Year in review: The Greatest has gone but others step up

Usain Bolt, from Jamaica, celebrates winning the gold medal in the men's 200m final at the Rio Olympics.
Usain Bolt, from Jamaica, celebrates winning the gold medal in the men's 200m final at the Rio Olympics. David J. Phillip

Ali transcends sport

JUNE 3, 2016, will go down in history as the day the world lost "The Greatest".

The incomparable Muhammad Ali passed away at his home in Scottsdale, Arizona, after a long battle with Parkinson's disease.

Ali won three world heavyweight titles but he will be remembered as much outside the ring as he was in it.

Widely regarded as the most celebrated sporting figure of the 20th century, Ali was much more than that and was arguably the most famous man on the planet at his peak.

Apart from his boxing, the former Cassius Clay provided more quotes for the press than Donald Trump.

Some of his best were "It's hard to be humble when you're as great as I am" and "If you even dream of beating me you'd better wake up and apologise".

But his philosophical wisdom was often more accurate than his famous left jab.

"Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth," he said.

"Don't count the days; make the days count," was another of his famous lines.

Another of sport's greats, Arnold Palmer, also left the arena in 2016.

Palmer's career spanned more than six decades, winning seven majors on the way to 62 PGA Tour titles from 1955 to 1973. He is still fifth on the Tour's all-time victory list.


Michael Phelps of the United States after winning the men's 200m individual medley final in Rio.
Michael Phelps of the United States after winning the men's 200m individual medley final in Rio. DEAN LEWINS

More gold for Phelps

THE man they call "Superfish" had nothing to prove when he decided to come out of retirement to go for more glory at the Olympic Games in Rio. Phelps had already won 18 gold medals in three Games starting in Athens in 2004, out of a total of 22 medals.

Phelps was the flag bearer for the US team but at 31 some people were wondering just whether the veteran still had what it took.

They should not have worried as the Baltimore Bullet added five more golds and a silver to his already impressive collection, putting him in up there with the best-ever sportsmen or women in history.

Ten of his gold medals were in relays.

Phelps humbly said he was honoured to be on such great teams.

"I've had the opportunity to be on some of the greatest relays of all time," he said after Rio.

He said he was looking forward to life after swimming.

"My swimming career might be over, but I have the future ahead of me to turn the page and start whatever I want," he said.

"It's not the end of a career, it's the beginning of a new journey."

Bolt's triple treat

BEFORE the Olympic Games in Rio, Usain Bolt said: "I want to be among greats Muhammad Ali and Pele."

After his record-breaking feats in Brazil, he definitely achieved his aim.

There were injury clouds surrounding Bolt before the Games but he shook those off with his third straight sweep of the sprinting gold medals, winning the 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay with Jamaica after taking home golds in those same events at Beijing in 2008 and London four years later.

One of the endearing moments of the Rio Games was in the semi-finals of the 200m when Canadian Andre de Grasse moved alongside the great man and Bolt smiled at his rival before telling him he would not let him win the race.

After the win in the relay, Bolt claimed his spot among sport's legends.

"There you go, I'm the greatest," he said.

"It's a brilliant feeling. It's been a long road. I'm happy, but I'm relieved. It's great to be in the history books as one of the greatest. I'm proud of myself."


The Chicago Cubs celebrate after game seven of the Major League Baseball World Series against the Cleveland Indians.
The Chicago Cubs celebrate after game seven of the Major League Baseball World Series against the Cleveland Indians. David J. Phillip

Cubs end long wait

IT TOOK 108 years but the "curse of the billy goat" was finally broken when the Chicago Cubs ended their World Series drought by beating the Cleveland Indians in the big dance.

The Indians were looking to win their first Fall Classic since 1948 and looked favourite to win when leading 3-1 in the best-of-seven series.

But in this season of underdog wins, the Cubs beat the odds to become the sixth team to come back from a 3-1 deficit to win a best-of-seven World Series.

They clinched the series in game seven with an 8-7 win in extra innings to spark unprecedented scenes of celebrations across the city.

After the win, a stunned first baseman Anthony Rizzo told adoring fans: "It happened, baby. It happened.

"Every person that has worn this jersey won the World Series with us."

Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel celebrated the win with "a parade that 108 years have waited for".


Leicester teammates celebrate after a Jamie Vardy goal.
Leicester teammates celebrate after a Jamie Vardy goal. HANNAH MCKAY

Leicester shocks EPL

IN A year marked by sporting upsets, this was arguably the biggest one of them all.

