It’s that time of year again for me to churn out my incredibly well informed, not-at-all-biased (please note the sarcasm here, my ego isn’t yet that big) top ten list of sporting moments that occurred during 2016.
It was really hard to choose just ten after such a momentous year for British sport but, with the help of some of my mum’s exquisite Christmas cake and a quick skim through the Rio 2016 DVD, I managed to do pick out those moments that got me exhaling with incredulity, put goosebumps on my skin and, in one instance, nearly caused a tear or two to slyly escape from my eyes.
I hope you enjoy it and if there’s anything you disagree with… Well, do whatever you want, as long as you don’t sue – I could barely afford to buy Christmas presents, so please don’t sue me!
10) 13 Is A Magic Number
I’ll kick off this list with a feat you probably haven’t heard of but is by no means any less incredible than the rest.
Downhill mountain biker Rachel Atherton is already a legend of her sport, having won three World Championships and four World Cups before this year got underway.
Not only did she win both titles again in 2016, she absolutely dominated the field, especially in the latter event, becoming the first female rider to win all seven rounds of a World Cup series. In fact, Atherton has not lost a World Cup race since April 2015 and has now won 13 successive races, which is a world record. Utterly remarkable.
9) Wham Bam Tam (and Loz)
England’s female cricketers are a talented bunch, but for too long they have been carried by their standout players, with others consistently underperforming. So, when run machines Charlotte Edwards and Sarah Taylor left the team after the T20 World Cup, many were rightly worried for their future, especially in the batting department.
Step forward Tammy Beaumont and Lauren Winfield.
The two scored 568 runs as a partnership across the six matches they played against Pakistan in July at an average of 94.66, with three century stands. This included putting on 235 for the first wicket in the second ODI, before an English T20 record partnership of 147 a few days later against the same opposition cemented their transformation from bit-part players into the most formidable opening pair in world cricket.
8) Foxes Trot To Title
No list such as this is complete without recognising what Leicester City achieved this year.
This was a side who had narrowly escaped relegation the season before with a team of solid, if unspectacular, players and a new manager many expected to be sacked by Christmas – how they managed to win one of the greatest leagues in the world is something no-one will ever truly understand.
Many may think Leicester’s title win was so great that they deserve to be at the top of this list and had it been compiled in May they would have been, but this is a reflection on the whole year. Since August, a surprising run in the Champions League aside, Leicester have been bang average and that is why they only find themselves at number eight.
7) At The Double
Many argue whether the achievements of Paralympians rank alongside those of able-bodied athletes, with the focus of debate largely centring around the quality of the opposition. Whether you agree with this or not, the achievements of Kadeena Cox during the Rio 2016 Paralympics are undeniably special.
Only two years after suffering her second stroke in just over 12 months and being diagnosed with MS, Cox became the first British Paralympian since 1984 to win medals in two disciplines – cycling and athletics.
While she was outstanding each time she competed, it was her performance in the C4-5 time trial that, for me, was the defining performance of the Games. She annihilated her opposition, including the legendary Dame Sarah Storey, to win gold by over a second, less than 24 hours after winning bronze in the T38 100m sprint on the athletics track.
6) The Max Factor
In 2016 Formula 1 saw what is hopefully the beginning of a return to the good times, with exciting races, spectacular crashes and a title that went down to the wire. It also seems that the sport has unearthed another Ayrton Senna.
We all knew that Max Verstappen was a prestigious talent – he won on his debut for Red Bull in Spain having been promoted from Toro Rosso – but in the penultimate race of the season in Brazil he produced a performance that showed he has the potential to be among the greatest ever.
It was a drive reminiscent of the legendary Brazilian’s breakthrough podium in the rain-sodden 1984 Monaco Grand Prix. Verstappen passed car after car in appalling conditions, finding grip where no-one else could and leaving pundits, fans and colleagues barely believing what they had just witnessed.
5) Kenny Do It? You Bet He Can
Following on from Rio, Jason Kenny is now firmly cemented as one of the greatest athletes this nation has ever produced, equalling Sir Chris Hoy’s record for the most gold medals won by a British athlete (6). It’s not just the medals that prove this though – his performance in the keirin final was almost superhuman.
