2004 Olympic highs, drug lows and a Boston party

Listen to this article

00:00
00:00

It was the old Boston congressman Tip O'Neill who came up with the line that all politics were local. He could have said the same about sport. Over the next couple of weeks the world's media will all be reviewing the sporting year, but the memories will always be influenced by local considerations and priorities.

This list is a feeble attempt to break free of gravity and try to discern the true significance of the sporting year from what you might call an Olympian height, except that the Olympic Games are the most local event of all.

Wherever you are in the world, the local television station will have talked incessantly about how "we" did in Athens. Let's try to savour the few moments that caught everyone's imagination: the American Michael Phelps surging from nowhere for yet another gold in the 100m butterfly, the Greeks releasing their own pent-up emotion in the stadium when their hurdler Fani Halkia won, the Brazilian Vanderlei de Lima taking bronze in the marathon after being attacked en route . . .

Because, increasingly, the story of the Olympics is less to do with the diffusion and confusion of the games themselves, and more to do with the battle to stage them. Unlike the sport, this offers a simple patriotic narrative of great-power striving, with a clear winner. The venue for the 2012 games (Paris, London, New York, Moscow or Madrid) will be known in mid-2005. Perhaps we should leave it at that, and not bother with the vexed business of actually holding them.

Football: A curious year, but perhaps an immensely significant one. I dare say hardly anyone outside Greece remembers the man who scored the goal that gave them victory over Portugal in the European Championship final. (Clue: it's Angelos Charisteas.) But in future people may be less shocked when a limited but committed team like Greece win a tournament of that stature. Most of their major-country rivals were listless, because their players are now so knackered from club competitions, domestic and pan-European, that even an event of this stature is an irritating distraction.

Cricket: The year began with India, the country that now rules the game politically and economically, imagining that their team, stuffed full of galáctico batting stars, was about to take over the cricketing world on the field as well. It never happened. Australia are still the best in the world, with England up-and-coming.

Rugby: World champions England had a wretchedly anti-climactic year, with the team slowly breaking up and their linchpin Jonny Wilkinson almost wholly on the sidelines, injured. No clear successors emerged, but the rising team are Ireland. Australia are still masters of Rugby League and Australian Rules. (It's good for national self-esteem to play a game no one else does).

Cycling: The Texan Lance Armstrong furthered US government policy of irritating the French by winning an unprecedented sixth successive Tour de France. The man's amazing.

Motor Racing: Michael Schumacher of Germany won his seventh successive Formula One world title. The car's amazing. Apparently, some people think this is interesting.

Tennis: This was the year of the Russian women. New ones kept emerging to win major tournaments, none more beguilingly than 17-year-old Maria Sharapova at Wimbledon. Suddenly, women's tennis is more competitive than the men's game, where a whole generation finds itself intimidated by Roger Federer, of Switzerland. He is rather charming about it, though.

Golf: The fall of the once indomitable Tiger Woods continued. He lost his place as world number one to Vijay Singh of Fiji, and played a thoroughly undistinguished role in the Ryder Cup, where an incompetently run US team was thrashed by the theoretically inferior Europeans.

Boxing: Mike Tyson fell even further than Woods, on to the canvas in Louisville against a second-class Brit, Danny Williams. The world's best heavyweight (confirmed when he crushed Williams last weekend) is now the Ukrainian physical and intellectual giant Vitali Klitschko, PhD. This is excellent news for the sport's TV ratings in Kiev - but not elsewhere.

Baseball: And so back to Tip O'Neill. He was a big baseball fan and watched his first Boston Red Sox game in 1920, two years after they won the World Series. He lived until 1994, and he never did see them succeed.

Of all the world's parochial sporting obsessions, the Sox's failure to win the series was the most pervasive. It imbued every corner of the city, of Massachussetts, of New England. This year, that all ended, and in spectacular style too. Funnily enough, I think the fans are going to feel rather bereft.

Baseball ended the year finally confronting the demons created in the chemists' laboratories, which it had shamefully been ignoring for years.

All the world's main sports are tainted, if not by drugs then by money. Yet somehow they manage to give pleasure to billions. That is some comfort to take into 2005.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved. You may share using our article tools. Please don't copy articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web.