2010: A year of sport in review

As we begin a new year, Ryan Mackenzie recalls the sporting achievements and controversies that characterised 2010Seldom does a calendar elapse without providing a flurry of sporting triumphs and blunders that encapsulate some of the most shocking and euphoric moments of the year. Not surprisingly, 2010 was no different. We saw footballing controversies to rival Thierry Henry’s handball, fairytale stories which wouldn’t seem out of place in Hollywood, feats of jaw-dropping calibre and, of course, the ever-present disappointment and dismay, which serve to remind us that sport is, after all, human. Early in the new year, the NFL Playoffs took centre stage stateside, as the New Orleans Saints began their campaign towards achieving their first ever Super Bowl appearance.Since the catastrophe of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the city of New Orleans had been trapped in a period of slow and sorrowful rebuilding. In fact, the Saints organisation was almost moved from the city, as it’s home stadium, the Louisiana Superdome, had become more a refuge for the thousands who were left homeless after the storm than a place of football. The 2010 season was a glimmer of light in the lives of the New Orleans faithful and indeed an unprecedented level of success from their team. Led by quarterback Drew Brees, the Saints fought bravely to earn their spot in the ‘greatest show on earth’ in Miami on February 7th, where they were pitted against the majestic Peyton Manning and his Indianapolis Colts. The underdogs won 31-17, to bring the Lombardi Trophy home to the ‘Big Easy’ for the first time and cap off a Cinderella story. Only days after the Saints’ success in Super Bowl XLIV, the 2010 Winter Olympics got under way in Vancouver. Always a heavily anticipated event, the games were the focal point of the world’s media but for all the wrong reasons, as tragedy struck the competition hours before the opening ceremony. On February 12th, as practice for the upcoming luge event winded down, Georgian hopeful Nodar Kumaritashvili took to the course. When the 21-year-old approached the final bend of the notoriously dangerous circuit, he lost control of his luge and was propelled off the track and into an unprotected steel column that supported the structure. Kumaritashvili was travelling at almost 90 miles per hour when he hit the column. He died of his injuries later that day and the Olympics were irrevocably tainted.In Italy, Jose ‘The Special One’ Mourinho achieved perfection with Inter Milan, by winning an unprecedented Italian treble, which included the Champions League, Serie A, and the Coppa Italia. Prior to his term as manager in Milan, the club had been experiencing a slump in form, making their 2010 season even more impressive. For this, Mourinho was awarded the FIFA Manager of the Year award.Undoubtedly though, 2010 will be remembered as the year the football World Cup came to Africa. The tournament had everything we have come to expect from the greatest competition in world sport: the English believed they were going to win it and showed countless clips of the 1966 final, the Africans won the hearts of the neutral fan with their spirited play, the controversial Jabulani ball was heavily debated, vuvuzela became the word of the summer, the world’s biggest stars exhibited spectacular football and referees made terrible decisions – notably the sending off of Kaka against the Ivory Coast and the disallowing of Frank Lampard’s goal against Germany.However, the tournament was also one of firsts. Its staging in South Africa made it the first World Cup to be held on African soil, we were subject to watching football amid the incessant drone of vuvuzelas and Spain became the newest member in the elite club of nations to have won the competition.Indeed, the Spaniards, arguably the greatest international side ever, lived up to expectation by demonstrating a wonderful combination of fluid skill and dogged determination. Their 1-0 extra-time win over Holland in Johannesburg’s Soccer City Stadium was a perfect end to a terrific campaign.However, the summer months also threw up a few unsavoury moments of controversy. In Cleveland, basketball fans were stunned when Cavaliers star LeBron James announced he was essentially giving up on them by moving to Miami and the Tour de France once again suffered from allegations of cheating as Spanish champion Alberto Contador was found to have tampered with illegal substances.Meanwhile, the tennis world was witnessing Rafael Nadal at his finest. The Spaniard put his loss in Australia behind him and laid claim to yet another French Open title, as well as dominating and eventually winning Wimbledon. The great man added the previously elusive US Open to his impressive trophy cabinet in early September, thus completing one of the most dominant seasons by any player in history.While Nadal was winning in New York, there was disappointment in Kilkenny. The Black Cats went to Croke Park in search of their fifth consecutive All-Ireland title on September 5th. However, an impressive Tipperary side earned a deserved and emphatic 4-17 to 1-18 victory to end Kilkenny’s run and bring the Liam McCarthy Cup back to Tipperary.The biggest event now left in 2010 was the Ryder Cup. The best golfers from Europe and the United States faced off in Wales’ Celtic Manor Resort and the home side fulfilled their reputation as favourites, beating the Yanks by 14.5 to 13.5.The poor weather caused play to enter a fourth session on Monday for the first time in the tournament’s history. Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell – who had won the US Open in June – played a pivotal role as he beat Hunter Mahan in the last match of the competition to regain the Ryder Cup for Europe.The year closed with Spain’s La Liga grabbing the headlines as Barcelona beat Real Madrid 5-0 in a famous El Clásico encounter, with a performance that many believe to have been the greatest ever seen on a football pitch.English hopes were quashed as Sepp Blatter's FIFA committee strangely chose Russia to host the 2018 World Cup, and homosexual football fans were warned to avoid the 2022 competition as Qatar plan to host what could be the most anti-climactic World Cup to date. All told, however, 2010 was a uniquely spectacular year for sport and one, which, for reasons good and bad, won't soon be forgotten.