Joe Pridmore recaps the main sporting events of summer 2014.
September’s rolled back around, laptops/tablets/phones/the-next-big-thing must be picked back up, and work has to resume. Sport has once again been relegated to Wednesday afternoons, where it is doomed to be associated with piss ups and fancy dress rather than anything competitive, energetic or inspiring. But that cannot be allowed to ruin the memory of what has been an incredible sporting summer.
FIFA World Cup, Brazil
England crashed out in the group stages in yet another disappointing tournament for us plucky, yet ultimately talentless, Brits, but no one can disagree with the fact that this was one of the best World Cups in living memory. Whilst the knock-out rounds unfortunately consisted of staid one goal victories or penalty wins, the group stages were awash with goals and a number of stars were born. Despite Messi winning player of the tournament solely due to his stats on the FIFA video game, James Rodriguez stole the show and secured a £63m transfer to Real Madrid, while Miroslav Klose broke the all-time World Cup scoring record, despite none of his 16 goals coming from further out than the penalty spot. However, for me, the greatest individual prize has to go to Per Mertesacker for showing up Peter Crouch in the ‘lanky men can still dance’ awards:
Away from the individuals, Costa Rica put in a number of heroic, heart-in-mouth performances, especially in the knockout rounds, before losing out to the Netherlands. Chile and Columbia also both impressed, but the stars were undoubtedly Germany, demolishing hosts Brazil 7-1 en route to their first World Cup win since Italia ’90.
Whenever there is a major footballing event on, tennis always suffers in terms of popularity, and, with the World Cup this summer, Wimbledon didn’t receive anywhere near as much attention as last year’s historic British triumph. Andy Murray was still recovering from an injury and couldn’t repeat his previous performances, going out to Gregor Dimitrov in straight sets in the quarter finals. Much like in the football, the Brits still outdid the Spanish, with Rafael Nadal suffering a shock defeat to the 19-year old Australian wildcard Nick Kyrgios in the 4th round, but the final restored order as Novak Djokovic beat Roger Federer three sets to one in a clash between two of the traditional ‘Big Four’.
Tour de France
In a continuation of this hugely successful summer of sport for the British, Mark Cavendish literally crashed out of the Tour de France, ending his race 200m from the finish line of the very first stage. The opening three stages, held in the beautiful rolling hills of Yorkshire, were another triumph of British planning, but the ignominy of Cavendish’s accident was mirrored by Chris Froome just 5 kilometres into the 4th stage. Although he continued the race to remain just 2 seconds behind eventual victor Vincenzo Nibali, a further two crashes in stage five led to the defending champion abandoning his race. With Wiggins not chosen, it was a poor race for Team Sky, and questions were raised about their selection process.
In the largest multi-sport event Scotland had ever held, 4,950 athletes from 71 different nations competed in 18 different sports, including the triathlon and mountain biking, both appearing for the first time since 2006. The hosts came a creditable 4th with 19 gold, 15 silver and 19 bronze medals, finishing behind England, Australia and Canada. The English were able to salvage their summer slightly by more than tripling their union rivals’ medal count, achieving 174, with 58 gold, 59 silver and 57 bronze. Although avoiding controversy over living conditions, unlike previous hosts India, the games weren’t entirely clean, with Nigeria’s Chika Amalaha being stripped of her gold in the women’s weightlifting after failing a doping test.
Despite my bitterness at the news that the Games reneged on a promised press pass for Pi just weeks before the event, the inaugural Invictus Games were a resounding success. Normally, as with the Commonwealth Games above, I would list the medals and their winners, but, in an event where competitors would frequently stop to wait for their teammates to join them at the finish line, the results of the individual events seem meaningless.
That is not to say the Games were a glorified rehabilitation, where the results do not matter: the competitors are ex-soldiers, men and women for whom rivalry and improvement are as intense as friendship and camaraderie. Captain David Henson, representing the UK, achieved the 8th fastest time in the world as a 200m double amputee, and could easily make Team GB’s Paralympic team if he wanted. These participants are used to being at the peak of physical fitness, and the games showed that not even the horrific events they went through will change that.
Henson’s reaction shows this: his hesitancy to commit to full Paralympic training epitomises the fact that the games are not a springboard into competitive athletics – Henson will maintain the same level of Invictus training in order to maintain his fitness, but his spare time will be put into finding a job and a new life. One of the most common refrains at the closing ceremony was that, for all these inspirational individuals, their real race has just begun.
For now, though, Invictus has provided the best possible base from which they can work. It has given hope to those struck down by the horrors that they endured and shown the world, and the soldiers themselves, that these are not cripples destined for nothing but a disability cheque, but highly motivated young men and women still able to do anything they aspire to achieve.
Image credit: Wikipedia.