2016 was some kind of year, wasn’t it? You can make a case that it’s been one of the best years in recent memory or one of the worst ones and you wouldn’t be wrong either way. The year that’s about to end has had its highs and lows and the same can be said for sports. From glorious, record-setting achievements to outright tragedies, 2016 had its fair share of headlines…and then some. So as we prepare to ring in a new year, now’s as good a time as any to look back on some of the most enduring memories from the year that was in sports, for better or worse.
Championship droughts ended
Glory in sports. That’s more than just an oft-used phrase that athletes throw around to describe the passion that lies from competition. Some celebrate it more than others, but for tortured franchises, it’s more like a thirst that can never be quenched. Years of ineptitude and mediocrity have prevented these teams from getting to the promised land, but this year marked a unique turning point as a handful of franchises finally broke through the proverbial glass ceiling to etch their names in the annals of sports history. The LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers ended a 52-year championship drought for the city by coming back from a 3-1 deficit to beat the Golden State Warriors, becoming the first championship team from Cleveland since the NFL’s Cleveland Browns won in 1964.
Locally, Ginebra San Miguel endured its own eight-year title drought before winning the 2016 PBA Governor’s Cup in the most dramatic of ways: a Justin Brownlee buzzer-beater in Game 6 of its Finals series against the Meralco Bolts.
As vindicating as those two title crusades were, both pale in comparison to the Chicago Cubs finally winning the World Series after a drought that lasted 108 years. The last time the Cubs won the World Series, the Titanic hadn’t even been built yet. But alas, generations worth of Cubs fans finally got their taste of championship success after the Cubs ironically came back from its own 3-1 deficit to beat the Cleveland Indians. Turnabout is fair play, right?
The 2016 Rio Olympics was an eventful one for a lot of people, none more so than for two athletes that rightfully took their place as two of the greatest Olympians of all time. If there was any question about Usain Bolt’s stature as the fastest man in the world, the Jamaican runner emphatically put those questions to bed with yet another dominant Olympic performance that saw him win the 100 m, 200 m, and 4 x 100 relay, becoming the first athlete in Olympic history to win the “triple-triple,” otherwise referred to as winning the three races in three consecutive Olympics.
Speaking of making history, US swimmer Michael Phelps firmly etched his name as the greatest Olympian of all time by adding five more Olympic gold medals to his treasure chest of Olympic medals. Together with a silver medal that he also won at the event, Phelps became the winningest Olympian of all time with a medal haul totalling 28 medals won over the course of four Olympic Games, including 23 gold medals and 13 individual gold medals, a record he broke in Rio that stood for a ridiculous 2,168 years that was set by Leonidas of Rhodes back in 152 BC!
As impressive as Bolt and Phelps have been throughout their Olympic careers, another highlight was our very own weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz, who became the first Filipino athlete to win a medal in the Olympics since Mansueto “Onyok” Velasco won bronze in boxing back in 1996. Diaz’s silver medal triumph in the women’s 53-kg weight division cemented her status as one of the greatest Filipino Olympians of all time, and the fact that her victory took place in the middle of the night here in the Philippines made for an exciting wake-up surprise for a lot of us in the country.
Say what you will about UFC fighter Conor McGregor, but you can’t deny that behind his colorful and sometimes obnoxious personality is a man who has the utmost confidence in his abilities. Where else will you see somebody talk as much as the Notorious one did this year and then back up all of the braggadocio by becoming the first fighter in UFC history to win two titles in two different weight classes (at the same time). Nobody has ever done that before and there’s a good chance that it won’t be accomplished again anytime soon. Like him or not, McGregor is now the most bankable fighter in the game. It’s a status he earned with a memorable 2016 that actually saw him lose his first fight of the year, before coming back and avenging that loss and then claiming the UFC’s lightweight title to add to his featherweight championship. He says he’s the face of the fight game now, and with history at his side, no one can deny him that title anymore.
The tragedies of sports
2016 may have been a memorable year for a lot of our sports heroes, but it was also a tragic one for those who didn’t make it at this point. The list of athletes and sports personalities who lost their lives this year runs long and deep. From PBA player Gilbert Bulawan collapsing in practice, to legendary sports sideline reporter Craig Sager dying from a two-year battle with leukaemia, there has been no shortage of deaths this year. Legendary golfer Arnold Palmer, MLB pitcher Jose Fernandez, hockey icon Gordie Howe, and MMA fighter Kimbo Slice all lost their lives this year in one tragedy after another, as did a majority of the Brazilian football team Chapecoense, whose plane crashed in Columbia while en route to play in the finals of a regional football tournament.
And just because he deserves his own paragraph, Muhammad Ali, the greatest athlete of modern sports history also died this year, serving a chilling reminder to all of us that no matter how infallible we think our sports icons are, they too are also on borrowed time.
Highs and lows. Peaks and valleys. For better or worse, that will be the enduring memory of the sports world in 2016.
Here’s to hoping that brighter days are ahead as we leave behind the year that’s about to end, and welcome with hope and open arms, the year that’s about to begin.