It was the year of the Olympics. It was the year of Euro 2016. The year of the World T20 and the Asia Cup. The year of the Junior Hockey World Cup.
2016 was also the year where sporting trends were broken, pleasingly shattered: new, and unlikely champions emerged. Teams emerged and the entire world cheered them on. And isn’t that what sport is all about.
So as the year comes to a close, here are the teams and players who won not just their fans, but everyone.
The football underdogs: Leicester City winning the Premier League literally shook the world of football – and while supporting big names like Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal is certainly fancy (and the norm in India), watching these unknowns romp to the title against the odds of 5000/1, riding on the magic of Jamie Vardy, Riyad Mahrez and their manager Claudio Ranieri, was wondrous.
And as if that wasn’t enough, Euro 2016 was littered with three underdog stories in Iceland, Wales and eventual winners Portugal. While Iceland’s journey ended in the quarters, the example the tiny nation has set for the world will live forever – along with their roaring fans whose chants will ring in football fans’ ears for ages to come. Wales, carried by Gareth Bale and his left-foot also fell before the finals, where Portugal, rejuvenated by Cristiano Ronaldo – on the pitch first and then off it, won their first major international trophy.
Women in Indian sport: In a year in which there was great hope from India’s largest ever Olympic contingent, it was the ones who we didn’t expect from that delivered. PV Sindhu, Sakshi Malik and Deepa Malik (Paralympics) all brought home medals – a slap in the face of those who didn’t believe in #GirlPower. Dipa Karmakar’s finishing fourth in the vault finals gave impetus to a sport that hardly ever grabbed the limelight in the country and Aditi Ashok’s exploits in golf brought her Rookie of the Year award (Ladies European Tour).
Sania Mirza finished World No 1 in doubles for the second year running – and these women, have not just brought laurels and pride to India, but an encouragement for women across the nation to fight the odds, play sport and show a patriarchal society that women matter. Not just in the house, but even on courts and fields and tracks.
Vira Kohli and R Ashwin: In 2016, Kohli scored 3568 runs in 53 matches at an average of 84.95, with 11 centuries, three of which were double tons. He led India to a record unbeaten run of 18 Tests. Unstoppable on the pitch, and making himself heard off it with his ‘shame’ post to hit back at those who blamed Anushka Sharma for his performances on the pitch, Kohli came of age in 2016.
Shame on those people who have been having a go at anushka for the longest time and connecting every negative thing to her. Shame on those people calling themselves educated. Shame on blaming and making fun of her when she has no control over what i do with my sport. If anything she has only motivated and given me more positivity. This was long time coming. Shame on these people that hide and take a dig. And i dont need any respect for this post. Have some compassion and respect her. Think of how your sister or girlfriend or wife would feel if someone trolled them and very conveniently rubbished them in public. #nocompassion#nocommonsense
And along with him is Ashwin, the allrounder taking 72 Test wickets in the season, scoring 612 runs. He finished 2016 with eight five-fors and three 10-wicket hauls, creeping up to 250 Test wickets. Rightfully the ICC Test Player of the Year.
Ronaldo and Real Madrid: Real Madrid won the La Decima two seasons ago and then decided, as if 10 Champions League triumphs were not enough, went on to win their 11th, beating arch-ricals Atletico Madrid in the final, again. And it was Ronaldo who took centre-stage again, with 16 goals in 12 matches in the competition, along with the winning penalty in the final. Real also won the Club World Cup, with their star taking home his 4th Ballon d’Or award with 55 goals in the calendar year – including the soaring header he scored in the Euro 2016 semis.
LeBron James: As thrice the population of Cleveland descended in the city, LeBron was in the center of an all-city party, as the Cavaliers ended a 52-year wait for a major championship. For LeBron, who posted the best statistical series of any player in history, it was a stunning return to the city that made him a superstar. Born and brought up in Cleveland, and their star from 2003-2010, LeBron promised a championship when he came back after a stint with Miami Heat and delivered it in style. Cleveland were 1-3 down in the best of seven NBA Finals against Steph Curry’s Golden State Warriors but LeBron registered back-to-back 41 point games in Games 5 and 6 as Cleveland became the first team to come back from a 1-3 deficit to take the title. What a year.
Andy Murray: Tennis fans have become used to Novak Djokovic being world No 1, but 2016 belonged to Andy Murray. Often criticised for his boring brand of tennis, the Scot took Olympic gold, a second Wimbledon title and won the ATP World Finals to finish on top of the tennis world and break Djokovic’s monopoly at the summit. He also became a father to his first daughter Sophia to complete a landmark year. And all of this, with Djokovic looking in imperious form in the first half of the season – winning the Australian and French Open. What a turnaround!
And finally, the one moment that encompasses everything that is beautiful about sport. The kid from Afghanistan who became an internet sensation for sporting a plastic-bag jersey with Lionel Messi’s name on it, ended up meeting his idol.
If this doesn’t fill your heart with joy, then very few things will.