2016 was an incredible year for sporting achievements, from Olympic records being smashed and century-old droughts being broken. See our Top 10 of the best.
1. Leicester City – Premier League Champions
May 2016 saw Leicester City win the 2015/16 Premier League title for the first time in their 132-year history, in what’s been dubbed one of the greatest sporting stories of all time. In the history of the Premier League, every champion had finished in the top three the previous season. In contrast, Leicester finished 2014/15 in 14th, 46 points adrift of league winners Chelsea. Just eight years previously, the Foxes had been competing in the third tier of English football. As expected the squad had moved on substantially from then, with the exception of striker Andy King, who had remained with the club.
Written off at the start of the season, following the sacking of manager Nigel Pearson and appointment of Claudio Ranieri. Their much-publicised 5,000/1 title win illustrated the doubt Leicester City faced. Despite the Foxes starting the campaign well, they remained underdogs for the majority of the season. The entirety of the squad had a combined value of £54.4m which was a distinct contrast from their title rivals, Tottenham (£161.1m), Arsenal (£251.9m) and Manchester City (£418.8m). It wasn’t until their 3-1 win at Manchester City in February that thoughts of a sustained title challenge appeared certain. Having only lost three games all season and following the demise of title challengers Tottenham Hotspur against Chelsea, the 2nd May saw Leicester City confirmed as the Premier League Champions.
Leicester City’s victorious season is bound to be remembered for their direct, counter-attacking football. In a complete reverse to the traditional playing style employed by most Premier League winners, the Foxes allowed their opponents to play keep ball before using their pace to do damage on the break. Stand out player Jamie Vardy, who had been playing non-league football in 2010, also broke the record for consecutive Premier League goals. The striker scored 11 goals in 11 games to break the record previously held by Manchester United’s Ruud van Nistelrooy. The outstanding ‘fairytale’ season also saw midfielder Riyad Mahrez crowned PFA Player of the Year. In December 2016 Claudio Ranieri and Leicester City also won both Coach and Team of the Year at BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year.
2. Andy Murray rises to world number 1
Computerised rankings were first introduced to tennis in 1973, Great Britain had never had a number one. That was until 2016 when Andy Murray become Britain’s first world number one tennis player.
Coming off the back of an excellent 2015, Murray reached the final of the first Grand Slam of the season at the Australian Open in January 2016, losing to Novak Djokovic in straight sets.
He got a small revenge on his birthday (15th May) when he won his first title of 2016 by beating the Serb Novak Djokovic 6-3, 6-3 in the Italian Open final.
The second Grand Slam in Paris followed the Italian Open. Murray again reached the final but old foe Djokovic defeated him, this time in four sets.
In June, the Scot came back stronger than ever, he got old coach Ivan Lendl back in his corner and became the first man to win the Queen’s Club title five times. He beat Canadian Milos Raonic in the final.
The win on the grass at Queens set Andy up perfectly for Wimbledon, he made it to the final only dropping two sets (both against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the quarter-final). He met Milos Raonic again in the final, beating him in straight sets (6-4,7-6,7-6).
In August, it was time for Rio and the Olympics. Andy was the flag bearer for Great Britain at the opening ceremony. He also added to Team GB’s huge haul of 27 golds by beating Argentina’s Juan Martin del Potro in the men’s singles final. He became the first man ever to win two Olympic singles tennis titles, after winning gold in London 4 years earlier.
The final Grand Slam of the year in New York (US Open) saw Andy lose to Kei Nishikori in the quarter-finals, this was a bit of a shock as Andy has been so consistent prior to this tournament. However, losing to the 6th seed and strong all-rounder Nishikori isn’t such a disaster.
He secured his fifth title of 2016 and the 40th of his career by beating Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria 6-4, 7-6 in the China Open final.
Then just a week later, he found himself in another final in China, this time it was the Shanghai Masters, where he beat Roberto Bautista Agut in straight sets and edged closer to the world number one ranking.
His next title came in Vienna beating Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the final. This win put him in a position to reach the world number one ranking in the next tournament in Paris.
