Lionel Messi

What I’m thankful for in 2016

Although I grew up in a country that includes no similar date on the calendar, “Thanksgiving”, an holiday originally “celebrated as a day of giving thanks for the blessing of the harvest and the preceding year” is a tradition that I respect, even if the evolution of modern societies has diluted the meaning of it and its religious and cultural roots are disregarded by most these days.

Therefore, since I hold some appreciation for the values that are (supposed to be) exalted on Thanksgiving,  I decided to take Christmas time, a period based on much of the same ideals, to reflect and be grateful for what the subject of this blog, sports, inspires in me every day.

The result is the following miscellanea of topics, a list that, despite inherently personal, I believe is much less about my own preferences than the experience and pleasure one takes from the deeply misguided love for sports.

A final remark: While necessarily influenced by it, the choices don’t reflect only what happened over the last 12 months.

Jaromír Jágr – Recency bias be damned, it’s an absolute joy to be able to follow the footsteps of one of ice hockey’s greats as he approaches age 45. I may have lost his time for the team I support and definitely haven’t forgot the sting of his decision to spurn a return in favour of signing for the cross-state rivals, yet can’t stop admiring his uplifting love for the game, inexorable work ethic and ability to stay competitive night after night facing guys that weren’t even born when he was an NHL rookie, back in 1990-1991.

Jaromír Jágr's flow in all its glory at age 44

Jaromír Jágr’s flow in all its glory at age 44

Jágr still got that singular propensity to stuck his bottom out and protect the puck like very few can, the fluidity to weave through the neutral zone and gain the line with possession and the vision to offer his teammates easy tap-ins. If he says his legs haven’t slowed down and he can handle the load of an entire season, who are we to disagree? You can make it to 50, Jags!

The wealth of young NHL talent – The best hockey league in the world is, by definition, stacked with elite players at every position, nonetheless the recent influx of newcomers that can take over games right from the get-go has to be described as unusual and extraordinary, and you have to look no further than Team North America’s showings at the World Cup of hockey to illustrate the point.

Connor McDavid, a once-in-a generation prodigy with lightning acceleration and a phenomenal ability to execute in full speed, obviously leads the charge, but he’s not short on dazzling running mates. Jack Eichel, McDavid’s bridesmaid who can hammer one-timers from the right slot on his sleep. Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary’s elusive offensive dynamo. Toronto’s rookie trio of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander, who have electrified an entire city. Finland’s Patrik Laine, ripping pucks into the upper-corners from the top of the circles with the same nonchalance employed while dealing with the media. Show-stopping talents like Nathan MacKinnon, Artemi Panarin, Jonathan Drouin, Mike Hoffman, Leon Draisatl or Mark Scheifele.

Patrik Laine's shot has earned rave reviews during his first NHL season

Patrik Laine’s shot has earned rave reviews during his first NHL season

All names that may one day figure in the Hall of Fame, alongside the rest of the League’s stars in their prime, such as Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos, Evgeni Malkin and Patrick Kane, and without disregarding the likes of Vladimir Tarasenko, John Tavares, Jamie Benn, Erik Karlsson, Nikita Kucherov or Claude Giroux.

The future is bright for the NHL should they understand how to take advantage of the embarrassment of riches that fell on their lap, which contributed to a move towards a much faster, more entertaining version where skill is more important than ever before.

3-on-3 overtime – One year has passed since its introduction at the NHL level and more top leagues are already following suit hoping to ride the wave of success. While coaches have made strides in bringing structure and trying to reign in their players, there’s only so much they can do to slow down the game with an inordinate amount of ice available. The 3-on-3 overtime is enthralling on its Intensity, pulsating and dramatic on its inherent chaos, a cradle of end-to-end action, odd-man rushes, turnovers, chances, near-misses, startling saves and… goals. Some criticize it for resembling pond hockey..but where’s the harm on that?

Lionel Messi – Like him there has never been and never will be. The ultimate talent powered by (near) flawless decision making, immaculate technical skill and advanced vision and perception of the game. Leo apprehends, selects and executes before the rest and better, and that’s why he’s peerless. The prototype of the human brain solving problems at high speed and driving football’s running and unrelenting evolution towards an era where sheer physical prowess will be essentially irrelevant.