He not only had to beat a world class field including Germany’s Joachim Eilers and Aziz Awang of Malaysia, he had to do so after two false starts, one of which could have seem Kenny himself disqualified.
He eventually came through all the drama and tension to secure his third gold of the meet. While many of us across the country jumped out of our chairs, roaring with delight, he smiled sheepishly, hugged fellow gold winner Laura Kenny and went for a warm-down. It was classic Kenny, understated and underwhelming, but we wouldn’t have him any other way.
4) Sending Records Tumbling
Before Rio, I knew absolutely nothing about trampolining. And now, I still know nothing, except that Great Britain has two superb athletes who didn’t just defy expectations during the summer, they obliterated them.
Not only did Kat Driscoll and Bryony Page become Britain’s first ever Olympic trampoline finalists, Page went one further and secured an unbelievable silver behind the Canadian Rosie MacLennan in her first ever Games.
As I said, I know nothing about trampolining but I watched Page’s final routine and I just knew it was good and so did she. However, despite this it was great to see an athlete look so genuinely shocked at winning an Olympic medal and her tears at the end nearly (but not quite) set me off as well. A real fairytale.
3) Creating History Down Under
England’s rugby union side could have had a top ten list of their own, so remarkable has their year been.
On top of achieving a 6 Nations Grand Slam in the spring, the team won all of their matches in 2016 and currently hold a record of 14-game-unbeaten record. Coach Eddie Jones has transformed the side since taking over and it was against his native Australia that they produced their best performance.
Heading into the final Test of three during the summer, England knew a victory would secure their first ever whitewash Down Under. However, despite having already lost the series, Australia were determined to avoid further humiliation and came out fighting, producing one of the greatest games of rugby of all time.
England eventually won a pulsating game 44-40, playing some scintillating rugby, and secured a historic 3-0 series victory that will forever be remembered.
2) Simply The Best
As with England’s rugby team, Andy Murray could have a list of his own after an astonishing year in which he reached the final of the Australian and French Opens, won at Wimbledon for a second time, defended his Olympic singles title, emerged victorious in the ATP World Tour Finals and finished the year as world number one.
Although his victory over Novak Djokovic in the ATP final was epic, it was actually his gruelling semi-final encounter with Milos Raonic that I saw as his greatest moment of the year.
Knowing that victory would ensure he ended the year on top of the rankings, he was sternly tested by the Canadian and had to save a match point in a final set tie-break that finished 9-7 in his favour after swinging this way and that. Only a true great would’ve held on to win that match and Murray did.
1) Hol-lie Mackerel, They’ve Done It!
Surprise surprise, it’s the Team GB women’s hockey team that makes it to the top of my list. It’s not like I talk about them a lot or anything…
What the team did during those two weeks in Rio was sensational and to beat the Netherlands in the final was just incredible. They played some really entertaining hockey and got me hooked on a game that I never showed any interest in previously.
As is the case for most people, it was Hollie Webb’s decisive penalty in the shoot-out that was the most magical moment for me. From the moment she stepped up to take it, I knew she was going to score. I just had a gut feeling.
Seeing the wild celebrations at the end, the raw elation of winning such a historic gold medal, was a truly magical thing and one of those ‘I was there’ moments (by that, I mean I watched it live on TV).
And off the field…
**WARNING – what you are about to read is a prime example of major fanguying**
Now learning how to be a proper sports journalist, I’m just starting to get used to interviewing some of the biggest names around, but I still find it unbelievable that little old me is speaking to these people who have achieved great things and are known globally.
I never get starstruck however, but there was one meeting where I thought it would happen and that was with hockey player Sophie Bray.
Bray was a player I’d really admired during Rio, and no, not for the obvious! She was one of those players who worked incredibly hard for the team, putting in consistently brilliant performances, yet was not one of the big names that everyone knew. She reminded me a little bit of myself (although I don’t play hockey and am distinctly average at most sports in comparison) and she quickly became my favourite player.
And yet there I was, just four months later, having a coffee with her in Costa! I’ve interviewed plenty of athletes but it’s always been over the phone or in a professional environment, never in such a relaxed atmosphere. That scared me and in the days before the interview I was genuinely terrified that something would go wrong!
In the end it was a really enjoyable interview (for me at least and I hope for her too) and she could not have been easier to talk to. Definitely my favourite moment of what has been a challenging 2016.