Best of Professional Sports 2016

Images compiled by Abby Lass

By Denebola Sports Staff

Compiled by Noah Whiting and Cameron Dubin

Managing Editors of Sports

2016 was an unforgettable year in the sports world. There were curses revered, records broken, and titles won. Here is the best in sports, 2016.

Female Professional Athlete of the year: Simone Biles

After becoming the female world champion in 2015, it was hard to believe that Simone Biles would be able to top her title-winning year. But in 2016, the 19-year-old gymnast did just that as she took home multiple medals from different competitions.

At her first competition of the year, the Pacific Rim Championships in April, Biles earned the all-around title as well as the highest score in vault.

She went on to compete at the U.S. Classic in June, achieving the highest score on the beam. A few weeks later, she was named the national champion at the USA gymnastics national championships.

Biles’ biggest highlight of the year, however, came in August at the Olympic Games in Rio. She took gold in beam, vault, and both the individual and team all-around competitions. With this accomplishment, she set a new American record for the most gold medals earned in women’s gymnastics at a single games.

Following the Olympics, she was named a finalist for TIME Magazine’s Person of the Year. Coming out of 2016 with four gold medals under her belt, Biles looks poised to once again dominate the gymnastics world in 2017.

Male Professional Athlete of the year: Michael Phelps

If there is one athlete from the previous four summer Olympics to reminisce about their outstanding performance, it is sure to be Michael Phelps. Not only is Phelps the most decorated Olympian of all time, with a grand total of 28 medals, but 23 of these medals were gold.

Phelps swim at his first Olympics in 2000 at age 15 in Sydney, Australia. He swam at what may be his final Olympics in Rio this past summer, cementing his legacy in history.

In Rio, Phelps did not disappoint. Not only did he lead the US into the opening ceremony as the flag bearer, but he won six medals, five gold. He set another Olympic record as part of the 4×100 meter medley team that won gold.

From his early start to the professional league of swimming, Phelps has made a name for himself worldwide. The iconic “Water God” is said to be one of the greatest athletes in his profession of all time. With a wingspan of 79 inches– three inches longer than his height– he was clearly born to swim. Given his physique, perseverance, and determination from such a young age, Phelps was born for greatness.

Although we are all sure to miss his competitions in the Olympic games to come, legends will arise and new heroes will come into play. Phelps’s name will always be remembered as one of the greatest.

Best Male Team of the Year: Chicago Cubs

Capping off their phenomenal season with an 8-7 victory over the Indians in extra innings of Game 7 of the World Series, thereby ending a 108 year drought, the Chicago Cubs were undoubtedly the best professional sports team of the year.

The Cubs signed Ben Zobrist before the 2016 season, who finished a great individual season with a go-ahead hit in the 12th inning. They also traded for Aroldis Chapman, who pitched in many key situations, including 7 2/3 innings in the World Series.

An amazing combination of great pitching, hitting, fielding, managing, signing, trading, and ending a drought lasting more than a century propelled the Chicago Cubs to be the Men’s Professional Sports Team of the Year.

Best Female Team of the Year: University of Connecticut Women’s Basketball

With a dominating 82-51 win over Syracuse on April 5th of 2016, the University of Connecticut’s women’s basketball team won their 10th national title in the past 20 years. UConn was never in any danger during the game, as the trio of Breanna Stewart, Moriah Jefferson, and Morgan Tuck dominated Syracuse. The team won its past 97 games, and it has broke the all time record of 90 consecutive wins, also set by UConn women’s basketball. This type of dominance is unprecedented in any sport, college or professional. With 11 straight wins in the 2016-2017 season, the team shows no signs of slowing down.

