10 biggest sporting moments of the year

Wed, 28 Dec 12:47:00 2011

We've picked out the 10 'most significant' moments of the sporting year: from England winning the Ashes in Australia to Novak Djokovic clinching his first Wimbledon title.

novak djokovic, wimbledon - 0

(In chronological order)

Disagree with our choices? Post your selections below in the comments' section below...

Cricket: England win Ashes on Australian soil for first time in 25 years (January 7)

When Chris Tremlett made hapless tail-ender Michael Beer play on to his stumps, the tourists had finally put their hosts out of their misery.

England had claimed their third crushing innings victory of the series. A finger injury meant Australia captain Ricky Ponting was reduced to watching a third Ashes defeat under his captaincy from the pavilion at the Sydney Cricket Ground, and the humiliation would later see him resign from his role as skipper.

In a microcosm of the series as a whole, Alastair Cook and Jimmy Anderson tormented the Aussies at the SCG. Cook struck 189, bringing his tour total up to an eye-watering 766 and earning him Man of the Series, while Anderson claimed seven of his 24 wickets in the final Test.

Not since Chris Broad's prowess with the bat had complemented Graham Dilley and Gladstone Small's success with the ball in 1986 had England emerged victorious Down Under. Back then Mike Gatting's side did not celebrate with the sprinkler dance.

England's short-form game may be underwhelming but in the Test arena they have continued to thrive, and their 4-0 whitewash of India in the summer saw them crowned as the world's number one Test side.

- - -

Football: Wayne Rooney scores overhead kick against Manchester City (February 12)

Going into the 144th league meeting between these bitter local rivals, Rooney was still mired in the most torrid year of his career. The misery of a terrible World Cup campaign was compounded by lurid tabloid claims and a lengthy contract wrangle with United that did little to garner public sympathy.

With just five club goals to his name all season - two of those from the penalty spot - there were some eager to write Rooney off as a spent force. He silenced those critics in spectacular fashion in the derby with 12 minutes remaining and the match poised at 1-1. Nani's cross from the right deflected off a defender's boot and looped up into the air, Rooney instinctively checked his run, swivelled and fired an unerring scissor kick into the top corner. 

"I saw it come in the box and just thought ‘why not?’" said Rooney after the game. "Thankfully it went in the top corner."

The 2-1 win sent United eight points clear of City at the top of the table and Rooney went on to score 10 goals in his remaining 19 club appearances - including one in the Champions League final - as United secured a record 19th league title.

- - -

Boxing: David Haye blames toe after flopping against Wladimir Klitschko (July 2)

No boxing fan was particularly surprised to see David Haye lose his heavyweight title bout against Wladimir Klitschko in July. Despite Haye's months of zippy trash talk that got fans hoping to see a new Lennox Lewis in the making, the coldly analytical critics who insisted that Klitschko would simply have too much firepower were proven utterly right.

The dismal manner of Haye's defeat was, while disappointing, also predictable. Haye was so thoroughly outclassed early on that he was reduced to wild, amateurish swipes in hope of a knockout, showing technique more suited to a playground brawl than a fight for the world heavyweight championship.

Yet what really left fans gasping in incredulity was Haye's insisted that his chances had been ruined by a broken toe, and a pre-bout pain killing injection that had worn off before the fight began.

"I was struggling to walk to the ring," Haye said after the fight as he jumped onto the table at the post-bout press conference to show off a little toe that looked like it'd been coloured in with a felt-tip pen. The world sat, open jawed, at his sour grapes; and then mocked boxing's new laughing stock.

- - -

Tennis: Novak Djokovic wins Wimbledon (July 3)

Djokovic had already usurped Rafael Nadal at the top of the world rankings just by reaching the Wimbledon final, but the way in which he beat the Spaniard at the All England Club was a hugely symbolic climax to his remarkable ascent in 2011.

The Serb's penchant for playing the goofy joker was for the most part put to one side as he set about winning the Australian Open and Masters events in Indian Wells, Miami, Rome and Madrid. In fact, the only defeat Djokovic had suffered all season going into Wimbledon was the semi-final at the French Open, which he lost to Roger Federer.

There were to be no such blips at SW19. The 24-year-old beat Nadal in a final for a fifth time that season to claim a third grand slam title with his 47th win of the year.

"This is the best day of my life," Djokovic said as he clutched the trophy. "This is the tournament I always dreamed of winning."

He would go on to also win the US Open, meaning he is now just a victory at Roland Garros away from completing a career Grand Slam.

- - -

Golf - Darren Clarke wins the Open Championship (July 17)

Following Graeme McDowell’s US Open win in 2010, this proved another extraordinary year for Northern Irish golf. Rory McIlroy suffered an extraordinary meltdown at the US Masters before redeeming himself with a brilliant win at the US Open. McIlroy might be the future of golf, but for four days at Royal St George’s at Sandwich, his countryman Clarke was the glorious present.

The 42-year-old had endured years of personal turmoil and on-course underachievement, and made pre-tournament headlines by visiting a psychiatrist to help the mental side of his game. Whatever was said clearly worked as Clarke mastered ferociously windy conditions to card four rounds of 70 or better.

Clarke led into the final round, and faced a strong challenge from the Dustin Johnson. But when the talented American pushed a two-iron out of bounds at the 14th, it gave Clarke enough of a cushion to win by three shots despite bogeying the last two holes.

