In any given year, hundreds of sports records, both large and small, fall, barriers are broken, and other notable achievements provide texture to the countless games, matches, and tournaments.
In 2012, for example, swimmer Michael Phelps became the most decorated Olympian ever, his four golds and two silvers in London giving him 22 medals overall, including 18 gold.
In baseball, Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera won the first Triple Crown for hitting since 1967, when Boston’s Carl Yastrzemski led the American League in batting average, runs batted in, and home runs.
In basketball, Jeremy Lin set off a wave of “Linsanity” playing for the New York Knicks, while the long underachieving Los Angeles Clippers ended the year with a 17-game winning streak and only the third perfect month ever recorded in the NBA.
In football, Drew Brees surpassed Johnny Unitas by completing a touchdown pass in 54 consecutive games and the University of Wisconsin’s Montee Ball set a college record with 82 career touchdowns.
Women shone in numerous ways, including in sports where their presence was once nonexistent. British flyweight boxer Nicola Adams took the very first gold medal in Olympic boxing, while Russian weightlifter Tatiana Kashrina hoisted 333 pounds on a single lift. Meanwhile the women’s gold-medal soccer match, in which the US beat Japan, attracted 80,203 spectators to London’s storied Wembley Stadium, the best attended women’s Olympic soccer match ever.
Here are our 20 records and feats that caught our eye in 2012:
By Ross Atkin,
Staff writer, CSMonitor
(AXcess News) - 1. Unmatched football coach
In a somewhat bittersweet ending to 64 years of coaching college football, John Gagliardi of St. John’s in Collegeville, Minn., called it quits with 489 wins, by far the most at any level of play. (The major college leader is Bobby Bowden with 377 career wins). The disappointment for Gagliardi is that the Division III Johnnies were only 5-5 this season, their first nonwinning season since 1986. Still, Gagliardi will be remembered as much for his refusal to go along with the crowd as for his team’s many wins. There was no tackling during short, 90-minute practices. He didn’t use blocking sleds, didn’t require weight training, truly made academics a top priority, and insisted that his players call him John and not Coach.
2. Howard returns to free throw line again and again
Dwight Howard, while with the Orlando Magic, broke Wilt Chamberlain’s 50-year-old NBA record for attempting the most free throws in a game. He had 39 foul shots compared with Chamberlain’s 34 in 1962. Like Wilt, Howard is notably a poor three-throw shooter, which has made fouling him a strategy for opposing teams, just as the Hack-a-Shaq defense that was employed against Shaquille O’Neal. Entering Orlando’s game against the Golden State Warriors, Howard had the league’s lowest free throw shooting percentage (42.6 percent), and was only slightly better on this occasion, making 21 (53.8 percent).
3. Moyer breaks pitching age barrier
Jamie Moyer, who began the 2012 baseball season with the Colorado Rockies, became the oldest pitcher, at 49-plus, to ever win a game in the big leagues. Things mostly spiraled downward thereafter as went 2-5 in 10 games before being designated for assignment. The Orioles signed him to a minor-league contract and eventually released him when he opted out of extending his stay with the Norfolk Tides farm team. It appears he has retired with a lifetime 269-209 record during 25 major-league seasons.
4. Northwestern’s Colter a dual threat
In a September football game against Indiana, Northwestern’s versatile quarterback Kain Colter ran for 161 yards and four touchdowns and caught nine passes for 131 yards. Colter’s father, Spencer, played for the University of Colorado when it finished as the nation’s top-ranked team.
5. Cubs hurler retires in style
Kerry Woods, whose 14-year baseball career as a flame-throwing pitcher was marked by 16 trips to the disabled list, ended his career fittingly, with a three-pitch strikeout of the last batter he faced for the Chicago Cubs. Dayan Vicied of the cross-town White Sox swung and missed the third strike as Woods cranked up the heat to 96 m.p.h.
6. Irish basketball eyes were shining
After 20 straight losses to Tennessee, Notre Dame’s women’s basketball team finally beat the Lady Vols – and in style, holding them to the fewest points (44) in their basketball history. Notre Dame advanced all the way to last season’s championship game before losing to Texas A&M, 76-70. Tennessee is currently fifth-ranked in the 2013 NCAA women’s basketball polls.
