"It was really crucial to give us hope and tell everybody that as human beings, luckily we have enough knowledge and power to overcome any uncertainty." – Eliud Kipchoge, Olympic marathon champion and world record holder
The greatest show on earth continues to get greater for some, but for others out there in the fateful arena, left raw and wounded by the blood and sweat of combat, only grating.
As the embers of another year begin to fizzle out – or be torched to Ashes if you are an unsuspecting England Test cricketer going up in flames Down Under – there remains nothing like the theatre of professional sport to bring a sense of fantastic escapism to alarming reality.
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'Teqball is my passion' - Brazil football legend Ronaldinho presents Teqball Unlocked
After the harrowing Covid-induced interlude of 2020, sport in 2021 has felt like a moment in time when several of the world’s most magnetic entertainers rediscovered a sense of ringcraft under the Big Top.
A breathless circus of magic, mayhem and no little merriment found heavyweight Gypsy King Tyson Fury boxing his way to Nirvana in the Nevada desert, new F1 world champion Max Verstappen boxing clever on Abu Dhabi’s desert track and evergreen Tour de France titan Mark Cavendish refusing to be boxed in during his frantic climb and dash to immortality on two wheels in the immortal green jersey.
Yet the sands of time remain kinder to some of the carnival’s blue-chip performers than others.

‘They are all special’ – Brady at the Super Bowl

In such a respect, Tom Brady is a bit like P.T. Barnum with an oval ball. American football’s greatest showman? Most definitely.
At the ripe young age of 43 years and 88 days, the gilded quarterback was the oldest man to appear in the sport’s most celebrated dust-up, usurping Willie Stargell of the Pittsburgh Pirates – who was 39 when he was MVP in the 1979 baseball World Series – as the oldest champions across the four key American sports.

Tom Brady celebrates his record seventh Super Bowl title.

Image credit: Eurosport

It was never in the script for him to lose as he carried off a seventh Super Bowl with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers filleting the Kansas City Chiefs 31-9 in February.
Brady was 17 years older than the Chiefs signal-caller Patrick Mahomes, who ended the evening schooled in the art of leadership on the offense.
He was voted MVP for a fifth time at a Super Bowl as three touchdown passes denied Kansas City the chance to become the first back-to-back NFL winners since Brady’s New England bunch managed the trick in 2004. He joined Peyton Manning as the only man to win rings with two different teams.
“They are all special in their own way,” said Brady, who also became the first figure to achieve the feat in three decades.
I think we knew this was going to happen, didn't we? We ended up playing our best game of the year.
It would not be absurd to envisage number eight before he flings his final football.

‘All-time greats’ – Fury enshrines legacy in Las Vegas

In saving your best until last, Tyson Fury elevated himself into a different sphere by detonating his fiercest foe Deontay Wilder in October with both men packing a hefty amount of TNT.
The third part of Fury’s ferocious trilogy with the man nicknamed ‘The Bronze Bomber’ was one of the greatest boxing bouts of all time, a contest that transcended the fight game.
Wilder came off second best, but is arguably second best of his era and one of the heaviest hitters in history as he pushed Fury to the limits before gravity came calling in the 11th round of a barbaric 12 in Las Vegas.
As an example of the noble art, it produced a portrait piece that will be held up alongside the classic heavyweight duels involving Rocky Marciano, Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson and Lennox Lewis of yesteryear.
“That might be it. That might be as good as it ever gets,” said Fury after unanimously outpointing Wladimir Klitschko to become world heavyweight champion for the first time back in 2015.
Little did he know his legacy would be enshrined by his three tumultuous contests with Wilder six years on.
Fury had battled depression, suicidal thoughts, drug abuse, alcohol addiction and ballooning weight gain to challenge Wilder for the WBC title in December 2018.
He twice hauled himself off the canvas in the ninth and final rounds after sustaining hammer blows to earn a draw with Wilder in the first fight. It was a remarkable return to the summit by the sport’s undefeated lineal champion in largely outboxing his fearsome opponent.
Wilder’s corner threw in the towel in the seventh round of their second fight in February 2020 after the American was floored in the third and fifth rounds.
If those two brutal battles were epic, the third confrontation of the three felt almost mythical, the greatest boxing showpiece of this or any other year with Fury again making the sojourn to meet Wilder in his own backyard.
“Fury vs Wilder fight will go down as one of the greatest,” said the former undisputed champion Mike Tyson. “Not for skill, but for action and excitement.
That fight was all guts, heart & determination. Everybody won Saturday night. The fight was bigger than the hype. Both of them reached all-time great status.
Fury decked Wilder in the third, but found himself on the canvas twice in the fourth round as the Tuscaloosa man let loose with a venomous right hand appearing to have clubbed the bewildered Mancunian into submission.
Astonishingly, the dazed giant – a man with an array of dancing skills like Sugar Ray Robinson and a chin hewn from Gennady Golovkin granite – emerged from the blizzard to sink Wilder in the 10th before a crushing KO finish laid out his rival to conclude a devastating evening that rivalled the Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier classics of the 1970s.