Lionel Messi

Lionel Messi, the best football player ever

Some fifty years from now, when those at the different levels and spheres of influence will be equipped with a superior understanding of the game, the next generations will laugh at “our” decisions to elect others based on the random outcome of a couple of games per year.

Peter Sagan – A unique figure inside cycling’s world, a sport still trying to overcome an uphill battle to restore credibility and regain fans. While the clashes on the mountains, that made so many fell in love with bike racing, can’t escape the veil of suspect, what Peter Sagan does can only be admired, which means you’ll have a hard time finding someone that actively roots against him.

Whether he is squeezing through the middle of the bunch to secure a sprint victory, jumping the gun to escape and arrive by himself, powering up a hill to a finish or collaborating doggedly on a breakaway, Sagan’s versatility is mind-boggling yet only a reflection of his personality. The Slovak is a risk-taker, follows his instincts, never gives up in face of adversity and has a hell of a time riding his bike, enjoying himself and entertaining the fans. In the end, we’re all looking for fun and Peter Sagan delivers that in spades.

The Big Four (Five?) – With Federer and Nadal sidelined for much of the year, the incredible supremacy exerted by tennis’ Big Four wasn’t exactly paraded throughout 2016, yet the season confirmed two other talking points.

First, despite a meagre Grand Slam total (3), Andy Murray’s evolution has led him to a level where’s he’s every bit part of the group. Knocking Djokovic off the perch and securing the No.1 in London with authority were the final formalities for a man that’s no longer the guy the other three secretly hope to face in the semi-finals.

The remaigning doubts about Andy Murray's greatness were erased in 2016

The remaigning doubts about Andy Murray’s greatness were erased in 2016

Meanwhile, Stan Wawrinka’s sensational panache at the Majors guarantees that the competition tightens up, at least, from the last eight onwards. If we ever get Juan Martin Del Potro back to his best (and that’s a big if with those wrists), we can have as much as six clear-cut contenders with Grand Slam triumphs on their résumé and a plethora of dark-horses trying the bridge the gap (looking at you, Raonic and Nishikori). We may be in for a dandy of a season in 2017.

Angelique Kerber – With all due respect for Serena Williams’ application to the title of best female athlete of all-time, her towering presence over the rest of the field in the WTA Tour well into her thirties is (was) boring. For different reasons, Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka were never able to consistently challenge her, therefore Angelique Kerber’s rise was a breath of fresh air. Helped by Serena’s minimalist calendar? Definitely. However, raise your hand if you believed any player other than Serena could win two Grand Slams in the same season?

While I’m not convinced the German can clamp down the World No.1 for long, she has already done the most important. She changed the paradigm and kicked off the dog-fight to pronounce a new Queen. Let the Hunger Games begin!

The Olympic legends of our time – In 120 years of modern Olympic action, countless athletes have produced epic sports moments in the biggest stage of them all. However, few were able to elevate their respective sports, the Olympic movement and its motto “Citius, Altius, Fortius” quite like Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps. We should be forever grateful for the chance to witness their incredible exploits in the beginning of the XXI century, achievements that will resonate for generations to come and conveyed to our children and grandchildren.

Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps, arguably the two greatest Olympians of all-time

Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps, arguably the two greatest Olympians of all-time

As their careers end, new heroes will take over and the show will continue, but we shouldn’t take for granted the unique opportunity to appreciate true, unrepeatable greatness. May their spirit inspire the ones to come.

Sports fans – An integral part of all memorable sports achievements and condition sine qua non for spectacles that bring together the world, sports fans can entertain, impress and inspire as much as the ones they support.

