Unforgettable international sports stories that defined 2023

Spain players celebrate the team’s victory in the Women’s World Cup final at Stadium Australia in Sydney, Australia, August 20, 2023. /CFP

Spain players celebrate the team’s victory in the Women’s World Cup final at Stadium Australia in Sydney, Australia, August 20, 2023. /CFP

It has been a phenomenally smashing year for sports. As the lingering shadow of the pandemic gradually dissipates, we have witnessed the glorious revival of live sporting events, brimming with unprecedented levels of attendance and viewership. 

Records have been obliterated, breakthroughs have been achieved, barriers have been overcome, and emotions have run high as fans have been treated to the soaring delirium and heart-wrenching anguish that only the world of sports can deliver.

The “most successful” Women’s World Cup

Nowhere was this collective experience more vividly on display than in the Women’s World Cup. This tournament has seen an abundance of records shattered, both on and off the pitch, creating a wave of excitement that has swept the world. Initial concerns that accompanied the expansion of the tournament to 32 teams quickly vanished as the competition unfolded, revealing the incredible depth and talent of women’s football.

Defending champions USA, to everyone’s surprise, failed to secure a medal, marking the first time in history that they fell short of the podium. Even the imposing Germany, two-time winners of the World Cup, faced an early exit in the group stage, leaving fans astounded. The startling elimination of Olympic champions Canada only added to the unpredictability of the showpiece.

Spain players react after winning the Women's World Cup final as England forward Bethany England looks on in frustration at Stadium Australia in Sydney, Australia, August 20, 2023. /CFP

Spain players react after winning the Women’s World Cup final as England forward Bethany England looks on in frustration at Stadium Australia in Sydney, Australia, August 20, 2023. /CFP

Spain players react after winning the Women’s World Cup final as England forward Bethany England looks on in frustration at Stadium Australia in Sydney, Australia, August 20, 2023. /CFP

But it was the underdogs who truly stole the show. South Africa, considered minnows in the competition, made a marvelous run to the knockout rounds, defying all expectations. The Jamaican team, with their spirited attacking prowess, sent the formidable Brazilian side packing, while a resilient Spain, missing some of their star players, triumphed over the odds-on favorites England to claim their first-ever world title.

And let’s not forget the electrifying atmosphere created by the passionate crowds. The Australia & New Zealand 2023 edition of the Women’s World Cup saw a staggering two million tickets sold, making it the most attended tournament in the history of women’s football. Five matches from the competition have even entered the illustrious list of top 10 highest attendances ever recorded, adding to the grandeur and spectacle of the event.

Over 92,000 fans watch Nebraska take on Omaha in a college volleyball match at University of Nebraska's Memorial Stadium in Nebraska, U.S, August 30, 2023. /CFP

Over 92,000 fans watch Nebraska take on Omaha in a college volleyball match at University of Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium in Nebraska, U.S, August 30, 2023. /CFP

Over 92,000 fans watch Nebraska take on Omaha in a college volleyball match at University of Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium in Nebraska, U.S, August 30, 2023. /CFP

The soaring rise of women’s game

The real challenge lies in sustaining this newfound momentum. While we celebrated the achievement of over 92,000 fans swarming the University of Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium on August 30 to watch a women’s college volleyball match, setting a world record for the largest crowd at a women’s sporting event, there were also incidents that highlighted the work that still needs to be done to address issues like racism in women’s games.

One episode that made headlines for weeks was when Spanish football chief Luis Rubiales unexpectedly kissed player Jennifer Hermoso on the lips during the medal ceremony after Spain’s World Cup triumph. This unfortunate occurrence served as a stark reminder of the ongoing battle against sexism and racism within the sport. It underscores the urgency to confront these challenges head-on and foster an environment of inclusivity and respect. Only by doing so can we ensure that the progress made during this Women’s World Cup becomes a catalyst for enduring transformation.

Sports secretaries of Uruguay, Argentina, Paraguay and Chile (L-R) pose with T-shirts that read in Spanish

Sports secretaries of Uruguay, Argentina, Paraguay and Chile (L-R) pose with T-shirts that read in Spanish “2030 together” during a press conference at Julio H. Grondona Training Camp in Ezeiza, Argentina, February 7, 2023. /CFP

Sports secretaries of Uruguay, Argentina, Paraguay and Chile (L-R) pose with T-shirts that read in Spanish “2030 together” during a press conference at Julio H. Grondona Training Camp in Ezeiza, Argentina, February 7, 2023. /CFP

The dramatic overhaul of the 2030 men’s World Cup

While the 2023 Women’s World Cup has been widely acclaimed as the “most successful in history” by FIFA, the future of its male counterpart is shrouded in uncertainty. In a surprising move, the governing body of world football announced in October that the 2030 men’s World Cup will be hosted by six countries spanning three continents.

