It's been the greatest sporting year we've seen, but there can be only one winner, so… It must be Murray
00:39 GMT, 15 December 2012
It is what you have to leave out that tells you what a year it has been. There is no room, for instance, to tell the story about standing at the back of the 16th green at Royal Lytham and St Annes, chatting amiably with course marshals about what a disappointing day of golf it had been.
There isn’t time to recount that we agreed Adam Scott had been given the easiest ride of any Open champion because the pursuing pack had not put him under pressure at all; or how, 15 minutes later, coming off the back of the 17th, Scott was a broken man and Ernie Els on the brink of one of the most astonishing victories in the history of major golf.
There is no space for such details because, at the very moment Els was profiting from one of the most spectacular implosions in a sport that rather specialises in them, Bradley Wiggins was successfully completing his own procession along the Champs-Elysees, to be the first British winner of the Tour de France.
Le Gentleman called for the excited throng, tens of thousands deep and hanging on his every word, to be quiet. ‘We’re just going to draw the raffle now,’ he told them. Yes, it was that sort of year.
The best of the lot: Andy Murray memorably won the US Open title in November
In British sport, 2012 will be talked
about like a 1990 Burgundy or a 1959 Bordeaux. We will drink this
cellar of special memories dry. 2012 was the year it came together; a
home Olympics and so many moments in orbit around it, that the year in
review seems almost mythical or magical, like Brigadoon, the mysterious
Scottish village that appears one day in every 100 years.
there was a night, a very special night in the Olympic Stadium when, in
the time it takes to play the first half of a football match, Britain
won more track-and-field gold medals than in the previous two Olympics
Glorious: Bradley Wiggins celebrates his Tour de France success in Paris
Greg Rutherford won the men’s long jump, Jessica Ennis the heptathlon and Mo Farah the 10,000 metres, each victory tearing the traditional narrative of plucky failure apart. A week later, Farah returned to do it again in the 5,000m.
Usain Bolt, the most famous athlete on the planet, celebrated his own victories by doing the Mobot, Farah’s M-shaped celebration invented by Clare Balding and christened by James Corden during a knockabout appearance on the sports quiz A League Of Their Own. Like Wiggo’s raffle joke, there seemed something very British about a gold medallist whose trademark was cooked up irreverently on the hoof.
It felt like us. It felt like modern Britain. The public go to the polls this weekend to decide the Sports Personality of the Year and the shortlist is a perfect cross-section of male and female, black and white, dis- and abled, yet there is not a hint of pre-determined correctness about it. This really was that sort of year.
Unforgettable: Mo Farah crosses the line to win the 5,000m at the London Olympics, and later Usain Bolt copied his famous celebration
It was a coming together year, an
I-was-there year, a year for cliches about telling the grandkids and
remembering where you were when and keeping little scrapbooks, or
souvenirs, or at the very least crystallising memories, and it was a
year so good that sometimes we slip and forget how good it has been.
for instance, has had a terrible year, what with the racism and the
coin-throwing and the greatest finish to a title race in recent memory,
and the first London side winning the European Cup against
insurmountable odds on a penalty shootout and then Spain played the best
football anyone had seen for the first half of the European
Championship final and Chelsea are now one game from being world
champions and . . . and . . .
sorry, I’ll rephrase that. Football has had a great year, despite the
racism and the coin-throwing, because — well, like I said: Manchester
City, Chelsea in Munich, Spain and then there was this chap Lionel
Messi, who some of you might know.
What drama: Sergio Aguero scores the goal that won Manchester City the title
Andy Murray! Hell’s bells, we nearly forgot Andy Murray, who came
closer to winning a Wimbledon men’s singles final than any British man
since the nation was represented in tennis by people called Bunny. Then
he won the gold medal at the Olympics, but we barely mention that now
because on September 10, Murray won the US Open, so we no longer have to
pretend Olympic gold is the pinnacle of his career and neither does he.
can return Olympic tennis to its rightful place and remember the
extremes of physical endurance that were required to overcome Novak
Djokovic in New York in Britain’s first men’s singles Grand Slam win in
That an opponent who was believed to
have taken the sport to a new level of relentless, brutal athleticism
simply could not take any more remains arguably the sporting achievement
of the year.
