The stakes have never been higher. The groove in the sofa has never been deeper. To celebrate the past 12 months of infuriating and entrancing sports culture, PopMatters proudly presents The Stickies, the Sticky Wickets Awards for the best and worst in Global Sports.
The ‘Are you watching this? Turn on the TV now!’ Award for Best Sporting Drama: In a sports-packed year one event stood head, shoulders and straining calf muscles above everything else. Rafael Nadal v Roger Federer in the Wimbledon Men’s Final reminded us exactly how dramatic and gripping sport can be. This match had everything; the old master versus the precocious upstart, the improbable comeback and the ever-present spectre of encroaching rain and darkness. Of course, it was the intensity of the game itself that was the real story, Nadal and Federer each hacking chunks out of the other’s soul with each unreachable winner and impossible return. The closest thing tennis will ever have to the Thriller in Manila and never to be forgotten. Even though Nadal felt the need to adjust his underwear before every single serve.
Wimbledon 2008 Final - Roger Federer vs. Rafael Nadal
The ‘Meh’ Award for Sporting Ambivalence: Blame NBC for this. By twisting Beijing’s arm and insisting the Olympic swimming finals took place in the morning (i.e., US prime time), Europe slept through Michael Phelps’ eight gold medals. A great achievement of course, but it would have meant so much more if anyone east of Cape Cod had any memory of at least one of his races.
The ‘Arthur Fonzarelli’ Award for Coolness in the Face of Sporting Greatness: While American journalists were tripping up with themselves coming up with new superlatives for Phelps, the rest of the world was infatuated by the performances of Usain Bolt, the Jamaican who shattered the 100 metre (and days later the 200 metre) world record with all the ease of a man taking a rheumatic dog out for a walk. Bolt became the fastest human in history with laid back confidence. “How much quicker can you go?” asked a BBC reporter after a lightening 100 metre semi-final victory. “A lot,” smiled Bolt.
The ‘It’s just been raining on my face’ Award for Most Moving Sports Moment: You had to have a heart of volcanic rock not to have moist eyes at the Olympic effort of Austrian-turned-German weightlifter Matthias Steiner. Having lost his wife in a car accident a year earlier, Steiner dedicated himself to winning Gold in her memory, bulking himself up to super-heavyweight for the ultimate prize. His seemingly impossible final clean and jerk of 258kg (596 lbs) was the cue for an equally huge eruption of emotion. Steiner’s proud face, as he held his Gold medal in one hand and a photo of his late wife in the other, was the sporting equivalent of the end of It’s A Wonderful Life.
Steiner-die eiserne Hantel (commentary in German)
The ‘That joke isn’t funny any more’ Award for Gag Taken Too Far: Ricky Hatton performed brilliantly in the build-up to last December’s mega-fight with Floyd Mayweather Jr, cracking foul-mouthed, politically incorrect one-liners at his opponent’s expense at every opportunity. This year the joke went too far. Arriving in the ring for his fight against Paul Malignaggi, Hatton wore a specially modified robe turned fat suit with ‘Fatton’ rather than the familiar ‘Hitman’ emblazoned across it. A pathological need for cheap laughs isn’t a quality a World Champion boxer should have, although we probably wouldn’t say that to Hatton’s face.
The ‘Terrorist Fist Jab’ Award for Outrageous Political Distraction: “You know we really shouldn’t be watching the Olympic Opening Ceremony. It really is disgusting that China has been awarded these Games. Their human rights record is an absolute disgrace and oooh, look at all the pretty drummers…”
Opening Olympic Ceremony, Beijing
The ‘Miss J Alexander’ Award for Services to Sporting Fashion: Parisian rugby team Stade Francais shattered their own traditionally high standard for ugly shirts with this Andy Warhol-inspired homage to 13th Century Queen Blanche of Castille. Possibly designed to lure their opponents into a state of nausea, the shirts have so far failed in their mission. Stade lost twice to London’s Harlequins in European rugby’s prestigious Heineken Cup, and looked pretty stupid while they were doing so.
The ‘Spike Lee’ Award for Doing the Right Thing: After the terrorist atrocities in Mumbai at the end of November, India wasn’t high on anyone’s ‘must visit’ list. Kudos then to the England cricket team, which unanimously voted to continue their tour of India knowing that it would necessitate the tightest security imaginable. National hero Sachin Tendulkar’s 120 runs and the Indian victory in Chennai provided a welcome tonic for a country looking for some semblance of normality.
The ‘Pee Wee Herman’ Award for Biggest Sporting Fall from Grace: Criminal mastermind OJ Simpson blotted an otherwise pristine copybook this year, while Super Bowl hero Plaxico Burress proved that millions of dollars is no hindrance to the truly ambitious idiot. But there was something about the many sports personalities publicly backing John McCain that left an irremovable bitter taste in the mouth. Shame on you John Elway and Curt Schilling.
The ‘Anna Kournikova’ Award for Sex Appeal Over Actual Sporting Prowess: Danny Cipriani was always destined to be the golden boy of English rugby, but his emergence into front-page tabloid icon alongside model-actress girlfriend Kelly Brook saw a sharp drop off in his on-field production. Not that anyone cared. Blessed with talent, youth, incredible looks and a way with the ladies, Cipriani returned from a horrific ankle injury smelling of roses. And sex.
Photo (partial) ©XposurePhotos.com
The ‘I said he sleeps with the fishes’ Award for Sexual Adventure: You’d had thought that by becoming president of the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) Max Moseley had successfully distanced himself from his father’s fascist past. Not so. Getting caught actively participating in a Nazi-themed orgy with a bunch of hookers would be the last straw for most high profile sports administrators. Not so in the soulless world of Formula One, where despite multiple calls for his resignation Moseley dug his heels in, suing all and sundry for breach of privacy. Quite right. If you can’t trust Nazi-themed prostitutes to keep business confidential, who can you trust?
The ‘More and more of our imports are coming from abroad’ Award for Unashamed Sporting Ignorance: You don’t expect detailed analytical thought from espn.com, but columnist Jemele Hill took the cake in her ass-kissing tribute to Michael Phelps. Insisting that Phelps’ gold medals were the greatest athletic achievement of all time, Hill listed the credentials of other candidates for that accolade, not one of who plied their trade outside the USA. Like the achievements of Paavo Nurmi, Roger Bannister, Don Bradman, Pele, Eddy Merckx, Alexander Karelin, Diego Maradona, Sebastian Coe, Martina Navratilova, Michael Schumacher, Roger Federer, Steve Redgrave and Phil Taylor never happened, Hill’s essay was testament to a life spent with the cultural blinkers on.
The ‘Some people are on the pitch! They think it’s all over. It is now!’ Award for Best Sports Commentary: December 2007 saw the Miami Dolphins end a 16 game losing streak with a 22-16 overtime victory over the Baltimore Ravens. Rather than give his traditional breakdown of the game’s statistical performances at the end of the game’s highlights Channel Five’s Mike Carlson screamed “The Dolphins win!” 14 times in increasingly hysterical tones, before punctuating his analysis with a simple “Ravens lose”.
The ‘I’m sure I have some Viagra around here somewhere’ Award for Lamest Sports Commentary: Tony Kornheiser on Monday Night Football. Dude, it’s just not working.
The ‘Where did I put my keys’ Award for Instantly Forgettable Sporting Occasion: Spain won Euro 2008 this past summer. I have literally no recollection of this tournament.