There really were too many sporting highlights in the last 12 months. It was an Olympic year, it was a European Soccer cup year, and there was apparently some interesting stuff happening in baseball. Out of all the contenders for the great moments of 2004, I’ve gone for the following:
5. Arsenal’s Streak Comes To An End
Arsenal was unlucky to come 2nd in the 2002/2003 premiership, behind recent rivals Manchester United. However, in winning the last two games of that season, they were to begin an amazing streak. Through the whole 2003/2004 premiership, they did not lose a game, being the first team to go undefeated since Preston North End in 1888/1889. They resumed in the 2004/2005 season to eclipse Nottingham Forest’s record of 42 games without a loss. The streak, which began on 4 May 2003, finally ended on 24 October 2004, at a whopping 49 games. Ironically, it was Manchester United that inflicted this first defeat in almost 18 months.
4. Lance Armstrong Completes 6th Tour de France
If it wasn’t enough to come back from testicular cancer to win the Tour de France five times in a row, Lance Armstrong set out to do it all again. As he saddled up on the starting line at Liege on 3 July 2004, he was equal with four other men who had won the Tour five times (Jacques Anquetil, Bernard Hinault, Eddy Merckx, and Miguel Indurain). However, by the time the pack reached Paris on 25 July 2004, Armstrong had won his 6th Tour, and truly entered the pantheon of American sport. He also won this Tour in dominant fashion. He won six individual Tour stages, and was 2nd in the climbing point score and 8th in the sprinting point score, as well as winning the overall race. Each time his main rivals like Andreas Kloden, Ivan Basso and Jan Ullrich made a charge, Armstrong found something extra and burnt past them. Whether he lines up to smash his opponents a 7th time remains to be seen. I give him special props also for his hilarious cameo in the film Dodgeball.
3. The Olympics Features The ‘Race Of The Century’
If I write a list like this until the end of my years, the Olympics will always feature on their predictable four-year cycle. They are a feast of amazing sporting accomplishments, heartwarming stories of success against the odds, and brilliant opportunities to sit in front of a television for 17 days. Picking just one highlight is difficult, and the following came close to being the highlight for me: Moroccan Hicham El-Guerrouj winning the 1500m and 5000m track double after coming so close in Sydney and Atlanta, Justin Wariner taking out the 400m track and making it a US trifecta with Otis Harris and Derrick Brew, Iranian Hossein Reza Zadeh’s heroic weightlifting in the Super-Heavyweight class. However, the high point of the Olympics, in my opinion, was the final of the Men’s 200m freestyle. The field of eight was, quite simply, the greatest collection of athletes ever assembled in the sport. The favorites were Ian Thorpe and Grant Hackett of Australia, Michael Phelps of the US, and Pieter van den Hoogenband of The Netherlands. All of these would rank (probably with Alex Popov) among the greatest five swimmers in the modern era. Rounding out the field were Klete Keller, Rick Say, Emiliano Brembilla and Simon Burnett, all excellent swimmers in their own right. The race was as exciting as predicted. The ‘flying Dutchman’ led the ‘Thorpedo’ by 0.5 seconds until the 100m mark. By the 150m mark, Thorpe had narrowed the gap to 0.2 seconds. What followed was possibly the greatest ever final lap of freestyle swimming. Thorpe literally exploded off the wall, caught van den Hoogenband, roared past him and won by an astonishing 0.5 seconds. I needed a cigarette after that one.
2. HBS Rugby and Soccer Dominate MBA Sport
Despite the rigors of the case method, recruiting and long nights in Cambridge and Boston bars, HBS is able to turn out devoted sporting teams to battle other schools. The HBS Rugby Team was a destructive, violent, high-scoring force in MBA competition. We returned victorious from the Wharton ‘Mini-World Cup’, avenging a narrow tournament loss last year. However, the way we won was a source of pride for us and fear for our opponents. The stats tell the story: 5 games won, 0 lost; 137 points scored, 0 conceded; dozens of them hospitalized, none of us. Other highlights of the season included a colorful tour to Montreal and a dramatic victory over South Shore, the toughest mongrels in Boston rugby. Meanwhile, the soccer men, under the leadership of Hendrik Almstadt put in a similarly dominant performance. At the 15th Yale Cup, they beat five teams for the right to play IESE in the Grand Final. And they beat IESE too. In a parallel to the ruggers, the footballers did not concede a goal all weekend. Good times for the Crimson of HBS.
1. Red Sox Reverse The Curse
Enough said. The details are well known to us all. It was the end of 86 years and endless frustration at the hands of the Yankees (and others). Curt Schilling stitched up his disgusting bloody ankle to pitch beautifully. Pedro Martinez and the rest of the pitching staff did their bit, Derek Lowe being the most impressive. Jonny Damon found form at the right time. Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz bludgeoned opposing pitchers, with the help of the rest of the gutsy Red Sox line-up. Pandemonium broke out in Boston on the night of Game four of the World Series. I rolled a car.