The year hasn’t been short of sporting heroes and villains. Non-stop sporting action – and this isn’t even the year of the Olympics or a major FIFA tournament (2016 is) – has resulted in tons of choices for this elite list. Of course, 2015 will be remembered as the year of ‘other’ World Cups – Cricket, Rugby, Women’s football, Copa America, Athletics/Track. As a result, there have been shattered records, superhuman feats and the evolution of the human sporting form in general – which, in other words, is just another year after 2010.
It wasn’t easy to narrow it down to five individual athletes, but here goes (in ascending order):
5. USAIN BOLT (TRACK)
Seriously, how can he not be part of any list? He is only at no. 5 because he only ran two serious races all year, and reiterated that great legacies – even in short track events – are more about endurance over time than speed. This wasn’t just any other year for him though. It was the year where he was perhaps the most human he has ever been – flaws, doubts, injuries and all. The 29-year old Double Olympic Champion came into the Beijing World Championships as – wait for it – an underdog. That’s right. He wasn’t expected to win his favourite 100 meter event, and was expected to be blown away by the older, faster (at least in 2015) and pumped-up Justin Gatlin. What happened next…will not shock anyone. Because Bolt took advantage of a Gatlin mistake in the 100m final, which was way closer than he would’ve liked it to be, and retained his world title. He then waded through in the 200m final easily, and even though he didn’t break world records, he showed that, even if he puts on 10 kilos and sprains his leg next year, he will still enter the Rio Olympics 2016 as an overwhelming favourite.
4. LIONEL MESSI (FOOTBALL)
After two consecutive years of Cristiano Ronaldo winning the Ballon d’Or, Lionel Messi – with the help of Luis Suirez and Neymar – guided Barcelona to their second treble in recent years. Even though he was injured for a couple of months towards the end of the year, Messi once again won every possible domestic trophy – including the club World Cup last week – to make Barcelona the greatest football team on the planet, again. He is therefore favourite to win his 5th (imagine that number) Ballon d’Or, ahead of Ronaldo’s 3, after scoring 58 goals for Barcelona, breaking their all-time scoring record, as well as leading his country Argentina to yet another final (Copa America), where they lost to hosts Chile on penalties. That’s the second successive final they’ve lost, after losing to Germany in the World Cup last year, and this will perhaps be the only dent in Messi’s growing legacy.
3. MITCHELL STARC (CRICKET)
Steve Smith may have ended up as the ‘Cricketer Of The Year’, but it was Mitchell Starc who simply captured imaginations the way only his predecessor Mitchell Johnson (who is now retired) could. He ended up destroying almost every side in the World Cup, taking the highest wickets, and ended up with 88 wickets for the year – just one ahead of spinner R. Ashwin – but 16 more than the next pace bowler on the list, his contemporary and rival Trent Boult. The pace, accuracy and toe-crushing contempt with which he dismissed so many middle-order batsmen in the World Cup will endure as the most magical memories of this edition – because nobody really wanted to see Australia lift yet another trophy – but at least they did it with this guy setting the world on fire.
2. JORDAN SPIETH (GOLF)
The 22-year old Golf World no. 1 started the year at 9, and ended up becoming American Golf’s first real answer to Tiger Woods since…well, Tiger Woods. While Woods continues to spiral downward into an abyss of mediocrity, Spieth rose and dethroned Irish boy wonder Rory Mcllroy by winning two back-to-back majors, the Masters (by a record margin) and the US Open, before finishing just outside the playoff at The Open, and finishing second in the PGA Championship. He then put the cherry on the cake by winning the FedEx Cup Champion, and earning a PGA Tour record of 22 million dollars for the year. He regained the World no. 1 ranking after losing in it October, to finish the year at the top, and – needless to mention – sweeping every golf award on the planet. 2016 will be fascinating, because his rise has coincided with that of Jason Day and Rory Mcllroy, while the old guard is slowly fading away.
1. NOVAK DJOKOVIC/SERENA WILLIAMS
Both the tennis stars had seasons that will not be emulated for a long, long time. Djokovic outdid Federer’s 2005 season, while Serena outdid herself. Both, agonizingly, fell 1 match short of capturing the ultimate Grand Slam – winning all 4 majors in the year, against journeyman (and woman) players who played the freakiest match of their lives to upset them. Djokovic fell to Stan Wawrinka in the French Open Final, and Serena to Vinci in the US Open semifinal. Serena was gunning for her 5th Slam in a row, was already holding all 4, but for the first time was about to win them all in the same year. She played only 55 matches all year, compared to Djokovic’s 88, but between them they lost only 9 matches (Djokovic lost 6 and won almost every tournament he entered – 11 in total), while Serena, who didn’t play after New York, finished the year just one Slam shy of Steffi Graff’s record 23 Grand Slams. Serena is 34, but age seems to have made her more ruthless, stronger and more consistent, while Djokovic, who is now on 10 Slams, will look to finally add the elusive French Open next year – after becoming only the second player ever to defeat Rafael Nadal in Paris.