Sporting Heroes of the Year 2015

Su Collins- Usain Bolt, Athletics

2015 has been a fantastic year for Athletics and even more so for its leading light, the iconic Jamaican sprint superstar Usain Bolt. Bolt defended his titles in the 100 metres, 200 metres and 4×100 relay at the Beijing World Championships back in August.

Having struggled with injuries all season, Bolt headed into a meet for the first time in his career as an underdog up against in form rival Justin Gatlin. Ending Gatlin’s 28 race unbeaten run, Bolt dominated in Beijing and blew the world away in all three of the sprint events. He undisputedly reinstated his status as the world’s best after a period of uncertainty and doubt.

With his back against the wall and the world beginning to doubt his ability what a better time to perform than at the World Championships? Bolt’s record in high pressure situations is second to none. His medal haul in Beijing means he has now won three 100 metre world titles and 9 gold medals in total at the event.

His sporting achievements alone this year are more than enough to justify why he would be my choice for the standout athlete of the year. But moreover, what he brings to the sport makes him truly special. It is common knowledge that Usain Bolt has become an icon and an ambassador for the sport of Athletics. He has proven time and time again he is a great role model and uses his position to attract audiences across the world. I was fortunate enough to meet the man himself before he raced in Beijing and he is every bit calm and cool as you’d imagine. Of course being a great athlete means constantly performing when the chips are down which inarguably Bolt has more than done this year, but the continuous positivity and attention he brings to the sport is what sets him apart.

James Roberts- Max Verstappen, Formula 1

While people his age were sitting their AS Level exams, Max Verstappen was throwing his Toro Rosso F1 car around the streets of Monte Carlo to qualify in ninth for the Monaco Grand Prix. It must be said that he suffered a huge crash during the race, but this was one of the few low points of an extraordinary season for the Dutchman.

The stats barely tell half the story – but they are still impressive. Verstappen, who only turned 18 in September, finished 12th in this season’s World Championship, 31 points ahead of his teammate, Carlos Sainz Jr. 24 of these points came from two fourth place finishes; just one position off the podium. He also completed more overtakes than any other driver in the field. Here is a man – or boy, until a couple of months ago – who came into F1 after just one season in single-seater racing. In comparison, triple world champion Lewis Hamilton had five seasons in single-seaters before making the step into F1.

Yet reducing Verstappen’s achievements to numbers does not do him justice. Despite winning his first championship points before he could legally buy alcohol, the Dutchman has not looked out of place in F1 for even a tenth of a second. Since clocking the sixth fastest time of the first practice session of the year in Australia he has amazed fans and pundits time and time again. From sweeping past Fernando Alonso in Japan to diving down the inside to overtake Sebastian Vettel in the USA, Verstappen has shown that he has pace and confidence in abundance.

The Dutch driver deservedly picked up three awards at the FIA’s annual prize-giving gala a fortnight ago. The fact that one of these was Personality of the Year is evidence of how he is regarded by those within his sport. F1 insiders are in agreement that when Verstappen is put in a car capable of winning a championship, he will be very difficult to beat. If he is this good already, imagine what he could achieve in the future.

Shingi Mararike- Serena Williams, Tennis

3 grand slams titles. A near perfect record of 53 wins and only 3 defeats. Yet another year spent sat atop the world rankings dominating women’s tennis with an iron will and steely determination. Serena Williams’ resume over the past 12 months has been nothing short of incredible- and that’s only taking her achievements at face value. There’s one figure that speaks volumes more than any other: Serena’s age. In the midst of perhaps her most ground breaking season yet, Williams turned 34, and it’s not like she hasn’t shown us glimpses of father time beginning to take its toll on her body.

Despite the obvious successes, Williams will look back on 2015 with a rueful glance. Her season ended in disappointment. On the verge of the most difficult achievement in tennis: the calendar grand slam, she finally slipped up, succumbing to unheralded Italian Roberta Vinci in 3 agonising sets. A victim of her own astronomical standards, the fact she’d compiled the most impressive grand slam winning streak seen for over a quarter of a century was overlooked. We shouldn’t however, remember Williams’ season for her near miss. She scaled dizzy heights most tennis players only dream of, overcoming stomach cramps to down Maria Sharapova in the Australian Open Final before defying a killer flu and multiple one set deficits on her way to topping Lucie Safarova in the French Open Final. Then, with history on the line and her body aching, Williams beat young upstart Garbiñe Muguruza at Wimbledon to repeat her 2002 “Serena Slam” and become the sole holder of all four majors. She now stands just one grand slam title away from equalling Steffi Graf’s open era record of 22 major victories.

