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What 2016 taught us about sport

As the hangovers ease, it’s time to look back on 2016, a year when Donald Trump became President, Brexit happened, and Leicester won the Premier League. Certainly then, this is a year to remember, and although the political earthquakes are likely to be the most memorable events as we go forward, let’s just take a moment to remember that 2016 was fantastic for sport.

Expect the unexpected.

Let’s start with the largest and most popular sport on the planet, football, and to be honest it’s been a great year to be a sports journalist. By far the biggest lesson to be learnt from 2016 in the world of football is to expect the unimaginable – and I’m not just talking about Leicester.

The ‘Leicester’ achievement will undoubtedly go down in history as one of the ultimate David vs Goliath examples. Anything is achievable with teamwork and determination, and this is a great lesson to be learnt from a 5000/1 rank outsider winning the Premier League.

However, this was not the only upset to the football status quo, the irregularity spread to the international tournaments, with Portugal winning the Euros.

Now I know they have Ronaldo, and yes, he is one of, if not the, greatest players in the world. But as we saw with Leicester, one great talent doth not a champion winning team make. Ronaldo undoubtedly played his part, especially with that flick to level the Portuguese up against Hungary, but in the final, the underdogs lost their talisman, and a moth flew in his eye but that’s beside the point. The French victory looked inevitable. However, we saw again that a team is worth more than the sum of its parts, and some bloke called Eder slotted home the goal that broke thousands of French hearts.

The euros also showed this with the Welsh, who reached the semi-finals in their first international tournament in decades. This was again an achievement of teamwork and passion, and the underdog story-line of 2016 football continued. Iceland long-threw their way into the quarterfinals against the home nation, and even if they did get battered, it was also one hell of a story.

This is a positive and up-beat article, so let’s not talk about England.

Aside from football, Golf saw an upset. Danny Willet, a largely unknown character from Sheffield, won the masters. I know golf isn’t exactly the most captivating of sports for anyone who isn’t a closet old man like myself, but this managed to draw attention from across the world, and winning the masters is a seriously big deal.

Another underdog story can be seen in the rehabilitation of the England National Rugby team after the embarrassment that was 2015. Eddie Jones has taken a dejected and humiliated national side, one which plunged out of its own world cup without even exiting the group stages, and got them to the point of being considered 2nd best in the world, winning the Six Nations and beating the Australians in the process.

2016 has been a year for the underdog and for the believer.

Don’t give up,

I know everyone is taught that if at first you don’t succeed try and try again, but we rarely stick to it (I know I don’t). Therefore, the second lesson from 2016, that of not giving up, is one that we should all take with us into whatever 2017 is like.

Mo Farah, national treasure, Quorn seller and all-round good guy, completed the ‘double double’ at the Rio Olympics this summer. The champion may seem to be completely on top of the world now, and he is, but the run up to the games was far from stress free.

In June, just two months before the games, Farah was mired in controversy as a former associate of his was arrested in a doping scandal. Could it be that our hero and champion of fair play could be bogged down in cheating?

Well, no, of course he was clean, but the controversy and negative press that this debacle subjected him to can hardly have helped him hone his preparations, yet in a truly mind-over matter display, he overcame it and rinsed the competition at the games.

Farah even tripped over during the 10,000-metre event, but again, picked himself up and won gold. God I wish I could do that, I did a half marathon this year and nearly coughed a lung up.

Elsewhere in Rio, we saw the triumph of determination over bad luck. Nick Skelton is not the kind of human you would imagine if you were told to close your eyes and imagine an athlete, however, his efforts have seen him awarded the CBE, and although I have absolutely no idea what is going on whenever the equestrian competition is on TV, he is a seriously impressive sportsman.

In 2000, just before the Sydney Olympics, Skelton broke his neck when riding, by falling vertically and landing on his head. Nick was forced to wear a brace on his head for four months and a hard collar for another three.

Now, as we’ve already discussed, I’m not a great athlete myself, but I’m also a bit of a coward; I’d never get on the horse in the first place, but, say hypothetically I did, and I then fell off said horse and nearly paralysed myself, I’d never go near one again. So, for Skelton to not only overcome this devastating injury, but to also pluck up the courage to get back in the saddle, and then also win an Olympic gold medal, is something truly incredible.

We’re really good at sport

Too often I get myself in a downward mood over national sport – this is largely because I’m an England football fan. Because I watch football so much, it’s my go-to benchmark of how we’re doing in the world of sport, which is total rubbish when we think about it. Yes, the three lions are a national embarrassment, but our sportsmen and women are far from it.

I’ve been doing some maths, which is rare for me, but here goes. From a nation of approximately 64 million people, we secured 27 gold medals at Rio, and also include the champion of the Masters, and the world’s best tennis player, and the world’s best long distance runner etc. Compare this with the Chinese, who have about 1.3 billion people to choose from, and got 26 gold medals. Factor in to this that the People’s Republic aren’t exactly the most trustworthy when it comes to performance enhancing drugs, and beating the Chinese into second is a seriously high achievement. Our “mind-blowingly good sports star” to “average joe” ratio is through the roof.

One thing we can really remember, and hopefully be reminded of, is that whilst the football team might be a bit rubbish, we are really, really, really good at sport, and we should all be very proud of that. If nothing else, it can take your mind off Nigel Farage and Donald Trump.

By James Doherty