledon - was 2013 a better year for sport than 2012?
If you thought the London Olympics and Bradley Wiggins' Tour glory made last year the best, don't forget Andy Murray's Wimbledon win and Mo Farah's world double
Friday 20 December 2013
It was the sporting year doomed to be propelled on to centre stage like a reluctant toddler in their first nativity, the one to follow after the Lord Mayor's Show that was 2012 – the glory and sheer dizzying happiness of the London Olympics, the truly historic moment of a Briton in yellow, the comeback to end all comebacks in the Ryder Cup.
Follow that, 2013. And it has, 2013 the year that delivered us to never-never land, the year a British man won Wimbledon.
With the dishonourable exception of England, and our other national football teams – and there is consolation to be found domestically – this is Britain's sporting golden age. We have never had it so good across the board with bat, ball, bike or running spikes, and further afield in Spain, Usain Bolt, the All Blacks there are the best of the best on view.
So how does 2013 add up? Can it truly compare to 2012 and be an annus even more mirabilis?
To settle it The Independent, in a deeply subjective and resoundingly unscientific match off, lines up 2012 against 2013. May the best year win.
London Olympics v Murray wins Wimbledon
The last time London hosted the Olympics before 2012's festival of flag waving, the nation's sport watchers were already wringing their hands over Britain's Wimbledon drought. In 1948 a dozen years had been racked up since Fred Perry had triumphed – there were many more to come.
When Andy Murray saw Novak Djokovic's backhand thud into the Centre Court net on a sunny afternoon in July it ended the longest wait in British sporting history. It was a singularly historic achievement by the Scot. In the years since Perry won, Britons brought home 128 gold medals from the Olympics, one of them by Murray. In that time two runners-up, Bunny Austin and Murray, in 2012, was the best at Wimbledon.
The 2012 Olympics was remarkable for the manner in which British gloom was banished for two glorious weeks – and two more through the succeeding Paralympics. Glasses were always half-full. In fact, they were bubbling over. The sheer feel-good factor was given substance by sporting achievement of the highest class: Mo Farah, Chris Hoy, Jessica Ennis. The list goes on. They were great days of sport, days of happiness, days when memory tells you it was sunny even if it was anything but.
Team GB – and there was a team spirit that spread across sports – made the most of home advantage, made the most of everything they had. Hosts always do better in the Olympics. For Murray, all on his own, home advantage was nothing of the sort, it was instead a heavy burden of expectation, and an expectation bundled tightly in gloom and desperation. He is playing in an era when two, possibly three, of the best players ever to play the sport are operating. And he won.
Verdict 2013. Just
Wiggins wins the Tour de France v Froome wins the Tour de France
There is something deeply fascinating about Bradley Wiggins, an outstanding sportsman and a complicated man. Froome too is an outstanding rider and one who may well finish his career with a row of yellow jerseys on his Monaco living-room wall. His domination of this year's Tour was memorably impressive, as was the manner in which he coped with any mini-crises that came his way. Yet that you wait 98 goes for a British winner and then two come along at once should not detract from the scale of Wiggins' ground-breaking achievement, nor should Team Sky's dominance of the race in 2012.
Wiggins gliding through Paris to set Mark Cavendish up for that final stage victory was one of the great sights of any year and a great moment in the history of British sport.
City win the Premier League v Fergie bows out with another league title
It is the sheer Cityness of it all, the utter ridiculousness, scoring twice in injury time to win a first league title in 44 years and, in so doing, deny United a crown they thought was going to be handed to them by their neighbours' foibles.
The moment when Sergio Aguero's right-footed shot surged past Paddy Kenny was the Premier League's high-water mark, the reason why, for all England's failings, the German and Spanish control of the Continent, it remains the one the world wants to watch; someone has a squeaky bottom every week.
And there has been one constant through it all, masticating pack after pack of Wrigley's, checking the world's only dual-speed watch and turning various shades of red. Hearing for the first time that Sir Alex Ferguson really was going to retire was another "Wow!" moment, just without the preceding tension and theatre of City's triumph. Departing with another league title – and one that United's struggles this season show in an ever-greater light – was the only way he was ever going to stride off centre stage.
Chelsea win the Champions League v Wigan win the FA Cup
How to compare the triumphs of two underdogs? Chelsea's was plucky, it was lucky and it was too good for the Germans; it was in so many ways the archetypal British success story. That is if you ignore the Russian owner and the billions he poured into the team. Chelsea were battered 1-1. At 3-1 down in the penalty shoot-out the outcome was inevitable because Germans never lose penalty shoot-outs.
