The alternative 2014 sport awards: Heroes, villains, failures & spats
Memorable names, breakthrough stars, sporting soap operas, strangest moments and spats not involving Kevin Pietersen - chief sports writer Tom Fordyce hands out his alternative 2014 sports awards.
Greatest collective failure
One of the early highlights of the Commonwealth Games: spotting the Sri Lankan cycling team out on a quick training ride - along the M74 motorway.
Humiliation on a greater scale came with Brazil's 7-1 demolition by Germany in the semi-final of their home World Cup. It was 0-5 before half an hour had been played; David Luiz and his errant fellow defenders should be grateful away goals don't always count double.
And then there were the struggling batsmen of Wirral Cricket Club. Coming up against Haslington CC in April, they were all out for a grand total of three. The number 11 scored a single. The other two runs came from leg byes.
Villain of the Year
When your track record includes pushing over mascots in consecutive European Championships and having a punch-up with a compatriot at the conclusion of a high-profile Diamond League 1500m, merely taking your running vest off and waving it round your head on the home straight seems a little bland. But it cost French maverick Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad steeplechase gold at this summer's Europeans, even if he then took partial revenge by winning 1500m gold a few days later. Gesticulating rudely at a booing crowd as he did so.
United States golfer Patrick Reed added a nice pantomime element to September's Ryder Cup when, after making a par putt against Henrik Stenson in the Sunday singles, he placed a finger to his lips and ostentatiously shushed the Gleneagles galleries. His subsequent implosion at the WGC-HSBC Champions event in Shanghai - admonishing himself for a three-putt with a homophobic and x-rated tirade - was a touch less matinee.
Twice banned for doping, distrusted by fellow athletes, trained in the past by a notorious doping coach and now by another man once banned for drugs. What's not to like about unrepentant US sprinter Justin Gatlin? This summer he ran the fastest 100m and 200m times by a man in his thirties and the fastest ever one-day sprint double. The world raised a weary eyebrow.
Most impressive statistics
The marathon world record of two hours, two minutes and 57 seconds set by Kenya's Dennis Kimetto in Berlin in September was the equivalent of running 105 consecutive laps of an athletics track in 69.93 seconds. Try running one lap in that time to put it in perspective.
Three weeks before beating twice-champion Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon, then world 144 Nick Kyrgios was losing in the first round of a Challenger event in Nottingham to world 185 John-Patrick Smith.
There was a smaller margin between gold and silver in the Commonwealth Games 10,000m final (0.03 sec between Moses Kipsiro and Josphat Bett) than in the Commonwealth 100m final (0.10 sec between Kemar Bailey-Cole and Adam Gemili.
A year short of his 40th birthday, having not won on the European Tour until his 37th year, Welshman Jamie Donaldson sealed Europe's Ryder Cup triumph with a brilliant approach to within two feet of the pin on the 15th to force a battered Keegan Bradley into concession. He later rode team-mate Thomas Bjorn into the victory press conference like a half-cut shire horse.
Before Kiribati boxer Taoriba Biniati arrived in Glasgow for the Commonwealth Games, she had never been in a ring. The boxing club on her archipelago home consists of a punch bag hanging from a breadfruit tree. She had never before had a single bout. She still made it through to the end of her debut.
Grand National winner Pineau de Re was not only a 25-1 shot; jockey Leighton Aspell had come out of retirement to ride, trainer Richard Newland was a doctor who only looked after horses part-time. Owner John Provan had certainly bought the horse with the intention of winning the National - the Midlands National, that is.
Before the Winter Olympics opening ceremony in Sochi, the Russian Interior Ministry Police choir (threatening and camp in equal measure) performed Daft Punk's 'Get Lucky', a sight even more surreal than Barry from EastEnders performing Labi Siffre's 'Something Inside So Strong' at the World Indoor Bowls Championships in Great Yarmouth.
A month later, we had Lewis Hamilton, in full Mercedes kit and helmet, being stopped by a security guard at the paddock in Melbourne and asked to show his pass (Hamilton: "Ah, I'm one of the drivers…").
And then, as the year drew to a close, Tiger Woods - after battling illness during the third round of the Hero World Challenge in Florida - performed an uncanny impersonation of Clint Eastwood. "I know what you're thinking - did he fire 70 shots or only 69? Well to tell you the truth, in all this excitement I kinda lost track myself…"
The nearly men
Spare a thought for Diego Godin, scorer of Atletico Madrid's goal in the Champions League final, which had them ahead of Real Madrid until the 93rd minute before Sergio Ramos, Gareth Bale, Marcelo and Cristiano Ronaldo reduced him to the status of footnote.
Wonder too how different Steven Gerrard's year would have been had he not slipped just before half-time against Chelsea on the penultimate weekend of the Premier League season, handing Demba Ba a chance he could not miss and the title back to Manchester City.
And place an imaginary arm around the shoulder of jockey Richard Johnson, second behind Pineau de Re at Aintree aboard Balthazar King to set a new record of 18 Grand National rides without a win.
He has also been runner-up 15 times in the jockeys' championship to 19-time winner AP McCoy.
The 'at last' men and women
Hurrah for Geraint Thomas at the Commonwealth Games road race on a filthy Glasgow day, a first cycling gold for a Welshman at a Commonwealths and a reward for countless hours aiding Sir Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome and Mark Cavendish to their own triumphs.