From the kind, joyful and passionate Brazilian fans at the Olympics, cherishing the opportunity of a lifetime at every arena even when their athletes didn’t stand a chance or even took part, to the hordes of Iceland, Northern Ireland, Wales and Ireland supporters that provided a singular beauty to the Euro 2016. From the deafening rendition of “You’ll never walk alone” by Liverpool and Borussia Dortmund fans in unison on their Europa League double-header, to the emotional tributes all over the world after Chapecoense’s tragedy, especially the touching reaction from Atletico Nacional (and Colombian) fans. From the masses that crowd the roadsides of Belgium during the spring, the peak of cycling’s classics season, to every fan that hit the road and dispensed hard-earned money and time simply to voice the support for his colours miles away from home.

My teams – For so many wonderful memories, which I will treasure for a long time, and for hitting the jackpot in 2016.

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Seven (err…twelve) indelible sports moments in 2015

Another year has gone, which means we can now snoop over a bin full of sports memories to cherish and remember. The turn of the calendar is as good a time as any other, so I decided to empty my brain and select what sports fans will take with them from 2015, including instances when athletes overcame their physical and mental limitations, superstars were born or regained some of the respect lost along the way, history books were re-written, or stunning upsets left fans agape.

The screening process was, obviously, enormously dictated by my own preferences (read more about it on the “About” page linked above), and the reader will disagree with a lot of my choices, but I tried to instil as much diversity as possible on the final list. I touched base on a variety of sports, even if, naturally, can’t recognize them all, and searched for a balance between individual and team-based achievements (or failures). An assortment of time frames was also pursued, with the action that enveloped the “moment” being reviewed ranging from a matter of few seconds, to entire matches or even week-long struggles.

I wrote about the seven moments of 2015 that left a deeper mark on my memory and – I believe – in that of the many fans which follow the sports world on a daily basis. In addition, I later appointed five more which also stood out among the numerous monitored live throughout the year.

(By the way, absent is any reference to the heroics of a racing horse on some posh trio of events held in the Spring, or a famous defensive play that occurred with forty something seconds to go on a Championship match that enjoys an unparalleled television audience)

So, without further delay, my breakdown of the main sports moments of the year in no particular order of appearance.

Usain Bolt dodges Justin Gatlin’s challenge

There’s just no way around it. Every time Usain Bolt steps on the track for a major final, the World stops and waits to be amazed. However, before Beijing’s 2015 World Athletics Championships kicked off, the question marks surrounding the Jamaican were at an all-time high since Bolt was unable to surpass a really average (for his standards) 9.87 seconds showing obtained earlier in the year. He was definitely harassed, listening to the same type of discussion produced in 2011 and 2012, when his compatriot Yohan Blake posed a major threat, and rival Justin Gatlin, enjoying a third chance after two suspensions for doping, had been simply outstanding, putting together a 28 races unbeaten streak highlighted by a time of 9.74 seconds and several 9.8 postings.

On the Birds Nest, the American further increased is favouritism with a smashing triumph on his semi-final heat while Bolt had to cover ground on the end just to go through. However, with the stakes at the highest point, the pressure proved too much for Gatlin to handle. Bolt exited the blocks better than expected, and kept the rival in check throughout the race to narrowly defeat a stumbling Gatlin, crossing the finish line in 9.79 seconds. The winning margin was just 0.01 seconds, the tighter victory since Bolt broke through, and more than 0.2 ticks off his World Record (9.58).

Usain Bolt’s patented celebration emerged again in Beijing

The same stadium and city that 7 years ago saw the emergence of a myth wouldn’t see the start of his downfall like many expected, and some days later the 29-year-old doubled down, comfortably sweeping off the speed events with the titles on the 200-meters (with a “normal advantage” over Gatlin) and 4X100 relay. Bolt was ran over by a Segway-ridding cameraman as he was celebrating the double hectometre triumph but, just like during the competition, was able to walk away unscathed.

We’ll see if he can say the same after the Rio Olympics next year, where he’ll fight for a preposterous triple/double collection of gold medals, looking to cap off his legendary career with a third consecutive Olympic triumph on the 100m and 200m events.

Robert Lewandowski nets five goals in nine minutes

Ok, this one is a bit of a cheat, since I wasn’t actually watching the act as it occurred, but following on twitter is close enough, right? A middle-of-the-week league tie, even if contested between the German Champions and the runner-up, can’t be considered appointment viewing, and there was a reason Bayern’s spearhead was on the bench to start the match. However, the half-time disadvantage for the hosts convinced Pep Guardiola that Lewandowski had to go in and the rest is history. Actually, four fresh entries on the Guinness World Records book were added after that night on the Allianz Arena.

