A paraplegic rock climber. An Olympique Marseille fan who scored against the Toulouse goalkeeper. A surfer who paddled for 93 days to traverse 4,050 nautical miles between Morocco to Antigua. Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer playing doubles. These are among the six December nominees for the Laureus Best Sporting Moment of the Year Awards.
Some beat overwhelming odds to emerge triumphant against nature while others soldiered on despite disability. You can vote for all these nominees here.
As Laureus World Sports Awards’ India partners, Firstpost brings you the December nominees for the 2018 edition:
Once in our lifetime
Tennis fans around the world stopped for 81 minutes to watch Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal unite for the first time on the same side of a tennis court. This was the sport’s equivalent of a solar eclipse. Thirteen years after their first singles match against each other, Nadal and Federer played their first doubles match together.
Where? At the Laver Cup, which made its debut in September in Prague, and which is likely the closest thing that tennis will ever have to the Ryder Cup in golf. The format was similar — Team Europe took on Team World in a fast-paced, three-day competition — and so was the unusual intensity that format generated. Like their peers in golf, tennis’ top male pros made the most of their opportunity to cross national boundaries, root openly for each other, and show the emotions that their formal, individualistic sports normally force them to keep in check.
Federer and Nadal began with a hiccup or two; Nadal nearly decapitated Federer when he reached back for an overhead. But they managed to win that match, and to squeak past the much younger Nick Kyrgios and Jack Sock, 11-9 in match tiebreakers, in singles.
In between, they talked tactics, high-fived, laughed, hugged, cheered for each other, and sprayed themselves with champagne when it was over. Nadal and Federer seemed to revel in the chance to try out a new relationship, one where they could put their all-time talents together rather than use them against each other.
Laver Cup showed us there can be something — many things — new under the tennis sun. The best of them was seeing that Nadal and Federer make as much sense as teammates as they do rivals.
An amazing gesture
A school team of 12- to 14-year-old basketball players from the tiny city of Caiçara, Paraiba, in the north-east of Brazil, won their match against Motiva College Team in the State Youth School Games, awarding them with a place in the Brazilian Youth School Championships in Curitiba. Shortly after celebrating their victory, the team were told that the local government could not provide sufficient funds to allow the boys to travel to the games. It would have taken three days to travel by bus from Paraiba to Curitiba in the State of Parana. So Caiçara, a social project for public school students, offered their place to the private school Motive College. Instead of taking them up on the offer, Motiva refused, and parents and students of Motiva College started a campaign to raise funds to allow the Caiçara team to travel.
The campaign gained national and international support. Lucas Bebe from the Toronto Raptors in the NBA, supported the appeal. In total 36,000 real was raised (just over $11,000). Through the solidarity and generosity of the supporters, the Caiçara boys travelled by plane, many taking their first ever flight, to Curitiba on 17 September, to play against the current runners-up of the championship. Caiçara lost by 59 to 20, but the support, excitement and the experience was worth far more than the result.
“When we found out that we could not go, there was a kid who could not sleep, I had his mother calling me,” coach Edynho Nash, nicknamed after his idol, former NBA superstar Steve Nash, said. “Sport is not just a game. It is not just a question of competing for a medal, a trophy or a status. It can go much further with solidarity!”
Goal of his life
Olympique Marseille fan Kamel Zaroual went onto the Stade Velodrome pitch on 24 September to kick-off proceedings between the hosts and Toulouse. The reason Kamel was invited to take part in the kick-off was because he had cycled across France to raise money for a children’s charity. He pedalled 2,000km to watch his beloved club play Amiens. And did it all in a Marseille jersey. Taking to the hallowed turf, Kamel was instructed by referee Benoit Millot to simply pass the ball back to one of his heroes, Dimitri Payet.
Kamel, however, had something else in mind.
Kamel ran through the Toulouse half of the field and calmly slotted home past 18-year-old Toulouse goalkeeper Alban Lafont before he celebrated with unadulterated emotion. The emotion, and how much it meant to him was clear as tears ran down his face, and a warm embrace with Marseille manager Rudi Garcia followed.
And to make things better, Marseille went on to win the game 2-0.
