World of Sport

2012: Sport’s greatest ever year

Aguero, Wiggins and Murray

There will be a special pain for all sports fans in Britain as 2013 begins, and one that has nothing to do with the revelries of New Year's Eve. So great was the sporting entertainment on offer throughout 2012 that it will be genuinely difficult to bid farewell to what has been, in our view, the greatest year of them all.

That is not a statement that World of Sport makes lightly. We've trawled the archives to think of years when fans in this country were treated to a greater display than the one provided by 2012, and have come to the conclusion that the outgoing year was a genuinely great vintage in all the major sports we cover in depth on this website.

We'll make one thing clear before we get going: we're not just talking about success for British athletes and teams, but also about glories for others enjoyed on our soil or in sports or events much-loved and cherished by all true sports fans in Britain regardless of the nationality of the participants.

Simply put, with so many sports enjoying their greatest ever years, and all the others - without exception - producing exceptional vintages, it is impossible to believe that things will ever again be as good as this.

The Olympics

A combination picture shows a selection of British athletes with their medals at the London 2012 Olympic Games

The obvious starting point was a magnificent Olympics in London, an event which turned Britain sports mad. The sequence of glories was so wildly far-fetched that if you'd dreamt them before the Games began you'd have woken up chuckling at your own overactive imagination.

Their 29 gold medals put Britain third in the medal table, and provided our greatest tally since 1908. Back then, however, just 22 nations took part in a Games spread over six months, and though Britain took gold in over half the events (56 of 110) it was often against distinctly underwhelming opposition (Wyndham Halswelle won the 800m gold unopposed after his three American opponents in the final all pulled out over a dispute, for example). The same could not be said for London 2012: this was a display by Britain's finest against the world's finest.

Yet it was not just about Britain. London 2012 also witnessed Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps become the greatest Olympic sprinter and swimmer of all time respectively, while David Rudisha produced one of the most stunning individual runs of all time with his 800m world record in the final. So good was the whole thing, in fact, that the Paralympics - so often little more than a footnote - became a glorious spectacle in its own right and allowed the London 2012 party to be extended for two more fabulous weeks.

Tennis

Gold medallist Andy Murray of Britain is flanked by silver medallist Roger Federer of Swizerland (L) and bronze medallist Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina during the presentation ceremony (Reuters)Gold medallist Andy Murray of Britain is flanked by silver medallist Roger Federer of Swizerland (L) and bronze …

Virginia Wade became Wimbledon champion in the Silver Jubilee year of 1977 and Fred Perry won three Grand Slam titles in a single year back in 1934. But considering the strength of the competition faced by the Scot, Andy Murray's success at both the US Open and the Olympic tennis tournament - not to mention reaching his first Wimbledon final - was just as good.

Yet for British tennis fans, the year was not just about Murray: it was also about the greatest year in men's Grand Slam tennis, with four of the finest players in a generation going head-to-head in four unforgettable finals in Melbourne, Paris, London and New York. Each of the greats ended up with one title each, demonstrating a strength in the men's game that is unequalled.

Read our review of tennis in 2012

Cycling

If you could go back in time just four years to put a fiver on two successive cyclists winning the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award in 2011 and 2012, you'd now be a very rich man indeed. But while Athens and Beijing made Chris Hoy a legend in 2004 and 2008, and the Tour de France sprint king Mark Cavendish was a star last year, 2012 saw a genuine new superstar for the ages.

At the start of 2012, few non-cycling fans in Britain would have even heard of Bradley Wiggins. After his victories in the Tour de France and the Olympics, he finished the year as Sir Bradley, and the undisputed most famous - and most loved - sportsman in the country.

2012 had its down points for cycling fans - the revelation that Lance Armstrong is indeed a drug cheat will have shocked and depressed many - but it will always be, in Britain, the year the sport finally became mainstream.

Read our review of cycling in 2012

Cricket

English cricket had more downs than ups and downs in 2012, with terrible defeats at the hands of Pakistan and South Africa and the ridiculous Kevin Pietersen saga which saw both player and country cut their noses off to spite their faces.