A team written off at the start of the season, the Foxes were rated a 10,000-1 shot to win the English Premier League title after only just staving off relegation to the Championship the previous campaign.

But with Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez leading the way on the field and manager Claudio Ranieri pulling the strings off it, Leicester upset the odds, winning the English Premier League crown with a couple of games to spare.

The previous highest ever finish in the club's history since being founded in 1884 was second place in the top flight, the old Division One, in 1928-29.

A stunned Ranieri said the title was "an amazing feeling".

"I'm so happy for everyone. I never expected this when I arrived," he said.

His captain Wes Morgan said: "It's the best feeling of my career and I couldn't be prouder that it's as part of this team.

"Nobody believed we could do it."


The Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James.
The Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James. Matt Slocum

LeBron leads the way

NO ONE gave the Cavaliers a hope when they trailed the defending NBA champions the Golden State Warriors 3-1 in the best-of-seven finals series.

The Warriors went into the finals after breaking the Chicago Bulls' regular- season record, ending with a 73-9 winning season.

No team had come from 3-1 down to win a final seriesbut just when it appeared all was lost, up stepped LeBron James.

James took centre stage in the final three games to lead his team to a most unlikely victory, as the Cavaliers became the first sporting team from Cleveland to win a major sporting title.

After the win James said he returned to Cleveland from Miami "for a reason".

"I came back to bring a championship to our city," he said.

"I knew what I was capable of doing. I knew what I learned in the last couple years that I was gone, and when I came back I knew I had the right ingredients and the right blueprint to help this franchise get back to a place that we've never been. That's what it was all about.

"I'm true to the game. The game always gives back to people that are true to the game."


Brazil's Neymar celebrates after scoring the decisive penalty kick during the final match of the men's Olympic football tournament.
Brazil's Neymar celebrates after scoring the decisive penalty kick during the final match of the men's Olympic football tournament. Andre Penner

Neymar sparks party

NOTHING much had gone right in the build-up to the Olympic Games in Rio De Janeiro.

The same could have been said for the country's Olympic men's football team. Neymar and his team were lambasted in the early stages of the tournament as the football-adoring nation looked to end its gold medal drought.

The side reached the final, however, and as befits a true superstar, Neymar delivered and became the redeemer in Rio.

He scored the first goal with a spectacular long-range free-kick before holding his nerve to score the winning penalty in the shootout to get the win. He burst into tears after the match.

The 24-year-old Barcelona forward quit as Brazil's captain after the game.

"Today I have become a champion and I give up the captain's armband. It was something I received and honoured with affection," he told the media.

"I can't begin to describe my feelings. I have fulfilled my dream and to have fulfilled it in my home country makes me very proud."

The gold medal win sparked a carnival to end all carnivals for all Brazil.

Leap of faith

FRANCE'S Renaud Lavillenie was such a clear favourite for the Olympic Games pole-vault title in Rio, no one else was really mentioned as a possible winner, especially not Brazilian Thiago Braz da Silva.

The 22-year-old home- nation hero's previous best vault was 5.93cm - 10cm below his height in Rio.

The rain was teeming down as the Brazilian went for glory but he shone bright to take gold.

The celebrations of the few thousand who stayed to watch the final pan out was unbelievable. They were still chanting his name in the stands long after he was gone.

Russian drugs ban

JUST a month before the Olympic Games in Rio, an independent investigation commissioned by World Anti-Doping Agency reported that Russia's Ministry of Sport and Federal Security Service had operated a "state-dictated" system to implement an extensive doping program and to cover up positive samples.

Subsequently, after an emergency meeting, the International Olympic Committee announced that Russian athletes were eligible to compete only if they could prove they had not been doping before the Games.

Out of an original team of 389 athletes, the IOC cleared 278 to compete.

Chloe stuns world

COACHED by her father, former Olympian Daniel, Chloe Esposito was not expected to be in contention for a medal at the Rio Games.

The odds on her winning a medal lengthened after she was seventh going into the final stage of competition, which combines a 3200m run with pistol shooting.

She started 45 seconds behind Poland's top-ranked Oktawia Nowacka, but missed just one target in the four lots of five shots as she worked her way to the top of the field.

Those who caught her run will surely never forget the way she stormed through the field to claim first spot.

Topics:  chicago cubs cleveland cavaliers leicester city michael phelps muhammad ali neymar olympics rio2016 sportfeature usain bolt

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