The Polish striker needed just five minutes to tie the contest with an opportunistic tip after a superb assist by (former) teammate Dante, and off he was. Two minutes later, and just five touches on the ball in, a creeping shot from distance gave him a brace, and the hat-trick goal soon followed after he buried an attempt that initially found the post. By this time, social media was already exploding with an incredible achievement on a top-level competition, and no one really understood what was happening after the fourth strike in seven minutes!

Pep Guardiola’s reaction to Robert Lewandowski’s wonder night was one of the images of 2015

The fifth, exactly 8:59 min after the ball first found the back of the net, came on a marvellous acrobatic volley from just inside the edge of the box, and became the cherry on top of a remarkable moment for the forward and the sport. Certainly, the type of performance for the ages football fans are lucky to watch once in a lifetime, and an impact substitution not even a master like Guardiola will be able to repeat. Eventually, his face on camera told it all.

As for the poor Wolfsburg side that was on the wrong side of the achievement, well…why did you sign Dante? (Sorry…but not really).

Roberta Vinci shocks Serena Williams at the US Open

Many, if not all, of the events on this list will linger on fans’ minds for a long time, but very few are in the running for the recognition as the greatest upset of all-time on its sport. This one happened because an “undistinguished” 32-year-old Italian decided “to play literally out of her mind” on the biggest stage and moment of them all, and thus spoil part of the legacy of one of the greatest figures in the history of tennis.

So many superlatives? Yes, it was that relevant, that unexpected and, so, so baffling. Serena Williams had already secured three quarters of a lifetime achievement, the calendar Grand Slam, adding her sixth Australian Open, third Roland Garros and sixth Wimbledon to stand on the verge of becoming the sixth human to manage something last seen in 1988. It seemed like a foregone conclusion that only Serena could stop Serena from lifting the trophy at the end of the fortnight on the Artur Ashe Stadium. Eventually, even the top players that could remotely hang on with her were on the other side of the draw (Muguruza, Kvitova, Azarenka, Halep) and dropping like flies.

Roberta Vinci reacts after the match of her life

The American was tested by Bethanie Mattek-Sands and her sister on the early rounds, but was never actually close to losing, and absolutely no one believed Roberta Vinci, the No 43 in the World, could go further than every other Grand Slam adversary in 2015. Serena breezed to take hold of the first set with a 6-2 score line and then the astonishing outcome took form. The crafty, experienced, yet Grand Slam semi-final debutant taking the 2nd set? No reason to panic, Serena had been there countless times before.

Vinci serving for the match? WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON HERE? Can’t, won’t happen, right?

The crowd stood in disbelief as the Italian reached the 40-0 lead and the legend eyed the abyss. Serve, cross-court attack, half-volley…Veni, Vidi, Vinci. The unthinkable had materialized. The pressure weighted too much. A career dream was crushed on the finish line. Forever?

Vinci would lose the final to compatriot Flavia Pennetta the next day, on another emotional encounter, but the story was Serena’s choke. The 34-year-old undisputed Queen of women’s tennis came oh so close and blew it. She didn’t took the court again for a WTA match in 2015, and, even for someone like her, it’s tough to muster the strength to come back and push for the same feat again. If it happens, it would probably be as remarkable as whatever occurred in New York on that September evening.

Katie Ledecky obliterates the competition at the Swimming World Championships

An American dominating an edition of Swimming World Championships is far from a unique circumstance. Michael Phelps took five gold medals from the 2009 meet in Rome and Ryan Lochte equalled the feat in Shanghai 2011, while Missy Franklin stepped it up a notch in Barcelona 2013, gathering six titles. Thus, Katie Ledecky’s performance in Kazan, Russia, last August might be a bit undervalued. Don’t be fooled though.