If Novak Djokovic did not reach the final at the Paris Masters and Murray won the tournament, the number one ranking would be his – and that’s just what happened. Murray beat John Isner in the final and became Britain’s first singles number one!
He then came home to the UK and won the final tournament of 2016, the ATP Tour finals in London, beating world No. 5 Nishikori, No. 4 Raonic, No. 3 Wawrinka on route before meeting world No. 2 Novak Djokovic in the final, Murray defeated the former world number 1 in straight sets to win the tournament, cementing his place as the best player in the world.
If winning the Olympics, Wimbledon, 9 Tour titles and finishing 2016 as world number one wasn’t enough for Murray, he also won the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year.
3. Team GB bringing home the gold
When it comes to Rio 2016, there’s little to say that you probably haven’t already heard, after an outstanding effort from Team GB. The task of following London 2012 was always going to be difficult, but Team GB finished in second place behind the United States, with a total of 67 medals; 27 gold, 23 silver and 17 bronze.
Adam Peaty kicked off Team GB’s medal haul with a gold in the pool, beating his old world record. Peaty became the first British man to win an Olympic swimming gold since Adrian Moorhouse in 1988.
Long distance runner, Mo Farah came back from an early fall to successfully defend his 10,000m title in Rio. He wassuccessful completing the ‘double double’ after also securing gold in the 5,00om.
Max Whitlock excelled in the gymnastics, winning a bronze medal in the all-round gymnastics event, Team GB’s first medal in the event in 108 years. This great achievement was followed up with a double gymnastics Olympic gold in both the floor and pommel horse, seeing off fellow countryman Louis Smith, in the latter.
One of the standout performances from Team GB was the efforts of the women’s hockey team. After defeating defending champions, the Netherlands, Team GB won a first Olympic hockey gold in the dramatic penalty shootout.
Showjumper Nick Skelton became Britain’s second oldest Olympic gold medallist at his seventh games. The 58-year-old had initially retired 16 years previously, after breaking his neck in two places. His gold was Britain’s first individual show jumping medal since Anne Moore’s silver in 1972.
Jason Kenny won three gold medals in Rio and then wife-to-be, Laura Trott, won two golds, taking their combined career total to a staggering ten. To put their Rio achievements into perspective, if Kenny and Trott were a country they would have finished 19th on the medal table, ahead of some sporting superpowers such as New Zealand, Canada and South Africa.
Team GB’s success continued into the Paralympics, winning 147 medals; 64 gold, 39 silver and 44 bronze. The games saw great performances from 15-year-old swimmer, Ellie Robinson, beating the defending Paralympic champion in the S6 50m butterfly to claim the gold. Kadeena Cox took medals in both athletics and cycling, earning her the job of flag bearer at the closing ceremony. Dame Sarah Storey also became Britain’s most successful female Paralympian after winning the C5 3000m individual pursuit final, a title which had previously been held by Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson.
4. The comeback of Phelps
American swimmer Michael Phelps aka the ‘Baltimore Bullet’ is the most decorated Olympian in history and increased his incredible tally of medals to 23 golds and 28 overall following another outstanding performance in the pool at the Rio Games. In what was his fifth Olympics, having made his debut as a 15-year-old in 2000, he added another five golds and a silver to his phenomenal collection. His feats are even more impressive given he retired after the London Olympics in 2012 and only returned to the sport in 2014.
His return didn’t go to plan straight away, in September 2014, Phelps was arrested for a second time, on charges of driving under the influence of alcohol and speeding in his hometown of Baltimore. However, having qualified for the Olympics in 2016, he headed to Rio as the American flag bearer and ready to break more records!
Phelps went on to claim five gold medals and one silver in Rio. His first gold at Rio and 19th overall came in the 4x100m freestyle relay, Phelps swam the second leg with what his coach Bob Bowman described as “maybe the best turn that’s ever been done”.
In his second event, the 200-metre butterfly, he became the first swimmer in history to make five Olympic finals in the same event. He came 5th in 2000, won the event in 2004 and 2008, but could only finish 2nd to South African Chad Le Clos in 2012. In Rio, he won back his 200m butterfly title. Phelps stated that winning back this title had been the main goal during his comeback.
