In a year of stun­ners, sports goes for the ride

Kuwait Times - - SPORTS -

In a year filled with stun­ners, sports cer­tainly went along for the ride. From the Golden State War­riors squan­der­ing a 3-1 lead in the NBA Fi­nals af­ter a record-break­ing sea­son to lit­tle Le­ices­ter City de­fy­ing in­sur­mount­able odds to cap­ture the Premier League ti­tle, there were plenty of shock­ing out­comes in our are­nas and sta­di­ums.

Heck, the Chicago Cubs even won the World Se­ries for the first time in 108 years.

Let’s take a look at the games and events that left us aghast in 2016:

NOT SO GOLDEN

The War­riors started the sea­son with a 24game win­ning streak and fin­ished 73-9, the great­est reg­u­lar sea­son in NBA his­tory. Led by the in­com­pa­ra­ble Splash Broth­ers, Stephen Curry and Klay Thomp­son, Golden State ral­lied to beat Ok­la­homa City for the West­ern Con­fer­ence ti­tle and was poised for its sec­ond straight cham­pi­onship. But, in an as­tound­ing twist against Cleve­land, the War­riors be­came the first team ever to blow a 3-1 lead in the NBA Fi­nals - drop­ping the last two games in Oak­land, no less. “It will haunt me for a while,” Curry said while the LeBron James-led Cava­liers cel­e­brated the first cham­pi­onship in fran­chise his­tory.

CUBS WIN! CUBS WIN!

The Chicago Cubs didn’t win their first ti­tle, but it sure seemed like it. Base­ball’s lov­able losers were fa­vored to fi­nally break through af­ter as­sem­bling a pow­er­house team that led the ma­jors with a 103-59 record. This be­ing the Cub­bies, of course, they had to make their first ti­tle since 1908 as dif­fi­cult as pos­si­ble. They fell be­hind 3-1 to an­other Cleve­land team, the In­di­ans. Then, like the Cava­liers, Chicago ral­lied to win the last three games, in­clud­ing the fi­nal two on the road. Game 7 was a clas­sic that all other clas­sics will be mea­sured by - the Cubs pre­vail­ing 8-7 in 10 riv­et­ing, rain­de­layed in­nings af­ter squan­der­ing a four­run lead. “We did it,” first base­man An­thony Rizzo said. “I can’t be­lieve it.”

FOXY CHAM­PI­ONS

If that seemed un­be­liev­able, check out Le­ices­ter City, per­haps the most im­prob­a­ble cham­pion in the his­tory of any ma­jor sport. The Foxes be­gan the sea­son as a 5,000-to-1 long­shot to claim Eng­land’s top soc­cer ti­tle, which seemed about right for a club that had been play­ing in the sec­ond di­vi­sion two years ear­lier and barely avoided rel­e­ga­tion in 2015. But Le­ices­ter City, with a pay­roll that was spare change com­pared to the Premier League’s big spenders, romped to the first league ti­tle in its 132-year his­tory - clinch­ing with two weeks to spare. “No­body be­lieved we could do it,” cap­tain Wes Morgan said, “but here we are.”

BEAT­ING THE G.O.A.T.

Michael Phelps was poised to close his ca­reer in a blaze of glory. Then he swam against a boy­ish, 21-year-old from Sin­ga­pore who grew up idol­iz­ing the most dec­o­rated ath­lete in Olympic his­tory. Joseph School­ing won his coun­try’s first gold medal with an up­set vic­tory in the 100-me­ter but­ter­fly. Phelps fin­ished in a three-way tie for sec­ond , giv­ing him a silver to go along with five golds in what was again billed as his fi­nal Olympics. Phelps wasn’t the only star to fal­ter in Rio: Kerri Walsh Jen­nings failed to win gold in beach vol­ley­ball for the first time; Ser­ena and Venus Wil­liams took their first loss ever in Olympic tennis dou­bles; and the U.S. women’s soc­cer team missed out on a medal of any color and, thanks to Hope Solo, came off like sore losers.

SER­ENA SLIPS DOWN UN­DER

The Olympic de­feat wasn’t even the most dis­ap­point­ing of the year for Ser­ena Wil­liams, who was knocked off in the fi­nal of the Aus­tralian Open by Ger­many’s An­gelique Ker­ber. Af­ter barely ad­vanc­ing past the open­ing round, the No. 7 seed took ad­van­tage of a rash of un­forced er­rors by Wil­liams to win 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 . Wil­liams came back to cap­ture Wim­ble­don, ty­ing St­effi Graf’s record with 22 ca­reer ma­jor ti­tles, and Ker­ber added her sec­ond ma­jor of the year at the US Open. There was also a huge up­set in the men’s game when two-time de­fend­ing Wim­ble­don cham­pion No­vak Djokovic lost in the third round to Sam Quer­rey, end­ing a 30-match win­ning streak in Grand Slams.

IC­ING THE ENGLISH

Ice­land, a coun­try of roughly 300,000 peo­ple, didn’t fig­ure to stand a chance against mighty Eng­land at the Euros, the most pres­ti­gious soc­cer prize out­side the World Cup. But the team play­ing in its first ma­jor in­ter­na­tional tour­na­ment over­came an early deficit for a 2-1 vic­tory . It was one of the hu­mil­i­at­ing de­feats in the his­tory of English foot­ball, lead­ing to the im­me­di­ate res­ig­na­tion of man­ager Roy Hodg­son.

