The year that was: Top ten sporting tragedies of 2012

13 December 2012

Written by: Steinar Ellingsen

10. Aguero breaks United’s Heart.

Manchester United losing is often seen as a triumph in the football world (outside of Old Trafford), yet the club losing its grip on the English Premier League title was a tragedy in some sense.

Manchester City had lived in their cross-town rival’s shadow since 1968, the last time City won the league title. Yet with the arrival of Sheik Mansour and his limitless billions in September 2008, the ‘noisy neighbours’ quickly grow as a force in English football, just as Chelsea had done under Roman Abramovich.

City’s new owners were just as desperate as its fans to see long-awaited success and silverware in the east of Manchester. And thanks to Sergio Aguero’s injury-time strike against QPR, the league title was finally conquered.

United thought they had won it, after beating Sunderland 1-0. All it needed was QPR to hold on for a draw with City.

Aguero scored, United fans were dumbstruck, and football continued to be a billionaire’s game.

9. Australia sinks in London.

Australia winning medals at the Olympic Games is usually a safe bet. The country has done well since the 2000 Games in Sydney, when the likes of Thorpe, Hackett, Klim and Lenton all won gold in the pool. Australia’s swimmers would then win six gold medals in Beijing (2008), after seven in Athens (2004).

But the London Games were a huge disappointment for Australian Swimming. Overall, the country won just seven gold medals, with just one of those coming from the pool.

Head coach Leigh Nugent described it as a ‘phase’, Stephanie Rice was ready to call it quits, Susie O’Neill suggested it was a poor work ethic, and Swimming Australia decided to have a good hard look at itself.

And James Magnussen became the perfect scapegoat. After the Australian Olympic trials, he declared that his opponents better ‘brace themselves’. They presumably did, when standing up on the gold medal podium.

Perhaps the Australian squad wasn’t anywhere near as good as the classes of ’00, ’04 or ’08, but London 2012 will be forever seen as a major disappointment for Australian Swimming.

8. ‘The Drop’

.gif from www.sbnation.com

The New England Patriots used to be widely admired and adored by the American sporting public. Then the ‘Spygate’ scandal of 2007 unfolded. Now the Pats are widely hated. So this entry is somewhat contentious, but it still broke the hearts of the hordes of New England fans – including yours truly.

The Patriots faced the New York Giants in Superbowl XLVI, and had the ball and a two point lead with four minutes left in the game.

New England had possession of the ball at midfield, quarterback Tom Brady looked to his most reliable and successful receiver Wes Welker – who had hauled in 122 receptions and scored 9 touchdowns during the regular season, including this incredible 99-yard run & score. Brady slung the ball to the open Welker, who at full reach looked to make a fine catch that would put the Patriots into a perfect position to close out the game from the Giants. Yet he dropped it and the match turned on its head.

The Giant’s quarterback Eli Manning then drove the ball downfield through receiver Mario Manningham, and the Giants took a 21-17 lead from a touchdown, with just over a minute to play.

New England couldn’t repl and the Giants won the Superbowl.

7. OKC swept by the Heat (well almost).

The Oklahoma City Thunder emerged throughout the 2011-12 NBA season – once it eventually started – as a serious contender for the title, alongside the LA Lakers and the Miami Heat.

The Heat, going into its second season with the Big Three of LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade, had choked in the Finals the previous season to Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks. Yet Miami looked even better in the reduced season, and squeezed past the Boston Celtics in a seven-game Eastern Conference Finals series, which pitted them against the Thunder in the Finals.

While the Heat may be the most hated team in the NBA – especially in Cleveland – for putting together a team of stars for a tilt at the Championship, the Thunder are almost the opposite.

Oklahoma, which was previously the Seattle Supersonics, was driven by three-time NBA scoring champion Kevin Durant and two-time All Star Russell Westbrook. Both were acquired as rookies through the draft, in 2007 and 2008 respectively.

The classic great NBA teams build sides around one or two extremely talented players – such as the Chicago Bulls with Michael Jordan, or the Lakers with Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal. And Oklahoma looked to have found a championship-contending combination.

The Thunder started the series well, with a 105 – 94 win at home. Kevin Durant led Oklahoma City with 36 points, while Westbrook had 27. But then the Heat kicked into gear, and won the following four games to win the series 4-1.

The Thunder embody the good things about basketball – a good style, talented players, swagger without arrogance; while the Heat are the game’s bad-guys. The Thunder are still a young team with huge amounts of potential. The side will remain a force in future NBA seasons, but seeing it lose to the Heat was a tragic failure of the year.

