What a year 2012 was for sports fans! At the London Olympics, swimming, diving and water polo teams sauntered around the pool and showered for the TV cameras in the skimpiest Speedos. In professional sports, veterans and rookies thrilled us with record-breaking performances, not to mention their athletic bodies. And throughout the year there was something new to sports: outspoken compassion, caring and genuine support for those current and future athletes who choose to come out of the closet once and for all.
So let us cheer the year in sports with an admittedly personal selection of the athletes who stood out from the rest due to their sportsmanship, athletic ability and, above all, those bodies that are to die for.
Look for AfterElton’s first “Sportsman of the Year Award” – presented to the individual athlete whose courage, compassion, sportsmanship and ability (on and off the field) deserve to be recognized.
Sports writers and fans this year awarded Roger Federer a crowning achievement when near-universal agreement bestowed the title of “Greatest tennis player of all time” on the 31 year-old Swiss-born ace who has utterly dominated the game since 2003. A furry and congenial fan favorite, Federer may have capped his career by playing in one of the greatest tennis matches of all time at Wimbledon this year. In a marathon four sets, Federer defeated Andy Murray to win the Final and regain his world number one ranking. It was Federer’s seventh Wimbledon championship, tying him with Pete Sampras.
Federer is married to former Women’s Tennis Association player Mirka Vavrinec and they are parents of twin girls. He supports a number of charities through the Roger Federer Foundation and has appeared in UNICEF public service spots to raise awareness of AIDS. An all-around athlete, Federer has acknowledged that his athletic abilities were largely forged in his youth, when he played every sport he encountered, though, he said, “I was always very much more interested if a ball was involved.”
World tennis records were shaken up this year at the U.S. Open by Scottish tennis player Murray when he became the first British man since 1936 to win a Grand Slam singles tournament. Then, at the 2013 London Olympics, he thrilled the nation by defeating Roger Federer in straight sets to win the Gold Medal in Men’s Singles, becoming the first British champion in more than 100 years. He is the only man to win the US Open and Olympic Gold back-to-back.
Born with a biparte patella, where the kneecap remains as two separate bones instead of fusing together in childhood – he has been seen holding his knee due to pain and has dropped out of competition because of it. Prone to injury, the sexy Scot was expected to continue his career mostly as a runner up – until replacing his coach this year and improving his already remarkable athletic abilities. Outspoken and frequently in trouble with the British press for his comments, Murray is a handsome and lively competitor.
The best arms in the tennis business – as well as numerous other parts that are quite fine – belong to Nadal, who is considered by tennis fans to be one of the greatest players of all time. Nicknamed the “King of Clay” because of his mastery of clay courts, the lean and muscular Nadal returned a vocal and sensual passion to the game that may have been missing during most of the Sampras/Federer years. In 2012 “Rafa” suffered through tendonitis (and withdrew from several competitions), illness and injury to realize his greatest athletic achievement: winning the French Open in a remarkable encounter with Number One ranked player Novak Djokovic.
Now claimed by sportswriters to be the best tennis match ever played, Nadal won the first two sets, but lost 8 straight to Djokovic, when play was called due to rain. When play resumed, Nadal’s overpowering serve and returns demolished Djokovic and Nadal won his seventh French Open title, surpassing Bjorn Borg’s overall titles record to become the most successful player in French Open history. In all of the 2012 clay court season, Nadal lost only three sets.