Williams dragged her battered body and weary mind across three surfaces and two continents, through countless battles with hungry young foes and still somehow pulled out improbable victories time and time again. In 2015 Serena proved she’s the toughest of all time, and come this time next year we might just be calling her the greatest of all time too.

George Morgan- Joe Root, Cricket

Joe Root has been in scintillating form all year; producing pivotal, high scoring performances in a number of big games for England. The 24 year olds remarkable run began in the West Indies. He smashed a mammoth 182 not out off 229 balls and continued his trail blazing form against New Zealand. Root smashed 98 in the First Test Match and compiled a number of high scores in the One Day Series, including 106 not out in the 4th ODI.

But it was his Man of The Series winning contribution of 460 runs in this summer’s victorious Ashes series, which included two vital centuries, that epitomised his year.

Arriving at the crease with England on 43-3 in the 1st Test, Root scored a magnificent 134 to steady the ship and put England in a winning position in what turned out to a crucial victory in the context of the series.

This sizzling form continued throughout the summer as Root hit a 50, followed by 38 not out in the 3rd Test Match, before scoring another stunning century in England’s innings victory over Australia in the 4th Test Match.

Root continued his impressive year with scores of 85 and 71 in the UAE. Despite England’s 2-0 loss, he demonstrated his ability to rein in what former England Captain Mike Brierley described as his ‘natural flair’ in order to account for the slower pitches.

Yet, it is Root’s character that ensures he is a real sporting hero. His ability to antagonise opponents led to quite the reaction from David Warner in a previous Ashes series and gives him that extra dimension which all the most memorable cricketers over the years have had. Be it Ian Botham, Shane Warne or Andrew Flintoff. A wonderful technique combined with a positive mental attitude are behind Root’s outstanding year. As he grows with experience things could get even better. The sky really is his limit.

Sam Nugent- Jordan Spieth, Golf

At the time of writing, I have 304 days to win two Major Golf Championships and become World Number 1 to achieve what Jordan Spieth has at the same age. Taking into account that there are around 742,000,000 people ahead of me for a wildcard European Ryder Cup place and I once shanked a ball so high it hit the roof of the driving range shelter and near-decapitated my playing partner, I’m not holding out much hope.

The rise of Spieth has been phenomenal, as the young man has emerged from dominating US college golf to take over the world. After winning The Masters and The US Open in some style, there was talk that he would go on to complete an historic Calendar Year Spieth-Slam at the humble age of 22. One dropped shot on the windy St. Andrews 17th robbed him of a chance to join the play off and achieve this dream, but 4th and 2nd place finishes at The Open and The PGA Championship respectively offer encouragement, if not downright certainty, that he will accomplish this goal eventually.

Not since Tiger Woods have we seen a man as young as Spieth make quite such an impression on the world of golf. Though of course Spieth will have to make an awful lot of his trademark long putts to be considered within the same bracket as the bad-backed goliath that is the US Ryder Cup Vice-Captain, there is seemingly no limit to what the Texan can achieve if he builds upon his stellar 2015. Winning the FedEx Cup, PGA Player of the Year, PGA Tour Player of the Year (it’s a different thing, honest) and over $22,000,000 in prize money and bonuses to name a few, I can’t be the only early twenty-something that wishes I’d been practicing my pitching on real grass instead of on my PlayStation for all these years.

But, he is balding, so if I retain my magnificent golden head of hair for 305 more days, at least I’ll have something on Jordan.

Niall Johnson- Stuart Broad, Cricket

Broad was an integral part of the spine of the England test team which has had a mixed year in terms of performance but did manage to reclaim the Ashes from Australia by an overwhelming margin. The glorious win was in no small part down to the record breaking wicket taking achievements of Broad at Trent Bridge. Broad’s figures of 8-15 in the first innings of the fourth test as Australia were bowled out for 60 saw some of the most ruthless, vicious and relentless pace bowling England has ever seen – and to produce this in such a pivotal test match and effectively win England the series deserves great plaudits.

Although, James Anderson gets a lot of credit for leading the England line (and rightly so), it would be foolish to overlook the achievements of his contemporary. The two pronged attack of Broad and Anderson has been even more potent this year as their chemistry has grown. This year also saw Broad surpass 300 career test wickets placing him 27th on the all-time list with time on his side. What’s most startling about Broad’s ascendency is he is only really coming in to his prime now.

Then comes the personality aspect of the award. This is a man who is not afraid to upset anyone. Although it didn’t happen this year, he had to put up with another summer of abuse from Australians following ‘walk-gate’ in which many spectators and football managers alike may have observed that Broad showed great character for standing his ground at the crease after obviously edging the ball behind. He’s fast becoming an English cricketing hero and in my opinion it is scandalous he has not been acknowledged for another superb year.


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