Sport Sport Focus Why 2016 was the year that sport saved the world

Why 2016 was the year that sport saved the world

Leicester City's remarkable Premier League success set the tone in 2016. Photo: Getty
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It’s been some kind of year, hasn’t it?

We’ve lost musical giants, people whose sonic imagination and poetry redefined pop.

The man known simply as ‘The Greatest’, Muhammad Ali, took his last breath in June.

We watched with horror the election of an orange cartoon villain to the highest office, sat with mouths agape as Britain was hoodwinked by charlatans into exiting the EU and cringed as Pauline Hanson, somehow, became a thing again.

It has been, by any measure, an annus horribilis.

But in professional sport, usually that most brutal of reality checkers where happy endings are rare, it’s been moonbeams and fairytales.

In 2016, if you were looking for escape from the front pages, the back pages offered plenty.

Who will ever forget the ride Leicester City took us on before clinching the 2015-16 English Premier League title?

Leicester’s entire squad was bought for about $A80 million.

One of their rivals, Manchester City, spent $A84 million on one player (Kevin De Bruyne).

LeBron James starred for Cleveland in the NBA Finals. Photo: Getty

In Cleveland, a 52-year-old city-wide sporting curse was broken when LeBron James, the local boy who broke hearts when he went as a free agent to Miami and then warmed hearts when he returned four years later, led the Cavaliers to their first ever NBA title.

It was a story so rich with romance it could have been published by Mills and Boon. The Cavaliers were 3-1 down against reigning champions Golden State, the team that beat them in the 2015 finals series.

But then, in the words of Joe Posnanski, writing for NBC, “James went supernova … he takes over three basketball games in a way that I suspect no player has ever taken over games before”.

Watch his block on Andre Iguodala at crunch time in game seven.

Have a look at the ground James covers, the speed at which he moves, the conviction. It’s supernatural.

And if you want to talk curses, this was the year the Chicago Cubs won their first World Series since 1908, ending one of sport’s most famous droughts.

Like the Cavaliers, the Cubbies were down 3-1 and had to win three games on the trot to break the curse.

The moment they did, an entire city rejoiced.

The historic results were not limited to foreign shores.

Here in Australia, two of the longest-standing droughts in sport were both broken in emphatic fashion.

In the NRL, the Cronulla Sharks ended a 49-year wait for their first premiership when Andrew Fifita barrelled his considerable frame through a few Melbourne Storm players to score the match-winning try.

Legendary league figure Jack Gibson, a five-time premiership coach known for his wit, once joked that waiting for Cronulla to win a premiership was a bit like leaving the porch light on for Harold Holt, the former Prime Minister who disappeared while swimming in 1967.

Gibson died in 2008, but Sharks captain Paul Gallen referenced the line in the moments after the famous victory, telling his club’s fans: “Turn your porch lights off because we are coming home with the trophy.”

The NRL moment that changed everything. Photo: Getty

And perhaps the most romantic story of them all came on the same weekend, when the Western Bulldogs ended a 62-year wait for their second AFL premiership.

From Melbourne’s working class western suburbs, the Dogs – beset by injuries – produced one of the most amazing finals performances of the modern era.

From seventh place on the ladder, they journeyed to Perth to knock off the highly fancied West Coast in week one, before buttering up again to run over the top of three-time defending premiers Hawthorn at the MCG.

Then it was on the road again – to western Sydney – where they survived a heart-stopper against GWS in a finals classic.

In the decider, the gritty underdogs outplayed the playboys of Sydney – bolstered by ‘cost of living allowance’ stars like Kurt Tippett and Lance Franklin – to win their first flag since 1954.

easton wood
Bulldogs captain Easton Wood celebrates after the team’s Grand Final victory. Photo: Getty

The good feeling was palpable.

The general consensus was that 2016 was the year of the sporting underdog, a confluence of happy circumstances.

But maybe it was something deeper.

Maybe, in these times of pain and disquiet, sport was giving us a counterbalance – a reason to believe that things aren’t broken and, even if they are, that they can be fixed with hard work and perseverance.

This year, sport was the greatest escape, serving as an antidote to all the depressing headlines from around the globe.

Whatever the reason, it sure was magical to watch.

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