So here it is. Following my review of the 10 sporting lowlights of 2011, here are the top 10 best moments. Apologies for the delay, babies are needy… who knew?
10) WOZNIACKI THE ROO-NATIC
In a sporting world of sterile, party-line, on-message claptrap, Caroline Wozniacki is a breath of fresh air.
Instead of the average tennis star’s dull-as-barley-water quotes about training, injuries and how they would really like to win the next match, Wozza led the media a merry dance at the Australian Open when she told them a scar on her leg was caused by her being attacked by a kangaroo.
This was tabloid heaven and the hoodwinked hacks filed story upon story about the poor blonde lovely and her altercation with the marauding marsupial.
Unfortunately for them, Wozza – who possesses that endearing bonkers persona of virtually every Dane I’ve ever met – had made it up. Her injury was caused by her walking into a treadmill.
She apologised and, showing self-deprecation so rare in our sporting stars, turned up to the next Press conference in boxing gloves with an inflatable Skippy.
She has since started dating Rory McIlroy, in a partnership the Daily Mail referred to, horrendously, as Wozilroy, missing a perfect opportunity to establish the word McIlracki in the English language.
9) CHRIS BASHTON
British boxing, if you’ll excuse the pun, took a bit of a hit this year, with nine world-title challengers from these isles losing out. In many cases – David Haye, I’m looking at you – their efforts were pretty pathetic.
However, proper punching was alive and well on the rugby field, where England team-mates Chris Ashton and Manu Tuilagi went head to head as Northampton took on Leicester. And there was only one winner.
Amazingly both players got yellow cards for this. There’s something magical about a punch that moves the punchee’s face around to the wrong side of his head.
Of course, the pair went on to be part of England’s highly successful World Cup campaign, with Ashton allegedly taking part in a bout of hotel-maid worrying and Tuilagi jumping drunkenly off a ferry into Auckland harbour.
Ashton then got his revenge by pulling Tuilagi’s brother’s hair in a match in December. The result? Another pummelling for the Saints man. Don’t mess with those Samoans, fella.
8) MASTER CHARL GRABS JACKET
This highlight isn’t about the curlier half of McIlracki seeing his four-shot lead go up in smoke, which was painful to watch, but the sheer metronomic final-round brilliance of improbably dentured Charl Schwartzel.
The South African chipped in on the first to signal his intent and, as McIlroy drove a tee shot on to the verandah of a Georgian plantation owner several miles away, Schwartzel blew away the rest of the field with four birdies on the last four holes.
Even as a fashion div, I know that green jackets are the preserve of elderly American yacht owners and the mentally infirm, but it was a fantastic way to win such a disappointing prize.
7) BUTTON MAKES A SPLASH
In March, Formula One gnome-in-chief Bernie Ecclestone suggested the one way to make races more exciting would be to spray ‘fake rain’ on the track. Three months later, the Canadian Grand Prix was held up for nearly two hours due to ‘real rain’.
While mad old Great Auntie Bernie’s ramblings are clearly nonsense, when the clouds finally cleared, the delayed race did produce the most exciting finish of the season, with Jenson Button pushing Sebastian Vettel all the way and, for once, coming out on top.
6) ONE, STU, THREE
England’s cricketers hoped to secure the No1 spot as the world’s best test team this year. Unfortunately, a formidable Indian team stood in their way. So the remarkable way the tourists folded was one of the biggest surprises of the year.
As abject as India were, credit has to go to Andrew Strauss and his lads, who showed a ruthlessness that most courts in this land would punish with severe custodial sentences.
The high point was Stuart Broad’s bowling performance of 6-46 at Trent Bridge, which included a gonad-slackeningly brilliant 16-ball spell of five wickets for no runs, featuring a rip-roaring hat-trick to really get the adrenalin pumping.
OK, so you’ll point out that Harbhajan Singh got a massive inside edge on the LBW decision. You really are a picky sod, aren’t you?
5) O’MYGOD, ENGLAND
With minnows Ireland 106-4, in reply to England’s 327-8 at the Cricket World Cup, everyone in the crowd assumed the win was in the bag for Broady and Co.
“But wait, who is this pink-haired giant coming to the crease?”
“I don’t know but he seems to be giving England’s bowling attack a veritable twatting.”