6. Berisha’s dive

‘Soccer’s a rubbish sport, because of all the diving and carry-on, acting like sheilas. Why don’t you play a real sport, like footy?’

I’ve endured this kind of nonsense for years, which is sadly par-for-the-course as an Australian playing football in Australia.

And sadly, the 2012 A-League Grand Final did little to help abate these kind of ignorant comments, thanks to Bersart Berisha’s tumble, pike, somersault and fall to earn a penalty during the final seconds of the match.

The A-League had made huge strides forward for Australian football since 2005 with entertaining and tough football – and in particular the Brisbane Roar was beginning to win a lot of neutral fans through manager Ange Postecoglu’s style of play.

The Roar aimed to win back-to-back championships on 22 April, and took on the Perth Glory, one of the league’s perennial under-achievers.

Perth took an unlikely lead in the 51st minute, through an Ivan Franjic own goal.

The Roar replied through their talismanic Albanian forward Berisha, who had won the league’s golden boot that season, in the 84th minute.

Brisbane continued to surge forward, and deep into stoppage time, Berisha carried the ball toward the Glory defence, and went to ground. Some (Brisbane fans) say he was tripped, some say he dived (Perth fans), and some say he fell over his own feet (everyone else). Yet to break the Perth hearts, the referee awarded Brisbane a penalty, which Berisha gleefully converted, won the Final, and cemented his place as a villain in Australian sport.

5. The end of Ricky Ponting

Ricky Thomas Ponting will be remembered as one of Australia’s best cricketers, close behind Sir Donald Bradman himself. When Ponting announced his retirement on the eve of the third test against South Africa this summer, it’s more than likely that this was the selector’s polite way of dropping him – yet allowing him to leave with dignity and grace.

Sadly, Ponting’s last test match was hardly a fairytale ending to a brilliant and enchanting story that had captivated the cricket world since 1995. Ponting scored four and eight runs in each innings, and Australia was rolled by South Africa by 309 runs.

Ponting was given a standing ovation by the crowd both times he entered and departed the field, but sadly looked outmatched and completely out of his depth against a very talented Proteas side.

‘Punter’ finished his career with 13,378 test match runs at an average of 51.85, yet was sadly unable to bow out with one final and emphatic performance.

4. Schweiny’s miss.

The 2012 Champions League final saw Bayern Munich host Chelsea at the Allianz Arena in Munich. Bayern had gallivanted into the final after despatching the much-fancied Real Madrid on penalties in the semi-finals.

Chelsea was hardly fancied to win their group – let alone make the final. The Blues managed to top their group, unpopular manager Andre Villas Boas was replaced by his assistant, Roberto di Matteo in March. Di Matteo managed to overcome the apparent shortcomings of his aging squad by playing a stout defensive style that relied heavily on the counter-attack.

Chelsea continued to progress through the competition, and booked their place in the final after beating the reigning champions Barcelona in the semi-finals.

The final took place on May 19, and was all Bayern. The Bavarian club dominated the London side, and took a much deserved lead through Thomas Müller in the 83rd minute. Yet Chelsea’s talismanic and dependable Didier Drogba – who was infamously sent off in the 2008 Champions League final – tied the match with a header in the 88th minute.

The match went to extra-time and then penalties. Bayern scored its first three spot kicks, and looked sure to win its fifth European Cup.

Up stepped Bastian Schweinstiger to take his sides’ fifth kick, with the score at 3-3. No player better encapsulates everything that is Bayern Munich more than ‘Schweiny’ – as he is affectionately known by the Bayern fans. Schweinsteiger has been at the club his entire senior career, was born in the Bavarian town of Kolbermoor, and has been an integral piece in the Bayern set-up since 2005.

And he’s German. German’s don’t miss important penalties – it’s a well known fact!

But sadly he did. Schweinsteiger’s shot was tipped agonisingly onto the post by the outstanding Petr Cech, which allowed Drogba to score his subsequent penalty and give Chelsea their first Champions League win.

The travelling Chelsea fans were in fits of joy, while the Bavarian crowd was stunned and silent. Schweinsteiger fell to the ground and cried, in what was a devastating night for one of the clubs’ greatest sons.

3. Jose Mourinho ‘breaking’ Pep Guardiola.

Pep Guardiola took over as Barcelona manager in 2009, and led the Catalan club to two Champions League victories in 2009 and 2011, and three league titles in 2009, 2010 and 2011. All of this was done with a side who played arguably the most attractive and entertaining football in the world – chiefly through the best three players in the world, in Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Xavi.