7. Buster’s brilliant baseball comeback
Buster Posey of the San Francisco Giants became the first catcher in 70 years to win the National League batting crown with a .336 average. Not even Johnny Bench or Roy Campanella ever did that. You have to go back to Ernie Lombardi in 1942 to find the last NL backstop to lead the league – with a .330 average for the Boston Braves.
That Posey accomplished the feat is made all the more impressive by the fact that he did it the year after a season-ending injury and a long rehab. His sensational recovery not only earned him Comeback Player of the Year in a landslide, but Most Valuable Player as well. And, by the way, he also led the Giants to their second World Series championship in three years.
A small footnote is necessary here: Posey’s teammate Melky Cabrera led the National League with a .346 average when he was suspended for the season’s final 45 regular-season games because of a positive drug test. Cabrera qualified for the batting crown, but he voluntarily withdrew from the race to avoid winning a tainted honor.
8. Women’s golf: a geographic pattern
For women golfers from the western Pacific Rim, it was a very big year. New Zealander Lydia Ko, who was born in South Korea, became the youngest player, at 14, to ever win an LPGA Tour event, the New South Wales Open in Australia. She later captured the Canadian Open title.
Meanwile Shanshan Feng, the only player from China on the LPGA Tour, became the first player from mainland China on the circuit to win a major event, the LPGA Championship in Pittsford, NY.
And for high drama, there was South Korea’s Jiyai Shin, who won the longest playoff in LPGA history by outdueling American Paula Creamer on the ninth playoff hole at the Kingsmill Championship in Willamsburg, Va. After being unable to break the tie by playing the 18th hole eight times, play was moved to the 16th hole on Monday, when the shootout resumed. Shin won when Creamer, an excellent putter, three-putted from 30 feet.
9. Murray makes tennis breakthrough
Scotsman Andy Murray gave Britain its first men’s tennis champion in a Grand Slam event in 76 years, or since Fred Perry won the 1936 US championships (the current-day US Open). And Murray did it in grand style, winning the US Open crown against defending champion Novak Djokovic, 7-6 (12-10), 7-5, 2-6, 3-6, 6-2 in a match that lasted a record-tying 4 hours, 56 minutes. Thus he became only the second player in the Open era besides his coach, Ivan Lendl, to lose his first four Slam finals before breaking through. This was a glorious encore to the gold medal that he won at the London Olympics playing on the same Wimbledon center court where just weeks earlier he lost to seven-time champion Roger Federer in the men’s final.
10. Kobe joins 30,000-point scoring club
Earlier this season, Kobe Bryant of the Los Angles Lakers, became the youngest player, at 34, to score 30,000 points in the NBA. Of course he entered the league right out of high school, something that the four players he joins – Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Michael Jordan, and Wilt Chamberlain – didn’t do. In a more informal setting, Bryant went on a white-hot scoring binge during a tour-sponsored charity game in China and compiled 68 points in just 15 minutes.
11. Squash streak squelched
The longest but most obscure winning streak in college sports history ended when Yale edged Trinity College of Hartford, Conn., 5-4, in men’s squash. That snapped the run of the 13-time defending national champions at 252 consecutive victories. A month later, Trinity lost the national title match by the same score, but this time the Bantams fell to Princeton. Trinity, which relies heavily on foreign players, was in a rebuilding year, after losing four seniors from its starting lineup.
12. Baseball drought ends in D.C.
The Washington Nationals brought postseason baseball to the nation’s capital for the first time since 1933, when the Senators won the American League pennant. The Nationals finished with the best record in the majors, 98-64 for a .605 winning percentage. For that, Davey Johnson was named Manager of the Year. The Nats lost however in a division series to the defending World Series champion Cardinals, 3-2.
13. London put on a women’s Olympics
For the first time since the modern Olympics began in 1896, all of more than 200 participating countries at this year’s London Games sent women athletes. Even longtime holdout Saudi Arabia, under pressure from the International Olympic Committee and Human Rights Watch, sent two Muslim women who were allowed to wear traditional head scarves while competing in judo and track and field. Neither was faintly competitive, underlining how much progress is needed to provide Saudi women with opportunities to pursue sport. The London Olympics marked a turning point for the US as well, with more women than men on the American team for the first time (269 to 261). Some of the biggest US stars were women, including gymnasts Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman, swimmer Missy Franklin, judoka Kayla Harrison, tennis player Serena Williams, sprinter Allyson Felix, the women’s soccer team, and beach volleyball players Kerri Walsh Jennings and Misty May-Treanor.