In an­other Euro­pean soc­cer tour­na­ment, the Lin­coln Red Imps de­feated peren­nial Scot­tish cham­pi­ons Celtic 1-0 in a first-leg qual­i­fy­ing match of the Cham­pi­ons League. Not bad for a team from Gi­bral­tar that fea­tured a fire­fighter, a po­lice of­fi­cer and a taxi driver who had just com­pleted their day jobs. Celtic came back to win the next leg 30 to elim­i­nate the part-time pros with a 3-1 ag­gre­gate score.

ALEXAN­DER THE GREAT

The 100th In­di­anapo­lis 500 was snatched away by Alexan­der Rossi , a 24year-old Amer­i­can com­pet­ing in the race for the first time. Af­ter the other lead­ers pit­ted for a splash of fuel, Rossi gam­bled that he could make it to the end. He coasted across the fin­ish line for one of the most stun­ning gulps of milk in the his­tory of the il­lus­tri­ous race.

NO­TO­RI­OUS NO MORE

Af­ter Ronda Rousey’s de­feat the pre­vi­ous year, Conor McGre­gor be­came the face of mixed-mar­tial arts. The No­to­ri­ous looked un­beat­able and cer­tainly talked a good game, bru­tally mock­ing any­one who got in his way. Then he faced Nate Diaz in a bid to hold UFC ti­tles in mul­ti­ple weight classes. De­spite tak­ing the fight with less than two weeks’ no­tice, Diaz stopped the Ir­ish­man with a rear-naked choke sub­mis­sion.

SPI­ETH TAKES A BATH

Af­ter mak­ing a run at the Grand Slam in 2015, Jor­dan Spi­eth was cruis­ing to­ward his sec­ond straight Mas­ters ti­tle when he made the turn on the fi­nal day with a com­mand­ing five-stroke lead. Not so fast. The young Texan dunked two balls in the wa­ter at the par-3 12th for a quadru­ple bo­gey that handed the green jacket to Eng­land’s Danny Wil­lett.

RAIDERS TURN THE SPAR­TANS BLUE

Michi­gan State went into the NCAA men’s bas­ket­ball tour­na­ment as a pop­u­lar pick to go all the way. The Spar­tans didn’t even make it past their open­ing game. Mid­dle Ten­nessee State , a No. 15 seed, shot 56 per­cent from the field and knocked down 11 3point­ers for a stun­ning 90-81 vic­tory that gave the Blue Raiders one of the great­est up­sets in the his­tory of the Big Dance. It fit right in with the rest of 2016. HONOR­ABLE MEN­TION: West­ern Bull­dogs cap­tured their first Aus­tralian Foot­ball League ti­tle since 1954 by knock­ing off the top three teams in the league stand­ings dur­ing in the post­sea­son. —AP

LE­ICES­TER: In this May 7, 2016, file photo, Le­ices­ter’s team man­ager Clau­dio Ranieri and Le­ices­ter’s Wes Morgan lift the tro­phy as Le­ices­ter City cel­e­brate be­com­ing the English Premier League soc­cer cham­pi­ons at King Power sta­dium in Le­ices­ter, Eng­land. Le­ices­ter City, with a pay­roll that was spare change com­pared to the Premier League’s big spenders, romped to the first league ti­tle in its 132-year his­tory, clinch­ing with two weeks to spare. “No­body be­lieved we could do it,” cap­tain Morgan said, “but here we are.” — AP

RIO DE JANEIRO: In this Aug. 12, 2016, file photo, United States’ Michael Phelps, bot­tom, and Sin­ga­pore’s Joseph School­ing look at the clock at the end of the men’s 100-me­ter but­ter­fly swim­ming fi­nal at the Sum­mer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. School­ing won his coun­try’s first gold medal with an up­set vic­tory in the 100-me­ter but­ter­fly. Phelps fin­ished in a three-way tie for sec­ond, giv­ing him a silver to go along with five golds in what was again billed as his fi­nal Olympics. — AP

NICE: In this June 27, 2016 file photo, Ice­land play­ers cel­e­brate win­ning at the end of the Euro 2016 round of 16 soc­cer match be­tween Eng­land and Ice­land, at the Al­lianz Riviera sta­dium in Nice, France. Ice­land, a coun­try of roughly 300,000 peo­ple, didn’t fig­ure to stand a chance against mighty Eng­land at the Euros, the most pres­ti­gious soc­cer prize out­side the World Cup. But the team play­ing in its first ma­jor in­ter­na­tional tour­na­ment over­came an early deficit for a 2-1 vic­tory. — AP

MEL­BOURNE: In this Jan. 30, 2016, file photo, Ser­ena Wil­liams, of the United States, wipes the sweat from her face dur­ing her women’s sin­gles fi­nal against An­gelique Ker­ber, of Ger­many, at the Aus­tralian Open tennis cham­pi­onships in Mel­bourne, Aus­tralia. The Olympic de­feat wasn’t even the most dis­ap­point­ing of the year for Wil­liams, who was knocked off in the fi­nal of the Aus­tralian Open by Ger­many’s Ker­ber. — AP

LAS VE­GAS: In this March 5, 2016 file photo, Nate Diaz, top, trades punches Conor McGre­gor dur­ing their UFC 196 wel­ter­weight mixed mar­tial arts match, in Las Ve­gas. Diaz de­feated McGre­gor. —AP

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