The action was spectacular, exciting and colourful for 12 months around the globe, but the thrilling and sometimes surprising images also caught the wider significance of modern sport.
Megan Rapinoe lapped up the rapturous reception when the US women’s football team appeared in New York on July 2 two days after winning the World Cup. Rapinoe stood out on and off the field in France. She talked eloquently with her boots as she captained the United States and finished as the tournament’s joint top scorer. Off the field, Rapinoe, a campaigner for LGBT rights and gender equality, spoke out, attracting even wider attention as she stood up to President Donald Trump which did not diminish the reception she received when the team returned home.
Siya Kolisi stood tall as he showed off the Rugby World Cup trophy at a victory parade in Soweto on November 7. Kolisi, South Africa’s first black captain, had led the Springboks to victory five days earlier in Yokohama. Less than a month after Chester Williams, the sole non-white in South Africa’s first World Cup triumph in 1995 died at 49, Kolisi, prop Tendai ‘The Beast’ Mtawarira and wingers Cheslin Kolbe and Makazole Mapimpi were key members of the team.
Liverpool did not walk alone as they won Europe’s top club competition for the sixth time. A tepid final in Madrid was effectively settled by a controversial penalty award in the second minute. After that Tottenham were powerless against a defence martialed by the magisterial Virgil van Dijk. The most memorable moment came at home at Anfield in the semi-final on May 1 when the Reds, trailing 3-0 from the first leg deficit, beat mighty Barcelona 4-0. The Kop roared and their team responded.
Lewis Hamilton had something to spare as he clinched his sixth Formula One driver’s title at the US Grand Prix with two races left in the season. Mercedes started strongly, winning the first six races, with Hamilton taking four of them. Even when the Ferraris were faster and their 21-year-old starlet Charles Leclerc collected four straight pole positions, Hamilton kept finding a way to win. He ended the season with 11 victories in the 21 races to collect a third straight title. He is now just one world title behind the all-time mark of Michael Schumacher.
Eliud Kipchoge’s run on October 12 in a Vienna park might have been carefully stage managed, yet it was still a momentous and emblematic feat. The Kenyan became the first person to complete a timed run over the marathon distance in under two hours. After narrowly missing in 2017, he beat the symbolic mark by almost 20 seconds. He also bettered the world record by two minutes but did not break it. Because he ran behind a pace car, was escorted by a rotating phalanx of pace makers and had no competition, the official record remains a relatively leisurely 2:01:39, set by Kipchoge in Berlin 2018.
Simone Biles sparkled again at the gymnastics world championships in Stuttgart in October. She won five more golds to take her tally to a record 25. Biles unveiled two fresh and complex elements, sparking debate after the international gymnastics federation assigned the moves relatively low values arguing that they did not want other gymnasts to endanger themselves imitating the American. The triumph came in a tough year which saw Biles speak about being abused by former US team doctor Larry Nassar. The 22-year-old American has suggested that she will retire after the Tokyo Olympics next year.
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Tiger Woods showed he still has claws as he tore through the field on the final round at the Masters on April 14 to win his first major in 11 years. The 43-year-old Woods started the final day clad in his famous Sunday red and two shots behind Francesco Molinari. Over the last seven holes, five other men held or shared the lead. Only Woods held his nerve as he won his 15th major and fifth Masters. The rest of the season was more of the struggle, but Woods had proved he can still perform on the biggest Sundays.
Ben Stokes stooped to conquer. Returning to the England team after a ban following a brawl in 2017, he started the World Cup with runs, wickets and an astonishing catch to win man of the match. From there, his year just got better. In the final against New Zealand, he made 84 not out to earn England a tie, helped by a bizarre incident when he was hit by a fielder’s throw as he dived for a run, deflecting the ball for four overthrows. England won on tiebreak. Stokes was man of the match. In the Ashes, he clobbered an unbeaten 135, to claw England back from the brink in the third Test at Headingley.
Steve Smith climbed off the canvas to eclipse even Stokes in the Ashes. The former Australian captain, also returning from a ban, was flattened by England fastest bowler Jofra Archer in the second Test and missed the third, the ‘Stokes Test’. But he still finished the series with 774 runs in four Tests — 333 more than the next highest scorer, Stokes — at an average of 110.57 as he ground down England’s bowlers and ensured Australia drew the series and retained the Ashes.
Djokovic, Federer, Wimbledon
Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer pushed the limits as they fought out a dazzling heavyweight men’s final at Wimbledon. At 4 hours, 57 minutes it was the longest Wimbledon final. It only ended as soon as it did because of the first ever fifth-set tie-break in a Wimbledon final. Djokovic retained his title, 7–6, 1–6, 7–6, 4–6, 13–12, after saving two championship points. It was his 16th Grand Slam title. Only Federer (20) and Rafael Nadal (19) have more. Between them the three have now won the last 12 Grand Slams.
Japan were refreshing hosts at the World Cup. They brightened the competition with their high-energy running rugby, upsetting both Ireland and Scotland to reach the last eight for the first time before bowing out to eventual winners South Africa in the quarter-finals. Indeed, their bowing also attracted attention. Japanese teams and fans have acquired a reputation for tidying up after them selves when they play away. As hosts, they also set a good example, as other teams copied their habit of bowing to fans.
Lindsey Vonn finished her career by collecting yet another medal. The American speed queen said her body was too battered to continue her pursuit of Ingemar Stenmark’s record of World Cup victories, but at the end of another injury-hit season she was still quick enough at 34 to claim an eighth World Championship medal in the downhill in Are, Sweden. She skied 19 seasons and won 82 World Cup races, both records for women. She won races in five disciplines and she always brought style and elan to events.