Under this unprecedented arrangement, Spain, Portugal and Morocco will serve as joint hosts, while Uruguay, Paraguay and Argentina will each stage an opening match. This symbolic act is a tribute to the centenary of the inaugural World Cup, which was both hosted and won by Uruguay back in 1930. Never before has the World Cup ventured beyond the confines of a single continent, and the proposal to spread matches across vast distances has left stakeholders in a state of shock.

This drastic overhaul, which caught even the most well-versed football experts off guard, has ignited huge controversy. The logistical challenges and potential strain on players, fans, and infrastructure due to the extensive travel distances have fueled a wave of backlash. Many question the practicality and feasibility of a tournament covering such immense geographical areas.

Inter Miami's Lionel Messi shows the fans his 8th Ballon d'Or award at the DRV PNK Stadium in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, U.S., November 10, 2023. /CFP

Inter Miami’s Lionel Messi shows the fans his 8th Ballon d’Or award at the DRV PNK Stadium in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, U.S., November 10, 2023. /CFP

Inter Miami’s Lionel Messi shows the fans his 8th Ballon d’Or award at the DRV PNK Stadium in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, U.S., November 10, 2023. /CFP

Messi cements his legacy in football folklore

Only time will tell whether this ambitious multi-country, multi-continent arrangement will be hailed as an innovative breakthrough or reviled as a misguided decision. However, one thing is for certain: Lionel Messi will not be a part of it. 

After leading Argentina to World Cup glory last year, the 36-year-old maestro has opted to step away from the spotlight. Nevertheless, he has managed to further solidify his legendary status by securing a record-breaking eighth Ballon d’Or as the world’s finest football player. 

Though this accomplishment came largely as a result of his exceptional performances with his national team in Qatar, Messi became the first player based in Major League Soccer (MLS) to claim this prestigious accolade, as well as the second oldest player to do so.

It is worth noting that Messi’s first Ballon d’Or triumph dates all the way back to 2009 when he was playing for Barcelona. This latest victory serves as a testament to his incredibly unwavering brilliance over nearly two decades.

Novak Djokovic lifts the trophy after winning the singles final tennis match of the ATP Finals in Turin, Italy, November 19, 2023. /CFP

Novak Djokovic lifts the trophy after winning the singles final tennis match of the ATP Finals in Turin, Italy, November 19, 2023. /CFP

Novak Djokovic lifts the trophy after winning the singles final tennis match of the ATP Finals in Turin, Italy, November 19, 2023. /CFP

Djokovic’s unfaltering consistency sets new standards in tennis

If Messi has further cemented his status as the greatest of all time in football, the same can undoubtedly be said for Novak Djokovic in the realm of tennis. At 36 years old, Djokovic’s unfaltering excellence has remained astoundingly consistent and ludicrously implacable throughout 2023. He has reigned supreme on the ATP Tour, winning in three out of four Grand Slam tournaments, conquering the ATP Finals, and securing the top spot in the world rankings for an unprecedented eighth time.

Following his victory at the U.S. Open in September, Djokovic ascended to become the tennis player with the most Grand Slam titles in both the men’s and women’s categories in the Open era. Since his first Grand Slam triumph at the Australian Open in 2008, the Serbian talisman has claimed a stupendous 24 titles out of the 63 Grand Slams contested during that period, which prompted the question: When will Djokovic finally loosen his grip on the sport? Well, judging by his record-breaking form, it appears that his reign shows no signs of abating any time soon.

Manchster City players celebrate their 1-0 win at the end of the Champions League final at the Ataturk Olympic Stadium in Istanbul, Türkiye, June 10, 2023. /CFP

Manchster City players celebrate their 1-0 win at the end of the Champions League final at the Ataturk Olympic Stadium in Istanbul, Türkiye, June 10, 2023. /CFP

Manchster City players celebrate their 1-0 win at the end of the Champions League final at the Ataturk Olympic Stadium in Istanbul, Türkiye, June 10, 2023. /CFP

Manchester City’s unstoppable supremacy

When it comes to an unrelenting dominance throughout the year, there is none other than the English juggernaut Manchester City that can be mentioned in the same breath as Djokovic. 

