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The sporting highlights of 2018

• Posted in Misc. • By JoeBaker

We think it’s fair to say the year 2018 didn’t let us down on the sporting front. Breakthrough performances, last minute triumphs, amazing comebacks and unanticipated tournament runs, not to mention the odd dash of controversy, has made 2018 one of the most exciting for years.

Here we’ve attempted the almost impossible task of picking out the five greatest sporting moments from the last twelve months…

Dina’s Double

There are few things more satisfying in sport than seeing a talent fulfil their potential on the biggest stage. The athletics world had been lauding the potential of of Britain’s Dina Asher-Smith for some time and, as the defending 200m European Champion, big things were expected of her at the 2018 Championships in Berlin. Yet not many, perhaps not even Asher-Smith, expected what was to come. First, she became the fastest 100m female runner in the world in 2018 when destroying a talented field to claim gold. Then, four days later, she was equally as imperious when defending her 200m crown, holding off Holland’s Dafne Schippers, who had won the last two world 200m titles, to triumph in a huge new British record of 21.89s. No other woman had gone below 22s all season. By doing so she became the first British woman to complete a European sprint double. And could it get any better? Yes of course it could – a 4x100m relay gold was added to her collection, making her the first Briton to win a treble of golds at the same major championships.

Cook leaving the kitchen

Some sporting scripts can seem too good to be true. In the final Test against India at The Oval, Alistair Cook stepped out to the crease for the last time. All watching were desperate for him to provide one final batting masterclass to sign-off a glorious, record-breaking 12-year career that had seen him open the batting in 161 Test matches and become his country’s all-time leading run scorer, with just short of 12,500 runs. For him to hit a century was a real sporting fairy tale. An ‘I was there’ moment.

The way he reached his tonne may have been a slight anti-climax, coming from over-throws, but everything before fittingly demonstrated the quality and character of England’s finest ever batsman. Supreme patience, admiral technique and a rich arsenal of shots. He left with 33 centuries and 57 half centuries. For someone never keen on the limelight it was a perfect send off into retirement – a standing ovation from all in the ground, recognising not just another top-draw innings but an imperious and seminal career the likes of which we may never see again.

Shoot-out surprise

There are numerous things we take as accepted norms in sport – and the England football team losing penalty shootouts in international tournaments is one of them. The 2018 World Cup in Russia united fans behind the England team in a way not seen since the 1990 tournament, and the moment that really catalysed a mood that captivated the nation was the last-16 penalty shootout win over Columbia. It all seemed to be following a narrative we’d seen so many times before, with England unable to turn early dominance into a sufficient lead before conceding a late goal and struggling through extra-time. And, when Jordan Henderson missed his spot-kick, you could hear the sigh of resignation from living rooms across the country. Yet Gareth Southgate’s side are made of stern stuff as well as great technical quality and, five or so minutes later, Eric Dier put away the decisive penalty and England had won their first ever World Cup shootout. Sometimes sport creates moments that resonate beyond the standard fans and followers – England’s World Cup run did just that, with this particular victory the most memorable part of it.

A Centre Court showpiece

One of the joys of watching the fabled three of Federer, Nadal and Djokovic over the years has been the way in which each has inspired the other to get better, to keep pushing the boundaries of what is perceived to be possible on a tennis court. The appreciation of their epic contests has only increased as they have moved into the latter stages of their careers and the 2018 Wimbledon semi-final between Djokovic and Nadal was yet another to add to a remarkable list of famous battles.

No disrespect to the impressive South African runner-up Kevin Anderson, but this was the final every tennis, and sport, fan wanted. Played out over two days partly under the atmospheric roof, it didn’t disappoint – it was like going back in time to historic matches such as their 2012 Australian Open final. Eventually won by Djokovic over 5 astonishing sets (6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (11), 3-6, 10-8) it was treasured even more than usual because many thought these two would never be seen again playing each other at such a level on Centre Court, the Serbian due to injury and Nadal because of years of struggles on the grass. Mesmerizing, thrilling, epic – it was a match that you simply didn’t want to end.

Rise of the Roses

Every now and again a team has their moment; a performance that establishes them as a real force to be reckoned with. The year 2018 was when England’s netball team had theirs. The Commonwealth Games had been dominated by Australia and New Zealand, contesting every single final. In 2018, Australia were the defending champions and came up against a Tracy Neville team who were massive underdogs after staging a dramatic semi-final comeback to beat Jamaica.

With the game level 25-25 at half-time, it seemed only a matter of time before the three-time Champions would pull away, especially with a raucous home crowd behind them. Yet England, the three-time bronze medallists, stunned them by overturning a four-point gap in the final quarter, with Helen Housby scoring a dramatic winner fitting for such a tense game with the very final play. Cue delirium amongst the England players and pandemonium amongst Roses fans (and in the commentary box).

To put it into context, England had only beaten Australia five times before and never at a major tournament. It was the Roses’ best ever result, outdoing a silver won at the 1975 World Cup. The fact that they were voted by the public as The Sports Personality Team of the Year says everything for the significance of their performance Down Under.

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