He­roes and ze­ros of 2016

Kuwait Times - - SPORTS -

AFP Sport looks back at a se­lec­tion of ‘he­roes’ and ‘ze­ros’ from 2016:


Clau­dio Ranieri’s Le­ices­ter City pulled off one of the great­est shocks in English foot­ball his­tory by de­fy­ing ti­tle odds of 5,000-1 to lift the Pre­mier League tro­phy. Hav­ing miracu­ously avoided rel­e­ga­tion the pre­vi­ous sea­son, the Foxes rode that wave of mo­men­tum all the way to a fairy­tale tri­umph. Their rags-to-riches re­vival was epit­o­mised by the rise to promi­nence of for­mer non-league striker Jamie Vardy whose 24 goals was sec­ond only to Eng­land team­mate Harry Kane. Riyad Mahrez scooped the PFA Play­ers’ Player of the Year award, while N’Golo Kante and Wes Morgan joined them in the team of the year.


The Guinea-Bis­sau born striker emerged as Por­tu­gal’s un­likely hero by fir­ing the na­tional team to a first ma­jor ti­tle with a 1-0 ex­tra-time win over France in the Euro 2016 fi­nal. With just three goals in 28 ap­pear­ances-all of them in friendlies-and only 13 min­utes played en route to the fi­nal there was lit­tle to hint at Eder’s hero­ics at the Stade de France. But an early in­jury to Cris­tiano Ron­aldo forced a re-think and the 28-year-old was brought on to­wards the end of nor­mal time. His 30-yard thun­der­bolt left Hugo Lloris grasp­ing at thin air and Por­tu­gal hoist­ing aloft the Henri De­lau­nay tro­phy. “The ugly duck­ling went and scored. Now he’s a beau­ti­ful swan,” quipped Por­tu­gal coach Fer­nando San­tos.

The South African bat­tled both ri­vals and ad­dic­tion along his road to re­demp­tion which cul­mi­nated with a sil­ver medal in the long jump at the Rio Olympics. Many­onga burst onto the in­ter­na­tional stage with a fifth-place fin­ish at the 2011 worlds in Daegu but de­scended into a drug-rid­dled “liv­ing hell” af­ter growing hooked on crys­tal meth. He served an 18-month ban for a failed test in 2012 but even­tu­ally got clean af­ter leav­ing be­hind his home­town of Mbek­weni. He was de­nied gold by the slimmest of mar­gins in Brazil, fin­ish­ing one cen­time­tre be­hind Amer­i­can Jeff Hen­der­son, but still pro­vided one of the most in­spi­ra­tional sto­ries of the Games.

Joe Mad­don’s team ended a 108-year wait by beat­ing the Cleve­land In­di­ans in thrilling fash­ion to clinch the World Se­ries. The Cubs romped through the reg­u­lar sea­son, win­ning over 100 games for the first time since 1935, but again ap­peared des­tined to suc­cumb to the the ‘Curse of the Billy Goat’ af­ter fall­ing be­hind three games to one. How­ever, Chicago ral­lied to level the best-of-seven con­test and, ig­nited by Dex­ter Fowler’s lead-off home run, raced into a 5-1 lead in the de­cider. The In­di­ans hit back with Ra­jai Davis launch­ing a two-run home run off flamethrower Aroldis Chap­man to tie the scores be­fore a brief rain de­lay added to the drama. But the Cubs weren’t to be de­nied, win­ning 8-7 to snap the long­est ti­tle drought in the game.

The Amer­i­can marked her first Olympic Games with a per­for­mance for the ages. Aged just 19, Biles won a record-equalling four gold medals in the team event, in­di­vid­ual all-around, vault and floor ex­er­cise. A slip on the beam cost her a shot at a fifth ti­tle, even­tu­ally set­tling for bronze, but by then her sta­tus as the world’s best fe­male gym­nast was in no doubt. Biles be­came the fifth woman to win four gold medals at the same Games af­ter Hun­gar­ian Agnes Keleti (1956), Soviet Larissa Latyn­ina (1956), Czech Vera Caslavska (1968) and Ro­ma­nian Eca­te­rina Sz­abo (1984). “I’m not the next Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps,” the Texan said. “I’m the first Si­mone Biles.”