One of the most popular Open victories of all-time sparked a night of wild celebrations - at a press conference the following morning, Clarke revealed the party had only finished 30 minutes earlier.

- - -

Cycling: Mark Cavendish clinches Tour de France green jersey on Champs Elysees (July 24)

The Isle of Man's global star lined up on the final stage of the Tour de France this summer knowing that he needed to win to become the first British rider to win the Green Jersey.

To most sportsmen, that knowledge would have built up huge pressure and brought up the possibility of choking. Not to Mark Cavendish. The Manx Missile looked nothing less than utterly convinced that the points title was already his as he was shepherded into position by his HTC-Highroad team-mates and unleashed to do his thing on the iconic cobbles of the Tour's final stretch. Once he's off, Cavendish simply doesn't get beaten.

At the age of 26 the sprinter has already established himself as one of the greatest cyclists of his generation. With 20 Tour de France stages already to his name, he is odds-on to eventually overtake Eddy Merckx's all-time record of 34.

Next year he will ride for a different team, and in the rainbow jersey of the world champion - but the result will almost certainly be the same: a new stream of victories for a cyclist who is a legend in the making.

- - -

Athletics: Usain Bolt's false start in the World Championships (August 28)

Usain Bolt has been the world's fastest man for so long that most casual sports fans can barely name another sprinter off the tops of their heads.

Yet still his charisma and pulling power are such that millions around the world were eager to tune in and see him romp to a seemingly inevitable victory in the 100m final in Daegu.

Sadly, Bolt himself was eager - too eager - to get going, and from the moment that he sprang out of the blocks before the gun he knew what he had done. He ripped his shirt off immediately in frustration at the false start which saw him disqualified, stunning the crowd into silence.

Bolt, the crowd, and millions around the world could do nothing more than sit back in near-silence and watch another Jamaican, Yohan Blake, to win the gold.

Perhaps the true measure of what happened was the aftermath: almost immediately, there were conspiracy theories about athletes next to Bolt twitching in their blocks, and calls for the IAAF to change their eight-year-old false start rules. Nothing made any difference though: the king was dead, and Bolt was no longer the fastest man in the world.

- - -

Rugby Union: Sam Warburton sent off in the World Cup semi-final (October 15)

By the time Wales reached the knock-out stages of the World Cup, the nation was at fever pitch. England were in disarray on and off the field, the South Africans and Australians had failed to impress and the All Blacks were losing star after star to injuries.

The Welsh, meanwhile, had stood out as the in-form team of the World Cup, particularly after they played the Irish off the park into the quarter final. Only a lousy French side who had lost to Tonga in the group stages stood between them and the World Cup final.

Just 18 minutes into the semi, all that changed. With Wales 3-0 ahead, skipper Sam Warburton hit France's Vincent Clerc with a ferocious tackle that sent the diminutive winger flying through the air. Warburton let go of his opponent, giving referee Alain Rolland little option but to apply Draconian new IRB rules on spear tackling and send off Wales's player of the tournament so far.

In that instant the dream was shattered, with the red card giving the French the boost they needed to grind out a 9-8 victory and send the Welsh nation into mourning.

- - -

MotoGP: Marco Simoncelli killed at Malaysian GP (October 23)

The world of motorsport was still reeling from the death of former IndyCar champion Dan Wheldon, who fatally crashed during the Las Vegas Indy 300, when it was hit by another tragic loss less than a week later.

Marco Simoncelli was one of the most charismatic riders on the MotoGP circuit. The Italian, born and raised on the Rimini coast, had a personality as big as his hairdo and was a gutsy, aggressive rider who just wanted to go faster.

That need for speed took him to the 250cc title in 2009, and eventually earned him a ride in the main series with Gresini. This year, in his sophomore season, he established himself as one of the most exciting young riders, and secured his first podium by finishing second in Australia.

His next race in Malaysia would prove to be his last. On lap two he ran wide, and as he tried desperately to regain control while hanging off his bike, veered in to the path of Colin Edwards and Valentino Rossi - his friend and mentor - who had no chance of avoiding a collision.

Simoncelli was taken to hospital, where he was pronounced dead from his injuries. He was 24.

- - -

F1: Lewis Hamilton collides with Felipe Massa for the fifth time in 2011 (October 30)

With defending champion Sebastian Vettel dominating the top of the driver standings, media and fans alike have had to look elsewhere for their thrills for much of this season.

Fortunately for all concerned, they have had the sideshow involving Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa to keep them entertained. Four times these two had clashed on the track before the inaugural Indian Grand Prix - at Monaco, Silverstone, Singapore and Suzuka - but their collision on lap 24 at the Buddh circuit could be the final straw in their relationship.

For the first time in their series of run-ins this season Massa was given a drive-through penalty for their clash, which occurred as Hamilton tried to overtake the Ferrari for fifth place at turn five.

While Hamilton recovered to finish seventh, Massa retired after breaking his suspension on a kerb. Both men were adamant the other was at fault for the collision - which drew a reaction from Rowan Atkinson in the McLaren garage not unlike Mr Bean - while Hamilton also claimed that Massa had shunned his attempts at reconciliation.

The feud which started when Hamilton pipped Massa to the 2008 title by a single point looks set to continue into next season.

Tony Mabert and Toby Keel / Eurosport

Not already a Yahoo! user ? to get a free Yahoo! Account