Cam Cole, meet Iain MacIntyre: Taking on 2012 in sports
Hockey took a back seat in a year when our top athletes were in trampoline, cycling and soccer
Lance Armstrong was the focus of attention for much of 2012 as the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency announced in August it was stripping him of his seven Tour de France titles and banning the cyclist for life.
Photograph by: Mario Tama, Getty Images
What happened in sports in 2012? Everything. It’s hard to recall another year when there were so many sports stories — good, bad and ugly — that had global reach. And the year in Canadian sports is summed up by this: Our only Olympic gold medallist was trampolinist Rosie MacLennan, the most historic achievement was by a guy on a bicycle, Ryder Hesjedal, and Canada’s athlete of the year is female soccer player Christine Sinclair.
We’re supposed to be a nation of hockey players, but the best ones haven’t played since spring and may not play at all this winter. Anger over the National Hockey League lockout has turned to apathy, which should be a warning to the billionaires and millionaires fighting over a pot of gold. Thank goodness for Olympians.
Cam Cole: My July and August were a 33-day, all-England marathon to Lytham St. Annes for an Open Championship that probably sealed the fate of the “anchored putter” era — broomstick man Adam Scott succumbing to belly putter Ernie Els for the Claret Jug and giving the old boys of the Royal and Ancient a bad case of the vapours — followed by the London Olympics.
One of the world’s great cities (my favourite, at any rate) put on a glorious show, cleverly incorporating the town’s iconic landmarks in its Olympic sports venues, and using the ever-efficient (and friendly) men and women of the British army to expedite security.
The Games themselves were a triumph for Team Great Britain, and a bit of a dud for Canada, though the medal totals were fine as long as we didn’t mind, you know, not winning.
The pool provided a warm moment of perseverance rewarded (Brent Hayden’s bronze), and a silver from Ryan Cochrane that might yet become gold — it never pays to put too much faith in a gold medallist (in this case, China’s Sun Yang) who leaves the rest of the field miles behind — and a rousing end to the career of the most decorated Olympian ever, Michael Phelps.
For the second straight Olympics, I also was lucky enough to witness all three gold medals by Usain Bolt, and can confidently pronounce him the most impressive athlete I’ve ever seen. That Canada’s most memorable athlete and moments were delivered not by our lone gold medallist but by Sinclair and the bronze medal-winning women’s soccer team tells you much about the role emotion plays in sports.
Iain MacIntyre: Sinclair’s hat trick against the United States in the semifinal at Old Trafford was surely one of the single greatest sporting performances in Canadian history. Too bad Canada lost 4-3. But the contentiousness of overmatched referee Christina Pedersen — I believe she’s now officiating sled dog races in the Arctic Circle — can’t diminish what may have been the best soccer game ever played by women on an international stage.
Sinclair deserves her athlete-of-the-year honour although, personally, I was leaning toward Hesjedal. His tank was empty in London after he became the first Canadian to win one of cycling’s three Grand Tours, the Giro d’Italia, before crashing out of the Tour de France. Hesjedal winning a bike race in Italy would be like an Italian winning the Hart Trophy in the NHL. Or Steve Nash, a scrawny kid from Victoria, winning the National Basketball Association MVP award a few years ago. Hesjedal has broadened the horizon in Canadian sports.
Unfortunately, he did it in a sport still trying to escape its scandalous culture of cheating. Hesjedal’s first pro season was as a depth rider on Lance Armstrong’s disgraced Discovery Channel team.
CC: The final unmasking of the uber-arrogant Armstrong was both long overdue and crushing to those who lost their hearts and souls to the kingdom built on his lies. The Livestrong cancer foundation lives on, but without its (false) inspiration, who bullied and intimidated and bludgeoned his accusers for all those years, when a simple “I’m sorry” would have saved his reputation. Some time when you want to lose all your remaining illusions about him, read the work of the incredible David Walsh of the Sunday Times. It’s an eye-opener.
