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We may never see a great sporting year like this one again in our lives

By Western Daily Press  |  Posted: December 29, 2012

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It was about three days from the end of the Olympics when it dawned on me that, not only were the Games about to end, but sporting life in this country was probably never going to be as good again.

Pessimistic? Possibly. Realistic? Almost certainly. Because, even if I live to be 100, I cannot imagine bearing witness to a greater sporting year – and what was so remarkable about 2012 was that it was not just about the Olympics.

The Olympics were an enormous, pivotal part of our sporting year; not only did they take place on our soil, and not only did we host a party the whole world could enjoy, but our athletes showcased Great Britain as a competitive, in some areas world-leading, sporting nation.

Great Britain, let us not forget, won one gold medal in Atlanta in 1996, 11 in Sydney in 2000, nine in Athens in 2004 and what was deemed at the time to be a stunning 19 in Beijing four years later.

This summer, despite not standing atop the podium in the opening four days of competition, British athletes won 29 gold medals.

Mo Farah, who took athletics gold in both the 5,000 and 10,000 metre races, was not even voted into the top three in the BBC's Sports Personality of the Year award.

The previous year, he had finished third, behind Darren Clarke and winner Mark Cavendish, on the back of winning one gold and one silver at the World Championships.

The year has been a sporting feast and we have gorged ourselves on the highs and highs of top-quality action, much in the way many of us will have stuffed ourselves with turkey and chocolates these past few days.

But one of the greatest things about the sporting year – and I could not have foreseen it in the final days of the Olympics – was that the triumphs kept on coming, with many of the finest sporting achievements by Brits in 2012 taking place away from the capital city.

After Bradley Wiggins had become the first Brit to ever win the Tour de France, and after the unbridled and unprecedented feel-good factor offered by the Olympics and Paralympics, the treats continued – at Flushing Meadows, on the greens of Medinah, and the ovals of India.

Every time something remarkable happened – like Andy Murray winning his first major tennis tournament, Europe's golfers turning the Ryder Cup on its head on the final day, or England winning a first Test series in India since 1984-85 – the sense of what a spectacular year this has been grew higher and higher.

From such highs, there is the fear we may fall into a state of longing for what was, particularly if next year fails – and it, of course, will – to reach this year's incredibly high standards. But as Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote, albeit not with tennis or golf or cycling or athletics or cricket or darts in mind, it is better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all.

And this was the year that we either fell in love with sport for the first time, fell back in love with it, or fell further in love with it; a year where what we saw unfold at the velodrome or on the tennis court or in the mountains of France had us spellbound by the brilliance of human beings and sport.

Of course, the year was not without failure – plenty of medal hopefuls at the Olympics did not make it to the podium, or did not secure the colour of medal they desired, while England's footballers flopped again at a major tournament. Many of our local teams have toiled.

The year was not without scandal – and there are few scandals of sport bigger than the way in which Lance Armstrong's myth fell apart around him – while football was blighted again by high-profile racism issues.

But, all in all, it has been a glorious year – and two sporting stories that stood out for me this year were ones that bookended the year.

The first was a tale that unfolded in Gabon in February; the second, one that played out in a series of documents that were revealed at Liverpool Cathedral and then in a High Court judgment.

Because, when unfancied Zambia not only reached the final of the Africa Cup of Nations in Libreville but won it in a shoot-out against heavyweights Ivory Coast, it was much more than a triumph for the underdog.

As coincidence would have it – and this must be one of the most bizarre coincidences in sporting history – Zambia's first-ever Africa Cup of Nations victory came not only in the same country (Gabon were hosting the tournament for the first time) but the same city where, 19 years earlier, an aeroplane carrying the Zambian national football team crashed, killing 18 players.

Zambia winning the tournament anywhere on the African continent would have been a remarkable story in itself; that it happened in Libreville makes it difficult, even for a cynic like me, to dismiss the concept of fate.

The other story that stood out for me in this wonderful sporting year was a victory for the pursuit of justice and truth rather than anything that happened on a field. The families of the 96 Liverpool supporters killed at Hillsborough in 1989 finally began to be rewarded for their persistent quest for truth and justice.

Not only did the Hillsborough Independent Panel's report completely exonerate the supporters, rubbish the lies, place the blame squarely at the feet of the authorities and expose a huge police cover-up, it paved the way for those responsible to be held to account.

Coupled with the Lord Chief Justice's decision to quash the original inquest verdicts of accidental death and order new inquests, two of the biggest obstacles to achieving justice were removed in 2012.

Even where much bigger and more important issues than merely winning or losing were concerned, 2012 in sport could do little wrong. I just hope you managed to savour it.

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