I’m still standing
Ninety-three days, 4,050 nautical miles, and almost two million strokes. That’s what it took Chris Bertish to paddle across the Atlantic Ocean on a stand-up paddle (SUP) board. Starting off the coast of Morocco, he travelled for more than three months to reach English Harbour, Antigua, where he arrived haggard and grateful to still be standing.
The weather and exhaustion worked against him. He had been surviving on freeze-dried meals for his entire journey. Waves threatened to swamp him, and he had several run-ins with sharks who tested the material of his board to see if it was edible.
Bertish recounted the challenging conditions he had to face. Relentless trade winds slowed his progress, though he kept to his grueling pace as he paddled 12-15 hours every day. “It’s more than the endurance side that was difficult to keep going. I had to manage the elements and manage myself mentally. I had massive system malfunctions that I was trying to troubleshoot myself.”
His board — and with it, his feet and ankles — were also underwater most of the trip. His storage compartments would take on water, too, forcing him to open them even if it meant risking losing his food. “I pretty much constantly felt like I was sinking,” he said. “Every two weeks I had to open up the hatches and pump out the water, but that’s where my food was. It was a double-edged sword.”
Bertish made the journey as a way to raise money for charity and test the limits of possibility. The Lunchbox Fund, Operation Smile, and Signature of Hope were the three main beneficiaries of the reported $380,000 raised by the epic journey.
Chris Bertish emphasised that this journey was worth all of the hardship he faced, as the money would be donated to charities that help children in South Africa. “Knowing the impact this will have,” he said, “made every day out on the open ocean worthwhile.”
Nothing can stop me
On 9 December, 2011, Lai Chi-wai was driving his motorcycle home when he was struck by two cars and thrown onto the road. The car accident left the then professional rock climber, who was once ranked eighth in the world, paraplegic. “I lost everything in one night. I fell from heaven to hell,” Lai, now 34, recalled. At the time of the accident, Lai’s wife was in the same hospital, heavily pregnant with their son.
“My son is the only reason I chose to live on. I want to stand up, hold him in the air and do things that other ordinary dads can do,” Lai said. Such a devastating injury would be enough to dampen anyone’s spirits. But Lai refused to leave the sport he loved behind, and after three months in hospital, he began working as a full-time coach for the Hong Kong sports climbing team.
In 2014, when Lai was selected as one of Hong Kong’s 10 most outstanding people, he announced his plan to climb Lion Rock in his wheelchair — something that many thought was impossible. And on 9 December, 2016, Lai Chi-wai fulfilled his promise and became the first paraplegic to climb all the way to the granite top of Lion Rock. “Breaking news, wheelchair discovered on Lion Rock,” the young athlete wrote on his Facebook page, “I want to show others the Lion Rock spirit. Nothing can stop us if we put our mind into it!”
Today, he continues his career as a motivational speaker: “You dare to dream and dare to try — do not let your body limitation discourage you from doing what you love to do.”
Wave for the Kids
Iowa’s Kinnick Stadium has a seating capacity of 70,585, which gives the Hawkeyes incredible strength in numbers in one of the coolest new traditions in college football. The stadium is located next to the new University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital and hospital patients have a view that overlooks the sea of gold and black on game days.
For years, the Hawkeyes and their fans have raised money for the hospital with their “Touchdowns for Kids” campaign in which fans are encouraged to donate as much as they like for every Iowa touchdown score during the season. The Hawkeyes have also welcomed a “kid captain” from the hospital to join the team on the side-lines during home games, so the history between the school’s football team and its hospital has been rich.
What started as a fan suggestion on an Iowa Facebook fan page has now turned into a full-blown movement: Iowa fans collectively waving to the top floor of the hospital, where the children and their families gather to watch Iowa, at the end of the first quarter during Hawkeye home fixtures.
Then, on 7 October, before Iowa’s 45-16 win over Illinois, the Hawkeyes took the wave a step further. The Iowa marching band spread out in the form of a huge hand on the field, pointed towards the hospital, and waved in unison to their on looking fans. What a special moment!
Published Date: Dec 04, 2017 06:08 pm | Updated Date: Dec 04, 2017 06:11 pm