IM: I long ago lost faith in Armstrong, but not Livestrong. To me, Livestrong isn’t about Armstrong; it’s about the conviction to fight cancer. It’s about hope. Armstrong’s foundation raised a half-billion dollars. I wished he had ridden clean, although Armstrong’s greatest faults were deceitfulness and arrogance, not merely cheating. But I wouldn’t trade that $500,000,000 for the sake of an honest seven-time Tour de France winner.
I was far more disillusioned by the Kasandra Perkins’ tragedy. She was the 22-year-old girlfriend, mother of a three-month-old baby, murdered by Kansas City Chief linebacker Jovan Belcher after the couple argued. The disturbing part was how little effect it had on the American discussion on gun control, two weeks before the unfathomable horror of mass murder by semi-automatic gunfire of schoolchildren in Connecticut. It seems the cliff America teeters on is not merely financial.
CC: The edge of that cliff never seemed closer than when NBC’s Bob Costas dared to raise the issue of America’s gun culture during Sunday Night Football — in my mind the most important and courageous sports broadcasting moment of 2012 — and was shot down by a chorus of Second Amendment defenders yelling: “Stick to sports!”
Those people, hopefully, took at least half a step back in horror after the Newtown tragedy, and if some good comes from the heartbreak of 20 lost children, it will be far too little and too late for them, but may save thousands of others down the road.
The gun culture in football, though, wasn’t the National Football League’s only sobering development. The New Orleans Saints’ bounty scandal — encapsulated by their then defensive coordinator Gregg Williams’ famous edict: “Kill the head and the body will die” — put the focus on football’s ingrained brutality, and the hits that cause concussions and “carry-offs,” and could have had far-reaching effects if all of Roger Goodell’s suspensions of Saints’ personnel hadn’t been subsequently overturned by his predecessor, Paul Tagliabue. Instead, no one will remember it a year from now, when the Saints reload and the mayhem resumes in the most popular league in the U.S.
IM: People barely remember it now, in this year of the quarterback for the NFL. Of course, in New York, it’s the year of the non-quarterback. Tim Tebow had about as much impact as the Mayan doomsday, although the Jets did end as we know them.
Apart from the fact Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, the best who ever played not named Montana, apparently are still pretty good, there hasn’t been a quarterback rookie class in nearly three decades that matches this one.
Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III were draft-day favourites and will be rookie-of-the-year favourites, too. But Russell Wilson, the 5-10, third-rounder who seems born to lead, is playing like Doug Flutie and driving the Seattle Seahawks’ resurgence.
At our end of Interstate 5, the B.C. Lions’ great rookie was head coach Mike Benevides, who had to deal with the legacy of his mentor, Canadian Football League legend Wally Buono, and the potential hangover of a championship team. But Benevides pushed the Lions to 13-5 and should have won a Grey Cup.
Untouchable at times during the season, the Lions did just enough to lose the West Division Final 34-29 to the Calgary Stampeders, who played out of their minds before crashing to earth in the Grey Cup against the Toronto Argonauts.
CC: Yes, the Lions lost their shot at a piece of CFL history when the 100th Grey Cup was contested without them. But it was a moment of sweet revenge for perhaps the league’s least vengeful man, quarterback Ricky Ray, whose trade was the beginning of everything for the 2012 Argos, and the end of everything for the Eskimos and GM Eric Tillman, the man who traded him. Tillman’s ouster was, ostensibly, for reasons outside of the Ray deal, but the condition he left the Eskimos in underlines just how good, and stable, it’s been in Vancouver under Buono.
IM: Apparently, there’s a team in town called the Canucks. Play something called ice hockey. Used to be quite popular.
The NHL seems so long ago now we can barely remember who won the Stanley Cup, except we know for the 41st straight spring it wasn’t Vancouver. The Canucks won a second straight Presidents’ Trophy before getting run over by the Los Angeles Kings in the first round. The royal succession that occurred, though, was in the Canucks’ net where Cory Schneider replaced Roberto Luongo as the starter.
