2012: A Year in Review

The 2012 London Olympic GamesBy Shane HannonThe Olympic Games is without doubt the greatest showcase of sporting talent on Earth, and London 2012 was no exception. Between July 27th and August 12th this year, heroes were created and former greats fell in the 302 events in 26 different sports. This year, 32 world records were broken in eight of those sports, as the Olympic Games once again provided the platform for athletes to excel after four rigorous years of training and preparation.There were so many moments that left the millions of viewers worldwide astounded. There was Kenya’s David Rudisha (trained by Irish priest Brother Colm O’Connell) and his win in the men’s 800m final, in which he smashed the world record. In fact, the race was so fast that the athlete in last place would have won gold in any of the previous three Games.Mo Farah’s incredible 5,000m/10,000m double, and his now trademark ‘Mobot’ celebration delighted the British public. Poster-girl Jessica Ennis also captured the host nation’s imagination, as the Sheffield-born superstar lived up to the hype by winning gold in the gruelling two-day event known as the heptathlon.Jamaica, led by the personality that is Usain Bolt, dominated the men’s sprinting events as so many had predicted. They took a clean sweep in the 200m, while Bolt and Yohan Blake took gold and silver respectively in the 100m before the 4x100m relay team romped home in another world record time. Bolt was his usual entertaining self throughout the tournament, even being pictured with 3 Swedish handball players at 3am the night before his 200m heat.In the pool, Michael Phelps became the most decorated Olympic athlete of all time by winning his 22nd medal, while 15 year-old American Katie Ledecky stunned the world by winning gold in the women’s 800m freestyle.In the ring, women’s boxing became an Olympic event for the first time and Bray’s Katie Taylor, Ireland’s flag bearer at the opening ceremony, attracted media attention the world over as she won Ireland’s first gold in 16 years. Elsewhere for the Irish team, Paddy Barnes defended his bronze medal from Beijing in the light flyweight division. John Joe Nevin also won silver in the bantamweight division, and our other achievements included bronze medals  for both Michael Conlan in the men’s flyweight and last minute Olympian Cian O’Connor in the individual jumping equestrian event.There were many other stand-out athletes from the Games, such as British cyclists Sir Chris Hoy, who dominated in the Velodrome once again, and Bradley Wiggins, who won the time trial event to add to his Tour de France win earlier in the year.Of course, the Olympic Games aren’t all about winning gold. There were moments of sportsmanship too, like when Grenadian Kirani James swapped name badges with the controversial Oscar Pistorius after the latter had finished last in a 400m semi-final.There were tears of joy and despair, moments of triumph and disappointment. London 2012 has inspired a generation and left many waiting anxiously and excitedly for Rio in 2016. These Olympic Games were not just a sporting highlight of 2012, but perhaps the greatest two weeks of sport in modern times.The Destructible All BlacksBy Simon DennisTwickenham was the host of what was supposed to be a record-breaking performance for New Zealand on the December 1st 2012. The All Blacks were coming off a successful year, going unbeaten through 20 consecutive games, winning 19, with an 18-18 draw with Australia earlier in the year the sole mark on an otherwise perfect record.On the other hand, the English team had lost two in a row, even though they pushed South Africa to their limits in their last outing. The All Blacks seemed to be the stronger team on paper, with 788 test caps between the starting XV compared to the 206 caps shared by their English opponents. The New Zealand media had this test marked as a victory, a regular pre-match occurrence.The previous test on the All Blacks’ European tour included a match against Wales; who were marked as the Northern Hemisphere’s greatest chance of overcoming the mighty All Blacks. Meanwhile, the English were touted as walkovers; the very title the All Blacks could have been given after their performance.Outside of the fanatic New Zealand rugby supporters, the mantra that the All Blacks cannot be beaten has become frustrating. The complacency of the men in black for this test, as well as during the draw against the Wallabies, shone through too brightly for any chance of a good result.Their experience and skill, as well as fitness and confidence, proved fickle in the hands of a resolute and fiery English team, powered by the strong running of Manu Tuilagi. New Zealand’s answer to the powerful Samoan-born centre was Julian Savea, who made a flying start to his own career on the wing, but against the tougher Tuilagi, little headway was made towards stopping the English hero of the day.This test holds great importance for the New Zealand All Blacks and their future, as it shows that there are chinks in the armour of the great Richie McCaw and his followers. The world number one rankings does not look to be changing hands any time soon, yet it makes for a more entertaining game to not know who will win any given match before it has even started.The English had many chances throughout 2012 to push themselves further up the IRB rankings into a top four spot before the draw for the Rugby World Cup in 2015 in England, and they showcased their ability for all to see against the All Blacks, however their inability to convert earlier in the year means that they were drawn in Pool A with both Australia and Wales; a tough pool to advance from.A top four ranking would have seen them push France into the 5 spot, leaving the English with a pool consisting of Ireland and Italy, a significant difference. The true importance of this test match will be decided when international rugby begins again