“Union Jack Vintage Linen” (CC BY 2.0) by geishaboy500
The UK has a long history of producing some exceptional sporting talents. In fact, over the last 100 years, the UK’s ability to compete on a global stage has often led to some entertaining rivalries with the US.
However, for all the skills British sports stars have shown, their wins often don’t get noticed by the average American. With football, basketball and baseball all providing more than enough excitement, there isn’t much room for an athlete from across the pond to make their mark in the US.
Things were a little different in 2016. In among the talk of Stephen Curry, Jon Jones and LeBron James, three stories from the UK piqued the interests of sports fans in the US. Are US crowds truly taking an interest in British sports and sportspeople?
Andy Murray Becomes World Number One
He might not have the biggest personality off of the tennis court, but Scotland’s Andy Murray has proven that a combination of grit, determination and skill can more than make up for it. If you were to ask the average tennis fan to back either Murray or former world number one Novak Djokovic, the chances are the former would receive slightly more votes than the latter.
Indeed, if we’d have asked you that same question back in July 2016, you’d almost have certainly backed Djokovic. Why? Well, after clinching the French Open title, the Serbian pro became the first man in 47 years to hold all four Grand Slam trophies at once. On top of etching his name into the history books, Djokovic notched up what appeared to be an unassailable lead in the world rankings.
Unfortunately, someone forgot to give Murray the memo, as he ignored the accolades and went on a streak that included wins at Wimbledon and the Olympics as well as six other international tournaments. In fact, after Djokovic’s summer of success, Murray only lost three matches and, following his ATP World Tour Finals victory over Djokovic, the Scottish pro ended 2016 as the world’s top tennis player.
On top of winning the UK’s Sports Personality of the Year award, Murray certainly impressed analysts in the US. ESPN’s Johnette Howard called Murray’s 2016 exploits “sweet justice,” while CNN Edition praised his resilience and said that his “smart” and “steady” tennis allowed him to get his just “reward.”
Can Murray continue his reign in 2017? Well, a win in the first week of January at the Qatar Open took his win streak to an impressive 25 consecutive matches, which suggests the Brit is out to prove he’s more than a one-season wonder.
Leicester City Defy the Odds
One team that embodied the American Dream in 2016 was English soccer club Leicester City. Otherwise known as the Foxes, City not only defied the odds by rising up from obscurity to win the English Premier League, but they also inspired underdogs around the globe.
For those that don’t follow the sport, the England’s top soccer league is a billionaire’s playground. From super wealthy owners to players on multimillion contracts, the Premier League is not only the richest of its kind but by far the most exciting. In fact, with the top clubs like Manchester City, Arsenal and Chelsea all able to buy the best players in the world, so it’s almost impossible for a small club to dominate.
However, during the 2015/2016 season, after narrowly escaping relegation the season before, City hit a game-changing win streak. Despite spending just £57 million ($70 million) over the course of the season (which was approximately 25% of Manchester United’s budget), City overcame the odds to win the league. In fact, the Foxes quite literally overcame the odds.
According to the stats experts at Oddschecker, City’s win was not only a Premier league “shock” but a great day for sports betting fans. Recapping the famous win, Oddschecker’s team found that City started the season as 5,000/1 outsiders for the title. To give that some perspective, that was the same odds as some British bookmakers were offering on “Elvis Presley being found alive.”
Essentially, if you’re a betting fan, Leicester City were a long shot. However, despite everything being against them, the soccer minnows came through finish top of the league and ten points ahead of their closest rivals, Arsenal. So how much of an impact did the success story have? Well, it managed to turn diehard MMA fan Joe Rogan into a fledging soccer fan (see video above).
Team GB Take on the World
Great Britain has often performed well at the Olympic Games, but in 2016 the Brits went above and beyond even their own expectations. Although Team USA once again asserted its dominance in the athletics world, Great Britain and Northern Ireland finished second.
Although Team GB often creeps into the top five or six Olympic countries on the medal table, to finish second was a feat that few would have predicted. Consider this fact for starters: Great Britain has a population of just 64 million people. Now, when you compare that to the likes of 3rd China (1.3 billion), 4th Russia (143 million) and 5th Germany (80 million), you can see why it was considered a hugely impressive feat even by American standards.
So how did Team GB manage to complete a proverbial David vs. Goliath story? Thanks to investment in a wide variety of events and competitors, Team GB was able to scoop up gold, silver and bronze medals in 19 different events.
Although athletics contributed the most medals (80), sports such as weightlifting, shooting, taekwondo, judo and fencing all saw British athletes overcome the odds to win. Add to this, maiden wins for Team GB in the women’s hammer (Sophie Hitchon won bronze) and men’s gymnastics (Max Whitlock won gold) as well as established stars like Mo Farah doing the business and it’s easy to see why the Brits shone at the Rio Olympics.
According to the BBC, Britain spent £274.5 million ($337 million) on Olympic funding leading up to Rio and won 67 medals. Compare that to the £60 million ($73.6 million) spent and 28 medals won at the Sydney Olympics in 2000 and you can see why it pays to put your money where your mouth is in sport.
Size Doesn’t Matter in Sport
“Size Comparison Photo” (CC BY 2.0) by thepeachpeddler
As you can see, size and stature really don’t matter in sport. Through a combination of perseverance, teamwork and a little bit of investment, even the smallest nations can rise up and make an impact. Can more British athletes make the US news in 2017? It would certainly be a tall order, but if last year’s exploits are anything to go by, then it will be a lot of fun finding out.