What Chelsea did in snatching the European Cup from Bayern's hands in their own backyard, for all the reluctance to allow Roman Abramovich's side to be cast as real underdogs, was one of the more remarkable rear-guard actions in recent British sporting history.
Which makes Wigan what? It still seems fanciful that Ben Watson scored and the second-best sports team from a modest town beat one of the richest clubs in the world to claim a first-ever FA Cup. It is why sport is such a stirring part of life, or rather an escape pod bobbing along on the stormy seas of everyday existence in the real world.
England beat the All Blacks v Lions win Down Under
It was an eye-rubbing afternoon at Twickenham: England scored three tries and 38 points against a team that had arrived on these shores billed as the greatest ever. But it was also the fervour with which England played, the ferocity of their game – and the manner in which they responded to the inevitable All Black comeback on what was arguably Twickenham's greatest ever afternoon.
The Lions are a sporting oddity, even if they tick the modern need for sport to make lots of money. Two tense if not free-flowing Tests set up the grand finale where all hell broke loose, at least it did on the other side of the Irish Sea when Brian O'Driscoll was discarded. And then the Lions did just fine without the great man, crushing Australia and recording a first series win in 16 years. But then again the power of four beating the second best team in Australiasia surely doesn't equal England's feat.
Spain win Euro 2012 v All Blacks win everything
Is one team's dominance ever good for a sport? Can admiring the best destroy opponents on a sport's field match the thrill of some of the above? It seems unfair to aim a kick at Spanish shins because they are better than everyone else but reassertion of their dominance in Europe was not enthralling (rather like the four straight 1-0 wins that won them the 2010 World Cup).
Spain control their matches in a way the All Blacks don't. New Zealand take a less-predictable path to victory but gallop down it with clear heads. Their win in Johannesburg was the performance of the year in the match of the year. That match-winning move against Ireland was one of the coolest passages of play you could see on a sports field, and one in which players were prepared to take risks to win.
It is the risks their players take in creating the score that marks them out. They win because when it comes down to the crunch they are prepared to risk losing, and that is always worth watching.
England win in India v England win the Ashes (and then lose them)
Ah, the comfort of being able to see an Ashes win as no big deal – it couldn't last, could it? England didn't play that well last summer (although a great deal better than the shambles Down Under), Australia were not very good (and are still not that good). Winning in India, on the other hand, where they hadn't done so for so long, in the most alien conditions English cricketers can play in, after receiving an absolute hiding in the first Test, that is an achievement Alastair Cook can tell his grandchildren about. Not that they will care. All they will want to know is: "Granddad, what did you do in the Ashes?"
Murray wins US Open v Farah wins world double
This is a match-up to show how spoilt we have become by the sporting course of the last two years. Either achievement would have been enough to win the BBC's Sports Personality award most years. Murray took four hours and 54 minutes of see-sawing tennis to conquer Novak Djokovic and finally follow in Fred Perry's footsteps by winning a Grand Slam 76 years on. Farah completed the distance double-double in winning the 5,000 metres and 10,000m at the World Championships 12 months on from doing the same at the Olympics. He is one of the greats.
England limp out of Euro 2012 v England limp into Brazil 2014
And unlike the above this plays the role of the slave in situ behind a Roman general on his triumph around the city, whispering "Remember you are mortal" in his ear.
On the plus side, England were a couple of penalties from reaching the Euro 2012 semi-finals. They beat Ukraine and, in a thoroughly entertaining encounter, Sweden, drew with France, which as a collective is noticeably better than anything they managed in making it to Brazil. Then again, Euro 2012 seemed all shades of grey at the time – and England were utterly outplayed by Italy – and was quickly forgotten as the Olympics swaggered into town.
Being part of a World Cup in Brazil is to be part of sport's greatest show and so getting there has to count for plenty, just as long as you don't look too closely at the mess England left behind to get there.
Ryder Cup's comeback of comebacks v Ben Ainslie wins the America's Cup (sort of)
The ultimate middle-class face-off: golf v sailing. And two triumphs against the odds that will be talked about in the nicer parts of town for many, many years to come.
The narrative of that final afternoon was spell-binding, and helped by its non-linear development, leaping backwards and forwards from hole to hole across the course. Europe began the day 10-6 down, the US needing only four-and-a-half points – they managed only three-and-a-half and the Miracle at Medinah was complete.
When Ainslie stepped on board Oracle Team USA in San Francisco Bay, ushered hurriedly in to replace the first-choice tactician, his crew trailed Team New Zealand 5-0. It was soon 6-0 and not long after that 8-1 in a first-to-nine competition. A week later and it was 8-8, a day after that and Team USA crossed the line 44 seconds ahead of their shattered rivals.
Overall That's 5-5. So to penalties…
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