2016 has had its share of surprises, while the reactions from certain sports stars were also unexpected. We look back on the emotional highs and lows of the year.
Lee Chong Wei
Malaysia were once again made to wait on a first-ever gold as they finished the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro without topping the podium. And they will no longer have their top badminton hope to try and make history, with Lee Chong Wei set to retire next year after falling in the final to China’s Chen Long 21-18, 21-18.
Perhaps all the emotional stress from a first-ever win over China’s Lin Dan at a major event in the semi-final took its toll.
Malaysians were elated with Lee’s win over Lin, with netizens near tears and terrified to watch, while there were numerous messages of congratulations from Malaysian politicians. Lee’s semi-final win prompted a message at a National Day celebration shortly after the Olympics from the prime minister, while there were government rewards for medal winners and a condominium unit in Kuala Lumpur for Lee.
However, Lee said he made mistakes that proved fatal in the final and had to accept that his Olympic career would end with his best being second.
“I’m crushed. I gave my all, but Chen Long was just too good.”
The world No. 1 said that the ride was not quite over, with plans to contest the world title next year before retiring. He has never won that prize either.
“One more year to go before the final stop, as other Malaysian shuttlers must fill in the gap,” Lee said after the gold medal once again slipped from his grasp.
For the king!
Thailand coach Kiatisuk “Zico” Senamuang broke down in tears after his team claimed a draw against Australia in a FIFA World Cup 2018 qualifying match.
His reaction was symbolic of a nation that had just lost a beloved monarch after Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej died after 70 years on the throne.
The game against Australia came on the final evening of a 30-day mourning period, and with four-straight defeats leaving Thailand at the foot of the qualifying group, their goal of becoming the first Southeast Asian nation to make the World Cup finals was already in tatters.
However, the 2-2 draw came with a large outpouring of emotion after Teerasil Dangda’s brace gave them their first point.
The national anthem was accompanied by images of the king on video displays and the crowd engaged in a sombre manner, despite the government lifting a ban on cheering amid the mourning period, which almost saw the game cancelled.
It was after the final whistle that Senamuang could not hold back his emotions any longer, shedding tears during TV interviews.
“It was emotional,” Senamuang said. “I want to thank the king, and I want to thank the fans and media for getting behind us all the way. I am just disappointed we could not get the three points, but this one point can bring happiness to the Thai people.”
“Thailand played really well,” Australia coach Ange Postecoglou said. “We knew that in these special circumstances, they would play with a lot of passion, and they did just that.”
Germany player Bastian Schweinsteiger had a roller-coaster year. He married tennis star Ana Ivanovic, gave away a penalty in the Euro2016 semi-final that contributed to Germany’s exit and after retiring from the national side faced uncertainty with limited opportunities to play at Manchester United amid injury and non-selection.
Bayern Munich president Uli Hoeness said that Schweinsteiger should make Manchester United “bleed for the way he has been treated at the club”.
Schweinsteiger himself was a little more measured after Germany’s exit from Europe at the hands of hosts France.
“It’s a real shame,” he said in an open letter to fans. “Our dream has not been fulfilled.”
It was not the same story at his international farewell in a friendly against Finland in August.
“It means so much that you’re here today,” he said.
“It has been an honour to play for you. I think you all saw how it affected me,” he said, shedding tears as the crowd chanted in support.
Neymar and Brazil had a slow start to their Olympic campaign, but it ended with a gold medal and their defiant captain demanding respect from sometimes hostile home fans.
Two scoreless draws in their opening games did nothing to endear the team to a nation still hurting from their World Cup exit two years earlier, but then they thrashed Denmark 4-0, prompting an outburst from Neymar.
Questions over his mindset and preparations for the tournament were common, with his social life a source of concern in the media.
The second draw, against Iraq, prompted comments from media personalities such as: “It’s ugly, really ugly. It’s not professional, not ethical and not correct”; “I’ve never seen him [Neymar] make so many errors”; and “He doesn’t have what it takes to be captain.”
“Off the field, it’s my life,” Neymar told reporters at a post-game news conference. “I’m a 24-year-old guy — why can’t I go out to parties? You have to hold me accountable for what I do on the pitch.”
However, the team progressed to the final against Germany, which was the Neymar show as he scored their goal in a 1-1 draw, and then hit the winner in the penalty shoot-out as Brazil triumphed 5-4.
However, the drama was not over as Neymar got involved in an altercation with fans following the win, responding in anger to apparently being mocked during the game.
‘Now my critics will have to shut up,” he told reporters later, when he also announced his retirement as national captain.
“I can’t begin to describe my feelings. I have fulfilled my dream and to have fulfilled it in my home country makes me very proud.”
Formula One World Champion Nico Rosberg bowed out of the sport at the summit after Lewis Hamilton’s failed bid to pip him at the post in the final race of the year in Abu Dhabi.
Rosberg said it was “mission accomplished” as he dropped his retirement bombshell hours before being handed the trophy in Vienna.
There was family — his wife and daughter — and the future on his mind after the 2015 season and the failure to secure the title that went to Hamilton, as Rosberg entered the final few races of this year’s championship with a strong lead that was whittled away enough to see it all on the line as he prepared for the final race in the United Arab Emirates.
“It’s mission accomplished as far as I am concerned,” Nico Rosberg said in Vienna. “I’m so proud to be here. It’s been a pretty intense period, but it was my childhood dream.”
“I have climbed my mountain, I am on the peak, so this feels right. My strongest emotion right now is deep gratitude to everybody who supported me to make that dream happen… And of course that had an impact on the ones I love, too – it was a whole family effort of sacrifice, putting everything behind our target.”
With the third-to-last Formula One grand prix of the year in Felipe Massa’s home nation of Brazil, there was an outpouring of emotion for the retiring driver from supporters.
Massa’s failure to finish might not have been the most appropriate end to his last home race, but he still took centre-stage to acknowledge the Interlagos crowd for the final time.
After wrecking his Williams car, Massa walked back to the garage area, where he was given a guard of honour by the Mercedes and Ferrari pit crews and embraced by his family while the crowd cheered.
Massa finished 2016 in 11th place, but reports have hinted at the possibility of one more season, as Williams look set to agree to release Valtteri Bottas to take Nico Rosberg’s vacated seat at Mercedes.
“I am very happy with my decision to retire, but who would not want to drive the Mercedes?” Massa said.