You saw this coming. The year-enders are here. And you’ve waited for this, too, as much as we’ve waited to compile them for you. As we go through the best and the worst of each year every December, it also puts into perspective the sheer power of a particular season in hindsight.
2016 may have been a terrible year for the world in general, but it could have been even more forgettable if not for certain athletes. Sports has kept us alive (sometimes quite literally), through big tournaments including cricket’s World T20, the Olympics, Euro 2016 and a path-breaking F1 championship.
As a result, we’ve had plenty of contenders for this one. Here are the five most deserving athletes from 2016.
At age 19, Simone Biles is already the most decorated US gymnast in history. She has a combined total of 19 Olympics and World Championship medals. She has been taking the American circuit by storm since 2013, but was unleashed in the view of the world only earlier this year at the Rio Olympics. The loose-limbed American snapped up 4 gold medals and a bronze – winning the individual all-round, vault and floor golds, the team gold with America, and a bronze for the balance team (which was considered a massive failure, given her high standards). Biles became the face of the American Olympics in a squad that included a retiring and blazing Michael Phelps, an all-conquering Katie Ledecky, and others. No American before her had won 4 golds at a single Olympic event.
I’m not sure I’d have included even Sachin Tendulkar at his peak in this list – because, as Mike Atherton so eloquently put in a recent article, Kohli is more than just a cricketer. He is a modern athlete, who could have perhaps taken up any sport, but has chosen to wield a bat instead. Like AB de Villiers, he is one of those all-around machines, who competes only with himself to strive for better quality. Kohli has had a phenomenal year, scoring over 2600 runs in all formats of the game (one Test still to go), leading the Indian Test team on a streak of 17 unbeaten matches, almost won the World T20 on his own, blazed the IPL with a record tally of 973 runs, and proceeded to score three double centuries in Tests for the year. He has captained by example, and has created a fit, confident Indian team that looks good no matter who gets injured or which pitch they play on. Never before has an Indian player captured the imagination of the masses with such a sustained assault on the modern record books.
How can such a list be complete without this man? Sadly, this will be the last time he makes a year-ender, given that Rio was his last Olympics. He is using 2017 as more of a victory lap, but will forever be remembered for his ‘triple triple’- winning the 100, 200 and 4x100m for the third consecutive Olympics, a feat that had never been done before and will probably never be repeated. At 30, he was expected to be pushed, but Bolt once again took the Olympics by storm, dispelling all doubts and demolishing his competitors with giant strides and the heart of an entertainer. Bolt will go down as more than numbers in history. He is running; he is sprinting; he is winning.
Finally, the Brit tennis player’s biggest breakthrough year has scaled the heights the ‘Big 3’ have been scaling for years. 2016 has been Andy Murray’s year, even though he failed to win much in the first half of the season. This will belong to him more because of Novak Djokovic’s sensational fall from the top over the last six months, and also because Murray did the unthinkable. He won just one slam in the year and another Olympic gold medal, but captured the No. 1 ranking right at the end of the season, breaking the Serb’s stranglehold over the sport in a prolonged display of excellence and fitness previously not associated with the Brit. He was a point away from failing though, in the semis of the World Tour Finals against Milos Raonic, but fought back to achieve the inevitable. He never looked like he was going to fail, after getting the sniff.
The 31-year-old Portuguese legend had arguably the finest year of his career, down to not just his individual exploits or Lionel Messi’s occasional injuries, but from a team perspective. Ronaldo scored 48 goals in 52 matches, and led his Real Madrid team to the Champions League title for the second time in three years. And then for the coup de grace led Portugal to their first-ever Euro title despite being injured and sidelined early on in the final. This was the year Ronaldo, in many eyes, surpassed Messi, and not only because he won the World Footballer of the Year award for the fourth time (compared to Messi’s 5). It’s because Messi’s Argentinian dream ended in heartbreak once again, as they lost to Chile in the Copa America final; in tears, he declared his international retirement after the game. This has been a mortal year for Messi, but he still finished second best to a man whose vanity comes only second to his own skill and desire/hunger to win titles. Ronaldo isn’t that selfish after all.
Magnus Carlsen (Chess), Nico Rosberg (F1), Max Verstappen (F1), Angelique Kerber (Tennis), Katie Ledecky (swimming), Mo Farah (running), Michael Phelps (swimming), Almaz Ayana (distance running)