Luongo has spent his tedious wait for a trade by reinventing himself as a witty, self-deprecating comedy writer known as @Strombone1. Luongo is probably more popular in Vancouver than he has even been. The Canucks won’t be as popular when the lockout ends because the dumbest dispute in pro sports history has stained all teams, even ones as popular and profitable as Vancouver’s.
The Canucks are missing a key season during their "window" to challenge for a Cup, but whether they have the ingredients to win one is debatable. They replaced Sami Salo with Jason Garrison during the off-season, but didn’t do much else before Sept. 15. The test sample for Canucks who, like Garrison, were obtained from the Florida Panthers at great cost is not encouraging. Keith Ballard has a big salary and is a good guy. David Booth has a big salary and has become an embarrassment to the organization, bragging about baiting bears, complaining about the re-election of Barack Obama and wondering if horrors like Newtown might be avoided, not by removing guns, but by reintroducing Bibles to the public school system.
The Canucks’ other player from the Detroit area, Ryan Kesler, is a statesman by contrast. And months behind schedule in recovery from off-season wrist and shoulder surgeries. If this lockout ends, the Canucks will have to scramble a little before the playoffs.
CC: Hockey? Really? It’s dead to me. Whenever the idiots sort out their little spat, it’s going to take some work to get excited about it again.
In the meantime, nothing was more exciting in my 2012 than the European comeback in the Sunday singles at the Ryder Cup. The ascension of Rory McIlroy in general — in contrast to the continuing enigma of Tiger Woods, who is going on five years since his last major win, and got the hole in the doughnut at Ryder Cup — was one thing. But Rory rolling out of bed, nearly late to the tee, to beat the previously impregnable Keegan Bradley on Sunday at Medinah was part of the most thrilling day of sports all year.
IM: Here we are 363 days and 1,800 words into 2012 and we’ve barely scratched the surface in sports. Baseball and basketball? Pfff.
We should mention Vancouver’s other pro sports team, the Whitecaps, were the first Canadian club to make the Major League Soccer playoffs. But, so far, that mostly means they’re better than Toronto FC — and everybody is better than Toronto FC. There’s a foundation there for the Whitecaps, despite their strange summer decision to remake the heart of the lineup after soaring through the season’s first half.
Who else should we mention before the sports editor cuts us off?
CC: Well, the sports world lost some huge figures this year. I miss my friend Randy Starkman, who wrote amateur sports for the Toronto Star with genuine passion and caring for the athletes, and died far too young ... and Gary Carter, who forever will be the smiling face of the Montreal Expos. Football lost coaching legend Joe Paterno, whose death coincided with the death of innocence — and idolatry — at scandal-torn Penn State, where Paterno’s longtime defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky preyed on young boys ... and linebacker Junior Seau, part of a distressing trend of sports suicides ... and kindly Cal Murphy, a mentor and sparring partner for a prolonged CFL generation, who had two hearts in his time, both of them big.
Boxing lost Hector Camacho and trainers Angelo Dundee and Emanuel Stewart ... and the sportswriting mythology is poorer for the death of actor Jack Klugman, who played New York Herald scribe Oscar Madison in the Odd Couple and never missed a deadline (or wrote on one, it seemed) but lived the carefree existence of the truly oblivious slob ... and old-time Detroit Lions lineman Alex Karras, who punched out a horse (as Mongo) in Blazing Saddles and played James Garner’s gay bodyguard in Victor/Victoria.
IM: Sadly, Canada also lost ski cross racer Nic Zoricic and freestyle pioneer Sarah Burke, beloved members of the great white circus on the World Cup, who paid the ultimate price for doing what they loved.
But let’s end on a happy theme — we are journalists, after all — and say 2012 was worth noting for the incomparable Lionel Messi and ageless Roger Federer, for a breakout year by Milos Raonic with a tennis racquet and Mario Gutierrez on a horse. And for sprinter Jared Connaughton, whose grace, humility and honesty in the face of the 4x100 relay team’s disqualification after an astounding bronze-medal run in London were quintessentially Canadian. Have I missed anyone?
CC: Hundreds. But that will have to do.
© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun