New faces joined pantheon of greats

Updated: 2011-12-30 07:39

(China Daily)

  Comments() Print Mail Large Medium  Small 分享按钮 0

The year 2011 may not go down as the most exciting or uplifting in sports history. But new stars were unveiled, the most reviled teams kept a safe distance from championships and Japan found a reason to smile after the bitter disaster that plagued the country. So things weren't all bad, China Daily reports.

New faces joined pantheon of greats

1. Lovable winners in North America

The Dallas Mavericks' first title in franchise history was so charming, even the team they defeated in the NBA Finals - the Miami Heat - got into the spirit. After the game, several players from the Heat were seen at a nightclub celebrating with the Mavs. ("Thanks for embarrassing us in the Finals, fellas! Buy you a Jagerbomb?")

The Green Bay Packers? Maybe it's the cheese, maybe it's the coolest uniforms in sports, maybe it's the cute accents (it's the accents), but for a team with four Super Bowl rings, it was surprisingly hard to get upset when it racked up another title. Better the Packers than the Cowboys or Giants, anyway.

The St Louis Cardinals' seven-game World Series win over the Texas Rangers was just the beginning of a great year for Albert Pujols, who parlayed his second ring into a $254 million contract with the Los Angeles Angels. If that isn't a win-win, nothing is (at least for Pujols) And that came in the wake of Sept 28 - what many called the greatest day in baseball's long history - which was capped when the Rays came back from a 7-0 deficit to stun the Yankees in the 12th inning, just as Baltimore was putting the final touches on Boston's epic collapse.

The Stanley Cup was marred by a riot in Vancouver after the Bruins beat the Canucks, but even that ugly scene left behind the best photograph of the year - a man and woman laying in the street kissing while the riot swirled around them. Boston's win marked not only its first appearance in the Finals since 1990, but also its first Cup since 1972.

New faces joined pantheon of greats

2. A new era dawns in golf

The No 1 golfer in the world is very definitely not Tiger Woods. That distinction instead belongs to Luke Donald, who spent 31 consecutive weeks at the top and became the first to top the money list on both the PGA and the European PGA in the same year.

It wasn't a total loss for Woods - after watching his world ranking dip into the 60s, he ended up with his first win since 2009, and finished ranked No 22.

Rory McIlroy's year went from terrible to fantastic, as he followed up his disastrous final round at the Masters by becoming the youngest winner of the US Open in 81 years.

New faces joined pantheon of greats

3. Dry spells finally end in rugby, cricket

Long droughts were broken at the two most prestigious World Cup events of the year.

Perennial favorite New Zealand finally claimed its first Rugby World Cup since the inaugural event in 1979. The host side hung on like grim death in the final at Auckland's famed Eden Park in October to beat a mercurial French team 8-7.

The unlikely hero for the All Blacks was the backup fly half's backup, Stephen Donald, whose penalty kick in the second half put the Kiwis up 8-0.

India, like New Zealand, also claimed its second Cup after a lengthy break when it clinched the Cricket World Cup crown in Mumbai in February.

Co-host and co-favorite India, which won its only other title in 1983, chased down an imposing total of 279 set by fellow host and favorite Sri Lanka with 10 balls to spare in the final. Mahela Jayawardene made 102 for the Sri Lankans, but a fine 97 from Gautam Gambhir and a great captain's knock of 91 not out from M.S. Dhoni sent India home.

Also, India's Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag became the first and second batsmen to make 200 runs in an ODI innings.

Tendulkar had an unbeaten 200 against South Africa in February, while Sehwag bookended the year with 219 against the West Indies.

New faces joined pantheon of greats

4. Barca's the best

Could a national team like Spain or Brazil beat Barcelona? We think not. Not on the form it showed in the 2010-2011 Champions League, anyway.

The men from Camp Nou ran roughshod over the world's top club competition and claimed their fourth crown with a 3-1 victory over Manchester United at Wembley Stadium in May. The team's only hiccup along its journey was a 2-1 loss to Arsenal in the round of 16, but it avenged that 3-1 in the return leg.

Brilliant Argentine Lionel Messi was the tournament's top goal scorer (12) and was justifiably named man of the championship. However, the team's diminutive sparkplug is just a cog in a star-studded Catalan side that modest manager Pep Guardiola manages to make play with great flair, but within the concept of team. Beware Europe, Barca's not going away anytime soon.

New faces joined pantheon of greats

5. Joyful Japanese

In perhaps the greatest sporting upset of the year, the Japanese women's soccer team downed the United States to win the gold medal at the Women's World Cup in Frankfurt, Germany.

The Japanese stunned a strong host side, 1-0, in the quarterfinals after finishing the group stage second behind England. It then swept past Sweden in the semis (3-1) to set up a final date with the perennial women's powerhouse. With only nine minutes remaining in regulation time and Japan down by a goal, Aya Miyama struck to level the score and ultimately send the game into extra time. The US went ahead again and seemed to have the gold in its keeping until player of the tournament Homare Sawa scored in the 117th minute to send the game to penalties. Japan held its nerve, the US missed its first three shots and a nation ravaged by an earthquake and tsunami earlier in the year finally had something to cheer about.

New faces joined pantheon of greats

6. No love in the pool

They may be US teammates and friends, but when Super Fish Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte dive into the pool, there's no quarter asked nor given. Having swum in Phelp's wake for so long, Lochte finally got his chance to turn the tide at the FINA World Championships in Shanghai in July, and that's exactly what he did.

Lochte claimed five gold medals at the event to be named top male swimmer. Phelps, still struggling to find his best form after a lengthy post-Olympics break, still finished with a hefty haul of seven medals (four gold, two silver, one bronze), and the stage is now set for what should be a classic showdown between buddies in London.

New faces joined pantheon of greats

7. The best of enemies

World sprinting has devolved into a race between two nations - the United States and Jamaica - and the fascinatingly heated rivalry was on show for all to see at the IAAF World Championships in Daegu, South Korea, in September.

When the dust has settled on the sprint lanes (after the 100m, 200m and 4x100m finals) the final tally was: Jamaica - four gold and three silver, the US - three gold, three silver and one bronze. Ooooh, are thing going to get hot in London or what?