The Top 10 PoC Moments in Sport in 2015

by Shane Thomas

The world of sport is a space where many great PoC stories can be found. Here’s 10 of the best we saw in 2015:

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10) Marshawn Lynch

Seattle Seahawks running back, Marshawn Lynch is a man who finds the NFL media circus not to his liking. Often uncomfortable around journalists, Lynch’s propensity to skip his media obligations has led to him receiving fines in excess of $130,000. Lynch was ordered by NFL commissioner, Roger Goodell to speak with the press during last year’s Super Bowl Media Day. Failure to comply would result in Lynch being fined half a million dollars.

While Lynch acquiesced, he did so on his terms, responding to all questions by stating, “I’m just here so I won’t get fined.”; a quote that inspired memes, and a t-shirt slogan. The phrase struck a chord with anyone who feels hectored by their boss. While Lynch was denied the chance to win the subsequent Super Bowl for Seattle[1], he makes the list for speaking up for working people everywhere.

 

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9) Steph Curry

To quote Zach Lowe; “[Stephen] Curry has done nothing short of revolutionize what is possible in basketball… There is no NBA defense that can contain Curry because there has never been a player like Curry.”

The Golden State Warriors are to basketball what Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona were to football. A group of small, nimble players, who prized technique over power. If Golden State are the NBA’s Barcelona, then Curry is their Lionel Messi. An outrageously accurate shooter, range matters not to Steph, as it seems he can score from anywhere. And I mean anywhere.

He won last season’s MVP award, led the Warriors to their first championship in 40 years, and continued his electric form to help Golden State start the new campaign winning their first 24 matches in a row – a new NBA record. Not every budding basketball player wants to be LeBron James these days.

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8) Nigeria’s Troika

The first of two mentions of the Women’s World Cup. Nigeria had the misfortune to be drawn in the figurative “Group of Death”, alongside Australia, the USA, and Sweden. An exciting, if inexperienced Nigerian side were unable to make it to the competition’s knockout stages. But the performance of their attack against Sweden – in the match of the tournament – gave succour to all fans of the Super Falcons.

Trailing 2-0, and then 3-2, Nigeria showed incredible resilience to get a 3-3 draw. The identity of the goalscorers are particularly noteworthy: Ngozi Okobi; Asisat Oshoala (one of the world’s best players); and Francisca Ordega. Okobi and Ordega are both only 22, while Oshoala is 21. Those three could be at the vanguard of a Nigeria side that can compete with the best at future tournaments.

 

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7) Lady Andrade

When children first become drawn to sport, they often pretend to emulate their icons. Especially those who possess gifts beyond your average athlete. In the world of women’s football, the best example of this is Brazil’s Marta. But in Colombia’s Lady Andrade, young kids may have a new (s)hero to venerate.

Andrade possesses sublime ball control, which she displayed at the Women’s World Cup to thrilling effect against England and the USA, while scoring in a 2-0 win over France. Andrade is a one-woman highlight reel, and could possibly become the first superstar of women’s football.

 

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6) Simone Biles:

At the 2012 Olympics, Gabby Douglas wowed London, becoming the first black woman to win individual all-around Olympic gold in gymnastics. A year later, fellow American, Simone Biles also made history, taking the individual all-around title at the World Championships.

Biles retained it in 2014, and had to defend her title again at this year’s World Champs in Glasgow. She was no longer the new kid, but the established force, who everyone was looking to beat. And maybe that will happen. But not in Glasgow, as Biles won gold again. She’s earned a mammoth ten world titles, a record for an American female gymnast.

Fitness permitting, Biles and Douglas will be part of the American team that goes to the Rio Olympics. A brilliant black athlete is great. But two are better.

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5) Allyson Felix

There’s no more graceful sight in athletics than Allyson Felix. She’s already won eight World Championship golds, and produced her most impressive performance yet at this year’s World Championships, winning the 400 metres. Normally a 200 metre sprinter, her blistering start put her well ahead, but received wisdom dictated that this was a naive move; a 200 specialist out of her depth – not recalibrating for the longer distance – who would run of out gas in the closing stages.

However, this opening gambit was tactically inspired. With the fast finishing Christine Ohuruogu outside her, Felix immediately put her under pressure, forcing Ohuruogu to abandon her trusted strategy to try – and fail – to keep pace with the American.

