Year in Review 2020: A visual look back at sport and life of athletes in year defined by COVID-19

What will you think of when you think of 2020? How will you remember sport in a year defined by the pandemic? Here are 20 moments — captured in images and videos — that encapsulate sport in a year like no other:

FP Sports December 23, 2020 21:15:05 IST
Year in Review 2020: A visual look back at sport and life of athletes in year defined by COVID-19

Borussia Moenchengladbach players celebrate in front of the cardboard cutouts of their fans displayed on the stands at the end of a Bundesliga match in May 2020. AP Photo

What will you think of when you think of 2020? How will you remember sport in a year defined by the pandemic?

2020 was a year where sport, this living-breathing juggernaut, stopped dead in its tracks as the virus came for it. Leagues shut down, tournaments were cancelled, and athletes, just like the rest of us, were imprisoned in their homes.

The virus went after those we idolised, systematically picking out the world's biggest names — Cristiano Ronaldo, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Neymar, Mo Salah, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Usain Bolt — and reminding them, as also us, that they were not infallible.

But athletes persevered. As did sport, making a comeback, aided by bio-secure bubbles, and aggressive testing. When it restarted, fans were banished from arenas.

It was a year that saw athletes take a stance. It was a year where sporting idols passed away.

Through it all 2020 was rich in sporting imagery.

Here are 20 moments — captured in images and videos — that encapsulate sport in a year like no other:

 COPING WITH LOSS

Michael Jordan weeping at Bryant funeral

“When Kobe died, a piece of me died,” said Michael Jordan as he delivered a speech honouring Kobe Bryant, who passed away in an helicopter crash in January. Jordan wept through most of his 11-minute speech, delivered in front of the biggest names in the NBA who had gathered to honour the legacy of Bryant at Staples Centre in February. “Maybe it surprised people that Kobe and I were very close friends. Kobe was like a little brother,” said the 57-year-old as he recalled how Bryant would call and text him at 2.30 and 3 in the morning to talk basketball. In the middle of the speech, Jordan even made a reference to the famous crying Jordan meme. “Now he’s got me. I’ll have to look at another crying meme for the next…” he said as the arena erupted in laughter.

An emotional Dalma Maradona watches Boca Juniors

Diego Maradona passed away in November after suffering a cardiac arrest. Days after his death, his daughter Dalma attended an Argentine league game at La Bombonera between Boca Juniors, with whom he ended his career, and Newell’s Old Boys. It was an emotional occasion for Dalma, who was back in the box where she would watch matches with her father. She broke down after Edwin Cardona scored, and all Boca Juniors raced to where she was sitting and applauded in tribute to her father.

TAKING A STAND

Naomi Osaka’s masks at US Open

Even as sporting tournaments were held in bio-secure bubbles, athletes were choosing to come out of their bubble and make their voices heard.

Naomi Osaka’s run to the US Open title was highlighted by her turning up wearing seven masks, bearing the names of Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin, George Floyd, Philando Castile and Tamir Rice — each name that of a black victim of racial violence.

ESPN’s post-game analyst Tom Rinaldi asked her what message she was trying to send with her masks.

“Well, what was the message that you got?” she asked before explaining, “The point is to make people start talking.”

WNBA players keep focus on Blake’s shooting

After police in Kenosha, Wisconsin shot Jacob Blake, a black man, seven times in the back in August, the Milwaukee Bucks refused to play their scheduled NBA match setting off a domino effect of sorts with players across sports refusing to play games, thereby forcing leagues, and tournaments, to come to a grinding halt. But some of the most definitive images came from the WNBA, whose players announced that they wouldn’t play while linking arms and wearing shirts in support of Breonna Taylor.

Players of the Washington Mystics wore white T-shirts with seven red splotches, symbolising the seven times 29-year-old Blake was shot in the back by the police.

PERSEVERING DESPITE ALL ODDS

Kitchen table swim training

With athletes, just like the rest of us, forced to stay indoors due to the pandemic from March onwards they had to find novel ways to stay in shape. This was even more difficult particularly for swimmers without access to private pools. Russian Olympic swimmer Yuliya Efimova took home-training to a new level by hanging off a kitchen platform and working on her strokes.

Canadian triathlete training in parents’ garage

Canadian triathlete Amelie Kretz, who was hoping to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics, had a slightly niftier idea: use an inflatable pool. But given how cold it was in Canada, Kretz decided to set up the $350 pool in her parents’ garage. Swimming with a rope tethered around her waist, Kretz kept her hopes of qualifying for Tokyo 2020 afloat. Literally!

Suyash Jadhav swimming in a pond

Indian Paralympian Suyash Jadhav, meanwhile, started training in ponds in the middle of nowhere in Maharashtra during the lockdown to stay sharp. He too had a rope fastened around his waist to navigate the size of the pond.

