Shining stars of 2016: Of legends and immortals

Be it teen Simone Biles’ direct entry into the hall of Olympic legends or the showmanship of Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps in the Rio Games, the rise of a new F1 world champion in Nico Rosberg or a new tennis world order led by Andy Murray, 2016 gave us a galaxy of stars to adore and look up to.

Usain Bolt of Jamaica turns to look at Andre De Grasse of Canada as they compete in the Men's 100m Semifinals at the 2016 Rio Olympics in Brazil on August 14.   -  REUTERS

United States' Simone Biles took the world by storm with her performances at the Rio Olympics.   -  AP

Chris Froome of Britain runs on the road after a fall during Stage 12 on Tour de France.   -  REUTERS

2016 was a phenomenal year for world sports. All things that make sports special — the triumph of the underdog, a new era of dominance, a shake-up in the world rankings, legends making one final flourish, a splash of humanity, the victory cries, the chants and the anthems, the tearful goodbyes and the cheerful arrival of new heroes — were dished out to the fans in abundance and the action from the arena was better than any blockbuster sports movie.

With the year featuring two major quadrennial sporting events — Summer Olympics and EURO, to go with the T20 Cricket World Cup and Junior hockey World Cup as well as the South Asian Games — the emergence of super champions was inevitable. If those were not enough, the annual sporting fixtures also had their share of Cinderalla stories and new champions, making it an exciting year. Be it teen Simone Biles’ direct entry into the hall of Olympic legends or the showmanship of Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps in the Rio Games, the rise of a new F1 world champion in Nico Rosberg or a new tennis world order led by Andy Murray, 2016 gave us a galaxy of stars to adore and look up to. We take a look at some who shone brighter than others...

“We can push ourselves further. We always have more to give.” — Simone Biles

Simone Biles, a petite African-American teen, four-foot nine inches to be precise, was already a three-time defending gymnastics world champion when she landed in Rio for the greatest sporting spectacle in the world: the Olympics. The 19-year-old was the most talked about athlete in gymnastic circles and over the span of a week, the world got to know why. She walked in, with a wide grin on her face, which is quite unlike a gymnast, and walked away with four gold medals — individual all-around, team all-around, vault and floor — and a bronze in the balance beam. No American gymnast had won as many gold medals in a single Olympics and her initial struggles with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity disorder made the achievement all the more astounding. Her performances were stripped to the bone and analysed, only to be duly acknowledged that she was defying all the laws of physics. Simone Biles had engraved her name in the Annals of Olympic history as the greatest gymnast...

“I felt so relaxed. It just felt very easy, and that's why it surprised me that I had broken my world record.” — Katie Ledecky

In a sport where milliseconds are all it takes it to separate the medal winners, Katie Ledecky shattered two world records, in the 400m and 800m freestyle, by a margin of over two seconds. Mind you, we are talking about world records, records she was already holding. She was merely bettering them. To put it more clearly, she was five seconds faster than the silver medallist in the 400m freestyle and an even more mind-numbing 11 seconds faster than the second best in the 800m freestyle. She had also collected the 200m freestyle gold, 4x200 m freestyle relay gold and a silver medal in the 4x100 freestyle to take her tally to five medals in Rio. This was dominance at its best by yet another 19-year-old American and there was nothing others could do about it.

“I am going to keep racing as hard as I can until this body doesn't allow me to any more.” — Chris Froome

Britain’s Chris Froome won his third Tour de France title after a gruelling 21-stage race that culminated in Paris. The process involved pedalling 3,519km, which included overall climbing equivalent to 60,000m, but he did them all, overcoming crashes and broken cycles over a period of 23 days. In the end, he grabbed the much deserved yellow jersey with a lead of four minutes and five seconds. He also became the most successful Brit in Tour de France history.

But what will be remembered forever are images of him jogging to keep hold of the lead in the Mount Ventoux section during the 12th stage of the race. With a crash making his cycle unusable during a crucial phase, he began the upward sprint on his cycling spikes to keep the damage to his timings to a minimum. His team provided him with a spare bike and racing officials gave back his lost time, which ensured he won. He gave us a lesson in never giving up and that endeared him to one and all.

 

“I have climbed my mountain. I am on the peak, so this feels right.” — Nico Rosberg

After being overshadowed by his team-mate and childhood friend Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg finally had his sunshine moment, sealing his first championship crown in the final race in Abu Dhabi. After Rosberg's early success and a mid-season slump followed by a Hamilton resurgence, the championship was still in the balance going into the final race. But he held on even as a scheming Lewis Hamilton and a dangerous Max Verstappen kept him on tenterhooks, threatening to make it another year of missing out for the German. But he held on to win a tense last race to emulate his father Keke Rosberg. He had reached his pinnacle. It was his 10th year in Formula One and the battle had been a long one. The journey was complete. He signed off his career as a champion.

“You can’t put a limit on anything. The more you dream the farther you get.” — Phelps

“A lot of legends, a lot of people, have come before me. But this is my time.” — Usain Bolt

No two men have dominated their respective sport for such a long period of time than Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt.

American Phelps had called it quits after the London Olympics, which yielded four gold medals and two silver medals. It was considered only a decent performance by his standards. But it wasn’t enough.

A hungry again Phelps announced his decision to make a comeback in 2014 to augment his Olympic medal cabinet. After 18 gold medals, he wanted more and wanted to finish on a high (again, it’s the Phelps standard of measurement).

As a 31-year-old in Rio, he jumped into the pool, won five gold medals and two silver medals. He had individually contributed 23 gold medals to the American tally at the Olympics. It doesn’t get bigger than that.

There never was a question if Usain Bolt was the fastest man in the world. His sprints are nothing but a blur. He had set his sights on his third set of treble at the Rio Olympics. When a legend sets a target, he achieves it; injuries are never really a hindrance to an immortal.

The showman that he is, Bolt even had time to tease the competitors and photographers alike with a sly grin midrace during the heats.

Other stars:

With the Olympics in the calendar, where the world’s best converge, it is easy to overlook the performance of a lot of sportspersons. But there were a few more, who made it count this year. Max Verstappen didn’t win the world championship this year, but he made Formula One exciting to watch again. With the maximum number of overtakes under his name and a debut race triumph with Red Bull in Barcelona, he is a champion in the making.

South Africa’s Wayde van Niekerk broke Michael Johnson’s 17-year-old record to win the 400m gold in Rio, LeBron James guided Cleveland Cavaliers to an NBA title and Andy Murray scaled the tennis peaks this year with the Rio gold and the Wimbledon and the ATP Tour Finals wins. He was duly honoured with a knighthood to cap off a memorable year.