It has been a year beyond our dreams, a year when everything seemingly came together in one, massive click, and a year when sport – yes sport, that useless pastime considered nothing more than “Games” over the years by politicians and some schools – reared its head again to declare its crucial role in British health, well-being, attitudes and society.
It began in July when Bradley Wiggins achieved the unthinkable and won the Tour de France, a Brit, with sideburns and a London accent from Maida Vale! Ridiculous! This country’s never had a podium placing in the Tour’s 104-year history. This year we had two, with Chris Froome finishing second. Team Sky announced they would win the Tour in five years’ time when they launched in 2009. Oh how world cycling laughed. It took them three years.
Within a week the Olympic Games were upon us and from the moment Danny Boyle’s inspired Opening Ceremony began, and the Queen parachuted out of a helicopter (that was the Queen, right?) we knew we were on to something. I have covered every summer Olympics since 1988 in Seoul and can say, with no bias at all, that this was the best Games ever, just shading Sydney in 2000.
Every facet of the Games made this happen, from the wonderful Games Makers (they must have swallowed happy pills) to the equally wonderful army volunteers, to the facilities, the London backdrop, the crowds and, of course, the athletes. Choose your own highlights but for me Mo winning gold twice and creating the “Mobot,” Brad again in the time trial, Sir Chris claiming gold medals five and six, Big Ben becoming the greatest Olympic sailor of all time, Katherine Grainger finally, at long last, claiming gold with Anna Watkins, Jess becoming the best female athlete on the planet despite huge expectation, Greg Rutherford completing that astonishing 45 minutes inside the Olympic Stadium, Laura Trott becoming the new star of British track cycling, Nicola Adams and that smile and, not forgetting our guests, David Rudisha’s astonishing run, Michael Phelps winning his 20th Olympic medal and a man called Usain – all were unforgettable moments I was lucky enough to witness first hand.
Within weeks the Paralympics became a watershed for Paralympic sport. Never before have we seen such crowds, such fervour and such athleticism as we did in London and again, the likes of The Weirwolf, Sarah Storey, Ellie Simmonds, Hannah Cockcroft and Johnnie Peacock created memories that they, and we, will always cherish. It was, without doubt, the greatest Paralympics ever too.
Yet there was still more. In August Rory McIlroy would win the US PGA, his second of no doubt many more golf majors. By the end of the year he would be the stand out number one player in the world and the biggest money-winner on both sides of the Pond. In September Andy Murray, not content in becoming the first British Wimbledon finalist since 1938 and then winning Olympic gold in the men’s singles after demolishing Roger Federer, somehow managed to recover from losing a two set lead to beat Novak Djokovic in five sets to win the US Open, and a first major title for a British tennis star since 1936. And at the end of the month came the Miracle of Medinah when an Ian Poulter-inspired European Ryder Cup team came back from the dead to beat America on their own patch in what has since been regarded to be the greatest Ryder Cup of all time.
Oh, and there was the small matter this week of Alistair Cook’s England cricket team winning a test series in India for the first time in 27 years.
Will that do for you? There will be many years of sport to look forward to, indeed many years of the best sport in this country, with the rugby league world cup next year, the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014, the rugby world cup in 2015 and the world athletics championships in 2017, but 2012 will go down as the greatest year in the history of British sport (yes, even greater than 1966) and it may well stay that way for a hundred years or more.