Romain Grosjean makes a comeback after fireball crash

Romain Grosjean car snapped into two after slamming into the crash barrier at Bahrain’s Sakhir GP at 137mph. One half, the one with Grosjean still in it, caught fire. After harrowing moments, the driver emerged from underneath the smouldering wreckage. Extraordinarily, he just had burn injuries to his hands.

THE EERINESS OF SPORT AMIDST A PANDEMIC

When sporting competitions began from May onwards, fans could not be accommodated in arenas. Some organisers resorted to using canned fan noise to recreate the matchday atmosphere. In Japan, one baseball team got robots to cheer for them. Soon, teams were allowing fans to pay for their cutouts to be placed in the stands.

Moenchengladbach players celebrate in front of cardboard fans

Year in Review 2020 A visual look back at sport and life of athletes in year defined by COVID19

Borussia Moenchengladbach players celebrate in front of the cardboard cutouts of their fans displayed on the stands at the end of a Bundesliga match in May 2020. AP Photo

San Francisco Giants and Seattle Mariners played baseball under bright orange sky caused by California wildfires.

 

MOMENTS OF ATHLETIC BRILLIANCE

Despite the difficulties, sport somehow continued. And just like in every other year, glimpses of athletic brilliance shone through.

Nicholas Pooran diving save vs Rajasthan Royals

When Rajasthan Royals’ Sanju Samson hoisted the ball, it was destined to end up going for a six. Or so we thought. Fielding at deep midwicket, Nicholas Pooran dived full length, caught the ball, and while on his way back to making renewing acquaintance with gravity, threw the ball behind him inside the boundary ropes.

Tahlia McGrath and Madeline Penna take relay catch

Playing for Adelaide Strikers in the Women’s Big Bash League, Tahlia McGrath and Madeline Penna took one of the best catches of 2020.

Natthakan Chantham's acrobatic fielding

In the final of the Women’s T20 Challenge in Sharjah, Thailand’s Natthakan Chantham, playing for Trailblazers, chases the ball racing away to the third-man boundary after taking an edge of Jemimah Rodrigues’s bat. With the ball a few inches from the rope, Chantam acrobatically throws herself at the ball and saves two runs.

Jimmy Butler hunched over ad board in NBA Finals

With 46.7 seconds left on the clock in Game 5 of the NBA Finals, Miami Heat’s Jimmy Butler slumped over an advertising board. His team were trailing by a point against the LA Lakers. Miami, at this point, had 46.7 seconds to save their season. By this point, Butler was running on fumes, having rested for just 49 seconds during the game. Somehow, Butler willed himself up, and dragged the Miami Heat to victory with a 35-point, 12-rebound, 11-assist, and five-steal stat line.

John Rahm’s water shot at Masters

Golfer Jon Rahm hit this incredible hole-in-one shot in practice at the Masters. The shot skimmed over a pond, curled as it rolled on the greens, and then fell into the hole.

Katie Ledecky swimming with a glass on her head

With the Tokyo Olympics postponed by a year, American swimmer Katie Ledecky had plenty of time to take part in Tik Tok challenges. In one of them, she swam a lap of her pool with a glass of chocolate milk perched on her head.

Ronaldo robbing the ball off Messi and Messi evading Ronaldo

Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi have split the football fandom into half with arguments over who is better. When Juventus played against Barcelona in the Champions League this year, all eyes were on the two best footballers of the world. They shared a cordial hug during the match. Once the match started, there were two moments between the duo which stood out. In one, Messi’s fleetfootedness made Ronaldo kick air as the Portuguese footballer tried to tackle the Argentine.

In another, Messi was bearing down on the Juve defence, but saw the ball stripped off his feet by Ronaldo, who outraced him and then cleared the ball to safety.

THE NUMBERS GAME

Record fans for Women’s T20 WC final

Year in Review 2020 A visual look back at sport and life of athletes in year defined by COVID19

Australia's Meg Lanning bats during the Twenty20 Women's World Cup final against India in Melbourne on 8 March, 2020 as over 80,000 fans watch on. AFP

A record 86,174 fans turned up at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in March to watch India take on Australia in the final of Women’s T20 World Cup, signalling that women’s cricket was growing in popularity.

Gone for 36

Year in Review 2020 A visual look back at sport and life of athletes in year defined by COVID19

The scoreboard at Adelaide shows how India's wickets fell in a heap in the second innings of the first Test against Australia earlier this month. AP Photo

When the Indian cricket team’s second innings against Australia in the first Test ended at 36/9 (with Mohammed Shami retired hurt), Virat Kohli’s men made history. But not the kind they would want to remember. This was India’s lowest ever total in a Test innings. No batsman got into double digits. The score should rankle even more given how strong Team India’s position was in the first two days of the Test.

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