Phelps won his 21st gold medal in the 4×200m freestyle relay together with Conor Dwyer, Townley Haas and Ryan Lochte. For Phelps and Lochte, this was their 4th consecutive gold medal in this event, an all-time record in swimming for any event.
Phelps won his 22nd gold medal in the 200m individual medley. This was Phelps’s 4th consecutive gold medal in this event as well as his 4th in the Games. He became the first swimmer to win the same individual event four times.
In the 100m butterfly, Phelps was defeated in his last individual event of the Rio Olympics by Singaporean Joseph Schooling, settling for joint silver with Chad le Clos and László Cseh.
Phelps ended his career with another gold medal in the 4×100m medley relay, his 23rd at the Olympics and his 28th medal overall. Together with Ryan Murphy, Cody Miller and Nathan Adrian, swimming as the butterfly leg of the medley, they broke the Olympic record.
To win five gold medals at 31 years old, well beyond the typical peak for male swimmers. Phelps is considered one of the greatest Olympians of all time. After winning his 28th medal Phelps stated “This is how I wanted to finish my career. I’ve lived a dream come true. Being able to cap it off with these Games is just the perfect way to finish”.
Phelps really is in a league of his own when it comes to Olympic medals, the 28 he has won is far more than any other Olympian, the next best being gymnast Larisa Latynina, who won 18 medals, nine of them gold for the Soviet Union between 1956 and 1964.
In December 2016 Phelps was honoured with the lifetime achievement award at BBC Sports Personality. The Duke of Cambridge described him as ‘One of the greatest sporting icons this world has ever had’ when presenting the award.
5. Underdogs of Euro 2016
Euro 2016 came to an end with Portugal crowned the surprise winners. Their triumph over hosts France was a continuation of one of the big trends of the tournament as the odds were upset at Euro 2016 again and again. Although Portugal went on to win the tournament, perhaps the bigger surprises were the conquests of both Wales and Iceland.
Euro 2016 saw Wales make their first appearance in a European Championship tournament, being drawn in Group B with Slovakia, Russia and British rivals, England. Before the start of the tournament, reaching the semi-finals seemed like an impossible dream for Chris Coleman’s Wales side. But, with Gareth Bale scoring in every group match and Coleman’s smart tactics, unsettling many an opponent, they quickly made an impact on the tournament. Their stunning 3-1 comeback win in the quarter-final over Belgium was one the performances of the tournament. Their great achievement saw both Joe Allen and Aaron Ramsey named in the team of the tournament.
Iceland were the smallest country ever to appear at the European Championships, having qualified for their first ever major tournament. Their road to qualification consisted of a win against The Netherlands and just two losses. The team went on to qualify for the tournament’s quarter-finals, following the monumental 2-1 win over England in the last 16, which lead to the resignation of England manager, Roy Hodgson. Not only were the Icelandic team making an impact on the pitch, the tournament will be remembered for the Icelandic fans’ thunderclap, the signature cultural note of the whole tournament, subsequently adopted by France fans. Although Iceland were knocked out by hosts France in the quarterfinals, the players received a rapturous welcome upon their return to Reykjavik.
6. Chicago Cubs win World Series
Finally, the Cubs won the Major League Baseball (MLB) World Series, breaking a 108-year curse.
They began the season on 4th April 2016, at the Los Angeles Angels and finished the regular season on 2nd October 2016, at the Cincinnati Reds. The Cubs finished with the best record in Major League Baseball and won their first National League Central title since the 2008 season, winning by 17½ games. The team also reached the 100-win mark for the first time since 1935 and won 103 games in total, the most wins for the franchise since 1910.
The Cubs defeated the Cleveland Indians in seven games in the 2016 World Series, their first appearance since the 1945 World Series and first win since the 1908 World Series.