in 2013, but at least the All Blacks have been beaten by an underdog. Next time the teams meet, there may be a more nervous air about the New Zealand dressing room.Leinster dominate Europe By Jack WalshIn the last five years, no team has been able to dominate European Rugby in the way Leinster has. For Irish Rugby, the Heineken Cup Tournament of 2012 was hands down the highlight of the last year. It was the first time that all four provinces were able to be represented at the highest level of European rugby, with the season eventually capped by the All-Irish final between Leinster and Ulster.The tournament’s dramatic moments would not be repeated in the final, as it was the ways in which each team would get there that would prove to be the more enduring. Leinster, the defending champions, had emerged from the group stages undefeated, collecting five wins and a draw in Pool 3 and amassing twice the points earned by second place Glasgow Warriors.Leinster, whilst dominant, utilised survival tactics and showcased true grit, most notably in their game against the aforementioned Glasgow side. Following this, the defending champions advanced to the semi-finals with an undeniable, 31-point mauling of Cardiff Blues.Ulster, on the other hand, could only manage second place in Pool 4 behind French side Clermont Auvergne, who it must be mentioned appeared to be the toughest test for each team. Ulster, with a record of four wins with two losses, took part in the best series of matches within the tournament, when they and Clermont took a win apiece from their two games.Ulster’s quarter final victory over Munster, an emphatic odds defying victory, was essentially a battle of the outhalves between Munster’s Ronan O’Gara and Ulster’s Ruan Pienaar. In the following game, the Ulstermen treated the Aviva Stadium to a narrow three point victory over Edinburgh in the semi-finals.Pienaar once again coming through for the Northern side, scoring six out of six for penalties and a conversion of Wannenburg’s sole try. The pace was frenetic for the duration, with Edinburgh attacking in emphatic fashion, with tries coming by way of Jim Thompson and Greig LaidlawLooking back, no match could equal the visceral tour de force that was the semi-final between Clermont and Leinster. The pressure brought on by Leinster’s search of a Rabo Pro 12 and Heineken Cup double created a blood and guts contest with a notable display by Clermont’s Brock James, while Leinster’s Rob Kearney, Cian Healy and Jonathan Sexton combined to set up an all-Irish final.Leinster’s comeback against Northampton the previous year was in the minds of the fans coming into the final. Leinster had asserted their dominance by half-time, with tries from O’Brien and Healy, although Ulster proved to be dangerous and always at the ready to pulsate an attack. Despite this, Leinster would reign supreme with a final score of 42-14, in a match that ultimately was far less exciting than the previous final, yet Leinster’s performance was so clinical, so cold and unfeeling in their duties that it was almost hypnotic to watch.True Colours RevealedBy Fergus CarrollIn 2012 we experienced many positive and uplifting stories in the world of sport but many of these were overshadowed by the allegations of doping levelled against Lance Armstrong and his subsequent admission of guilt in an interview with Oprah Winfrey on Thursday January 17th 2013. He is not the first cyclist to be convicted of doping charges, but most certainly the most high profile.Despite a Federal investigation into Armstrong being dropped in February, the United States Anti-Doping Agency charged him with being involved in a doping conspiracy over the course of his career. At first, Armstrong came out on the attack, repeating the familiar mantra that he had never doped nor failed a drugs test in his career.Accompanying this was a lawsuit claiming that USADA did not have the right to charge him or strip him of his titles. In August 2012 this lawsuit was dismissed and with this development Armstrong conceded defeat, citing fatigue, while denouncing USADA’s charges as a ‘charade’ and ‘nonsense’.The fact that Armstrong had maintained his innocence throughout his career made this decision not to contest the USADA charges all the more surprising. If the story had ended at this point it may not have risen to the prominence it enjoys today. Many would have accepted Armstrong’s claims.However, in October, USADA released a report in which it called Armstrong a serial doper who also forced his teammates to cheat while leading them in the ‘most sophisticated’ doping program in the history of any sport. The report exceeded 1,000 pages in length and included the testimony of 11 of Armstrong former teammates.Unlike Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis, none of these 11 had been convicted of doping in the past. Barely a fortnight later, the sport of cycling’s governing body accepted this report and stripped Armstrong of all his victories since August 1, 1998.The extent to which this report has damaged Armstrong’s reputation can be seen in the swiftness of his sponsors, including Nike and Oakley, and even his own Livestrong charity distancing themselves from him. This will come as scant commiseration to the men and women, such as Christophe Bassons and Emma O’Reilly, whose careers and reputations he destroyed.Despite Armstrong’s confession, don’t expect this story to go away. Questions will be raised as to whether this is simply a ploy to recover some credibility or to ensure that by his confession he drags his accomplices down with him.One column posted on velonation.com claims that Armstrong is confessing purely for monetary reasons. This is certainly credible now that his sponsors have distanced themselves from him and race promoters are asking for prize money to be returned.  There are still many developments to come in the Armstrong Saga and, who knows, maybe more secrets to be revealed.