Where to begin when thinking of the best sporting moments of the last decade? From its opening, the 2010s made sure to impress; June 22nd 2010 saw John Isner and Nicolas Mahut play the longest match in tennis history at three days. Wimbledon has since changed its rules on fifth-set tiebreaks to avoid a repeat. Underdogs caused upset and records were shattered throughout the decade – fellow martial arts fans will remember Conor McGregor stepping into the octagon against Jose Aldo, claiming superstardom in 14 seconds. Then, the boxing ring against Floyd Mayweather, both fighters leaving with record pay cheques. This was, of course, followed by the infamous McGregor-Nurmagomedov clash that is still discussed to this day. Coming into the new decade, we are awaiting the highly anticipated McGregor-Diaz trilogy fight. Interest in the square ring was revived by the Joshua-Ruiz Jr series; breaking the all-time UK pay-per view record (Joshua also held the previous record here via his contest with Klitschko in 2017) and the records for streaming service DAZN, bringing them an estimated 200,000 new subscribers in one swoop.
2012. The London Olympics. 204 nations, 302 events and 10,768 athletes with one, united directive: inspiring a generation with unparalleled individual excellence. This XXX Olympiad was also the first to have female events in every category, following the addition of women’s boxing. The 2012 Olympics also saw another step from the applying national Olympic committees; Saudi Arabia, Brunei, and Qatar sent female athletes for the first time – every currently eligible nation had sent a competitor to at least one Olympiad. Jamaica won their second ever podium sweep in the 200m, whilst Usain Bolt became the second man in the world to successfully defend a 100m title. The now Sir Mo Farah electrified fans with his 10,000m win. Fast-forward to the 31st Olympiad; Britain becomes the second nation to increase its medal count in the tally immediately after hosting (and hopes remain high moving onwards to Tokyo!). One cannot forget Simone Biles’ dominance of the Brazilian Olympiad; she set an American record for most gold medals in women’s gymnastics at a single Games and equalled a number of other records with her medals won in Rio.
2013 brought a dark moment with Lance Armstrong confessing to doping on live television with Oprah, and later losing $75m of sponsorship funds in a single day. This theme carried forward through the decade; nobody could forget how the international community focused on systematic doping in Russia. As of this date, 43 Olympic medals have been stripped from athletes representing Russia, making up 30% of the global total. In 2019, the World Anti-Doping Agency banned official Russian teams from ‘all major sporting events’ for four years, though many athletes were cleared of wrongdoing attend independently.
Champions were felled and guards changed. In 2016, far away from Oxford, the US Army Black Knights ended the Navy Midshipmen’s 15 year dominion over American football and almost marched onto a new four-year streak to close out the decade, only to forcibly withdraw in 2019 (and still trail the series 61-52-7). 2016 was also a remarkable year for football. Not only did Leicester City clinch an unexpected Premier League title (infamously surmounting odds of 5000-1), but few could have foreseen the Icelandic footballing rampage at the European Championships either; a nation with a population close to that of Coventry knocked England out of the competition in a game which finished 2-1 – they were soon knocked out, losing 5-2, by eventual runners-up France. Of course, Wales had an impressive Euros themselves, knocking out Belgium’s ‘golden generation’ before being knocked out themselves by eventual winners Portugal. Hal Robson-Kanu’s Cruyff turn and Cristiano’s sideline antics will live long in the memory. A new England team galvanised English men and women from Carlisle to Portsmouth in the 2018 World Cup, banishing penalty nightmares before a disappointing end to a fantastic footballing summer; a strong French side deservedly took home the trophy. Returning to tennis, Naomi Osaka’s defeat of Serena Williams at the U.S. Open Final in 2018 was a seminal moment, perfected by Osaka’s rise to global #1 in the following year.
Some huge achievements went underreported in Britain; on the 3rd of June 2017, Alex Honnold made the first solo free climb of El Capitan, the vertical rock face in California. The 2011 Canadian Grand Prix was the longest clash seen in F1 history, with Button making a storied comeback victory, from last place at the 37th lap to win in the 70th. Though the start of the decade can be listed as property of Sebastian Vettel, its close was Hamilton’s, and patently so, bringing Mercedes victory even where they suffered performance issues compared to other teams. He debuted in F1 with one world title to his name (from 2007) and closed out 2019 with six; it could have been seven if not for his tragic engine failure on the 41st lap of the 2016 Malaysian GP.
Continuing with the theme of motor racing, there was success for Scotland as Allan McNish won the 2013 FIA WEC, the auto racing championship. Sir Chris Hoy was an ambassador for the London Games, leading out the Union Jack at the opening ceremony. He then won the team sprint with Jason Kenny and Philip Hindes, setting a world record and becoming Team GB’s joint highest gold record holder with a total of six gold medals. Northern Ireland saw similar success, with Bethany Firth collecting three golds in the 2016 Paralympics and Wendy Houvenaghel winning silver at the 2010 Commonwealth Games.
Elsewhere, redemptions were won; golf fans around the world were upended by Tiger Woods’ winning the 2019 Masters to claim his 5th Green Jacket. In the same year, the Aussies retained the Ashes in England for the first time since 2001, but the English did not have a bad cricketing year by any standards, having defeated New Zealand to win the Cricket World Cup in the most dramatic of super overs.
So how to, if possible, crown a single greatest moment? This is, to me, frankly impossible – the glory of each experience will live in the memories of its witnesses in a way a single person reporting years after the fact could never hope to emulate. Each viewer will have their own greatest moment, which could very possibly not appear in my given account, never mind explicitly in the past decade. Better then, to take a holistic view of what the decade meant to sport as a whole. A decade of exposés and revelation about cheating in its highest levels and with some its greatest former heroes. High drama and new legends along with unbroken tradition. British athletes taking centre stage on innumerable occasions. One can only hope for greater success, marching onward into the coming decade…