Hurrah for Euan Burton, eliminated 100 seconds into his quest for judo glory at London 2012 ("I feel like I've let myself down, I've let my coaches down, I've let my mum and dad and my brother down..."), out of retirement aged 35 to win Commonwealth gold in Glasgow having carried his nation's flag at the opening ceremony.
And hip-hip hooray for Jo Pavey, at 40 years old the oldest woman ever to claim gold at a European Championships when she won a thrilling 10,000m just 11 months after giving birth to her second child Emily.
Pavey has been running for her country for so long that she made her debut in a British vest in the same year her team-mate Morgan Lake was born.
Best sporting atmosphere
A British record of 80,000 fans turned up at Wembley for the rematch between Carl Froch and George Groves at Wembley, a new post-World War II record for a boxing event in Britain and noisier by far than the last fight at the old Wembley Stadium, when Frank Bruno beat Oliver McCall to win the WBC heavyweight title in 1995.
Approximately 4.8 million turned up along the streets of Yorkshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex and London to watch the first three days of the Tour de France. Nowhere was the support more impressive than on the Col de Buttertubs, a vast seething 'V' of fans, flags and astonished riders.
And then there was the first tee on the final morning of the Ryder Cup: an hour before sunrise, most of Perthshire still as dark as a cave, a weird, ghostly glow lighting up one small circle of the Centenary course as a thousand mobile phones sent texts and tweets: "I'm here, I'm in, did you get your hip-flask through?"
What's that? Roger Federer is pulling out of his ATP World Tour final against Novak Djokovic with a back injury, just after an epic semi-final against Stan Wawrinka?
At least that was only one man down. Britain's big hopes at the Tour de France went down like tenpins - Mark Cavendish in the first stage sprint, Chris Froome once on the fourth stage and then twice, ending his title defence, on the fifth.
Does England's football team's performance at the World Cup count as an anti-climax? Despite all the past failings and pre-tournament lack of expectation, it surely does; they failed to win a single game, spending less time in Brazil than at their training camp in Miami.
Most edge-of-seat finale
Going into the last day of La Liga season, all three of Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid and Barcelona could have won the title.
Going into the final set of the Roger Federer v Novak Djokovic Wimbledon final - Federer having reeled off five successive games from 5-2 down in the fourth set - no-one dared leave their Centre Court seat for a second.
And going into the last minute of the last match in the Six Nations, only a disallowed Damien Chouly try for France - ruled out for a forward pass - finally sent the title to Ireland rather than England.
Most drawn-out soap opera
Leeds owner Massimo Cellino versus the Football League and Italian judicial system.
The 2022 Qatar World Cup bid versus ethical voting procedures and ethical internal investigations by Fifa.
Least popular with Kevin Pietersen
Former head coach Andy Flower: "Contagiously sour, infectiously dour," said Pietersen, in the style of a cricketing Morrissey. "He could walk into a room and suck all the joy out of it in five seconds." Again like Morrissey.
Former wicketkeeper Matt Prior, mocked for his cycling obsession and nickname 'Big Cheese': "Our Cheese was out there, growing runny in the heat. A Dairylea triangle thinking he was a brie."
Returning head coach Peter Moores, dismissed by this reflection on his previous spell: "The team wasn't happy, things weren't right, and England cricket was going nowhere."
Spiciest spat not involving Kevin Pietersen
Moments after the United States team had been thrashed 16½-11½ at Gleneagles - their eighth defeat in the last 10 Ryder Cups - Phil Mickelson spelled out exactly why: his captain Tom Watson. Mickelson, said former Europe leader Sir Nick Faldo, had "thrown his captain under the bus".
The 64-year-old Watson, by the end, resembled a granddad mistakenly put in charge of a stag-do: exhausted, confused, alone.
So long had Tyson Fury and Dereck Chisora been at each other's throats that it was a relief when Fury's fists finally ended the lame linguistic scuffling at the Excel Centre in late November.
And what of the skinny world of cycling? Russian Ivan Rovny and Italian Gianluca Brambilla were thrown out of the Tour of Spain after punching each other mid-ride on the 16th stage, but Spain's Vicente de Mateus and Italy's Enrico Rossi topped that in the closing kilometres of the 100-mile sixth stage of the Volta a Portugal by first crashing into each other and then engaging in a furious cleat-to-cleat exchange in the middle of the road.
Breakthrough British star
In 2008 Lizzy Yarnold was a struggling heptathlete, disillusioned enough with her progress to sign up for UK Sport's Girls4Gold talent search scheme. Winning skeleton Olympic gold in Sochi meant that search could be called off.
Great Britain's young female sprinters had remarkable success individually - a first medal by a British woman in a European 200m final in 32 years, the first in a 100m final for 40, an 18-year-old World Junior champion.
As a 4x100m relay squad, they won European gold and broke a national record that had stood for 34 years twice in 11 days. Here come the girls.
Before the Commonwealth Games it would have been easy to overlook 4ft 6in gymnast Claudia Fragapane. Not by the end, when the 17-year-old had become the first British woman in 84 years to win four gold medals at one Commonwealths.
Seems a lifetime ago but was actually still 2014 award
David Moyes as Manchester United manager.
Andy Murray being coached by Ivan Lendl.
Kevin Pietersen ending an Ashes series as England's leading run-scorer.
Most memorable name
Each had their fans: Sultana Frizell, Canadian hammer thrower, whose retention of her Commonwealth title in Glasgow confirmed her as the event's 'currant' champion, and Ivory Coast goalkeeper Boubacar Barry, surely a Catchphrase picture waiting to happen.