Kevin O’Brien smashed 113 off 63 balls, a World Cup record, as the Irish team, who had never played cricket before and accidentally entered the competition after a series of hilarious misunderstandings, successfully chased down 328, another World Cup record.
We didn’t see that coming.
4) WE’RE SINGING FOR ENGLAND…
There were plenty of reasons to be cheerful in Daegu as Mo Farah and Dai Greene romped to golden glory. But the highlight for me was a silver medal. Not for Farah, Phillips Idowu or Jess Ennis, who all counted second place as a major disappointment, but the utterly out-of-the-blue medal for Hannah England.
The gangly 1500m runner’s silver success wasn’t just unlikely before the race, it looked distinctly improbable on the final bend, as our patriotically named heroine lay in seventh.
Yet despite being forced out wide, she picked off flagging rivals one by one as she surged down the straight. Her finish-line look of delight and giddy post-race interview were frankly a lot more enjoyable than the ‘second is the first loser’ stance of her admirable-yet-grumpy team-mates.
3) MAGIC DARTS
On January 1 last year, I saw a water rail for the first time. I tell you this not because I consider my amateur ornithological fumblings part of 2011′s sporting mega-moments but because it was something of a holy grail for me.
The last few years of dipping my toe into the nerdy-yet-life-affirming reedmarsh of birdwatching had not yielded a sighting of this shy, funny-looking creature and I had long suspected it was a bunyip-style legend, a hoax propagated by more senior, more snobbish, more bearded twitchers.
But at Norfolk’s wonderful RSPB reserve at Titchwell on New Year’s Day, I caught sight of the water rail’s dappled back, its blueish breast and slender red beak as it scampered through the undergrowth and I thought that, frankly, first-born son on the way or not, 2011 couldn’t get any better than that.
A mere two days later I was at Ally Pally and I was proven wrong. I was treated to a magnificent history-making moment as Adrian Lewis achieved the first nine-dart finish in a world championship final. The worrying thing from my perspective was that I was participating fully in darts’ booze-fuelled culture and could quite easily have missed this stunning piece of skill because I was having a wee. Luckily it was early enough in Lewis’ win over Gary Anderson that my bladder was as steely as the Stoke thrower’s nerve.
However, Lewis’ achievement was outdone in the World Grand Prix when Brendan Dolan bagged a first-ever televised nine-darter with a double start. So it’s the Irishman who makes it into my list here…
2) THIS IS FLIPPING AWESOME
For score of the year, and I nearly had to go with Wayne Rooney’s overhead kick. Like Harbhajan’s thick edge, I’d have had to ignore the fact that Man United’s watercress-haired Montenegrin-assaulter shinned the ball in and I can’t afford to turn another blind eye if I want to hold on to my crown in the Kingdom of the Blind.
Luckily for me, a guy called Jerome Simpson of the Cincinnati Bengals popped up on Christmas Eve to make the whole quandary academic. Now, you’re probably thinking American football is a farce. It’s basic principle of gaining yardage by violent means makes it little different from trench warfare: Ypres with cheerleaders, if you will.
But then you look at former college high-jump champ Simpson do this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CtaDy_Y9kNI and think, “OK, I’ll shut up with my shitty metaphors now.”
1) SPLINTER WONDERLAND
Mark Cavendish did some amazing things on a bike last year. But is he my No1? No. That honour does go to a cyclist but one who came only third in his big race of the year.
Malaysian Azizulhasni Awang was up against a tough field, including Chris Hoy, in February’s world track championships’ Keirin final. Olympic leviathon Hoy romped home in first but Awang’s bronze was the most courageous I’ve ever seen.
On the back straight, Awang was caught up in a mass pile-up that sent all but Hoy skidding along the track. Cue a Benny Hill-style race for the line by the crash victims, desperate to bag a medal. Some forgot they needed their bike with them, another fell over as he tried to run in his special cycling shoes. Awang came in third despite a frickin’ 12-inch track splinter sticking right through his calf!
(In Cav’s defence, he once suffered a similar injury in training, except the wood pierced his penis. He was rushed to hospital where the medics were able to remove it and the Manx Missile took it home in his rucksack. The splinter, that is, not his willy).