None of her compatriots had to swim as much as the 18-year-old freestyler on a frenetic week of competitions. No less than 6.2 km, 124 laps, and 63 minutes of racing as she navigated the heats, semi-finals, and finals of four individual events, including the gruelling 800m and 1500m, with the final of the last race, the longest on the calendar, preceding by just 20 minutes a close, highly-competitive 200m semi-final.

Katie Ledecky, the podium, trophies and medals. An acquaintance process in full swing

The Washington DC native kicked off her campaign with the triumph on the 400 meters, with a 3.89-seconds advantage never seen before, but was just getting started, showing clear signs of disappointment at the end after missing out on breaking the World Record. Lauren Boyle, the runner-up on the 1500m, touched the wall almost 15(!) seconds after Ledecky set her second World Record on consecutive days at the distance, and she also smashed the 800m mark by 3.61 seconds and her competitors to the tune of a 10-second gap. Because savouring triumphs on longer events is getting boring, Ledecky has added the 200 meters to her repertoire, and she was also successful despite all the miles on her body, gathering the speed to beat the last two world champions on the race. She, thereby, finished up a sweep of the 200, 400, 800 and 15000 meters free events, or the now called “Ledecky Slam”. Amid all this, anchoring the USA’s 4×200 meters relay win was just icing on the cake.

The four individual gold medals represent a unique feat for a female swimmer on the history of the World Championships, and only trail Phelps’ record of five in Montreal 2007. Back in 2012, Ledecky caught the World by surprise winning London’s 800m as a 15-year-old, and the youngest member of the entire US Olympic squad composed of more than 500 athletes. In 2016, she may well be the singular face of the entire Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games.

Carly Lloyd erupts to take down Japan in 16 minutes

With no FIFA men’s international competition on the calendar in 2015, football’s brightest eyeballs shifted attention to the Women’s World Cup. Another stepping-stone tournament for the sport on the female side saw the USA and Japan clash for the third consecutive time in major competitions’ finals, four years after a dramatic World Cup final in Frankfurt, and three following Wembley’s Olympic decider. On the BC Place of Vancouver, the story ended up being way different from 2011, when the four goals were scored on the latter half of regulation and overtime, before the penalty shootout separated the parts.

Carly Lloyd carried out one of greatest World Cup performances ever against Japan

This time, inside just 16-minutes, the heavily-supported Americans were well on their way to victory after mounting a four-goal blitz that stunned the reigning Champions. Carly Lloyd deflected in a low corner three minutes into the game, and one hundred seconds later found the ball inside the box to chip it past the Japanese goalkeeper for the second time. With the Nadeshiko dazed, Lauren Holiday took advantage of a terrible clear on the 14th minute to dash with an over the top, classy finish, while Lloyd completed the hat-trick with an astonishing strike from the halfway line that beat a reeling Kaihori. Things slowed down a bit after that, with the final result settled at 5-2 because a brave Japanese team never gave up on the match, but the day undoubtedly belonged to the Americans and to Lloyd.

The USA’s #10 midfielder propelled his side to a magnificent start, one rarely watched before at this level of competition, and completely decimated the opposition, leaving her mark on a major final like she had done in the 2008 and 2012 Olympics. Her inspired performance throughout the tournament merited the Golden Ball for best player of the tournament, and she will surely welcome another individual accolade in a few days, the FIFA Women’s Player of the Year award.

Fabio Aru and the improbable Tom Dumoulin go head-to-head at the Vuelta

Selecting just a moment from a whole cycling season comprised of numerous races can be a monumental task. Others may answer with Alberto Contador’s epic recovery on the Mortirollo ascent during the Giro, Chris Froome’s irresistible (and much discussed) attack on the climb to La Pierre Saint Martin during the 10th stage of his second Tour de France triumph, or even Peter Sagan’s coup d’état, with the Slovak finally getting the best of an entire peloton to punch a signature victory on the World Championships.

However, I believe no other battle symbolized what cycling racing is about like the up-and-down affair between Fabio Aru and Tom Dumoulin at the Vuelta, which culminated on the Dutch clinging to the dream until the last day, only to see it vanish through the fingers. The Giant-Alpecin rider was the talk of the first half of the competition alongside Colombian Esteban Chavez, with the pair alternating the ownership of the red jersey while in discussion of the plethora of stages culminating on steep terrain, but not many predicted the 25-year-old could keep up with the best as the difficulties accumulated. Not even after a superb victory over Froome at the end of stage nine.