Not only did they break their 108-year-old duck but in the final of the World Series, the Cubs came back from a three games to one deficit, winning the final three games. The last time a team came back from 3-1 down to win the World Series was in 1985, that feat was achieved by the Kansas City Royals. The Cubs were also the first team to win games six and seven on the road in a World Series since the Pittsburgh Pirates had done so against the Baltimore Orioles in 1979. The World Series victory put an end to the so-called Curse of the Billy Goat and the longest World Series championship drought in history.
7. Usain Bolt – Still the fastest man on the planet
Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt enhanced his already legendary Olympic status after Rio. He won an unprecedented ‘triple triple’ (100m, 200m and 4x100m relay) equalling nine gold medals in total. He is the only man to win all three sprint events at three Games. The holder of the world records at all three distances and an 11-time world champion, the Jamaican star bid farewell to the Olympic stage by celebrating his 30th birthday on the day of the Closing Ceremony of the Rio Games.
In 2016 he was also voted IAAF World Athlete of the Year.
Bolt confirmed that the 2017 World Championships in London would be his swansong as a sprinter.
Explaining the recipe for his success, he said: “It’s hard work, sweat and sacrifice.”
As a youngster Bolt loved Cricket and Football, in 2016 he trained with German football club Borussia Dortmund, maybe after the World Championships he might take his football career more seriously. Who knows?
8. Danny Willett – Masters Winner
Danny Willett claimed a shock Masters win to become the first British champion at Augusta in 20 years, the last being Nick Faldo in 1996. Willett hadn’t originally planned on playing as his wife was due to give birth on the final day of the tournament. However, following the early arrival of baby Zachariah, Willett was able to play.
Going into the weekend, defending champion Jordan Spieth led by five shots as he approached the 10th hole. In the final round, Spieth suffered a collapse at the 12th hole with Danny Willet taking advantage of Spieth’s downfall to secure victory of his first major championship. The 2016 Masters Tournament win at Augusta National saw Willett shoot a five-under-par round of 67.
Following the emphatic win, Willett went on to accept PGA Tour membership and rose to 9th in the Official World Golf Ranking. Besides his first major win, 2016 proved to be the most successful season for Willett. He collected his fourth win on the European Tour in May at the Dubai Desert Classic, 2nd place at the 2016 Italian Open and 3rd place at the BMW PGA Championship. After his successful season, Danny Willett also earned the automatic selection for the 2016 Ryder Cup.
9. ‘The Count’ – Fighter of the Year
Michael ‘The Count’ Bisping has had a phenomenal 2016. His whole year has been one of the greatest sporting achievements seen in combat fighting.
It started off in February where he headlined UFC Fight Night 84 in London. The Count picked up a huge unanimous decision victory over the former Middleweight Champion, Anderson Silva, who many still regard as the greatest pound for pound MMA Fighter of all time.
Bisping swiftly followed this up with one of the biggest upsets in MMA history. Taking a title fight against Luke Rockhold on 17 days’ notice at UFC 199, many in the media gave him no chance. Bisping went into the fight as a huge underdog, but he quickly proved any doubters wrong as he managed to knock Rockhold out in the very first round and lifted UFC middleweight gold at the age of 37.
Bisping wasn’t finished there with 2016. His first title defence was booked in for UFC 204 against veteran Dan Henderson who had previously beaten Bisping in emphatic style back in 2009. The fight was in Manchester, his hometown and Bisping managed to retain his title with a unanimous decision victory.
After headlining three events, winning all three against world class opposition and overcoming the odds on more than one occasion, Bisping was deservedly awarded the prestigious Fighter of the Year award for 2016.
10. 401 Marathons in 401 days
This year 34-year-old runner Ben Smith completed 401 marathons in 401 days in an attempt to raise awareness of the damage caused by bullying. Smith, finished his last marathon in his hometown of Bristol on 5th October 2016. The charity attempt began on 1st September 2015 and was able to run 284 consecutive marathons in 284 days. A hernia and back injury in June forced him to stop his attempt for 10 days before resuming to make up the mileage.
The challenge saw Smith cover over 10,512 miles, the equivalent of running from London to Sydney. Smith went through 27 pairs of trainers, burned 2,996,500 calories and visited 101 schools giving motivational talks.