It worked to perfection, as Felix ran a stunning time of 49.28 to win. It was the most destructive and ruthless piece of sporting beauty of the year.

 

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4) Mizzou Football

Sometimes it’s what one does away from the field of play that matters. The University of Missouri has been a noxious place for a prolonged period, with inveterate racist incidents peppering campus life. Activists attempted to get university President Tim Wolfe to intervene, but he dismissed their concerns. So the Mizzou college football team got involved.

The players had a simple demand. Wolfe had to resign, or they would refuse to play, costing the university $1 million in fines. The football program is worth more to the college than the President, so Wolfe was forced to leave.

American college sports – as well as being an oddity for those in other nations – is a carnival of exploitation. Yet as Dave Zirin wrote: “There is no football team without black labor. That means there aren’t million-dollar coaching salaries without black labor. There isn’t a nucleus of campus social life without black labor.” The actions of the Mizzou football team were arguably the most courageous of any athlete(s) in 2015.

 

Rugby Union - South Africa v Japan - IRB Rugby World Cup 2015 Pool B - Brighton Community Stadium, Brighton, England - 19/9/15 Japan celebrate victory after the match Reuters / Eddie Keogh Livepic

3) Japan beating South Africa

The biggest shock in the history of the Rugby Union World Cup. One could argue it’s the biggest shock in the history of sport. South Africa are one of the game’s global powers, twice World Cup winners, and arrived at this year’s event with a realistic chance of earning a third triumph. Japan… are none of those things.

This was meant to be little more than a training exercise for the Springboks, but Japan gave a remarkable display of forward discipline and defensive purpose. However, it looked as if they would suffer a (meritorious) loss as they trailed 32-29 in the match’s closing moments. What happened next was extraordinary.

Given the chance to tie the game with a last minute penalty, Japan risked defeat in order to attempt to score a try, giving them 5 points – instead of 3 – and the win. It was a risk that paid off as Karne Hesketh scored the winning try. The Japanese fans joyful tears were one of the most affirming sights of the year[2].

 

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2) Usain Bolt

As Usain Bolt and Justin Gatlin lined up for 100 metres at the World Athletics Championships, I grudgingly accepted the inevitability of a Gatlin gold. Gatlin was ahead for most of the race, but he hadn’t shaken off Bolt. The American’s plans of a fast start, and better technique weren’t enough. It was no longer a physical test, but a mental one.

Gatlin panicked, overstriding with the finish line in sight. Bolt held his form, and pipped Gatlin on the line. It’s said sport doesn’t build character, but reveals it. Gatlin cracked when under pressure, while Bolt showed again that he’s never outperformed in a big match situation.

By the time the 200 metres rolled around, Bolt was fatigued, but Gatlin was broken. As soon as Gatlin realised Bolt was ahead in the final 100, the race was over. Bolt cruised to the line to win his 11th World Championship gold medal, and become the first man to do the 100/200 double three times.

He remains the showstopper.

 

PARIS, FRANCE - JUNE 6: Serena Williams of the United States poses with the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen trophy after winning the Women's Singles Final against Lucie Safarova of Czech Repubulic at the French Open tennis tournament, Roland Garros in Paris, France on June 6, 2015. (Photo by Mustafa Yalcin/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

1) Serena Williams

At number one, there can only be one. The one.

We can talk about the statistics: 3 Grand Slams; a second “Serena Slam”; ending the year as World No 1, again; and a staggering win/loss record of 53/3.

But what makes Serena’s year so special isn’t just her achievements on the tennis court, but her actions in returning to the Indian Wells tournament, a place which she and sister Venus boycotted for 14 years due to racist abuse suffered by her and her family in 2001.

Explaining her reasons in TIME magazine, Serena used her return to Indian Wells to raise funds for the Equal Justice Initiative. Serena isn’t just changing the world of tennis, she’s using her influence to help change the world outside it. Actions like this place her alongside legends like Muhammad Ali, Billie Jean King, and Vera Caslavska.

Serena may not be the greatest yet. But it appears it’s only a matter of time.

[1] – Although we got a funny clip from The League out of it.

[2] – And the Japanese commentary was vocalised euphoria.

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“Two Weeks Notice” is Shane Thomas’s bi-monthly column encompassing. Shane can be found on Twitter, both at @TGEISH and @tokenbg (and yes, the handle does mean what you think it means).

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