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A Spring of Champions
It began in somewhat familiar fashion, with a red rugby spring in Cardiff. Wales defeated all comers, running in as Six Nations Grand Slam Champions for the third time in seven years. Meanwhile, at the other end of the M4, the English were shaking off the controversy of their World Cup campaign, defeating every team bar Wales (which made them the first English team to win all of their away games in Six Nations history), resulting in interim coach Stuart Lancaster being awarded the fulltime position, and England finishing second in the table.
As the summer months began, the Olympics were on every sports fans mind. But every other sport it seemed, was determined to give the Olympiad a run for its money. The Barclays Premier league is seldom short of drama of some kind, but the conclusion to the 2011-12 season will go down in history as the most dramatic ending to the league in living memory. Sir Alex Ferguson’s Man United looked to have clinched the title at the death with a win over Sunderland. However, on the blue side of Manchester, the long years of waiting were finally over, with Sergio Aguero cementing his place in Mancester City history with a last minute winner. It was everything that sport can bring wrapped into one; heartbreak, drama, and elation. Could there be anything more dramatic? Well British football had one more card to play, as a late headed equaliser from talisman Didier Drogba allowed Chelsea to beat Bayern Munich in a penalty shootout in the final of the Champions League. It will go down as one of the greatest upsets in Champions League history.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
By July, we were mere weeks before the Olympics, yet our eyes were firmly set on the muscled legs and impressive sideburns of a lone Englishman, powering across the French countryside. Bradley Wiggins became the first Brit to win the Tour de France. The streets of Paris remained red, white and blue, but they manifested themselves in the form of the Union Jack rather than the tricolour of France.
As the Olympics began, and the eyes of the world trained themselves on London, few would have foreseen the triumphant history that was looming on the horizon. Many were the critics of the British Bid, and few expected us to pull off a successful Olympiad. The success of Beijing four years previously loomed like a shadow over the build up. Those doubts would be shattered over the following month.
The first glint of gold came from the reliable rowers at Eton Dorney. Coxless pairing Heather Stanning and Helen Glover were the first to take to the podium. They would not be the last. Slowly, yet steadily, the gold medals kept on coming. Bradley Wiggins completed his tale of two cities, winning the time trial on the streets of London, just nine days after his Tour de France victory. Teammate Chris Froome joined him on the podium in bronze position.
If it is on the water or the cycling track and its gold, it’s British. A bold yet true statement. It was the most successful Olympics ever for Britain’s canoeists, hauling in gold and silver medals, whilst Britain continued to increase the pressure with Peter Wilson clinching gold in the Men’s Double Trap. Over the following days, Britain continued their success at Eton Dorney. Anna Watkins and Katherine Granger were crowned gold medallists at the Women’s Double Sculls. It was fourth time lucky for Granger, having won silver in all her previous attempts, prompting a teary hug from ex-teammate Sir Steve Redgrave.
Meanwhile at the Velodrome, Sir Chris Hoy and co. continued to smash record after record, culminating with gold in the team sprint. Britain’s cycling team were a class beyond all others, and would go on to clinch gold in the team pursuit (Ed Clancy, Geraint Thomas, Steven Burke and Peter Kennaugh), and kieren (Victoria Pendleton).
But it was on Saturday 4th August, that Britain would smash its way up the medal table, and well and truly throw the gauntlet down. At Eton Dorney, it was all in a day’s work for the Men’s coxless four, who delivered once more, ensuring that the team has won the gold at the last four games in a row. Katherine Copeland and Sophie Hosking followed soon after with gold in the lightweight double sculls. Laura Trott, Dani King and Joanna Rowsell tore up the Velodrome once more in the women’s team pursuit.
And in the Olympic Stadium itself, a young lady from Sheffield burst into Olympic history, and into the hearts of a nation. Jessica Ennis was crowned heptathlon champion, and became one of favourites of the games. She would go one to come second in the BBC Sports Personality of the Year, to none other than Bradley Wiggins. At almost the same time, Greg Rutherford was leaping to victory in the long jump. But there was Mo to come, as the greatest night in British Olympic history was rounded off with victory in the 10,000 metre final for Mo Farah (he would go on to win the 5,000 just days later). Super Saturday was over. The medal haul was not.
Sunday came, and off the coast of southern England, a storm was brewing. Someone had made Ben Ainsley angry. And when Ainsley gets angry, he wins gold. After an erratic start to the race, Ainsley went on to clench the gold on the final day, his fourth in his career, making him the most successful sailor in Olympic history.
Andy Murray is no stranger to Wimbledon’s Centre Court. He had been defeated by Roger Federer in the Wimbledon final a month prior to his Olympic debut. Twenty eight days later, he faced the Swiss champion yet again, this time in the blue and white of Team GB, and went on to clinch the gold, in one of the best games of his career.
Few would ever admit to finding show jumping scintillating. Yet the gold medal jump off between GB and the Netherlands was nothing short of nerve shattering. It was a gold medal victory, and saw Britain’s oldest athlete, Nick Skelton, finish his career on the highest of highs. The gold medals just kept coming. Laura Trott sealed her second in women’s omnium, Chris Hoy in the men’s keirin. Nicola Adams became the first champion in the augural games for women’s boxing, while Luke Campbell and Anthony Joshua won their bouts in the men’s boxing. It was the best haul for British Boxing in 40 years. In the taekwondo, Jade Jones showed her Chinese counterpart that rugby is not the only sport that Wales are good at. And of course, how can we talk about the Olympics without a mention of incredible performance of Usain Bolt. The double triple (100M, 200M and 4x100M relay) is complete, and Rio awaits the promise of the triple triple. If anyone can do it, Bolt is that man.
The Olympics drew to a close. The Paralympics would go on to produce the best performance ever from our paralympians, and athletes such as Ellie Simmonds and David “The Werewolf” Weir cemented their place at the top of world sport. The reaction from the nation was clear. In this time of economic uncertainty and depression, the men in blue and white had stood up to be counted on the world stage. There was pride in the flag again, for a time.
Ode To Autumn
The sporting accolades would continue to run right up till the Christmas period. Andy Murray went on from his Olympic success to win his first Grand Slam, being crowned US Open champion. The Ryder cup saw Europe come back from the jaws of defeat to complete one of the greatest comebacks in golfing history. The England rugby team inflicted a record breaking defeat on World Champions New Zealand, in a 38-19 walloping at Twickenham. And the England cricket team went on to secure their first test series victory in India since 1984.
2012 was always going to be ‘The Big One’ for British sport. Our home Olympics loomed ever closer on the horizon, and no matter what the medal haul, it was apparent that British sport would, in some way, take centre stage over the year. Looking back over the last twelve months, it is safe to say that Britain not only took to the stage, but well and truly stole the spotlight. The list of accolades, victories and achievements that have graced headlines and television screens this year, is so long, that it has proven difficult to keep this article as brief as is required. However, if anyone deserves recognition this year, it is the athletes, the sportsmen and women, who have given us so much to cheer about.