What a year it has been. A feast of excesses for the sporting fan. Most years we could struggle to make a top 10 list and this year events from other years' lists would struggle to get in. There were the spectacular Chinese Olympics to cap the year off but sports outside held their own, from golf and tennis to Formula 1 and cricket. Big Brown almost nipped the triple crown, IPL was born in cricket, Tampa Bay reached the world series despite never having a winning record and the US finally stormed the Ryder Cup of Golf. But none of these made the top 10. Here is the list of the top 10 moments as I saw them:
10. Greg Norman blows up at the British Open
It was reminiscent of the 1986 Masters that Nicklaus won at the age of 46. Except Norman was 53 now and led by 2 strokes going into the final round- and in true Norman fashion (1 for 7 when he led a major after 3 rounds) he blew up, opening with 3 bogies to relinquish the lead and then finishing with a round of 77 (winner Harrington scored a 69). But for three rounds he had everyone awake defying the wind and rains at Royal Birkdale. For three rounds he had everyone shaking their heads with smiles on their faces. For three rounds he had everyone loving the sport.
9. Celtics beat the Lakers
The most storied basketball rivalry in history (even with its own video game) was revived this year as the Celtics beat the Lakers 4-2 in the NBA finals. Together the two teams have won 31 out of the 62 NBA championships ever contended for but there hadn't been the same rivalry since Bird and Magic. This year they met up with more than the world championship at stake. Lakers coach Phil Jackson was going for his 10th championship, which would have overtaken the legendary Celtics coach Red Auerbach on the all time list. Looks like it gave the Celtics that added incentive.
8. Defeat of Australian Cricket
Most non-Australians were looking forward to seeing the cockiness drain out of the Australian faces but when the moment came it turned out to be an anti-climax. It was always going to be difficult to replace the likes of Warne and McGrath, but within the frame of 2 series Australia lost to India away and now to South Africa at home. After a dominance of more than a decade there seems to be little the Australians can do to stem their decline.
7. Manchester United Double
This is a photo of John Terry of Chelsea taking the 10th and what was supposed to be the final penalty kick after the game was tied 1-1 after extra time. Had he scored, Chelsea would have won the Champions League- but he slipped and hit it wide while Van der Sar dived the wrong way, giving Manchester United a memorable Premier League and Champions League double.
6. Lewis Hamilton wins the F1 crown on the last lap
After 18 races the entire championship came down to a pass Hamilton made on the final bend of the final race (article) for the closest finish in the 58 year history of Formula 1. There was such confusion that both Hamilton's Mclaren and Massa's Ferrari garages rushed out in jubilation to celebrate their victories- only for the Ferrari people to realize they had been beat. Car racing mad Britain got its first F1 champion in 12 years.
5. Spain finally wins Euro 2008
Spain have always played creative and attacking football that is pleasing for the eye but had failed to win any silverware for 44 years. Boring defensive teams like Italy and Germany (not anymore) used to win but flair artists like Holland and Spain did not. Well they finally came through, with players like Torres, Alonso, Fabergas, Xavi, Villa and Casillas, beating Germany 1-0 in the final.
4. Rafa Nadal wins Wimbledon
John McEnroe called it the best Wimbledon final he has seen. Some praise since the Borg-McEnroe final is the only other one that would have been in contention. Nadal had thrashed Federer in the French Open final weeks earlier and most of us were expecting order to be restored. Instead Nadal came out all guns blazing and won the first two sets. Federer came back by winning set 3 and 4 in tie breaks (10-8 in the 4th). Nadal let 2 match points go in the fourth. Was his moment gone? In near darkness, at 9:15 at night, Nadal won the 5th set 9-7. A well deserved victory that also ended Federer's 65 match, 6 year winning streak on grass. By the end of 2008, Nadal had his fourth French Open title, a Wimbledon crown, the Olympic gold medal and the men's number 1 ranking as well.
3. Tiger gets a leg up in the US Open
He only seemed to wince when his shots went wrong. Surely, he was milking the injury, even if he had one. Showmanship notwithstanding, the caliber of the game was outstanding. First, he had to birdie the 72nd and last hole of regular play to make the 18 hole play-off with Rocco Mediate. On Monday he had to birdie the same hole again to extend his challenge to extra holes, before he won on the 91st hole. Oh, and any doubts about faking the injury were removed the next day when he announced he would have a fourth surgery on his left knee and also rehabilitate from the double stress fracture in his left tibia. Oops, guess he was in pain then.
2. Phelp's eight golds
It is easy to forget how close Phelps was to not achieving the magic 8 gold medals, not once but twice. In the 4X100m relay, Phelps team mate Jason Lezak touched the water half a second behind world record holder Alain Bernard of France and then out swam Bernard by 0.08 seconds by finishing his leg in an incredible 46.06 seconds (The world record for 100m is 47.05 and relay times don't qualify). Then in the 100m butterfly, he was trailing at the end and took an extra half stroke at the finish to pip Milorad Cavic of Serbia by 0.01 seconds. In all, he won 8 gold medals, broke 7 world records, and an Olympic record.
1. Usain Bolt's double
Running the fastest 100m by any human being ever, while slowing down in the last 20m by thumping your chest in celebration, with the left shoe laces open. If that doesn't take the crown of the best sporting achievement, what does? Well, you could double up by breaking the 12 year old 200m world record that many thought was unbreakable. And then just for good measure, win the gold in the 100m relay with a world record as well. Phelps may have the bigger achievement, but Bolt captured the biggest moment of 2008.