illustrates the pain and determination it took Murray to get there more
perfectly than a 20-minute vignette in defeat several months earlier.
went like this: Murray’s serve 15-0, 30-0, 40-0, 40-15, 40-30, deuce,
advantage Murray, deuce, advantage Federer, deuce, advantage Federer,
deuce, advantage Federer, deuce, advantage Murray, deuce, advantage
Murray, deuce, advantage Federer, deuce, advantage Federer, deuce,
advantage Murray, deuce, advantage Federer, game Federer. Third set, game six, Wimbledon final. Federer breaks Murray’s serve. But look what he had to do.
Finest hour: Murray in action during his US Open final showdown against Novak Djokovic in September
Revisited with hindsight, it truly was a matter of time before Murray won a Slam. Seeing what he put Federer through, of course he would later survive, victorious, the longest US Open final in history.
Is Murray the Sports Personality of the Year He’s mine. Wiggins would be a worthy winner, too, so would Farah and Ennis and Sir Chris Hoy and David Weir and, well just about any name on the shortlist and then some. The coward’s way out, a special 2012 award each, certainly had appeal. Yet it was not a matter of national debate that no Briton had won the Tour de France.
Nobody was button-holing Farah in the
street, asking urgently when the dominance of east Africans in
long-distance running would be at an end. Every
time Ennis lost it was not held up as symbolic of wider British failure
in modern life. That is what makes Murray different. He was dragging 76
years of British sporting gloom everywhere he went. No wonder those
shoulders occasionally slumped.
Hero: Ian Poulter was brilliant at the Ryder Cup at Medinah in September
be there in New York when he finally cut that burden loose, to see
Murray on the balcony of the British Residence, the newly crowned king
of New York, felt like being present at the audiences granted by
heavyweight champions of the world in presidential suites in Las Vegas.
Murray, a boxing obsessive, would enjoy the comparison.
Like Wiggins, he is a man apart. Road cyclists from Kilburn High Road do not beat the French at their own game. What makes Wiggins unique is also what separates Murray, originating from a part of the world in which the weather is more conducive to bad chests than good tennis.
It applies to Farah, too. He is
Somali by birth, which is presumed to make him good at distance running;
except Somalia has no pedigree in the sport. What Farah has achieved
comes from growing up distance running in his miserable, wet, cold
northern hemisphere country, pounding the track when every human urge
must have been ordering him to get inside and into the warm. These are
remarkable people: champions and more.
else, what else in 2012 There was a horse, and what a horse. You can’t
give the SPOTY award to an equine candidate, so Frankel is not on the
BBC’s list, but by any measure of pure achievement, he should be. He
had personality, he had class, he had 14 wins in 14 races and nine of
those were Group Ones. He was the greatest quadruped athlete of his time
and some would say of any time. Cheering him home was a privilege for
more than just his supporters in the betting ring.
Memorable: Tom Queally celebrates after Frankel won his final race at Ascot
As was being in Medinah the night Europe’s golfers retained the Ryder Cup against all presumption, logic and gambling instinct. It was a win that defied explanation — like Liverpool in Istanbul in 2005 — except to say that in Ian Poulter, European golf has its Steven Gerrard figure. For AC Milan’s 3-0 half-time lead, read United States 10-4 up by Saturday afternoon on home soil. Poulter made five birdies to give Europe a chink of light that evening and the rest is history.
Except this time it truly is history.
All of it. All of them. The Olympians, the Paralympians, the golfers,
the horse, the footballers, watching Alastair Cook make another
subcontinent ton, watching England thump the All Blacks, watching West
Ham United win promotion on a tiny television screen erected by the nice
people from Sky in the lot outside the Allianz Arena before the
Champions League final, watching Hoy become Britain’s greatest Olympian,
and a personal favourite: that mad, mad look when Katherine Copeland
knew she had won rowing gold for Britain, and turned to her partner
‘We’re going to be on a stamp,’ she said.
It was that kind of year. Very special. Very British.
Special: Katherine Copeland and Sophie Hoskins celebrate Olympic rowing gold