Manchester City win the Premier League
As football peers in the gutter for some trace of its reputation, it seems a lifetime ago that Manchester City produced the most dramatic end to a season in English history. City had already overcome huge odds going into the final day, coming back from eight points behind neighbours United with six games left.
But as United took care of business at Sunderland, City were throwing it all away at home to 10-man QPR. They needed a win, but entered stoppage time 2-1 down at a desperate Etihad Stadium. It was all over. Then Edin Dzeko headed in from a 92nd-minute corner and QPR disintegrated. Mario Balotelli found Sergio Aguero and the Argentine, the coolest man in Manchester, side-stepped a challenge and rammed the ball past Paddy Kenny. For the first time since 1968, City were champions.
Bradley Wiggins wins the Tour de France
This was three weeks not of thrilling moments or astonishing drama, but of total dominance. Team Sky arrived in France with a gameplan and executed it to perfection as Wiggins, aided by his lieutenant Chris Froome, saw off all comers in thoroughly impressive fashion. It marked the final stage in the blossoming of British cycling.
No Briton had ever won the race, but here were Wiggins and Froome one-two in the General Classification, Mark Cavendish sprinting to victory on the Champs Elysees for the fourth year in a row – even David Millar chipped in with a stage win.
Even in his finest moment, standing atop a podium in central Paris, Wiggins retained his sense of humour, joking: “We're just going to draw the raffle.” This was the year all of Britain’s numbers came up.
Katherine Grainger strikes gold
Watching rowing can be a grim ordeal at the best of times, such is the sport’s nerve-shredding tension. But the stakes were never higher than in the women’s double sculls.
Katherine Grainger – three times an Olympian, three times a silver-medallist – had a final shot at gold aged 37. As a nation prayed, Grainer and partner Anna Watkins produced the performance of their lives. There was no jockeying and jostling for position, not this time. The Britons led their Aussie rivals by 0.75 seconds at 500m, 1.41 seconds at half-way, and by 500m to go they had clear water as a spectacularly noisy Eton Dorney crowd roared them home.
Jessica Ennis seals heptathlon gold
Ennis had effectively won the Olympic heptathlon before the final 800m event, but gave the fans the dramatic finish they desired. Coming around the final bend, the Sheffield lass looked set to be passed for third but a sudden spurt took her away from that athlete and past the two leaders to cross the line, arms aloft, having set a UK record for the women’s multi-event.
Amid acclaim from the stands, she then sank to her knees in relief and joy at the realisation of her dream of becoming Olympic champion.
Mo Farah’s 5,000m/10,000m double
Maybe it’s because he’s a Londoner – and the Mobot can’t hurt - but Farah’s exploits on the Olympic track captured the imagination of a nation. Not just because it was the first time a Briton had won the 5k/10k distance double, but because of the manner in which he did it and, in the case of the longer race, the quality of the field he beat.
His success is testament to determination and hard work – ‘graft’, as he repeatedly put it after his second win – and also to the power of a home crowd, who appeared to roar him over the finish line when it seemed the quicker finishers may catch him. To break the Kenyan-Ethiopian duopoly on distance running is one thing, but to completely smash it such that the old guard were gasping for air and, in some cases, unable to finish the races was stunning to watch.
Mo’s double gold puts him up there with the likes of Emil Zatopek, but his decision in moving to Oregon to train with the great Alberto Salazar highlights what it takes to be a world-class athlete: sacrifice.
Usain Bolt – sprint king
It is easy to forget, among all the British success, that the rest of the world will not remember London 2012 as the Games of Mo and Jess, Bradley and Ben. For everyone else the highlight came, as it so often does, in the men’s 100m final.
This, we were told, was not the same Usain Bolt of Beijing. He had lost the Jamaican trials to Yohan Blake, was battling injury and qualified only third-fastest. Unlike four years ago, when the gun fired we genuinely had no idea what to expect. 9.63 seconds we had our answer.
Bolt raised a single digit. Still number one. He confirmed his supremacy with more gold in the 200m and sprint relay.
Women’s boxing makes a triumphant Olympic debut
The inaugural female extension of an Olympic sport shrouded in controversy and self-doubt climaxed an unmitigated success. Beginning with Nicola Adams's dominant performance to win gold and continuing with the Irish reaction to flag bearer Katie Taylor's thrilling win before concluding with 17-year-old American Claressa Shields putting her underachieving male stablemates to shame, the women more than justified plans to extend the programme to more than three weight classes for Rio 2016.
Tennis hits epic new heights
Picking a single highlight from 2012 in tennis is like selecting your favourite scene from the Godfather trilogy. Sure, there are some great moments, but why not just let it wash over you in all its glory. If you want to see sport at the highest level imaginable, simply watch this year’s men’s Grand Slam singles finals. Four matches, four players, 18 sets, 18 hours, four winners.
Debates over who is the greatest can wait for another day – this year Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray were so evenly matched that virtually every match they played became an instant classic. Djokovic’s Australian Open win over Nadal might be the pick of the bunch.
Europe’s Miracle in Medinah
The Medinah Country Club takes its name from a holy city in Saudi Arabia, and in 2012 bore witness to a sporting miracle as Europe stole the Ryder Cup from the clutch of their American adversaries.
They had virtually no right to - both sides were unusually strong and deep but it was the hosts who raced into an early lead, as high as 10-4 at one stage. A series of putts from Ian Poulter, each more improbable than the last, reduced the gap to four points ahead of the final day, but the deficit was larger than any away team had ever overcome.
There were heroes all the way down the line-up as Europe's 12 players turned the board blue on singles day. Luke Donald led fuss-free from the front. Rory McIlroy arrived minutes before he was due to start and still beat in-form Keegan Bradley. Justin Rose came from one down with three holes left to beat Phil Mickelson on the 18th thanks to three outrageous putts in a row.
And Germany's Martin Kaymer, who'd scratched around for most of the season, let alone the tournament, produced when it mattered to sink the putt that retained the cup.
But the Miracle of Medinah will always be remembered for three men: Poulter, whose perfect four points from four kept Europe in the contest when all looked lost, Jose Maria Olazabal, the captain whose emotions gave way after a memorable triumph, and Seve Ballesteros, remembered, mourned and celebrated as the source of inspiration for a Ryder Cup masterpiece.
Kevin Pietersen’s 186 in Mumbai
If only we could have got those months back… The relationship between Kevin Pietersen, his England team-mates and the ECB had steadily soured over the course of 2012, culminating in an unseemly he said/she said played out in the media, stripping England of a key batsman as their number one Test ranking slipped.
Andrew Strauss resigned as Test captain, England went to Sri Lanka and promptly lost their T20 World title as Pietersen led analysis from a subcontinental TV studio. Nobody benefited from his absence – and so after talks, negotiations and reintegrations, he was fast-tracked back into the team to tour India.
There was a false start in Ahmedabad, but then there was Mumbai. If Alastair Cook was the man who stopped England being India’s whipping boys with stoic resistance and volume of runs, then Pietersen, batting with him, was the man who turned England’s fighters into winners, with an innings in Mumbai few could have conceived of, let alone had the audacity to play.
Powerful, mature and the best of his 22 Test hundreds to date, it was KP genius as it should be: triumphing for his team. Long may it continue.