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Opinion

2016: The year of the sporting miracle

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Roar Guru
18th April, 2020
20

While the world of sport has shut down due to the impact of coronavirus, there are signs – especially in Australia and New Zealand – that the resumption of sport is on the horizon.

Sport will return. There’s no doubt about that. However, there is plenty of doubt about whether we will see a year like 2016 again. It was the year of sporting miracles. I’ve put down my top five in chronological order.

Leicester City
In early April 2015 in the English Premier League, Leicester City had amassed 19 points from 29 matches and were seven points adrift of safety from relegation. Seven wins from their last nine matches saw them finish 14th in what was surely one of the greatest escapes from relegation.

However, no-one expected what was to come the following year. Under new manager Claudio Ranieri, Leicester beat Everton on December 19, 2015 to take the lead in the EPL over Christmas. A year earlier, they had been last.

Leicester won the EPL on May 2, 2016 after attracting odds of 500-1 at the start of the season. It was their first top-tier championship.

As former striker Gary Lineker said at the time: “I can’t think of anything that surpasses it in sporting history. It is difficult to put over in words. I got emotional. It was hard to breathe. I was a season-ticket holder from the age of seven. This is actually impossible”.

Leicester City English Premier League trophy 2016

(AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

Cleveland Cavaliers
LeBron James left the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2010 to join the Miami Heat and get a legitimate shot at a NBA ring. He won two, but critics called him a sellout for ditching his native Ohio in hopes of winning his first championship.

In 2014, James returned home and promised Cleveland fans their first NBA championship. In 2016, he delivered.

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Cleveland had the best record in the Eastern Conference but had to take on the might of the Golden State Warriors, who finished 73-9, in the NBA Finals in June 2016.

Down 3-1, it looked like the Warriors would prevail. James then took it upon himself to win. In Game 7, James was the hero, becoming only the third player ever to record a triple double in the decider.

LeBron James kept his promise. Cleveland had its first major sports trophy since 1964, with the Cavaliers the first team to win the NBA Finals after being down 3-1.

Western Bulldogs
The Western Bulldogs’ supporter base had been waiting a long time… since 1954, to be exact.

After finishing seventh in the regular season in 2016, the Bulldogs toppled West Coast and Hawthorn to earn their place in the grand final against the Sydney Swans.

Losing club stalwart Bob Murphy earlier in the season and a raft of other players for extended periods, the Bulldogs had done remarkably well to even make the grand final. Only a few thought they could upset the Swans in the big one.

But upset them they did. Lance Franklin took a knock early and was clearly hampered when he came back on, but the game was still in the balance at three-quarter time.

Ahead by eight points at the final break, the Bulldogs refused to crack. Their lead was reduced to one but late goals ensured the club’s first premiership in more than 60 years.

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bob-robert-murphy-easton-wood-western-bulldogs-afl-grand-final-2016

(AAP Image/Julian Smith)

Cronulla Sharks
The following day, the Cronulla Sharks won their first NRL premiership after 50 years in the competition.

They had dodged numerous financial calamities, poor off-field behaviour and a peptides scandal, after which many called for their relocation or worse. They were also labelled chokers, after quality teams in the late 1990s didn’t quite get the job done. But they survived.

They took on a Melbourne Storm team in the grand final – an opponent that was arguably the best team of the decade. After getting away to an early lead, Cronulla couldn’t contain the Melbourne attack and with 15 minutes remaining, the Storm took the lead.

Andrew Fifita is a controversial figure but there was nothing controversial about his try. Only he could have scored it. Sharks fans had to absorb another nine minutes of sheer terror until Ricky Leutele tackled Marika Koroibete. Cronulla had won it.

When Paul Gallen said the words “To all you people back in the Shire, turn your porch lights off because we are coming home with the trophy”, the long wait was over.

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Chicago Cubs
As far as premiership droughts go, the Chicago Cubs take the cake. They won back-to-back World Series in 1907 and 1908. Eight losing appearances in the World Series until 1945 and then nothing.

They clinched the 2016 National League with a 103-58 record. Cleveland, second seed in the American League, would play them in the World Series. In late October 2016, it got underway.

Chicago started reasonably well, splitting the first two away games to come home at 1-1. At historical Wrigley Field, the scene of so many disasters for the Cubs, fate seemed to strike again. After four games, they were 3-1 down.

The Cubs fought back well and took the World Series to a decider in Cleveland. Like the Cronulla Sharks, after such a drought, a win would surely come the hard way.

After nine innings, the Cubs and Indians were tied at 6-6. A sudden storm then halted play for 20 minutes. During that time, Cubs right fielder Jason Heyward told his teammates: “we’re the best team in baseball for a reason. Stick together and we’re going to win this game”.

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And win they did. It was tight in the tenth innings but the Cubs won 8-7. They had won their first series in well over 100 years.

There are many other examples of miracle wins in 2016. Singapore’s Joseph Schooling beating Michael Phelps in the 100-metre butterfly final in Rio, Chloe Esposito winning gold in the modern pentathlon and Dan Willett shocking the golfing world by winning the US Masters.

It was just that type of year. We are unlikely to ever see it again.