Pep Guardiola’s star-studded side just added another feather to their cap by clinching their fifth trophy of 2023 after outclassing Brazilian giants Fluminense in the Club World Cup final earlier this month. This achievement crowns a miraculous 12-month period in global football, as City becomes the first English club to conquer the Premier League, FA Cup, UEFA Champions League, UEFA Super Cup, and Club World Cup all within the same calendar year. 

Germany players celebrate with the trophy after winning the final of the Basketball World Cup in Manila, Philippines, September 10, 2023. /CFP

Germany players celebrate with the trophy after winning the final of the Basketball World Cup in Manila, Philippines, September 10, 2023. /CFP

Germany players celebrate with the trophy after winning the final of the Basketball World Cup in Manila, Philippines, September 10, 2023. /CFP

German basketball’s surprising ascendancy

If we were to assert that Manchester City’s unrivaled supremacy in all competitions in 2023 is a widely accepted belief, then Germany’s sensational triumph in the Basketball World Cup can only be described as a complete shock. The mere notion of Germany being lauded as the world’s best seemed preposterous, even during the heyday of NBA legend Dirk Nowitzki, their most prominent and recognizable basketball icon.

But times have changed. Against all odds, underdogs Germany emerged as the most consistent team throughout the tournament, pulling off the greatest upset in their basketball history by edging out the mighty USA in the semifinals. They then sealed their unbeaten run by outsmarting Serbia in the final, clinching their first-ever world title.

This improbable triumph was a direct result of the German team’s impeccable teamwork, adaptability in their tactics, and a “never-say-die” attitude that simply refused to accept defeat. Their next target? Nothing less than dethroning the USA once again at the Paris Olympics. And this time, no one would dare dismiss their aspirations as mere wishful thinking.

Kenya's Kelvin Kiptum poses next to the clock marking his time after winning the Chicago Marathon in a world record time of two hours and 35 seconds in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., October 8, 2023. /CFP

Kenya’s Kelvin Kiptum poses next to the clock marking his time after winning the Chicago Marathon in a world record time of two hours and 35 seconds in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., October 8, 2023. /CFP

Kenya’s Kelvin Kiptum poses next to the clock marking his time after winning the Chicago Marathon in a world record time of two hours and 35 seconds in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., October 8, 2023. /CFP

Marathon sensation Kiptum’s meteoric rise

Anticipation for next year’s Olympics is also reaching a fever pitch for marathon prodigy Kelvin Kiptum. Despite being just 23 years old and having run only three marathons in his relatively short career, Kiptum sent shockwaves across the globe on October 8.

As he crossed the finish line at the Chicago Marathon, the clock displayed a jaw-dropping time of 2 hours and 35 seconds. This mind-boggling feat not only smashed the world record set by the legendary Eliud Kipchoge, a two-time Olympic champion, at the 2022 Berlin Marathon, but it also surpassed it by an astonishing 34 seconds.

In doing so, Kiptum became the first athlete in history to break the elusive barrier of completing a record-eligible marathon in under 2 hours and 1 minute. Now, what was once considered an outlandish notion of achieving a sub-two-hour marathon under official conditions appears entirely within the realm of possibility.

In the realm of athletic pursuits, the paths of Kiptum and Kipchoge have never intersected. However, destiny has aligned as both have found themselves among the select few chosen for Kenya’s provisional marathon team for the 2024 Olympics. Prepare to etch this monumental Paris event into your schedule, for the stage is set for an epic showdown between these two unrivaled titans.

It’s almost implausible to fathom that when Kiptum embarked on his first major marathon race back in 2018, he had to rely on borrowed running shoes due to his financial constraints. The thought of owning his own professional pair seemed like an unattainable dream. Yet, fast forward to the present, and he stands shoulder to shoulder with Kipchoge as a revered luminary in the world of marathons, with the backing of Nike as his sponsor.

This unreal journey exemplifies the profound impact that sports can have on individuals. While some may view sports as a mere frivolity or a means of temporary escapism, for Kiptum, it has served as a transformative force, providing a gateway to a whole new world.

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