Tyson Fury fells Deontay Wilder in the 11th round of their brutal third world heavyweight fight.

Image credit: Eurosport

“I am proud to have shared a very special time with Deontay in the ring which has brought us both more fame and respect,” said the straight-talking Fury.
Neither of us will ever forget being part of what people are calling one of the greatest of all heavyweight fights. Nor will the people who watched it.
Ever the entertainer, Fury has electrified his sport in 2021.

‘Amazing fight’ – Flying Dutchman wins F1's greatest duel

There was fury in the ring and outside it a few weeks later as Fury’s fellow British icon Lewis Hamilton met Dutchman Max Verstappen in December to settle the destination of the Formula One world crown with the heavyweight duo level on points heading for Abu Dhabi.
The Red Bull racer claimed a first F1 world championship after a frazzled and mightily contentious final lap joust with the defending champion Hamilton in the final race of the season at the Yas Marina circuit. For raw, unfettered drama, it rivalled James Hunt and Niki Lauda in Japan in 1976 or Michael Schumacher and Jacques Villeneuve infamously colliding in Spain in 1997.
No gulf in the Persian Gulf, but Hamilton appeared to have finalised his record eighth drivers’ championship when news of the Williams driver Nicholas Latifi spiralling into the barriers with four laps remaining saw the safety car enter the fray.
The race restarted on the final lap. Despite Hamilton’s dominance, race director Michael Masi changed his mind in allowing lapped cars to go past Hamilton.
Amid the bedlam, Verstappen was allowed to start within striking distance of the race leader. With the advantage of new tyres, Verstappen reeled in Hamilton to claim glory and deny the Mercedes driver the chance to overtake Michael Schumacher’s seven world victories.
All hell broke loose in the aftermath with Mercedes lodging two protests, but seeing both thrown out as Verstappen kept the title amid much wailing and gnashing of teeth. Mercedes felt it was policy on the hoof to create an artificial finale to a season hardly in need of another twist.

Max Verstappen with the F1 world title in Abu Dhabi.

Image credit: Eurosport

To his eternal credit, Hamilton accepted the decision like a true champion, heartily congratulating Verstappen despite the obvious misery and inner turmoil of losing in such a manner.
The fall-out will be debated years from now and the new year will bring the findings of the FIA investigation of the conclusion of the race after conceding it had “tarnished” the image of F1.
For the victor, the spoils. Verstappen’s achievement should not be diminished despite the dispute already being etched in folklore.
“Lewis is an amazing driver, there is no discussion about it,” said Verstappen.
Of course, we had our moments throughout the season, but I think you know that after everything we had an amazing fight this season and I think both teams gave it their all.

'Best season ever' - Button and Rosberg on F1 title fight between Hamilton and Verstappen

‘Really beautiful’ – Pogačar's Tour de France perfection

Young cycling firebrand Tadej Pogačar is a figure who thrives at speed without a car. After winning the world’s biggest cycling race on his debut in 2020, he again dominated in the yellow jersey from an early juncture before running out the champion by a whopping five minutes and 20 seconds.
The startling 22-year-old Slovenian workhorse assumed the lead for UAE Team Emirates on stage eight of this year’s Tour de France and left the rest in his slipstream, never looking in his rear mirror with enough trouble up ahead in one of world sport’s most gruelling endurance tests.
Pogačar has the road in front of him in every sense. He has been compared to the all-conquering Belgian Eddy Merckx, who was nicknamed ‘The Cannibal’ due to his voracious appetite for wolfing down wins at the Grand Tours which included five victories at Le Tour between 1969 and 1974.
Pogačar revelled in three stage wins and nine top-10 finishes during this year’s grand attack. He enjoyed back-to-back stage wins in the Pyrenees and a quite sublime time trial before finalising his second triumph with a dominant performance in the Alps that saw him crowned King of the Mountains for a second straight year. The young rider gong again came his way as preserve of such golden success.

‘He wins the Tour de France again!’ – Pogacar coasts through ITT

After becoming the youngest winner in 116 years last year, he is now, almost unbelievably when you think of the class in his field, the youngest double winner.
“Standing on the podium in Paris is really beautiful,” said Pogačar. “Speeches are not my strongest point. I always think that, no matter how much you prepare it, you always forget to thank somebody, but I did my best to speak from the heart.
One word is probably not enough to describe how I feel about my Tour victory, but it was really perfect.
To cement his status as cycling’s leading man, Pogačar became the first Tour de France winner to snare a medal from the men’s road race at the Olympic Games in the same year when he earned a bronze from finishing third behind gold medallist Richard Carapaz and Wout van Aert.

Tour de France champion Tadej Pogačar has the cycling world at his fast-moving feet.

Image credit: Eurosport

His Olympic success in Japan astonishingly came less than a week after celebrating on the Champs-Elysees in Paris.
“For now, I don’t see who could beat Pogačar," said Merckx.
"It’s great to see a yellow jersey that attacks rather than a jersey that waits, waits, waits. He really makes a difference with the yellow jersey on his shoulders and that’s what makes him so popular I think.
He really has everything it takes to remain the Tour de France winner for years to come.

'Greatest sprinter' – Cavendish's 'absolute fairytale'

Battling health issues, clinical depression and retirement rumours, the magnificent Mark Cavendish, representing Deceuninck-QuickStep, made his own piece of formidable cycling history as he donned the green jersey in his first Tour appearance in three years after winning stages four, six, ten and 13 to equal Merckx’s record of 34 stage victories.
“Mark Cavendish is the greatest sprinter in the history of the Tour and of cycling,” said Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme.
His comeback is just amazing.
Never a truer word spoken this year. His magical success ranks as a minor miracle in a sport that tends to witness yearly phenomena, but none like Cavendish sprinting back from the depths of genuine despair and hardship.
On the final sprint down the Champs-Elysees, he narrowly missed out on breaking the all-time record as he wound up third behind Wout van Aert and Jasper Philipsen, but had claimed his gold just by reaching the start line.
“It’s gone quite fast, it’s been a hard three weeks but it’s an absolute fairytale, it’s a dream come true,” said the man dubbed 'The Manx Missile'.
Cav suffered a punctured lung and broke two ribs during track cycling's Six Days of Ghent in November and had his house burgled while he was in hospital, but expect him to mount a rousing recovery from such obstacles. He always does. It is in his DNA.

WATCH - Every single one of Mark Cavendish's 34 Tour de France stage wins

‘Beyond sport’ – Glorious Olympics provide greater meaning

The delayed 32nd Olympic Games in Tokyo produced some glorious memories despite the pandemic threatening to torpedo the whole shooting match before the opening ceremony in July.
Deserted arenas were unfortunate due to public health concerns, but could never kill the Corinthian spirit as the Olympics prevailed as an uplifting force for the greater good around the globe.
It was a pity an eerie Olympic Stadium never witnessed two high jumpers, rivals and friends deciding to share gold rather than having a jump-off in an act of true humanity.

'To share it with this dude, I can't be more happy' - Barshim and Tamberi on joint gold

The wonderful sportsmanship between Mutaz Essah Barshim of Qatar and Italy's Gianmarco Tamberi cut adrift the cut-throat nature of elite competition. Both men joyfully embraced when an official informed Barshim that it was possible to share the gold at 2.37 metres rather than continue their respective assaults on the Olympic record of 2.39m.
It was the first time such a scenario had played out on an Olympic podium in athletics since 1912. It was a quite majestic moment to observe.
"I know for a fact that for the performance I did, I deserve that gold. He did the same thing, so I know he deserved that gold,” said Barshim.
This is beyond sport. This is the message we deliver to the young generation.
Allyson Felix became the most decorated US athlete in track and field history with a gold medal in the 4x400 metres relay coming after she earned a bronze medal in the 400m. At the age of 35, Felix has gone beyond fellow sprinter Carl Lewis’s back catalogue with seven golds, three silvers and a bronze claimed between 2004 and 2021.
Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands had more than a Dutch of luck on her Olympic journey.
On the final lap of the 1500 metres heat, she was accidentally felled by another runner in front of her. Despite having 11 competitors up ahead, Hassan mounted an epic recovery to win the heat.