And while the Ashes years of 1981 and 2005 will always be more fondly remembered than 2012, the unforgettable heroics of the victorious Test series against India in the final weeks of the year turned a sour year into a sweet one. Coming from behind to win on Indian soil for the first time since 1985 was the second most unlikely comeback of the year. (As for the number one most unlikely comeback? Scroll down to the golf entry for that one.)

Read our review of cricket in 2012

Football

Manchester City clinched the Premier League title in the most dramatic end to any top flight season since 1989, yet for once the destination of the league winners' trophy was just one of several stories for fans.

England's footballers may have failed to lift a trophy at Euro 2012, but the tournament was lit up by some dazzling displays by the stars of Germany, Italy and of course Spain, with the latter cementing their credentials as the greatest international football side of all time by winning their third major trophy in a row.

And that's not all. While many have denigrated Chelsea for gritting and grinding their way to the Champions League title in the most unlikely style, the fact is that they became champions of Europe the hard way. In outwitting Barcelona in two legs of the semi-final they proved that winning isn't about showing off fancy tricks, deft touches and magical dribbling: it's about sticking the ball in the back of the net more times than your opponent.

1966 may witnessed England winning the World Cup, Liverpool's miracle in Istanbul might have been a better spectacle as a Champions League final, and Michael Thomas's heroics in 1989 to win the title for Arsenal against Liverpool were even more dramatic than Sergio Aguero's late winner for City; but 2012 gave us an even better international team, a British team becoming European champions and a league finish that was genuinely heart-stopping. Taken as a whole it's as good as it gets.

Read our review of football in 2012

Golf

British golf fans have enjoyed many golden years in the past: Sandy Lyle and Nick Faldo both won Opens in the glorious Ryder Cup years of 1985 and 1987, for example. But 2012 surpassed the lot.

The year opened with the Masters being won with the most audacious shot ever to win a Major as Bubba Watson hooked a wedge out of the trees, continued with agonising meltdowns for the ages by Jim Furyk at the US Open and Adam Scott at The Open, then witnessed the confirmation that Rory McIlroy is indeed the new Tiger Woods at the US PGA Championship. As it that weren't enough we were then treated to the greatest final day ever in a Ryder Cup as Europe pulled off the unprecedented feat of overturning a four-point deficit on foreign soil to win the trophy in a match that came down to the last putt on the final green.

Read our review of golf in 2012

Formula One

Red Bull Formula One driver Sebastian Vettel of Germany celebrates winning the world championship on the podium with his team after the Brazilian F1 Grand Prix

Seven different winners in the first seven races of the season promised the most open, dramatic and exciting season for years, but in the end the F1 season became a dramatic head-to-head clash between two modern greats, Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso, both at the peak of their powers. Both fought against their own machinery (Vettel for reliability, Alonso for underperformance) and their own luck throughout the year before the unforgettable finale in Brazil saw Vettel emerge as the winner.

Though some British fans will have enjoyed processional drivers' title wins over the years for Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button, Damon Hill and Nigel Mansell, F1 aficionados will never forget the treat that was 2012.

Read our review of F1 in 2012

Rugby

Rugby tends to get forgotten by many casual sports fans in non World Cup years, but a Grand Slam for Wales - which included a rare and dramatic win over England at Twickenham - got the year off to a stunning start, even if Warren Gatland's scraped their way to the title in the end.

But as Wales came off the boil, England went on it: a superb win against the French in the Six Nations showed the promise of Stuart Lancaster's young side,  and after near-misses against Australia and South Africa that team they finally showed exactly what they are capable of with a clinical and devastating display against New Zealand which left the world champions stunned and well-beaten. The 38-21 win at Twickenham was England's biggest ever win over the All Blacks, and was rightly praised as one of the side's best performances of all time.

Sure, as a whole the year came well short of the success of 2003 - in which England beat both Australia and New Zealand on their own turf en route to World Cup glory - but with its emerging stars signposting a bright future, 2012 was undoubtedly the best year for English rugby fans ever since.

Read our review of rugby in 2012