The Greatest Sporting Stories
The greatest sporting stories are always tales of a phoenix rising from the flames. With Leicester City’s incredible season edging closer to a first ever League Championship win, we at the UnCOVered sports desk thought it’d be a good time to look at the greatest sporting stories in history…
The USA Ice Hockey Team – 1980 Winter Olympics
This story even made it onto the big screen with a film called Miracle. In the midst of the Cold-War, the Soviet Union turned to sports as a new battlefield with which to reign supreme over their American adversaries. One sport in which the Soviets particularly excelled was Ice Hockey, a favourite in the US. So an American coach decided to fight back and put together a team of young, inexperienced but talented players. In a warm-up game ahead of the Olympics, the USA lost to the USSR 10-3, in New York. At the Olympics, which were held in Moscow, the US team found themselves as massive underdogs but fought their way to the medal rounds where they faced the Soviets again. This time, they triumphed 4-3 in one of the biggest sporting upsets in history. They went on to win the gold medal.
European Ryder Cup team – 2012
At Medinah, the U.S. team was threatening to blow away the Europeans, who were reigning champions. The Americans were leading 10-5 and were 2 up with just six holes to play going into the final Saturday match. Enter Ian Poulter. The Englishman birdied all five of the final holes to swing the match from a loss to a victory. More importantly, Poulter’s dramatics and theatrics swung the momentum to the Europeans, who staged the largest comeback in team history on Sunday to win the Ryder Cup. A struggling Martin Kaymer, who was the last player to automatically qualify for the team and played just one the previous four sessions, holed a 6-foot putt to clinch the Cup.
Michael Jordan – Game 6 – NBA 1998
This story starts years before but we’ll start just a game earlier. Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals, Chicago Bulls vs Utah Jazz. Michael Jordan, one of the greatest Basketball players of all time, was sick. At 2am the morning of the game, Jordan was found by his personal trainer, on the floor of his hotel room in agony suffering from food poisoning. The physicians had said that there was no way he could play. But the Bulls needed him. So, he crawled out of bed about an hour before Game 5 was due to begin. Noticeably weak and fatigued, Jordan played on. As the game wore on he started to find his shots. Jordan ended the game with 38 points handing the Bulls a 90-88 victory and a 3-2 lead in the series going in to Game 6. Cometh the moment, cometh the man. Jordan scored 39 points in Game 6 including a basket in the final seconds, with what turned out to be his last shot as a Chicago Bulls player, to win the game 90-86 and the NBA Championship. Jordan retired for a second time after this game. Jordan returned to NBA for an injury-prone spell with the Washington Wizards in 2001 and donated his salary to a relief effort for the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Liverpool – Champions League Final – 2005
Where do we start? Four-time European Cup winners Liverpool, under the management of Rafa Benitez, finished 5th in the Premier League, behind local rivals Everton. Their only chance of qualifying for the Champions League the following year was to win the trophy itself. They faced 7 times European Cup winners and Italian giants AC Milan in the final after beating Juventus and Chelsea on the way. Liverpool were massive underdogs and found themselves 3-0 down at half-time thanks to goals from Paolo Maldini and Hernan Crespo. All looked lost. Famously, some Liverpool fans left the ground in Istanbul at half-time and missed the incredible events that would then unfold. Ten minutes into the second half, with Milan firmly in control, talismanic captain Steven Gerrard got a goal back for Liverpool with a rare header. Just two-minutes later Vladimir Smicer got another goal to make it 3-2 with over half an hour to play. Just four-minutes after Smicer’s goal, Liverpool won a penalty. Xabi Alonso stepped up, but it was saved before Alonso smashed the rebound into the roof of the net to complete the greatest of comebacks. The game went in to an uneventful extra time period and ended in a penalty shootout. Andriy Shevchenko had to score to keep Milan in the game. Liverpool keeper Jerzy Dudek had already saved 2 of the 4 penalties he faced so far. Shevchenko stepped up and smashed his kick down the middle of the goal and Dudek saved it. Liverpool were European Champions for a fifth time after being 3-0 down at half-time. Magic.
South Africa Rugby World Cup team – 1995
After years of racial segregation and divide, the apartheid in South Africa ended in the early 1990’s. In 1994, just four years after being released from a 27 year stint in prison, Nelson Mandela was elected President. South Africa was still deeply divided between black and white. Rugby was a massive sport in the country but was almost exclusively white. There was only one black player in the team, Chester Williams. The Rugby World Cup was to be held in South Africa in 1995 and Mandela saw this as a fantastic opportunity to bring the country together. South Africa began well and won all three pool games. They easily dispatched Western Samoa in the quarter-finals and edged past France in the semi-final to line up a final with New Zealand and their talisman Jonah Lomu. Before kick off, a 747 jumbo jet flew low over the stadium with a message of support painted on it’s belly in one of many iconic moments that day. South Africa overcame the odds, came together as a team and a nation to win the game 15-12 after extra time. Nelson Mandela, strode out on to the pitch in a Springbok shirt, seen by many as a symbol of the apartheid regime, to present to World Cup trophy to captain Francois Pienaar in one of the most iconic moments in the history of sport.
Leicester City 2015-16
As mentioned in the intro, Leicester City are on the verge of becoming Premier League Champions. Within 12 months and having spent very little on their squad, especially when comparing with the amount spent by others, the Foxes have gone from relegation certainties to Champions-elect (not to mention the prospect of Champions League next season). It’s the kind of story never seen before in English Football. Can they go all the way? I have a feeling this story will go down to the last kick… to the last shot, the last hole, the last penalty… like all of the stories above, the greatest sporting stories go to the wire.