‘All the drama!’ – Hassan tripped at bell yet powers past rest of field to win

"Believe me, it was horrible, but sometimes I think bad things happen for good. When I fell down I said to myself, OK life doesn't always go the way that you want," said Hassan.
After that I felt like somebody who drank 20 cups of coffee. I couldn't calm myself down.
Hassan finally won bronze in the final while striking gold in the 5,000 and 10,000 metres to complete a stunning treble that many commentators dared her not to attempt.
The amazing Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya, the world's greatest distance runner by a distance, dominated the men’s marathon by a whopping 80 seconds in 2:08:28 as the heat and humidity in Sapporo reduced the rest of the field to rubble.
At 36, the philosophical Kipchoge looks like he is just getting warmed up as he thinks about an unheralded third straight marathon gold in Paris in 2024.
“My goal going into the 2020 games was to win back-to-back Olympic golds, and I’d like to win the third one,” he said.

'It was a shock' – Biles battles back

The marvellous and courageous American gymnast Simone Biles highlighted the importance of protecting mental health by opting to withdraw from the first vault of the team final before opting out of the individual all-around final and three of the four individual apparatus finals.
Her strength of character was highlighted after her earlier trials and tribulations – particularly the dreaded thought of “twisties” on the dismount as a worrying mental block – when she returned to confront the balance beam to snag a bronze in the final.

The brilliant Simone Biles celebrates her bronze medal in Tokyo.

Image credit: Eurosport

When faith in technique is gone, all is lost in any sporting field of excellence. Yet at the age of 24, Biles still prevailed as an inspirational role model, whose sense of awareness shone through as much as her standing as arguably the greatest of all time.
“It was a shock to suddenly have my mind and body out of sync," said Biles. "That's what I couldn't wrap my head around. What happened? Was I overtired, and just like, where did the wires not connect?"
That was really hard because it's like, I trained my whole life. I was physically ready. I was fine. Then this happens, and it's something that was so out of my control.
Fellow American Katie Ledecky was forced to confront her own inner demons in the swimming pool after finishing second and fifth in her first two events before claiming gold in the 800 and 1500-metre freestyle with two silvers enhancing her sense of contentment back on dry land.

Ledecky dominates to win 1500m freestyle for first Tokyo gold

"Every move you make is being watched and judged,” said Ledecky, who has amassed an astonishing seven Olympic and 15 World Championship golds since making her debut at the 2012 London Olympics.
“And as much as we say that we try to ignore it, I think some of that is just trying to keep that positive mindset and move forward."
Elsewhere in the Aquatics Centre, a true Great Briton in Tom Daley – a veteran of his sport at the age of only 27 who suitably enjoys a spot of knitting to soothe the mind between dives – ended his 13-year wait for an Olympic gold when he combined with Matty Lee to carry the day in the synchronised 10-metre platform final.

'Take a bow!' - Daley and Lee 'nail it' with final dive to win gold

He would return to the diving pool to win a third career Olympic bronze on the 10m individual platform.
"I still can't honestly believe what is happening," said Daley.
That moment, being about to be announced as Olympic champions, I was gone. I was blubbering.
Competing in her first senior competition, 14-year-old Quan Hongchan of China twice received perfect scores from the judges in the 10-metre platform on her way to fishing gold out of the diving pool.

'Absolutely brilliant' - Watch Japan's Kiyuna take stunning gold in kata karate

The return of karate to the Olympics saw Japan celebrate a memorable gold with three-times world champion Ryo Kiyuna triumphant in men’s kata, a discipline that sees the competitor produce highly exacting moves against an imaginary rival.
Fighting out of Okinawa, the ancient origins of the martial art, Kiyuna clasped a photo of his mother, who died two years earlier.

Ryo Kiyuna of Japan paid an emotional tribute to his mum after winning gold in karate.

