It really has been a vintage summer of sport. The superb entertainment offered by the 2012 European Championships, England notwithstanding, Andy Murray reaching the Wimbledon final and Bradley Wiggins‘ dominance of the Tour de France will live long in the memory of sports fans everywhere.
Not only this, but arguably the most prestigious, and potentially exhilarating sporting event of the summer, is yet to even begin. It is the London 2012 Olympic Games to which that reference pertains, which unofficially begin tonight (with Women’s Football group games) and have already been hitting the headlines, albeit for all the wrong reasons.
Away from transport dilemmas, the issue of packing an extra 10 million visitors into London and the G4S debacle, the Olympic Games celebrate the greatest sporting talents of athletes from across the world. If you claim to be a sports fan, yet this somehow fails to excite you, may I suggest a quick examination of your pulse.
Not since the 2006 World Cup in Germany has an international tournament been genuinely entertaining. The 2008 European Championships, particularly from an English perspective, lacked something – notably Steve McClaren‘s national side – but not only this, they were supremely dull. The 2010 World Cup in South Africa was better, but still felt empty, lacking goals and featuring another embarrassment for the Three Lions, this time a ruthless thrashing by Germany. Euro 2012, however, satiated our footballing appetites, and then some. Almost every match was a classic, largely except those involving Roy Hodgson’s players, and fans around the world once again saw the great game reinvented by the Spanish.
The advent of the “false nine”, a system employed by Vicente del Bosque’s team as a result of the absence of David Villa and perceived ineptitude of Fernando Torres, saw Spain coast to the final. Meanwhile Italy, following their defeat of England on penalties, so nearly completed a fairytale return to prominence in major tournaments. Andrea Pirlo, putting on a consistently vintage display, demonstrated to the world (after thoroughly showing Serie A and AC Milan) that there really is still life in the old dog yet. However, it was Spain’s year, once again – can they be stopped? Roll on the 2014 World Cup, where the pressure really will be on for hosts Brazil to teach these Iberian upstarts who the real leaders of world football are.
This was it, Andy Murray’s year. Tickets for the Wimbledon final apparently reached £45,000, and Centre Court patrons may have felt this was money well spent, with the Scotsman one set up and Roger Federer, arguably the greatest tennis player of all time, on the ropes. It had been far from a vintage tournament: Novak Djokovic had been defeated by the Swiss behemoth in the semi-finals without tremendous difficulty, while Rafael Nadal, still struggling with an injury that will keep him out of the Olympics, was beaten by unknown Lukáš Rosol in the second round.
It was one of the greatest upsets in Grand Slam tennis history, and paved the way for Murray to break his hoodoo and reach the final. The first Briton since 1938 to get to this stage, when it came down to it, the Fed express was unstoppable. He dominated the 25-year-old, whose time could well still come, to win his seventh Wimbledon title, showing the most incredible form, precision and utter, indefatigable class. One more title in SW19, and Federer will overtake Pete Sampras, also with seven Wimbledon men’s singles trophies. Watch this space…
It says a lot about the 2012 Formula 1 World Championship that Fernando Alonso, who currently leads the drivers’ table, has won only three races so far. Ten Grand Prix races in, and there have been seven different winners. Arguably the highlight so far was Pastor Maldonado topping the podium at the Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona, as well as two relative minnows in the top three – Romain Grosjean twice, a repeat offender, and Sergio Perez.
With Hungary, Belgium and Italy to come, “real” circuits as some may like to call them, 34 points separate Alonso (on 154) and Mark Webber (120), while Sebastian Vettel lies a further 10 behind his team-mate. Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button have endured a somewhat disappointing few months, having amassed just six more points than the Spaniard (160). However, with 10 races to go, it really is all to play for. Well, race for.
Tour de France
Two words: Bradley Wiggins. The 32-year-old became the first Briton to win the Tour De France, one of the most demanding sporting events there is. Thrilling the country prior to the Games, Wiggins has taken his place in our collective history, staking his claim to being the greatest individual sportsman Britain has ever known. Wiggins finished three minutes and 21 seconds ahead of Team Sky colleague Chris Froome, and described his momentous victory as “incredible”. The whole country can only agree.
The sight of enraged Parisians and infuriated Frenchmen being forced to applaud Wiggins will, in all likelihood, be the highlight of the summer, if not the entire year. Addressing the crowds in the French capital rather like a politician at the height of their career, the Wigan-born cyclist said: “I just wanted to say thank you for all the support all the way around. It has been a magical couple of weeks for the team and for British cycling. Some dreams can come true, and now my old mother over there and her son has won the Tour de France.”
London 2012 Olympic Games
With two days go until the opening ceremony, the excitement is building. Away from the G4S disaster, fears of excessive traffic and the imminent collapse of our transport infrastructure, athletes from around the world are, and have been, descending upon the capital for our delectation. With the BBC having mercifully secured a monopoly of the coverage, even for those who haven’t managed to get their hands on a ticket, none of the action will be out of bounds.
From our cyclists, including Wiggins and Mark Cavendish, to heptathlete Jessica Ennis, taekwondo star Aaron Cook, triple jumper Phillips Idowu, long distance runner Mo Farah and diver Tom Daley, hopes are high that, as a reward for our efforts in hosting the Olympics, we may receive a medal or two. Oh, and all the other countries probably have some fairly talented, highly-rated athletes too. But we won’t worry about them just yet.
Ernie Els‘ Open Championship win came, it must be said, at the expense of Australian Adam Scott. The experienced Els’ “last-gasp” and surprise victory may lead some newspapers to run with the headline “Bloody Els”. Not since a decade ago had Els won the Open Championship, but in one of those bizarre sporting twists, this particular tournament will be remembered not for the man winning it, but for his opponent, the one that threw it away.
With four holes to play, Scott held a four shot lead. A succession of squandered putting opportunities meant it was Els claiming an unlikely success in the Lancashire sun. Having appeared to be in possession of an unassailable lead, it is almost impossible to know what the 32-year-old was thinking as he was leading at a canter, letting said advantage slip through his fingers, and facing up to the knowledge that he well and truly threw the trophy (pictured) away. A penny for his and Els’ thoughts right now…
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