Fabio Aru (white jersey) and Tom Dumoulin (in red) excelled at the 2015 Vuelta a Espana

Dumoulin would lose ground on a diabolic stage 11 at the Pyrenees, but his feverish fighting spirit provided for terrific moments of cycling as he almost strapped himself to the Vuelta GC contenders over the next few days on the mountains, managing to stay within striking distance while all his teammates lagged way behind unable to support him. Fabio Aru would command the race lead until Dumoulin shattered the opposition on the individual time trial at Burgos, turning the overall classification into a 3-second stranglehold between Dutch and Italian.

Despite Astana’s push over the next two days, Dumoulin resisted stoically, even showing his muscles on the cobbled end at Ávila, before finally succumbing in dramatic fashion on stage 20, at the Puerto de la Moncuera, as Aru and friends were getting antsy and frustrated. The Maastricht-native, on his own, completely empty and defeated, sank further on the final kilometres to finish the Vuelta in sixth, but the fortitude and drive he displayed by leaving it all on the road against the odds impressed every observer. And were well worth of a reference here.

Stan Wawrinka ends Novak Djokovic’s Roland Garros bid

A truly significant season for tennis saw two players end the year with three Grand Slam titles on their bags, and it could have been even more incredible had Novak Djokovic joined Serena Williams on the quest to complete the calendar Slam at the US Open. He couldn’t because the only stain on a brilliant 2015 season came in June, at the final of the only big tournament that still eludes the Serbian.

The 27-year-old entered the Court Phillipe Cartier still riding the wave of a drubbing over Rafael Nadal on the quarter-finals, only the second time (and first when healthy) that the King of Clay got beaten at Roland Garros, but also feeling the effects of a nervous five-setter against Andy Murray on the semi-finals. A match where the pressure of clinching the trophy that is missing on his curriculum started opening some cracks on the armour.

Stan Wawrinka came out ahead of Novakj Djokovic at Roland Garros

Like happened to Roger Federer until 2009 – and to other tennis greats that never grasped success at the French Open – Djokovic may have shrunk with the tension and indomitable desire to win he had to cope with, but the final was much more than a favourite throwing out a golden opportunity. Stan Wawrinka had already backed up his candidacy to a second Grand Slam title with a straight sets victory over Federer, and was completely “in the zone” on that afternoon, unleashing his patented one-handed backhand with devastating precision left and right after “Nole” took the inaugural set.

Djokovic had to settle for the finalist’s plaque and a deserved rising ovation from the crowd after a crushing defeat, but snapped out of it pretty quickly. Wimbledon and the US Open would later join his other nine titles amassed in 2015, and that loss to the Swiss was the only in 28 matches at Majors and one of just six during the best season of the Serbian’s career. The setback in Paris just fuelled his hunger for more, and he figures to come back in 2016 even more prepared to complete his own career Slam and equal Nadal and Federer, his contemporaries that figure on a shortlist of just seven names.

And, on a quicker sequence, five more moments that just missed the main cut:

Lionel Messi gets back to marvelling the world

Football fans around the world blessed 2014-15 for the return of the best Lionel Messi. The Argentinian wizard used the motivation after a crushing World Cup Final defeat to power Barcelona to a second treble in four seasons, as the Blaugrana hoarded the Spanish League, the Spanish Cup and the Champions League. Messi’s brilliance was at its peak on two key moments.

First, on a monumental goal against Bayern Munich on the 1st leg of the European Cup semi-final, turning Jerome Boateng into a bowling pin before chipping the ball beautifully over Manuel Neuer. A few weeks later, he embarrassed Athletic Bilbao’s defence on the Copa Del Rey decider with a preposterous slalom which started near the convergence of the sideline and center circle and ended with him slotting the ball home.