Image credit: Eurosport

“The day before I left Okinawa for the Olympics, I decided to bring the photo with me. I wanted to climb to the highest part of the podium with her,” said Kiyuna, who carried the flag of his country at the closing ceremony.
She has been my support, my core, since I was a young boy, so I wanted her to see the view from the top. I think she was smiling and crying in heaven.

‘Incredibly painful’ – Three Lions set example amid old-school crowd trouble

Having become impaled on the Covid-19 spike of 2020, the newly-inoculated year enabled the European Championship and the Olympics to take place a summer after their original appointments.
While football welcomed back fans across Europe, the Olympics was largely played out behind closed doors. After the wretched scenes at the Euro 2020 final in and around Wembley Stadium, some will wish London pursued a similar narrative.
Was football coming home? Being at home was a bigger problem for the national sport as the final descended into a state of old-school hooliganism that gave you a flashback of the 1980s malady and what was known back in the day as the ‘English Disease’.
The gentrified veneer of football in England was ripped apart by 6,000 ticketless fans trying to “jib” their way into the gigantic 90,000-capacity ground.

WATCH - Fans storm Wembley despite not having tickets

The Football Association described it as a "terrible experience" after investigating the shambles while Dame Louise Casey's review found that there was a "perfect storm of lawlessness” created by "a horde of 6,000 or more ticketless fans, many of whom were no more than mindless thugs”.
The authorities have tried to take hooliganism out of English football, but they have clearly not taken the animal out of the boy with “zombie” fans waiting to access the stadium while the final between England and Italy conspired against the massed hordes waiting for the drawbridge to be lowered.
“Thank God England lost,” commented an official. “If they had won, you would have to open the doors to let people out and the stadium would have been stormed.”
At least the players did themselves proud as England built on their success in reaching the semi-finals of the World Cup in 2018 by going one better at the Euros.
England drew 0-0 with Scotland in their second group match at Wembley, but respective 1-0 wins over Croatia and the Czech Republic, saw Gareth Southgate’s side secure a meeting with bitter foes Germany in the second round.
Late goals from Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane helped England complete a 2-0 victory, their first win in a knock-out match over Germany since the 1966 World Cup final before a 4-0 flogging of Ukraine in the semi-finals in Rome.

England vs Germany, Euro 2020

Image credit: Getty Images

A TV audience of over 20 million saw Kane score twice and Harry Maguire and Jordan Henderson net as Southgate became only the second England manager to lead a side to the last four of the Euros and World Cup in succession after Sir Alf Ramsey in the 1960s.
England completed a 2-1 triumph over a slick but drained Denmark side in extra-time of the semi-finals with a Simon Kjaer own goal and a Harry Kane winner overthrowing Mikkel Damsgaard's exquisite free-kick on the half-hour mark.
The final proved an anti-climax as England expected, but agonisingly failed to deliver. Luke Shaw gave them the lead after a couple of minutes only for Leonardo Bonucci to prod home a merited equaliser midway through the second half.
England gained an early advantage in the penalty shoot-out, but Marcus Rashford nudged his effort off a post before Italy keeper Gianluigi Donnarumma halted efforts from Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka to hand Roberto Mancini’s side the Henri Delaunay trophy for a second time. And deservedly so in the final analysis.
"They’ve run themselves into the ground,” said Southgate.
At times they played really well, at times we didn’t keep the ball quite well enough, especially at the start of the second half, but we can’t have any recriminations, they’ve been a joy to work with.
“They’ve gone further than we’ve gone for so long, but tonight it’s incredibly painful in that dressing room."

Fans show their support as they make their way down Olympic Way during the UEFA Euro 2020 Championship Final between Italy and England at Wembley Stadium on July 11, 2021 in London, England.

Image credit: Getty Images

The dreadful racist abuse several of the players suffered on social media in the aftermath was much more depressing than the defeat, but a predictable reminder of society’s lingering ills.
England choose most of their players these days from the all-conquering Premier League, the financial muscle of which continues to know no bounds. Two billionaire-funded concerns contested the Champions League final with Chelsea emerging as 1-0 winners courtesy of a Kai Havertz goal against England’s domestic champions Manchester City.
It was the second time in three years two English sides had contested the club game’s biggest match, but for some such domination is not enough.
The decision to pursue a European Super League by several of the game’s richest clubs was out of touch with the common man, lacking in common sense and caustic in a sport's traditions, completely at odds with the notion of pulling the ladder up behind you.