New Zealand re­in­forced their billing as rugby union’s pre­em­i­nent force with an 18match win­ning streak-a record for a tier-one na­tion. It started with a thump­ing win over the Wal­la­bies in Au­gust 2015 and blos­somed into an his­toric run that in­cluded a third World Cup ti­tle-their trans-Tas­man ri­vals again van­quished in the fi­nal-later that year. All Black greats Richie McCaw, Dan Carter and Ma’a Nonu bowed out of the in­ter­na­tional game but Steve Hansen’s side didn’t miss a beat in 2016. A 3-0 se­ries win over Wales pre­ceded a con­vinc­ing

Maria Shara­pova

Rugby Cham­pi­onship tri­umph that cul­mi­nated with a 57-15 throt­tling of South Africa in Dur­ban. New Zealand then beat Aus­tralia at Eden Park to make it a record 18 wins in a row be­fore a first de­feat to Ire­land in Chicago halted their his­toric streak.


One of the golden girls of tennis, Shara­pova’s rep­u­ta­tion suf­fered a dam­ag­ing blow with news of a failed dop­ing test at Jan­uary’s Aus­tralian Open. The Rus­sian tested pos­i­tive for the banned heart drug mel­do­nium and was sub­se­quently handed a two-year ban, later re­duced to 15 months on ap­peal. Fel­low pro­fes­sion­als re­acted with a mix­ture of crit­i­cism and sup­port for the five-time Grand Slam cham­pion, while spon­sors were also di­vided by her trans­gres­sion. Both racket man­u­fac­turer Head and sports­wear gi­ant Nike stood by Shara­pova but oth­ers swiftly pulled the plug on their re­la­tion­ship. She is el­i­gi­ble to re­turn in April 2017, but it won’t be an easy road back with her ev­ery move set to be scru­ti­nised in­tensely.


Land­ing the Eng­land man­ager’s job should have rep­re­sented the pin­na­cle of Al­lardyce’s ca­reer, but just 67 days af­ter his ap­point­ment he was un­cer­e­mo­ni­ously axed fol­low­ing his con­tro­ver­sial re­marks in a news­pa­per st­ing. The 62-year-old was se­cretly filmed giv­ing ad­vice on how to cir­cum­vent trans­fer rules while also mock­ing pre­de­ces­sor Roy Hodg­son. His reign was the short­est of any Eng­land man­ager by far and piled on fur­ther em­bar­rass­ment af­ter the Three Li­ons’ shock de­feat to Ice­land at Euro 2016. “En­trap­ment has won on this oc­ca­sion and I have to ac­cept that,” a re­signed Al­lardyce told re­porters out­side his home in Bolton.


The Amer­i­can added 4x200m freestyle gold to his list of hon­ours in Brazil but an in­fa­mous ‘rob­bery’ scan­dal soon turned that achieve­ment into a mere foot­note. Lochte claimed he and three team-mates were mugged by rob­bers pre­tend­ing to be po­lice as they re­turned home from a night out in Rio. But po­lice quickly de­nounced the bo­gus story with CCTV footage show­ing the group had van­dalised a petrol sta­tion. Gun­nar Bentz, Jimmy Feigen and Jack Conger were banned for four months, while swimwear man­u­fac­turer Speedo head­lined a host of spon­sors to sever ties with Lochte, who was handed a 10-month ban. The 32year-old was also charged with fil­ing a false rob­bery re­port-a crime pun­ish­able by up to six months in prison.


The tal­ented but volatile Aus­tralian en­dured an­other tur­bu­lent year on tour which ended with an eight-week ban and fine for ‘tank­ing’ against Mis­cha Zverev at Oc­to­ber’s Shang­hai Mas­ters. Kyrgios agreed to con­sult a psy­chol­o­gist and his sus­pen­sion was trimmed to three weeks, clear­ing him to re­turn for the start of the 2017 sea­son. The 21-year-old vowed to “use this time off to im­prove on and off the court” but only time will tell whether it’s truly a case of les­son learned. He is the first player since John McEn­roe in 1990 to be banned for poor on-court be­hav­iour and also with­drew from Rio, along with com­pa­triot Bernard Tomic, fol­low­ing a row with the Aus­tralian Olympic Com­mit­tee.


The self-styled ‘Gypsy King’ was on top of the world af­ter end­ing Wladimir Kl­itschko’s long reign as heavy­weight cham­pion in late 2015, but a year on his rep­u­ta­tion lies in tat­ters. Fury tested pos­i­tive test for co­caine while bat­tling se­vere de­pres­sion and twice can­celled planned re­matches with Kl­itschko. He back­tracked hours af­ter claim­ing he was re­tired in a foul-mouthed Twit­ter rant and a tur­bu­lent 12 months was topped off with the sus­pen­sion of his box­ing li­cence. Be­yond his brash per­sona, Fury’s fragili­ties were laid bare with his re­turn to the sport look­ing re­mote. — AFP

Si­mone Biles

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