PARIS, France, Dec 18 – Sport has made the front pages as well as the back pages all around the world in 2019 with the rugby and cricket World Cups, the World Athletics Championships and the women’s football World Cup to name just a few.
Amid the clamouring headlines, however, there were a number of stories that you may have missed.
Coast to coast
— Since Matthew Webb first swam across the English Channel in 1875, over 1,800 people have gone on to plough their way across one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes between England and France.
Only one has done it four times non-stop.
Take a bow Sarah Thomas, a 37-year-old American breast cancer survivor, whose approximately 130-mile (209 kilometres) swim in September took an extraordinary 54 hours.
Thomas, who had completed two single Channel crossings previously, underwent treatment for an aggressive breast cancer in the summer of 2018.
She said the hardest part of the swim was dealing with the salt water, which left her throat and mouth sore, while she also got stung in the face by a jellyfish.
— Step aside Eliud Kipchoge, take a seat Mo Farah, stand up Zach Bitter, arguably the finest long distance runner in the world.
A big statement but then the 33-year-old American is a remarkable runner, having broken two distance records within the space of 40 minutes.
At an indoor track in Milwaukee, in his home state of Wisconsin, in August, Bitter broke the record for the 100 miles, completing the distance in 11 hours 19mins 13secs, knocking 8mins 50secs off Oleg Kharitonov’s previous record of 11:28:03 set back in 2002.
Bitter completed 363 laps around the 442-metre track averaging a mile pace of 6:48, which is faster than running a sub-three hour marathon.
He carried on running to claim the world record for distance covered over 12 hours, in his case 104.8 miles (168.66kms).
Colossus of cricket
— The selection of Antiguan off-spinner Rakheem Cornwall to play his first Test for the West Indies against India in August was greeted with an element of curiosity. Who was this giant?
The emphasis was most certainly on “giant” — Cornwall stands over 2 metres (6 foot 6) and weighs in over 140 kilograms.
A player of his bulk is rare in cricket and he cuts an unlikely figure as a spin bowler where the stereotype is all whisp and cunning?
But Cornwall is a seriously good cricketer. He took three wickets in the first innings of that Test and then followed up with match-figures of 10-111 in his second against Afghanistan in November.
He has guile, rip and supreme control with his height providing him with extra bounce.
The 26-year-old also has buckets for hands and a broad pair of shoulders that allows him to clatter a cricket ball to distant parts.
— The world and his dog have heard of multi-decorated gymnast Simone Biles. Fewer, unless they are regulars on YouTube, will know about Katelyn Ohashi who has retired from the sport at the age of 22.
Ohashi was a six-time All-American, four-time USA Gymnastics Junior National team member, and the winner of the American Cup.
For some years, she was a genuine sporting rival to Biles.
The four foot 10 inch (1.47 metres) Ohashi won five golds at the 2012 Pacific Rim Championships and the all-round gold at the 2013 FIG World Cup.
Then came a shoulder injury which saw her dropping out of elite competition. It didn’t stop her competing though and her infectious smile and swagger made her a smash hit on the web.
The video of her “perfect 10” floor routine at the 2019 Collegiate Challenge has had over 74 million hits.
Ohashi’s graduation from UCLA in April brought down the curtain on a sparkling career. She is currently working on two books including a collection of her poetry.
The Wright Stuff
— Cecil Wright’s name will not rank alongside West Indies cricket legends Viv Richards, Gary Sobers and Frank Worrell, but for longevity he outranks them all.
The fast bowler known affectionately as ‘Cec’ only retired at the end of the English summer — at the ripe old age of 85
In his heyday, Wright represented Jamaica against Barbados, lining up against Sobers and Wes Hall.
He moved to England in 1959 and launched a career as a professional in the Central Lancashire League for Crompton, ending his career with Uppermill in the Pennine League.
He took over 7,000 wickets during a career spanning more than 60 years.
At one point he took 538 wickets in five seasons, averaging one every 27 balls.