14. Thome surpasses Babe Ruth
Ever steady slugger Jim Thome belted his 13th career walk-off home run in midseason, moving him into sole possession of first place in that category ahead of five others with whom he previously shared the record – Mickey Mantle, Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx, Stan Musial, and Frank Robinson. With the Phillies at the time, Thome hit a solo shot in the bottom of the ninth that beat Tampa Bay. The 22-year veteran was traded to the Orioles about a week later for two minor league prospects, a move that meant he could make plate appearances as a designated hitter rather than wait to pinch-hit in the National League. Among active players, he has the second most runs batted in to Alex Rodriguez, with 1,699.
15. Pistorius’s mixed Olympic, Paralympic results
South African Paralympian Oscar Pistorius, an amputee who runs using carbon-fiber blades in lieu of his missing lower legs, won a legal battle to gain entry to the London Olympics. The man they called the Blade Runner thus became the first double amputee to compete in the Olympic Games. He finished second in his opening 400-meter heat but last in the semis, then went on to run in the Paralympics that followed the London Olympics. In a show of just how competitive the Paralympics has become, Pistorius failed to win the 200 meters, an event in which he was unbeaten, and also lost his 100-meter title. In the former race, he questioned the dimensions of the equipment used by the winner, Brazil’s Alan Oliveira, who stormed from behind to win at the wire. The officials upheld the result, but Pistorius’s charges of unfairness may point up the difficulty in achieving a totally level playing field in Paralympic events.
16. A picture-perfect tennis set
At Wimbledon, Yaroslava Shvedova of Kazakhstan completed the first Golden Set in women’s tennis in 44 years, winning all 24 points of the set. Her opponent was Italy’s Sara Errani, the tournament’s 10th seed, so there was no way of seeing this coming. Errani lost a tightly contested second set, 6-4, and the match.
17. Luck begins the same way as Peyton
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck began his rookie year as auspiciously as did his predecessor, Peyton Manning, by completing a touchdown pass on his first throw. Granted it was only a short, dump-off kind of completion with most of the yardage coming after the catch during the team’s first preseason game, but it was a welcome preview of things to come. Luck broke Cam Newton’s year-old NFL rookie record with 4,051 passing yards. He also had 23 TD tosses.
18. Dickey elevates the knuckleball
In truly one of the most incredible “career seasons” by any major leaguer, R.A. Dickey of the New York Mets, who’d been a decent but unspectacular pitcher during nine previous big-league seasons, struck gold. His 20-6 record not only was by far the best of his career, but it propelled him to the National League Cy Young Award, the first pure knuckleballer to ever secure the honor. An abdominal injury that occurred on a cold April night threatened to disrupt his season almost before it began. But he coped with this challenge in the next five months while compiling a .786 winning percentage (his previous best was .550). He even tossed back-to-back one hitters. Looking to the future and probably doubting Dickey could have another magical year, the Mets traded him to the Toronto Blue Jays in a multiplayer deal.
19. LeBron takes pride in his defense, too
Despite being one of the NBA’s top scorers, Miami’s LeBron James said he was more impressed by his recent foul-free stretch than with his point production. He went five-plus games and 250 minutes without being whistled for a personal foul. The streak finally ended when he attempted to block a dunk by Oklahoma City’s Serge Ibaka.
20. Perfect game raises Cain
In a big year for perfect big-league pitching performances – there were a record three – San Francisco’s Matt Cain deserves credit for what some consider the second greatest perfect game in history. The greatest in the estimation of many was a 1965 gem tossed by the Dodgers’ Sandy Koufax, who struck out 14 Chicago Cubs and threw 107 pitches altogether. Cain, by comparison, also struck out 14 Astros while throwing 125 pitches in an 11-0 victory. So what if Houston was the worst team in the majors in 2012? Given that Cain received the poorest run support in the majors since 2005, he deserved to receive some attention for his consistently solid efforts over the past four years. (The other perfect games in 2012 were turned in by Seattle’s Felix Hernandez and Phil Humber of the Chicago White Sox.)