As another journey around the sun draws to a close, it presents us with the opportunity to look back at the year that was 2016. It is a wonderful time where sporting fans can argue with one another as to what were the best moments, achievements, and performances of the year. To that end this correspondent not so humbly submits for discourse and debate, The Bozza Awards – Biggest Sporting Upset or Comeback Stories of 2016.
Germany strike in the nick of time
With less than five minutes to play in their Olympic Hockey Quarter Final with Germany, New Zealand was on the verge of a monumental upset.
The medal rounds were truly within touching distance as they led the two-time defending champs 2-0.
Facing elimination the Germans threw caution to the wind and the Blacksticks were unable to withstand the withering attack.
With 4.30 on the clock the Germans halved the Kiwis advantage then, in the shadows of full time, they found an equaliser.
With only 48 seconds remaining, the Germans continued in search of a winner in regulation time. They had timed their run to perfection finding the back of the net with the referee one second away from blowing full-time.
What looked impossible moments before was now heartbreaking reality for the Blacksticks. Instead of preparing to compete for a meda,l they would be heading for the airport. For Germany their Gold Medal defence would continue. They would not be able to replicate the efforts of Beijing and London, instead having to settle for Rio Bronze.
Minnows shock Scottish Football Heavyweights
Gibraltar Premier League Champions Lincoln Red Imps were drawn against Scottish Heavyweights Celtic in the second round of qualifying for the UEFA Champions League.
Gibraltar, with its population of 32,000, had only recently been admitted to UEFA and it was only the third time the Red Imps had attempted qualification for the Group Stage of the Champions League.
In contrast, their opponents Celtic, a former winner of the competition, a club with wages budgets devised on the assumption they will host Champions League group games.
The first leg of their qualifying tie would be played at the picturesque Victoria Stadium, a 2000 capacity venue the Red Imps called home. For Celtic, a team accustomed to playing at venues like their Celtic Park and Ibrox with capacities in excess of 60,000, it would have been a different experience.
From the opening whistle the Gibraltar team took it right up to the much more celebrated opposition. The £50m wages differential between the two squads of no consequence when the ball was there to be won. The Red Imps efforts were rewarded in the 47th minute, when Gibraltar international Lee Casciaro put the part-timers in front.
Celtic was twice denied by the woodwork as they challenged throughout the remainder of the match. The Imps defence growing in confidence the longer they held the Scottish champs scoreless. Brendan Rodgers, in his first match in charge for Celtic, turned to his bench but was unable to find the equalizer. When the referee blew time, Lincoln Red Imps had won a famous victory 1-0.
The only disappointment from the upset was that the headline writers didn’t match their efforts the last time Celtic suffered an embarrassing defeat. Celtic’s 3-1 loss to Inverness Caledonian Thistle in the 2000 Scottish Cup prompted The Sun to publish the classic “Super Caly, Go Ballistic, Celtic are Atrocious”. Celtic would eventually win the second leg 3-0 and the tie 3-1 on aggregate, but it would do little to diminish the historic nature of the first leg result for Gibraltar Football.
On Target Chloe Comes from the Clouds
Entering the combined running/shooting event, the last of the modern pentathlon’s five events, Chloe Esposito was in 7th position.
The event is run like a handicap race with the points tally’s translating to a time behind the leader that the competitor starts.
In Rio, Esposito would be the seventh competitor to start, 47 seconds behind leader Octawia Nowacka.
A blink of an eye for some but must have felt like a lifetime for an athlete waiting to chase their lifetime goal.
With only four shooting stations and 3200m cross country run between her and glory, Esposito set off in pursuit of those ahead of her. A strong runner she confidently attacked the course, and combined with a near perfect shooting performance, Esposito quickly moved within striking distance of Nowacka.
When Esposito entered the last shooting station she did so only moments after the tiring Nowacka. With pinpoint accuracy she fired off her five shots and headed off for the finish line, in the lead. With each stride the expectation of the challenge from behind was slowly replaced with that of victory.
Unchallenged, Esposito crossed the line first to complete her come from behind victory. Her efforts rewarded with Australia’s first ever Modern Pentathlon medal of any colour.
The Apprentice becomes the Master
In 2008 13-year-old Joseph Schooling met his idol, the greatest collector of Olympic Gold Medals in history, Michael Phelps. Schooling, a budding swimmer himself, wouldn’t have dared dream that one day he would swim against his hero let alone beat him in one of his strongest events.
Inspired to become an Olympian by Singapore’s first ever Olympian, his great-uncle Lloyd Valberg, Schooling took to the blocks in Rio in search of his countries first ever Gold medal.
To do so in the 100m Butterfly would be no mean feat. It would require him overcoming World Champion Chad Le Clos and his idol, three-time defending champion, Michael Phelps.
Schooling broke the Olympic Record to qualify fastest for the final of the 100m Butterfly. All eyes remained on Michael Phelps though who, in his final Olympics, was looking to become the first man to win an individual event for the fourth consecutive time.
In the end it wasn’t even a contest.
Schooling scorched the pool, again breaking the Olympic Record and touching the wall a full 0.75 of a second ahead of second, the largest winning margin in the event since 1972. The result historic, as Singapore’s first ever Olympic Gold, also saw the first ever Olympic three-way tie for Silver. Unable to be separated behind Schooling was Michael Phelps, Chad Le Clos and Laszlo Czech. The medal ceremony giving Schooling an opportunity for another photo with his idol and join the one captured all those years earlier.
From Worst to First – Adelaide United’s Unlikely Rise
After 8 rounds of the 2015/16 season Adelaide United were anchored to the bottom of the A-League ladder.
Without a win, they had only managed to secure three draws and things looked very bleak for the men in red.
In Round 9 against Perth, they managed to scrounge out their first win of the season.
Euphoric as they were to break their duck, what was to follow would no doubt have exceeded their own expectations. They remained undefeated through their next four rounds, recording a further two victories. Remarkably, this was enough to have them knocking on the door of the Top 6. They were only just getting started.
With 8 wins and a draw in their next 9 matches the Reds had extended their unbeaten run to 14. Not only were they the hottest team in the A-League, they had managed to sit themselves atop the competition ladder too. After dropping their Round 23 encounter with Melbourne City, they held their nerve to win three of their last 4 to claim the Premiers Plate and home ground advantage in the Finals.
Reds fans watched their all-conquering team enter the playoffs, with a little trepidation. Having seen their team exit the finals after winning the inaugural Premiers Plate and be on the receiving end of the largest ever Grand Final defeat, it was an understandable feeling. If the team felt similarly, they didn’t show it. In front of two packed houses at the Adelaide Oval, United easily dispatched Melbourne City and Western Sydney Wanderers to get their hands on the A-League’s Golden Toilet Seat for the very first time.
Champions of Australia for the first time, their horror start long forgotten after one of the greatest comebacks ever seen in Australian sport.
The end of one lap of the sun is the commencement of another and with that we eagerly await what fairytales and heartache 2017 hold in store for us.