Yesterday we explained why 2016 was the greatest year of sports. Pretty much every major sports league in the US witnessed a fantastic final series or game, but 2016’s greatness doesn’t just end there. It was a great year to be an athlete, fan, and sports buff throughout the world, no matter what discipline. Let’s continue the conversation.
British Premier League Title Race
Leicester City defied all odds and won the British Premier League. 5000 to 1. The average person has a greater statistical chance of fatally slipping in the shower (2,232 to 1) or seeing Kim Kardashian become President (2,000 to 1). Leicester barely escaped relegation the previous season, and with an extremely similar lineup, fans could only expect another year of fighting their way to mid-table. Well Claudio Ranieri’s Foxes strung a series of close wins together, and then more, and more, and to the shock of every single person in the world Leicester City won the Premier League. Sometimes American sports takes cinderella stories for granted, but Leicester City winning the Premier League is like your local rec league team winning a professional league’s championship. Leicester City are struggling again this year but pulled off a real life miracle in 2016.
UEFA Champion’s League Final
Real Madrid defeated Atlético Madrid in penalties in the UEFA Champions League final. Real Madrid is always atop the soccer world with their expensive players, numerous titles, and rich history. After struggling in the beginning of their season so much that they fired their head coach, it seemed this would be a throwaway season for rebuilding. Legend and former Real Madrid player Zinedine Zidane would take over as head coach, and the team suddenly turned around entirely. They defeated a number of top European teams in the Champions League to face their hometown rivals, Atlético Madrid. The game was exciting, and with the score tired at one goal apiece after regulation, the teams found themselves in overtime, and then penalty kicks after the score remained tied. Real Madrid defeated Atlético 5-3 in penalties, and Los Blancos added their eleventh Champions League title to their résumé.
2016 Euros Final
Portugal defeated France in the Euros in overtime…without Ronaldo. That’s right, the only player on Portugal worth mentioning barely contributed to the team’s win over the hometown favorites, France. Ronaldo left the game in the middle of the first half after repeatedly attempting to continue with an injury. The French were the heavy favorites, and the Portuguese stuck to very tactical gameplay throughout the match. Strong defense and a few strokes of luck helped Portugal push the game into overtime, where Lord Éder himself scored the game winner in overtime.
MLS Cup Finals
Seattle Sounders winning the MLS cup in sudden death penalties after being in last place midseason. To demonstrate just how low the Sounders season was, they fired the team’s only coach in team history midseason and they lost their top scorer Obafemi Martins to an international transfer just before the season began. Clint Dempsey was out for the season due to injury, and all hope was lost for the Sounders. Somehow, they turned their season around and squeezed their way into the playoffs by two points. In the finals against Toronto FC, the game remained scoreless after regulation and overtime. Each team took the five guaranteed penalties, but it was still tied, forcing the game into make or break for each team. Toronto’s Justin Morrow missed the eleventh penalty while Seattle’s Román Torres converted for the Sounders, adding their names to the list of 2016’s underdog champions.
College Baseball World Series
Coastal Carolina winning the College Baseball World Series in their first ever College World Series appearance. As a four seed in the tournament, Coastal Carolina’s quiet rise came out of nowhere. In the regional championship, their comeback in the ninth inning against #1 seed NC State was suspended due to weather for 14 hours. They then beat six time College World Series champion LSU for their CWS first appearance in school history. After defeating #1 seed Florida and only losing once in the double elimination playoff tournament, they found themselves in the best of three College World Series finals against Arizona. They lost the first game before rallying and tying the series. In the final game, the Chanticleers were up 4-3 in the ninth inning but quickly found themselves in trouble with two outs and a man on second and third. Junior Alex Cunningham fought back from a 2-0 count to strike out Arizona’s final batter and give Coastal Carolina their first College World Series ever.
Why not give a shout out to the world of car racing. 2016’s Daytona 500 was the closest finish in event history. Denny Hamlin beet Martin Truex, Jr. by only .010 seconds. The previous closest finish in event history was .020 seconds, and while that doesn’t seem like a lot of time (mathematically speaking it isn’t), in car racing every millisecond counts.
2016 Rio Olympics
Any time there’s an Olympics, the entire world seemingly stops for a week to watch their countrymen compete against the best in the world in a number of disciplines. Hosted in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the 2016 Summer Olympics were filled with controversy as spectators and competitors began to fear for their safety and health in Brazil. Luckily everyone faired well (except Ryan Lochte) and the Olympics were a hit as always. Michael Phelps came out of retirement to add six medals (five golds and one silver) to his record holding collection. Fiji winning their first Olympic gold medal in Rugby 7s return to the Olympics after 92 years. Justin Rose won the gold medal in golf in the game’s first return to the Olympics since 1904. Katie Ledecky destroyed two world records while adding four gold medals to the US count. The Olympic committee also created the first ever All Refugee team comprised of 10 athletes from Syria, The Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan, and Ethiopia, showing fantastic solidarity. There was a lot of bad press surrounding the event, but the Olympics are one thing that everyone around the world can surely appreciate.
No, Phil Mickelson or Jordan Spieth didn’t win another major. Tiger Woods’ attempt to comeback actually just hurt his back more. So what made 2016 special for golf? All four major winners secured their first ever major victory. Unless you follow British golfers heavily, you may have only heard Danny Willett’s name once or twice before he won the Masters. Willett took advantage of Spieth’s quadruple bogey and implosion in his final round, winning by a margin of three strokes. The US Open was difficult as always…harsh rough, fast greens, extended tees, and let’s not forget the rain delays and poor conditions. All these factors seemed to trouble every golfer except Dustin Johnson. DJ has had a number of close finishes in majors, famously grounding his club in the final round at Whistling Straits in 2010 and almost winning the 2015 US Open in Chambers Bay. Johnson also won by a margin of three over veteran Jim Furyk, Irishman Shane Lowry, and underdog Scott Piercy. The Open Championship honestly deserves its own recognition, because the race between Swede Henrik Stenson and Ol’ Lefty Phil Mickelson was one for the ages. Stenson put up a 63 in his final round, tying Johnnie Miller for the lowest final round by the major winner. Stenson also finished 20 under in four rounds, the lowest four round score ever in any major championship. Stenson defeated Phil by a margin of three (notice a trend here?), giving Phil his record 11th second place finish in a major. In the final major of 2016, the 98th PGA Championship at Baltusrol Country Club, Jimmy Walker and Jason Day battled throughout the last two rounds. Given that Day has won a major championship, it’s easy to do the math and recall that Jimmy Walker won. Walker’s victory finished a fantastic year in golf, but he certainly did not jog to the finish line, as Jason Day and a large portion of the field gave him a tough battle to the end. Jason Day even eagled his last hole of his final round, but alas fell short. Walker finished at 14 under, while Day finished at 13 under (no, unfortunately the victory margin of three did not carry into this matchup). Golf was surprisingly not boring to watch this year.
As a final testament to the year’s fantastic sports results, why not include the WNBA finals. In game five of a best of five series, the Minnesota Lynx were down by 8 points with 3 minutes left. They fought back to take 1 point lead with 15 seconds on the clock – could it be another impossible comeback? Well the Los Angeles Sparks had a different idea, scoring a layup with 3 seconds left. The game did not come without controversy, as the WNBA’s Chief of Basketball Operations tweeted later after the game that a basket scored by the Sparks with a minute left should not had counted due to a shot-clock violation…
We can only hope for equally fantastic championships in 2017. Federer and Nadal’s Australian Open final surely started us off on the right foot.