Guardiola stood up for the righteous things in football, such as playing a beautiful brand of football, not acting like tyrant to the press, and dressing suavely on the touchline. He was one of the good-guys, like Batman.

Then Jose Mourinho came along as manager of Barca’s arch-rivals, Real Madrid. Mourinho is the perfect villain in football. Charming, intelligent and successful, ‘The Special One’ would be so likeable, if not for his consistent evil and wicked plots (in football) – just like Bane.

And just as Bane did to Batman, Mourinho broke Guardiola. Everything was going along swingingly at the Camp Nou, and Barca was showing the world how football can be played, under Pep. But Real Madrid manager Florentino Perez had grown quickly jealous of his rivals’ success, and brought in Jose to destroy everything beautiful and just that Barca had created.

Madrid went on to wrest the 2012 league title from Barcelona, who in turn tasted Champions League defeat at the hands of Chelsea.

At the end of April, Guardiola announced his resignation as Barcelona manager and champion of the people at the season’s end.

‘I have given everything [in the last four years as manager] and I have nothing left and need to recharge my batteries’ he said.

And so ended a chapter of one of football’s heroes.

2. Lance Armstrong the cheat.

Lance Armstrong was one of the most inspirational sportspeople in the world. The American had won the Tour de France a record seven times, after having beaten brain, lung and testicular cancer. He was even great enough to offer the downcast Peter La Fleur a few uplifting words in Dodgeball (which is possibly the greatest comedy of all time).

Yet this amazing story of overcoming adversary was a complete shame. In August 2012, Armstrong was found guilty of doping, striped off his seven Tour titles, and henceforth banned from competitive cycling.

Armstrong was accused by the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) of masterminding the most intricate and devious doping scheme for both his teammates and himself.

‘The U.S.P.S. Team doping conspiracy was professionally designed to groom and pressure athletes to use dangerous drugs, to evade detection, to ensure its secrecy and ultimately gain an unfair competitive advantage through superior doping practices,’ the agency said. ‘A program organized by individuals who thought they were above the rules and who still play a major and active role in sport today.’

While Armstong had endured accusations of doping since the mid-nineties, the Texan had ignored, brushed off or denied the accusations. When the USADA began its anti-doping charges in 2012, Armstrong refused to deny the allegations, stating that he was ‘done’ with answering these accusations.

‘This has been a (13)-year question… Blood, urine, hair, whatever they wanted to take. At some point, somebody’s going to have to answer that question. I’m not wasting any more of my time,’Armstrong said to Associated Press.

At first it appeared that Armstrong was simply fed up with having to constantly deal with the self-described ‘witch-hunt’. Then the USADA published its findings. And one-by-one, a number of his ex-teammates confessed to their involvement in the doping scandal.

Thus, one of sports heroic champions quickly emerged as one of the greatest villains, a liar and a cheat.

So surely the USADA findings and charges would be one of the success stories of 2012 then?

Well not for me. To me, Lance Armstrong was an inspirational figure who achieved greatness.  To hear that all along, he was essentially a clever and crafty cheat, who rorted an entire sport for over a decade, is not uplifting or a great example of anti-doping justice; but one of the tragic moments that shattered an enduring image of brilliance and triumph.

1. Jim Stynes’s death

Jim Stynes’s tireless and determined battle with cancer had been one of Australian sport’s most uplifting and triumphant stories in recent years.

Photo: melbournefc.com.au

But sadly the courageous Irishman lost his long fight in March this year.

Stynes was a successfull Gealic footballer in Ireland, and later became a legend of the Melbourne Football Club, after joining the club in 1987. He played 264 games for the Demons, and won the Brownlow medal in 1991.

And some of Stynes’s greatest work followed his sporting days, when he established the Reach foundation, a youth support organisation.

Stynes became the chairman of the Melbourne Football Club, who was facing major financial and on-field woes at the time. Stynes declared his absolute and emphatic desire to ensure that the Demons remained in Melbourne, as opposed to re-locating to the more financially-viable Gold Coast.

Stynes would eventually step down as chairman in February 2012, after helping his beloved club from the brink of collapse.

Stynes had publically battled a number of bouts of cancer since July 2009, and after a number of victories, was sadly taken in March 2012, aged just 45. He was given a state funeral in Melbourne, which was attended by a crowd of at least 16,000.

Shane Palmer is a Bachelor of Journalism graduate from La Trobe University. You can follow him on Twitter: @SDPalmer12