To say 2016 was an eventful year in sport would be the overstatement of, well, 2016.
We’ve seen the underdog story to end all underdog stories in the Premier League, we’ve seen a home nation actually succeeding at a major football tournament, and we’ve seen an Olympic Games with more British – and indeed Scottish – success stories than ever before; none more so than thatof Andy Murray, who himself had quite the calendar year.
Truly, there are countless enthralling sport stories worth looking back at as the year draws to a close, but we’ll do our best to outline the biggest of the hits. It seems only fitting to start with the sports star who dominated the headlines over the past year.
In November, Dunblane’s Andy Murray followed up his triumphant claiming of the world number one spot by defeating the former incumbent, Novak Djokovic, in the finals of the ATP World Tour. The victory in itself is a success, but it is only amplified when you consider that, for the first time ever, Murray will close the tennis season as the world’s best player – the first time this century that feat has been accomplished by a British player.
It was almost as if becoming the first man ever to win the Queen’s Club Championships five times, winning a historic Wimbledon final in straight sets, and then going on to become the first competitor ever to successfully defend an Olympic Gold Medal in tennis wasn’t enough for Murray this year – he had to then go on and mark an incredible six month turnaround by usurping his long-term rival to mark an unlikely display of sporting dominance and take home the BBC Sports Personality of the Year trophy for the third time, before he could sleep easy.
But he wasn’t the only one who will fondly recall an extremely impressive showing in 2016. What was at the very least just as impressive, was the story of Leicester City.
Leicester started the 2015/16 Premier League season tipped for relegation. Some bookies were offering as much as 500/1 on the Foxes finishing the season as Premier League Champions before a ball was kicked, after they’d only just avoided the drop the season prior.
Yet, somehow, with the help of an out of nowhere managerial masterclass from Claudio Raneiri, and Hollywood-calibre showing from Jamie Vardy, they finished a stunning ten points ahead of Arsenal to clinch the title.
Elsewhere in British football teams succeeding against the odds, while England underwhelmed at Euro 2016 and Scotland, yet again, failed to qualify for anything, it was Wales and Northern Ireland who turned it on for the grand stage.
Wales, in fact, even beat England to the top spot of Group B – with Real Madrid’s Gareth Bale making his presence known by scoring in all three of their group games. In Group C, Northern Ireland were making national history by even being at the tournament.
They weren’t stopping there though. In a group with Germany, Ukraine and Poland, no one would have given them a chance, especially after narrowly losing out in their first fixture against Poland. They followed this up, though, with an impressive 2-0 victory over Ukraine, and despite a 1-0 defeat against World Champions Germany to bring their group stage to a close, they made momentous waves by sneaking into the last 16 on goal difference as one of the best placed third placed teams.
And it was in the last 16 when the two stories crossed, and one of them would inevitably come to an end. Wales drew Northern Ireland, and a Gareth McAuley own goal was the only thing that would ultimately separate the two and ensure that the favoured Wales would progress. British eyes then looked to Wales as the sole flag-flyer, and they wouldn’t disappoint, turning over highly rated Belgium with a stunning 3-1 victory in the quarter finals.
The fairytale came to an end in the semi-finals, when Portugal proved to be too strong, but the defeat served to do little to retract from the historic significance of the tournament for Wales – or indeed Northern Ireland.
Shortly after the Euros, followed the small matter of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, which proved to be an event unto itself. 16 Scots were among the 130 Brits leaving the Games with a medal, a record-breaking amount of medal wins for Scots at an away games.
Andy Murray, as previously mentioned, was among the most notable British successes at the games, but elsewhere Mo Farah confirmed his status as the only real challenger to Murray’s eventual Sports Personality of the Year award by defending his Gold in both the 5,000 and 10,000m.
Among the other successes, Adam Peaty made claiming Britain’s first medal of the event in style, setting a new world record in the 100m breaststroke, and arguably Team GB’s most consistently successful competitors, rowing duo Heather Stanning and Helen Glover were dominant in their defense of their women’s pair title.
It’s been some year for sport, we can’t wait to see what 2017 brings.