Most Talked About Female Athlete: Maria Sharapova

The International Tennis Federation suspended Maria Sharapova for two years after the women’s tennis icon tested positive for newly-banned heart medication meldonium at the January 2016 Australian Open. Sharapova then appealed to the International Court of Arbitration for Sport, who found the penalty to be unnecessarily harsh and reduced Sharapova’s suspension to fifteen months, clearing Sharapova to return to action in April 2017. The news of the suspension sent shockwaves throughout the sport. Sharapova has been a remarkable competitor during her career, first gaining the world No. 1 title when she was only 18 and most recently holding the title in 2012. She has also won five grand slams. Not only has she been competitive on the court, but she has been a cultural icon away from tennis, notably endorsing Nike sports apparel and Porsche cars. Her suspension has put many of her endorsements in jeopardy. Sharapova, only 29, will have plenty to prove on the court in 2017 when she returns from suspension just before the French Open.

Most Talked About Male Athlete: Ryan Lochte

After earning his 12th Olympic medal during the Summer Olympics this year in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, U.S swimmer Ryan Lochte was in the news for other reasons. After winning the 4X100 freestyle relay, placing fifth in the 200m individual medley, and earning the second most medals for a male olympic swimmer in history, Lochte had an altercation at a gas station. On the morning of August 14th, Lochte was out with teammates Jimmy Feigen, Jack Conger, and Gunnar Bentz.  While at a gas station, Lochte claimed that they were robbed at gunpoint.  

Employees at the gas station told a different story– one that was backed up by security footage and witnesses. The security footage shows the swimmers vandalizing a bathroom. They were then forced to pay for the damages by armed security men. After Lochte had flown home after the Olympics, Conger and Bentz were questioned by police. The Civil Police of Rio De Janeiro concluded that the athletes were not robbed and Lochte exaggerated his story.  Lochte was then charged with the crime of falsifying a police report in Brazil.

This incident quickly became worldwide news and hurt Lochte’s career. Lochte did an interview with Matt Lauer of The Today Show and apologized for over-exaggerating his story. This incident became one of the biggest stories of the Olympics. It also led to the loss of major sponsorships for Lochte such as Speedo and Ralph Lauren.

Male Sports Play of the Year: Villanova’s Buzzer Beater Wins the National Championship

April 4th 2016: In the 2016 National Championship Villanova University (#2) took on the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill (#1). The long anticipated championship would be the end of a phenomenal March Madness Tournament full of upsets, comebacks, and everything else the game has to offer.

The game was back and forth, full of non-stop action. Villanova had a three-point lead with 13 seconds left.

UNC brought the ball up the court and with around six seconds left, Marcus Paige hit a miraculous, double-clutch three point shot to tie the game at 74 apiece.

Ryan Arcidiacono, point guard for Villanova, got the inbound pass and dribbled the ball down the court. He then passed it to the player with the hot hand, Kris Jenkins. He was shooting lights out and his last shot was no different.

As time expired, Jenkins hit a deep three pointer to cap off Villanova’s season with a 77-74 victory, and their first championship since 1985. The shot ended a great March Madness Tournament, and it has got many fans looking forward to next years’.

Female Sports Play of the Year: Katie Ledecky Breaks 400 Meter Freestyle Record in Rio

Katie Ledecky’s stellar race may have been the best of all time. In any Olympic swimming event, the difference between first and second is usually less than a second. In this race, the difference between her and the previous world record was almost two seconds.

Ledecky was able to take control of the race from the beginning, by creating a massive lead into the first turn. The race then turned into her against her previous world record. After the final turn it became clear that she would not just break the world record, but shatter it. Her face of pure joy and happiness of seeing her hard work and determination pay off showed the true spirit of the Olympics.

This was the crowning moment for Ledecky in this past summer’s Olympics. She won a total of five medals, including four golds, set two individual world records, and helped set a third.

Ledecky’s closest opponent in this race was Jazz Carlin, who finished five seconds after Ledecky. The landside of a victory just goes to show how much better she is than anyone else in the world.

While there were many other amazing moments from this past year, there was nothing so dominating, and so improbable, as Ledecky absolutely annihilating the 400 meter final in what could very well be the greatest sports spectacle of all time.