Here’s a look at some of the praiseworthy and positive sports stories of 2012, the type that by and large couldn’t be predicted and which didn’t necessarily appear on the stat sheet or scoreboard.
Seeing as it was an Olympic year, let’s start with London. IOC president Jacques Rogge called them the “happy and glorious Games.” If such an event can be called normal, then London can, following as it did the sad legacy of the Athens Games (drug scandals, facilities in disrepair) and the over-the-top, efficient Beijing Olympics. And with no publicly known security scares for the Games that were awarded to the city the day before twin transit bombings in 2005.
Oscar Pistorius was one of the bigger stories in London, becoming the first amputee sprinter to compete in able-bodied Olympics. The gold winner in that 400-metre event, Grenadian teen Kirani James, was inspired enough by “The Blade Runner” to ask the South African to swap bibs.
Wheelchair basketball star Patrick Anderson of Fergus, Ont., came out of retirement after three years to score 34 points in the Paralympics’ gold-medal final win over Australia. Canada avenged a 2008 final loss to the Aussies in the process, and the result gave Anderson a career total of three gold and a silver after wins in 2000 and 2004.
“It feels like the first medal I’ve ever won somehow,” said Anderson, now up for a prestigious award to be determined in February 2013. “I’m not sure exactly why just yet.”
Then there was Esther Vergeer of Belgium, the wheelchair tennis player who added Olympic gold medals six and seven while also winning both Grand Slam events. That helped run her modest winning streak to 470 straight matches, dating back to January 2003.
Manteo Mitchell was entered in the able-bodied Games but ran most of his leg of the 4×400-metre relay with a broken fibula.
The Olympic hosts revelled in a stunning trio of gold medals from Jessica Ennis, Mo Farah and Greg Rutherford in rapid succession at Olympic Stadium on Aug. 4, prompting singer Billy Bragg to tweet: “Tonight, our society was wonderfully represented by a ginger bloke, an immigrant named Mohammed and a mixed race woman. #proudtobeBritish”
It was Rod Stewart who sang, “Make the best out of the bad, just laugh it off,” in Every Picture Tells a Story. U.S. gymnast McKayla Maroney did just that in quite possibly the most forwarded sports photo of the year thanks to countless internet memes. Her scowl on the podium while wearing a mere silver medal around her neck from the vault competition initially made her seem like a bratty teenager, but she quickly recovered to poke fun at herself in the weeks to come, all the way to David Letterman’s guest chair and The White House.
The Canadian women’s soccer team showed pluck on the field in winning a bronze model and then embraced their enhanced profile, appearing across the country at events to sign autographs and pose for pictures for appreciative young girls and other fans.
Newfoundland native Elijah Porter was golden without even competing. The 10-year-old boy raised the spirits of the Canadian men’s Olympic 4×100-metre relay team after it was disqualified from a bronze-medal finish in London by sending the team the only medal in his possession, earned playing soccer.
Relay team members Jared Connaughton and Seyi Smith paid a visit to Porter at his home in Paradise, N.L., to personally thank him.
Speaking of kids, the sports catchphrase of the year may have belonged to Jack Meyer. He’s the nine-year-old who greeted the megawatt Miami Heat team after a disappointing home playoff loss to the Boston Celtics with the hilariously incongruous “Good job, good effort!”
To the degree that the NBA was able to rid itself of the lockout stench, it was in no small part due to phenomenon Jeremy Lin. The Knicks guard had scored a total of 32 points in nine games of limited minutes as of Feb. 3. The next night he went off at Madison Square Garden against New Jersey, beginning a span of 10 consecutive games in which he averaged 24.6 points.
Linsanity reigned, the stickiest of a passel of somewhat politically incorrect puns based on his last name. Knicks superfan Spike Lee sought out his high school and university jerseys (Palo Alto High and Harvard, respectively), and many celebrated the still-too-rare examples of star status for a player of Asian descent in North American team sports. He couldn’t come to terms with New York in the off-season, cashing in on a deal with the Rockets.
Fighting for rights
Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke and son Patrick, a scout for the Philadelphia Flyers, were behind the “You Can Play” campaign launched to educate and eliminate homophobia in sports, with several NHLers lending their support in advertisements.
Baltimore player Brendon Ayanbadejo, a former CFLer, has been supporting the rights of gays to marry for a few years now, but for some bizarre reason, a Maryland legislater took umbrage this summer, telling the Ravens to do something about it. To its credit, the team didn’t, and Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe fired off an impassioned and profane rebuttal to the politician.
Former Swift Current hockey players Theo Fleury, Sheldon Kennedy and Todd Holt continued fighting for the rights of victims of sex abuse and for greater punishment of offenders as the maddening Graham James case continued to wind through the legal system a quarter-century after the crimes. In the United States Cy Young Winner and new Toronto Blue Jay R.A. Dickey, Olympic judo gold medallist Kayla Harrison and Olympic boxer Queen Underwood told their stories of overcoming child sexual abuse.
Honouring the departed
The Miami Heat stood united after the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin. The so-called “Stand Your Ground” incident divided opinion in Florida, but it was undeniable that the Heat players clearly believed that in an earlier time, before they achieved fame, they were Martin.
Eli Manning and Victor Cruz were offensive stars as the New York Giants won another Super Bowl, and laudable off the field. Manning donated $25,000 US towards Hurricane Sandy relief efforts, as athletes and leagues pitched to help in that disaster. Victor Cruz dedicated a Dec. 16 game and adorned his sneakers in the memory of Jack Pinto, a six-year-old victim of the Newtown, Ct., school shooting massacre, who was buried the next day wearing the jersey of the Giants receiver, his favourite player.
Notre Dame linebacker Mant’i Teo was a Heisman Trophy finalist despite enduring the deaths hours apart in September of his grandmother and girlfriend, while Pat Neshek of the Oakland Athletics pitched impressively in a playoff appearance just days after his newborn son died.
The Canadian amateur sport community was rocked in a span of weeks by the deaths of freestyle skier Sarah Burke and skicross competitor Nik Zoricic. Friends and teammates tried to keep their memory close as they dealt with their grief. Foundations were established in both of their names to pursue causes consistent with their lives, while the Canadian skicross squad this season donned uniforms that were a tribute to Zoricic.
The Indianapolis Colts were “Chuckstrong”, seemingly gaining strength as their first-year coach Chuck Pagano battled leukemia.
Hanging it up
LaDainian Tomlinson, Jason Taylor, Ricky Williams, Shawn Johnson, Chipper Jones, Pudge Rodriguez and Owen Nolan are among the many athletes who should be saluted as they ended their competitive careers.
Michael Schumacher retired again. David Beckham didn’t, but effectively did for fans wanting to see him play on a North American pitch. Andy Roddick sometimes grated but was never dull, and will undoubtedly make an entertaining tennis commentator one day.
But if you were to pick one man and one woman as head of the “class,” with respect to newly retired athletes, you’d be hard pressed to top seven-time Norris Trophy winner Nicklas Lidstrom of the Detroit Red Wings and four-time Grand Slam tennis champion Kim Clijsters.
With files from The Canadian Press
Killing Hiedi Michelle Vieth