At the end of a year which has seen viewers around the world tune in to the Olympics, the Ryder Cup, Euro 2008 and an all English Champions League final it seemed like the perfect moment to recap some of the most memorable sporting achievements of 2008. Sport.co.uk takes a walk down memory lane and picks its top ten...do you agree?
10 - New Zealand beat Australia in the Rugby League World Cup
Quite simply, the biggest shock in the history of international Rugby League. Australia had won six successive World Cup titles since 1975 but despite facing odds of 7-1 the Kiwis silenced the 50,000 capacity crowd to be crowned deserved champions in the Aussie’s Brisbane backyard. Finishing 34-20, the match demonstrated everything that is good about Rugby League. Thrills, spills, controversy and exceptional skill were aplenty but the match will live long in the memory for ‘Silly’ Billy Slater’s suicidal back pass that all but sealed the New Zealand victory.
9 - Woods wins US Open despite injury
In an unbelievable show of courage World No.1 Tiger Woods pushed his body to the max and secured his third US Open title despite a debilitating knee injury and an undiagnosed double stress fracture in his tibia. Wincing in pain and limping down the fairways, Woods survived a 19-hole playoff against compatriot Rocco Mediate at Torrey Pines in a victory he described as ‘his best ever.’ It came at a cost; a week later Woods had surgery, missed the Ryder Cup and was ruled out until 2009.
8 - Michael Phelps eight gold medals in Beijing
A nation expected and he delivered. The subject of intense media interest as soon as he touched down in Beijing, man-mountain Phelps successfully took the gold medal in each of the eight events in which he competed and in so doing broke Mark Spitz’s Munich 1972 record of seven golds in a single games. Just for good measure he broke seven World Records, swam with his eyes shut after a goggle-malfunction, shared the secrets of his gargantuan dietary needs and maintained his nice-guy persona throughout.
7 - USA storm to Ryder Cup victory at Valhalla
They may not have had Tiger Woods, but buoyed by Nick Faldo’s 'sandwichgate' cock-up and manic home support, Paul Azinger’s twelve good men came up trumps in Valhalla. Despite being rank outsiders, a half-and-half split between experience and rookies saw Europe blown away on the first day; despite the briefest of come-backs they never really recovered and the Yanks stormed to a 16.5 to 11.5 win. Boo Ridley’s antics may not have been to more conservative tastes but his unconfined joy at securing victory in front of the assembled hicks and yokels was a memorable sight to behold.
6 - Spain win Euro 2008
Proof at last that good football can be translated into Championship glory. Spain were by far and away the most exciting and consistent side throughout the Austro-Swiss football fest and walked away deserved winners after a clinical finish from Fernando Torres in the final against Germany. Italy were the only side to stop the Spanish finding the back of the net but after Cesc Fabregas held his nerve in the resultant penalty shoot-out they never looked back. David Villa ended the tournament top scorer, Xavi was voted best player and seven other players made the UEFA team of the tournament. After 44 years of hurt Spain finally tasted victory on the international stage.
5 - Team GB triumph at Olympics
Buoyed by lottery funding and Lord Coe’s Olympic bid triumph, TeamGB arrived in Beijing looking to lay the foundations for a successful London 2012; what happened next took everybody by surprise. Chris Hoy was the headline act with 3 gold medals as GB dominated in the Velodrome, 19-year-old Beccy Adlington was a revelation in the pool, Cristine Ohuruogu defied her detractors in the 400 metres while the rowers, sailors and equestrians also delivered. 19 golds, 13 silver and 15 bronze saw Team GB leave Beijing with astonishing 47 medals haul and a creditable 4th place in the table behind heavy-weights China, USA and Russia and ahead of old foes Australia.
4 – United win Champions League after Chelsea shootout
The first ever all English final saw Ronaldo, Lampard and Drogba all live up to their reputations as Chelsea and Manchester United battled in the torrential Moscow rain. Ronaldo leapt like a salmon to head United into an early lead before Lampard stole an equaliser with half-time approaching. Opportunities were spurned by both sides before Drogba’s histrionics saw him deservedly sent off with minutes of extra time remaining. It all boiled down to a tense penalty shootout and the chance to secure hero status. With the opportunity to score the winning penalty falling to blues captain John Terry, United looked dead and buried. Alas, as in 1999 they came back from the dead; Terry famously slipped, Giggs calmly slotted home, leaving Anelka having to score. As it turned out, the Frenchman saw his effort saved by Van der Saar and the Red Devils sealed their a second European Cup, forty years after their first triumph and fifty years after the Munich disaster.
3 - Nadal vs Federer Wimbledon final
Federer’s five years of dominance at Wimbledon came to a fitting end in one of the greatest matches ever seen at the glorious SW19 venue. Having already saved two Championship points in the fourth set tie break the Spaniard finally overcame his Swiss opponent 6-4, 6-4, 6-7, 6-7, 9-7 in a match timed as the longest final in the tournament’s history. Finishing 7 hours and 15 minutes after its scheduled start, the two players battled into the night, despite the near darkness, playing unbelievable shots to each other from all angles of the court. Millions around the nation were so gripped that when the 22-year-old finally lifted the trophy, a 1,400 megawatt spike was recorded – equivalent to 550,000 kettles being boiled! Rafael Nadal may have left Centre Court as the winner, but the true victor was the game of tennis.
2 - Lewis Hamilton wins F1 World Championship on last lap
As the Ferrari team began celebrating there was something bitterly British about Lewis Hamilton’s apparent final-lap demise…and then suddenly from nowhere redemption! Has there ever been such a dramatic finish to a Formula 1 season as that witnessed last month at Interlagos? Unlikely! Needing to finish in 5th place to secure his first ever World Championship the 23-year-old from Stevenage dropped to 6th after being passed by Sebastien Vettel with only laps remaining. As title-rival Felipe Massa crossed the line his Brazilian compatriots in the crowd went wild only to see their hopes dashed as Hamilton, on the penultimate bend, nipped past a struggling Timo Glock and stole the solitary point needed. With a Pussycat doll waiting for him in the paddock and an entire nation cheering him on at home, Hamilton was left to reflect on the best day of his life!
1 - Usain Bolt breaks 100 and 200 and 4 x 100 metre World records
It almost defies logic; how can a man who is so laid back be so awesomely fast when he slips on a pair of running spikes? Over the course of one exhilarating week in Beijing Usain ‘Lightning’ Bolt secured himself a place in Olympic history by becoming the first man to take triple glory in the 100, 200 and 4 x 100 metre sprint disciplines. The 22-year-old was so good in the 100 metres that despite running with his undone-laces flailing along the track he still had time to slow down and celebrate his victory fifteen metres from the finish line. The world watched and gawped as 9.69 seconds of footage was repeated, repeated in slow-mo and then repeated again in super slow-mo; it was nothing short of a sprinting master class from a guy, who at 6ft5”, was deemed too tall to dominate such a short distance. Four days later, Bolt added the 200m gold to his collection, breaking Michael Johnson’s ‘unbreakable’ 12-year-old world record with a time of 19.30 seconds, before adding a third with his Jamaican compatriots in the relay. It was an amazing achievement and one that will never be forgotten by those privileged enough to watch it live.