The Ski Flying World Record falls twice on a weekend

Slovenia’s Peter Prevc flew like never before at Vikersund

Humanity’s enduring fascination with flying finds resonance on ski jumping and especially its more risky offshoot, ski flying, where athletes really push the limits of audacity. 2015 brought the first jump over the 250 meters barrier, as Peter Prevc flew exactly that in February, 14th, during a World Cup event held in Vikersund, Norway.

The Slovenian broke by 4 meters the mark set on the same venue, in 2011, by Norwegian Johan Remen Evensen, but his reign would be really short. To the delight of the home crowd, Norway’s Anders Fannemel soared 251.5 meters the following evening under perfect conditions and stole the record back. The next few years promise new heights, since Vikersund and the “rival” infrastructure in Planica, Slovenia, have suffered renovations and extensions, so expect more superlative images of sportsman gliding on air for what appears like an eternity. After all, the 300m may be just around the corner.

The Golden State Warriors complete a fairytale season with first NBA title in 40 years

The gang of Stephen Curry had shown flashes of domination in years past, but only after Steve Kerr took over the bench everything clicked into perfection. The Golden State Warriors won 67 games on the NBA Regular Season led by an unique sharpshooter enjoying an MVP-worthy performance, an incredible sidekick (or should I say Splash Brother?) in Klay Thompson, and Mr. Everything Draymond Green, and then weaved through the minefield that are the Western Conference playoffs to reach the NBA Finals.

The 2015 NBA Champions, the Golden State Warriors

Against LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers, the most exciting team in basketball conquered the ultimate prize in six fascinating games, undoubtedly benefitting from an opponent that was weakened by substantial injuries to star actors, and had to place too much of a burden on the planet’s best player over the last decade. Nevertheless, with or without the injury bug, no team lighted out arenas all over North America throughout the season like the Warriors, and the series may well be reminisced before long by the passing of the torch from James to Curry as the world’s finest player.

Japan stuns South Africa at the Rugby World Cup

England welcomed what can probably be considered the biggest sports competition of 2015, and beyond the hosts’ lacklustre performance, and New Zealand’s uncontested supremacy towards reclaiming the spot at the top of the mountain, there was time for a completely unexpected result. Rugby’s history places the sport amongst those where the minnows stand lower changes of humbling the giants, whereby Japan’s courage and faith belied the norm and they were deservedly rewarded for it.

The moment Japan dreamed with

On that afternoon at Brighton, the “Brave Blossoms” did justice to their name, deciding to press for the winning try as the final whistle approached instead of settling for a potential equalising kick. The Springboks had already sweated way beyond their expectations to conjure a narrow lead, were left to crawl in order to protect it, but they probably never realized a team with only one World Cup triumph could pull off the tournament’s greatest shock ever.

That is, obviously, until New Zealand-born Karne Hesketh finalised the 34-32 score in injury time, with what looked like a bunch of folks helping launch him forward so the ball could touch South Africa’s area. It was goosebumps-inducing stuff. In 2019, at home, can Japan do an encore, please?

Jamie Benn clinches NHL’s Art Ross Trophy at the buzzer

You really thought I would go away without a hockey reference? At the end of 2014, I had two moments lined up for the “would be” review list of the year, but this season was leaner in worthwhile memories. The Chicago Blackhawks collecting a third Stanley Cup in six seasons was kind of boring (for neutral fans), and the playoffs lacked striking scenes, even if the Hawks and Ducks on the West, and the Rangers and Caps on the East, weren’t far from the level of excitement provided by that Hawks-LA Kings matchup of a year ago.

Thus, my choice was the theatrical and improbable late charge that delivered Dallas Stars’ captain Jamie Benn his scoring title. With his team out of the playoff race, he put up 15 points in the last 6 games to leap John Tavares on the 82th and final contest, grabbing 4 points, including an assist with just 8.5 seconds remaining, to reach 87 on the season. On a game with no implications table-wise, the buzz, voltage and elation on the American Airline Center, as time ticked away and the team pushed for the tally that Cody Eakin ultimately delivered, made for a stunning sports instant that few won’t relish.

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And that’s all I have for you from 2015. Thanks for reading, and let’s hope for even better in 2016!