One by one, the lights started going out of sports from March. Since then, it was mostly sorrow and tears for athletes and sports enthusiasts around the world.
It was supposed to have been a great year, with the Olympic Games expected to hog the limelight in Tokyo and Euro 2020 to spark across 12 European cities, promising football fans some high-octane action.
Instead, both fell to that mighty yet miniscule conqueror called the coronavirus.
Other big events became victims too, like the Premier League, Formula One, the world championships of various other sports, tennis and golf tours, and the basketball, table tennis and football leagues, including our own.
The year 2020 has been, without any dispute, a dark year for sports.
Many events were deferred while others were called off for good, causing uncertainties, headaches over the calendar, and most importantly, huge losses of income.
The postponement of the Tokyo Olympics was one of the hardest to deal with, but many Malaysian stars took it in good stride.
“At first, it was difficult to understand what was going on but once we knew that our health was at risk, we accepted it, ” says 2016 Rio Olympic Games silver medallist Chan Peng Soon, who had been hoping to go one step better with Goh Liu Ying in the mixed doubles badminton event in Tokyo.
“After all, everyone was going through the same.
“As sportsmen, we don’t give up easily. We kept training despite the uncertainties and I know we will hit the ground running when the season resumes next year, ” says the 32-year-old, who is keeping his fingers crossed as he hopes to play in three tournaments in Thailand next month.
For another Rio Olympics silver medallist, Pandelela Rinong (diving), the postponement of Games means she will be a year older and it’s tough to maintain her form in the vigorous sport, but she is not disheartened.
The 27-year-old plans to resume where she left off in March before the first MCO, when she and Leong Mun Yee took the silver in the synchro platform at the Fina World Diving series in Montreal. Canada.
Squash and bowling are not Olympics sports but their respective stars Low Wee Wern (pic) and Sin Li Jane know how tough it has been without being able to participate in a single competition in 2020.
Says national No. 1 Wee Wern: “It’s frustrating not to be able to compete when I’m healthy enough to do so, especially after a few good results in January and February before Covid-19 started to slow things down.”
“But on the bright side, it has given me time to sort out some niggling injuries. It’s best to start when it’s safe to do so.”
Asia's top women bowler, Li Jane, who is pursuing a US business degree, is also taking it in her stride.
“I believe it’s still a good year for me. Even though the pandemic has stopped me from competing, I was able to catch up on my studies, ” she says.
While some had to take a complete break for the year, several sports did kickstart their engines to revive their activities in the middle of the year, with new rules put in place, and without spectators.
And some came away with excellent results.
Liverpool, for instance, won their first Premier League title in 30 years albeit under the strangest of circumstances, with the league almost being written off at one stage when they had a 33-point lead at the top.
The team, managed by Juergen Klopp held the trophy aloft after winning the 2019-20 season by 18 points from Manchester City – without any of their fanatical fans inside the stadium but with millions outside and all over the world, celebrating in sheer joy.
They had finished just a point short of the record 19-point margin by which Manchester City won the Premier League in 2017-18.
In motorsport, Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton assured himself of a place in the Formula One pantheon when he equalled former great Michael Schumacher of Ferrari’s record of seven world titles when he won at the Turkish Grand Prix in November.
Just a month earlier, he had surpassed Schumacher’s all-time record of 91 Grand Prix wins to become the most successful racer of all time.
But the darkness persisted, and not just in the arena. There was plenty of gloom as the sports world saw the passing of some great legends.
In January, the world mourned as American NBA star Kobe Bryant died in a helicopter crash together with his daughter and few others.
And in the last two months of 2020, the world grieved following the passing of legendary World Cup stars Diego Maradona of Argentina and Paulo Rossi of Italy.
Maradona was God’s gift to football. The iconic No 10 dazzled with his artistry and showmanship, with many still saying he was the greatest player ever.
Of course, there will always be the detractors who only remember him for his “Hand of God” handball goal against England in the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, choosing to forget his second goal, widely considered the best goal in the tournament’s nearly 100-year history.
In homes that loved football, they would also never forget Rossi’s hattrick against Brazil in Italy’s 3-2 victory in the second group stage of the 1982 World Cup in Spain. It turned him into an instant superstar and a household name.
There were other deaths too like Liverpool’s former manager Gerard Houllier and even those close to home as three former greats from the 1972 Munich Olympic Games – Datuk Namat Abdullah (December), Datuk Mohd Bakar (November) and V. Krishnasamy (August) – also passed away.
Indeed it’s been a tough year, and a year to forget for many, but sportsmen and sportswomen always show their resilience in times of trouble.
It will not be long before they light up the world of sports again, with heartwarming performances and a true show of grit and power when the situation and environment allow them to do so.
The light at the end of the tunnel has started to spark. Just recently, 2016 Rio Olympics bronze medallist Azizulhasni Awang stunned the mighty Australian cyclists to win the keirin in their home championship while teammate Mohd Shah Firdaus Sahrom added more joy with the bronze.
The Pocket Rocket is ready to aim for the skies again.