We haven’t done a Year in Moderately Popular Sports since 2012. That’s because I’m an even bigger slacker than Jeff and Jason, the guys who are abandoning Mellowmas after only … let’s see, 10 years? Most years had 25 days? We’ll say 1,000 posts.
So I should step it up. Just because I write for 18 other sites doesn’t mean I can’t stop by at the end of each year and inform you, the loyal Popdose reader, what happened in sports that didn’t involve A.A. Ron Rodgers or LeBron James.
SOCCER: The U.S. women started the World Cup in total disarray, with tactics that clearly weren’t working and an insistence on starting out-of-form Abby Wambach.
Near the end of the year, the U.S. women canceled a game in Hawai’i, citing obvious open seams and sharp rocks on the field, none of which was noticed during college football season. Maybe someone in Hawai’i was bitter that Tasha Kai isn’t playing any more and scattered a bunch of rocks?
In between, the team won the World Cup, in part because Carli Lloyd suddenly mutated into some sort of superbeing who could score goals from anywhere on the field.
Meanwhile, the U.S. men’s team lost in every conceivable fashion. But coach Jurgen Klinsmann is still a genius.
Also, the Portland Timbers won Major League Soccer, no doubt inspired by Portlandia:
Please, please win. Meow meow meow, indeed.
Meanwhile, in England, the entire country is in a stupor because everyone’s favorite Premier League team is either doing far better (Leicester City, Crystal Palace) or far worse (Manchester United, Chelsea) than expected. Hard to see which one is more brutal for supporters.
Also, as a public service announcement, we should tell you that if you have been involved in any international soccer business in the last, oh, 15 years, you should avoid Switzerland’s Baur au Lac Hotel, about which a Trip Advisor reviewer said, “The food in the hotel restaurant is beautiful but you are more likely to be arrested and flown to America than to reach the dessert course.”
Consider going to Russia or Qatar instead. They’ll be hosting the next two World Cups while the rest of the world watches through its tears.
Anti-corruption efforts are making progress, though, so much so that John Oliver, making good on a promise, drank Bud Light Lime.
But if you thought soccer had issues at the top …
CHESS: Disclaimer: I’ve been writing a bit for The Guardian. I have yet to write anything that sums up a situation as well as this introduction to a story about the head of FIDE, the world chess federation:
Russia’s Kirsan Ilyumzhinov – who built a ‘Chess City’ and says he was abducted by aliens – has temporarily withdrawn from FIDE after U.S.-imposed sanctions.
It seems that the USA, even if we don’t elect Donald Trump, has decided not to let Mr. Ilyumzhinov into our country because of his alleged ties to the wrong side in Syria. He has threatened a $50 billion lawsuit in response, but he still wants 2016 to be “the year of chess” in the USA.
See, we’re supposed to be hosting the World Chess Championship late in 2016, with world champion Magnus Carlsen taking time out from looking like a cast member from Twilight to defend his title. He might even be facing an American — two players in the eight-man candidates tournament (in Moscow in March) are U.S. 20-somethings Hikaru Nakamura and Fabiano Caruana.
Meanwhile, Garry Kasparov is saying “I told you so.”
MMA: Nov. 13: “Ronda Rousey is the best! She’s the best female athlete ever! She’s the best fighter ever! And she’s got a massive movie career!”
Nov. 15: “Uhhhh … she lost? Ummmm.”
Did that really happen? MMA community comedian Tommy Toe Hold has a conspiracy theory:
Rousey’s mantle as a quick-finishing champion was taken by Conor McGregor, an Irishman with the smallish stature of a Manny Pacquiao, the entertaining pre-fight hype skills of a Muhammad Ali, the snappy wardrobe of a GQ model, and every other stereotypical characteristic of the Irish. He fights, his fans fly over and get in alcohol-fueled trouble, and then he’s near tears as he thanks everyone in Ireland. He’d do it by name if he could.
And he’s fond of walking to the cage to the strains of The Foggy Dew, one of those Irish songs about war and injustice. But does he stop there? Oh no.
At UFC 189, he walked out to that song … with Sinead O’Connor singing live.
Did we mention that he’s Irish?
GOLF: At the end of 2013, Tiger Woods had completed his comeback. He was once again the No. 1 player in the world.
He’s now No. 416.
Learn the new names — Jordan Spieth (won Masters and U.S. Open, took top spot in rankings), Jason Day (Australian golfer with best score ever in a major at PGA Championship), Rory McIlroy (Northern Irish guy, briefly No. 1 this year), Rickie Fowler (the guy with the long hair).
And this one — Bubba Watson, another top-five golfer. He bought the General Lee, the actual car from The Dukes of Hazzard. After the Charleston shooting, he announced he would paint an American flag over the Confederate flag on the car.
YEAR OF THE U.S. WOMAN: We’ve already mentioned the women’s soccer team. Ronda Rousey is American, as is Holly Holm, the former boxer who picked her apart.
Sports Illustrated’s Sportshuman of the Year is Serena Williams, who was merely 53-3 in all tournaments this season and held all four major titles after winning at Wimbledon. The only serious blemish on her record was a shocking semifinal loss at the U.S. Open. She left behind the rest of the tennis world like New Horizons leaving the solar system — at year’s end, she had 9,945 ranking points, while No. 2 Simona Halep had 6,060.
Alpine skier Lindsey Vonn, who missed the 2014 Olympics with another in a series of injuries, is winning again. (And no longer with Tiger Woods.) So are a lot of U.S. winter-sports women — even in luge, which is usually more German-dominated then the Irish bed and breakfast I visited on my honeymoon. (All of them on motorcycles, too. Loud.)
The U.S. track and field athletes had a wayward world championship, but Allyson Felix won the 400 meters and has more ambitions in 2016. Wrestlers Helen Maroulis and Adeline Gray won world championships. The U.S. women’s water polo team and women’s rowing eight are world champion juggernauts.
The latest U.S. gymnastics star to know is Simone Biles, who has taken three straight world all-around titles. The U.S. women won this year’s team competition rather easily.
Gwen Jorgensen has won 12 straight ITU World Series triathlons. That’s not supposed to happen. Don’t we all have a bad day every once in a while?
And in this pre-Olympic year, write down this name …
Got it? L-e-d-e-c-k-y. You can watch her win, go to the DMV to get a new license, then come back home to see the second-place swimmer finish.
At this year’s World Championships, the freestyle swimmer won the 1,500 meters (by nearly 15 seconds, in a world-record time). And the 800 (by more than 10 seconds, another world record). And the 400 (a little less than four seconds). And the 200.
The 1,500 meters isn’t an Olympic event, so that’s one fewer medal for her in 2016. But it’s also a little more rest so she can hold off the competition at 200.
So if you’re tired of the Golden State Warriors obliterating the NBA or the endless overkill of the NFL, mark your calendars for August, when the world converges on Rio …
… and attempts to clean it up before everyone on the water gets sick.
Happy (gaaaaack!) New Year!