'Good riddance' - Arsenal fans react to European Super League collapse

The national game was once a sport for all, a game that never sneered at the man in the street. The world game was in touch with working-class heroes, but there are no heroes now.
Britain's working class itself shrunk, or rather diversified to encompass a working middle class and a separate, maligned underclass. The heroes are all dead. Players are simply commodities made for television.

'I'm here to help the team get back to where they deserve' – Ronaldo returns

Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates scoring their first goal during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Newcastle United

Image credit: Getty Images

None more so than the effervescent Cristiano Ronaldo, who has been Manchester United's top scorer with 13 goals in 18 appearances during his much-vaunted return from Juventus to Old Trafford in August.
"I didn't expect they would sing all game my name so I was very nervous. Maybe it didn't show, but I was,” he said after scoring twice in a 4-1 dismissal of Newcastle on his second debut for United.
The reception is incredible, but I'm here to win games, to help the team and get the club back where they deserve.
The second coming of the Portuguese striker was not enough to save Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s position as manager.
The Norwegian coach was dismissed in November after a 4-1 drubbing by Watford and a three-year spell that failed to deliver a trophy to the club, whose last Premier League title came under Sir Alex Ferguson in 2013.

'Happiness cannot be explained' – Messi inspires Argentina to end 28-year wait

Ronaldo’s nemesis Lionel Messi cut a miserable figure after ending his 21-year stay at Barcelona in August due to severe financial troubles enveloping the club before joining Paris Saint-Germain. He enjoyed more productive times with his country.

Messi breaks down in tears as he announces Barcelona departure

A delightful lob from Angel di Maria gave Argentina a 1-0 win over Brazil in the Copa America final in Rio de Janeiro as Messi finally clasped a major trophy at the 10th attempt in July.
It was his country's first continental title since their Copa triumph in 1993.
"The truth is, it's crazy," said the record 158-times capped national idol.
The happiness cannot be explained. So many times I've had to leave sad, but I knew at some point it would happen. I don't think there was a better moment than this. This group truly deserved it.

‘Special moment’ – Djokovic closes in on Grand Slam history

With or without a vaccine, Novak Djokovic was again the tennis force of the year in reaching parity with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in their historic arms race. Another three for Djoker brings the triumvirate level on 20 Grand Slams in the modern era with more surely to come.
The Serbian superman emulated his staggering feat of reaching all four Grand Slam finals in 2015 and winning three of them.
Djokovic made off with the Australian Open for a ninth time against Daniil Medvedev courtesy of a 7-5, 6-2, 6-2 victory in January.
He would recover from two sets down to lift a second French Open crown with a stirring 6–7 (6-8), 2–6, 6–3, 6–2, 6–4 success against Stefanos Tsitsipas.

Highlights: Djokovic wins second Roland Garros title and 19th Slam against Tsitsipas

Djokovic toppled Matteo Berrettini for his sixth Wimbledon title with a 6–7 (4–7), 6–4, 6–4, 6–3 triumph before he travelled to New York hell-bent on the calendar sweep of the majors in September that would see him emulate Rod Laver's 1969 run as the only men to achieve the feat.
A brutal five-set semi-final win over Alexander Zverev probably did him few favours as Medvedev avenged his defeat in Melbourne with a 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 win over the undisputed world number one.
“The build-up for this tournament, everything mentally, emotionally I had to deal with throughout the tournament in the last couple of weeks was just a lot," said a tearful Djokovic, who had left his competition crying tears of frustration for most of the year.

Novak Djokovic won the men's title at Wimbledon 2021

Image credit: Getty Images

"It was a lot to handle. I was just glad that finally the run is over. At the same time I felt sadness, disappointment and also gratitude for the crowd and for that special moment they created."
With Federer and Nadal plagued by injuries and fighting the ravages of time, staying fit could be 34-year-old Djokovic's major challenge in 2022 because the desire or dominance is not in doubt. He has plenty left in the tank if he wants more.

'Pressure a privilege' – Fearless Raducanu lives American Dream

For the joyous British qualifier Emma Raducanu, the trip to Flushing Meadows was an unqualified success. An otherworldly experience that she could happily retire on at the age of 18. Especially so when she earned over $2m for her exertions.
In only her fourth major tournament, the Kent teenager, fighting out of Orpington, became the first British woman to make off with a Grand Slam since the watching Virginia Wade conquered Wimbledon in 1977. She was an outstanding winner as she went on a run that saw her rack up 18 sets and fail to drop one over 10 matches over qualifying and the 128-strong main draw.
The majority of the crowd favoured her final opponent Leylah Fernandez, but Raducanu swatted the Canadian aside with a 6-4 6-3 victory seeing her become the first qualifier in the men’s or women’s draws to lift a Grand Slam.
She secured her place in the record books by securing five of the final six games from 2-1 behind and an ace completed the most unlikeliest but stylish triumph that may never be bettered.

Emma Raducanu - US Open 2021

Image credit: Getty Images

Her victory was built on her ability to take the ball early with thumping winners down the line on the forehand and backhand sides setting the scene for her ability to walk the line on the game’s grandest stage with an outrageous level of self-belief, maturity and commitment.
Pressure is a privilege. I thrive under the adrenaline, I hope. So for me, I don't really think about other people's opinions or expectations. The only ones I have are that of myself, to improve and get better.
"I think it shows that the future of women's tennis and that the depth of the game right now is so great," commented Raducanu after being handed the trophy by 12-times Grand Slam winner Billie Jean King at a teeming Arthur Ashe Stadium.
"I think every single player in the women's draw definitely has a shot of winning any tournament. So, I hope that the next generation can follow in some of the steps of the greatest legends, for example, Billie Jean right here."
Serena Williams lost to Naomi Osaka in the semi-finals of the Australian Open and became the oldest woman to reach the fourth round of the French Open before injuries forced her to withdraw from Wimbledon and the US Open.
With Osaka triumphant in Australia, Barbora Krejčíková in France and world number one Ashleigh Barty at Wimbledon, Williams remains one Grand Slam singles title behind Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24.
It will be intriguing to see if life begins at 40 for the women's game’s greatest player in 2022.

Watch the moment Osaka wins second Australian Open title

'A moment I will cherish forever' – Mickelson makes major history

Hideki Matsuyama became the first Japanese winner of a golf major at the Masters, the irrepressible Collin Morikawa lifted the Claret Jug at Sandwich – joining Tiger Woods as the only major winners in history to lift the US PGA Championship and Open before the age of 25 – while Spain’s rampaging world number one Jon Rahm carried off his first major at the US Open.
Yet it was hard to argue that the feel-good story of the year revolved around a swashbuckling Phil Mickelson, who emerged from the back of beyond, and some will argue further back than that, to become the oldest major winner of all time with some vintage form from his prime.
An epic 103rd US PGA Championship in South Carolina could not have produced a more outrageous finale if the wonderfully theatrical Lefty – aged 50 years, 11 months and seven days – and playing with the adventure, agility and self-assured gait of a teenager, had holed the winning putt from the jaws of a Kiawah Island alligator.
Ranked a wholly misleading 115 in the world, Mickelson became the oldest winner of a major golf tournament in history – and the first man in their sixth decade to achieve the feat – with a performance full of youthful exuberance that belied his nonsensical pre-tournament odds of 280-1.
In the end, he held off booming Brooks Koepka and the pristine Louis Oosthuizen by two strokes to revel in a sixth major title.
A closing one-over par round of 73 was enough to claim the Wanamaker Trophy on a six-under par total of 282 following earlier rounds of 70, 69 and 70 around Kiawah Island's daunting Ocean Course – and conclude in some style a 53-year wait for a man in his 50s to boldly go where no golfer has gone before.

Phil Mickelson

Image credit: Getty Images

"I just love this game of golf, and the challenge of competing against these great players," said Mickelson, who lifted the first of his six majors at the US Masters in 2004. "As you get older, you have to work harder, but there is no why reason it can't be done and this proves it.
This is just amazing. I believed I had the ability to do it. I've been able to get back to playing golf at the highest level. It is a moment I will cherish forever.
Mickelson was not consistent enough to make the US Ryder Cup team in September, but should not take that as a personal slight such was the array of blossoming talent that butchered Europe by a record margin 19-9 in a contest that was more or less finished by the first day.

USA celebrate winning the 43rd Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits.

Image credit: Eurosport

In golf's version of Avengers Assemble, the difference in class and confidence was apparent and palpable as Steve Stricker's American side – with eight men inside the world’s top 10 – put on an exhibition of carefree ball striking that left a groggy Europe feeling like witnesses to an assault on the senses.
The Solheim Cup was much healthier for European golf as the women’s side retained the trophy with a famous 15-13 victory over the US in Ohio.
Ireland's Leona Maguire won four-and-a-half points out of five on a remarkable debut as the dedicated Scot Catriona Matthew became the first European captain to enjoy two victories in the event.
"It's just unbelievable. My team have been so fantastic all week," said Matthew.

‘It never felt comfortable’ – Archibald dominates Track Champions League

Katie Archibald entered the history books as the first women’s endurance champion at the UCI Track Champions League. The double Olympic champion arrived at the final two rounds in London with an imposing 35-point advantage, with only 40 points still in play. She duly finalised the title with one race remaining.
With the pressure off, she put on a remarkable five-star show in the event-concluding elimination race – overcoming the retiring Dutchwoman Kirsten Wild for a clean sweep of victories in the discipline across Mallorca, Lithuania and the UK capital.

‘Making a statement’ - Katie Archibald top moments

"It never felt comfortable,” commented the Scottish speed merchant after being crowned the women’s endurance champion at the inaugural event.
But I'm really happy.
“I always knew the scratch races were going to be my sticking point. And I feel like I minimised the losses, but that's how you win a series, isn't it? To be the most consistent. It's nice to pull out the big wins, obviously.”
Archibald was surprised to find that the mint green Santini skinsuit enhanced her sense of self-belief.
"It's quite a lot of pressure to lead from the start, but seeing it replicated in the other leagues as well I think there's a strength to having the jersey on the back from the start.”
American Gavin Hoover dramatically claimed the men’s title after leader Sebastian Mora was disqualified from the scratch race for causing a nasty crash.
For Mora, not alls well that ends well.

'Ooo, hello!' - UCI TCL best bits: Thrills and spills in the velodrome

'Incredible year' – Blackmore's grandest achievement

Once in the realms of fantasy, Irish jockey Rachael Blackmore became the first woman to ride the winner in the 172-year history of the Grand National around the daunting jumps of Aintree on 11-1 shot Minella Times.
Blackmore also became the first woman to revel in the leading jockey title at Cheltenham and won the Champion Hurdle on Honeysuckle during the days of her life.
“It was just an incredible year,” said Blackmore.
When you can bring a bit of joy to more people, that makes it even more special.

Rachael Blackmore

Image credit: Getty Images

'Give my all' – Selby to the four at Crucible

On the old green baize, Mark Selby managed to hold off his childhood friend Shaun Murphy to claim a fourth world snooker title in May with an epic 18-15 triumph in the sport's most coveted tournament at the Crucible in Sheffield.
"It’s absolutely incredible," said the Leicester professional. "Every time you get to a world final you always try your hardest – it’s such a tough tournament to get there and you never know whether it’s going to be your last.
"I don't set my goals at any number as far as world titles go. I just come to the tournament every year to give my all. If that is good enough, great. If not I will go back home and work even harder."
Judd Trump continued to be the sport's most consistent trophy winner, adding two more ranking events and the Champion of Champions trophy while the sport's greatest performer Ronnie O'Sullivan ended a 16-month wait for a title since his sixth world victory by usurping Neil Robertson 10-8 with some spellbinding play in the World Grand Prix final.

Watch the moment Selby clinches fourth world title at Crucible

There was also an enlivening final of the UK Championship in December with the prodigious Chinese player Zhao Xintong overwhelming 'Belgian Bullet' Luca Brecel 10-5 in a final brimming with youth, attacking class and natural instinct.
“I never want to bore the crowd out of an arena," O'Sullivan told Eurosport. "I'd never want to be that player if there was 1000 people watching the match before but when I walk into play my match there is about 70 people there. They've all gone: ‘I’m going home now'.
I want to be the guy where 1000 people turn up to watch because they want to watch him play.
As the eternal opus concludes and prepares to run onto another new year, sport continues to bring immeasurable elation and a unique sense of well-being to the masses as a form of theatre that Broadway or London's West End could not better. The Sound of Music has nothing on the Sound of Fury.
Like the wonderful greats of the past year excelling in their respective fields, the human condition continues to amaze in the ongoing pursuit of excellence and entertainment.
“The noblest of arts is making others happy,” said Barnum.
Never has the jubilation which sport delivers been needed more than now.
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