Of headbutts and teary farewells: the year in French sport
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It was a year of shattered records, broken noses and moving swan songs. FRANCE 24 looks at the best and the worst from French sport in 2014.
World Cup: you can’t beat the Germans
France did not win the World Cup in Brazil, but Les Bleus were still treated to a hero’s welcome after a spirited showing that saw them dazzle at times, particularly in the 5-2 trouncing of Switzerland. Predictably, their good run ended against old foes Germany – no doubt because of a malicious article urging the French to support the Mannschaft.
Football: the bad, the ugly, the hideous
By most accounts, it was an ugly year in France’s domestic leagues. It started, unsurprisingly, with Paris Saint-Germain top of Ligue 1 (they went on to win the title) and ended, somewhat more surprisingly, with Marseille in pole position. But events off the pitch drew more attention, mostly for the wrong reasons. The league’s profile slipped when big-spending Monaco surrendered their biggest stars Radamel Falcao and James Rodriguez, leaving PSG as the only club with top players of international fame. One of them, Italian defender Thiago Motta, ended up with a broken nose after he was head-butted in the dressing room by Bastia striker Brandao, who thus made history by becoming the first professional footballer to get a jail sentence for such an offence.
2014 saw yet another racism scandal engulf French football, after Bordeaux coach Willy Sagnol appeared to suggest African players lacked intelligence and discipline. There was more infamy when newly promoted Luzenac, a town of just 650 inhabitants nestled in the Pyrenees, were kicked out of the second division and banished to the wilderness of the amateur leagues because France’s football bosses decided their stadium was too small (a handful of nearby towns offered to lend their larger facilities, but the powers that be would have none of it). Mercifully, there was one feel-good story with Clermont’s appointment of new coach Corinne Diacre, who thus became the first female coach of a European professional football team.
Football: Henry hangs up his boots
The football year ended with a tinge of sadness as the former France and Arsenal striker Thierry Henry announced his retirement after a glittering two decades in the game. Here’s a video selection of ten memorable moments from his career, from the finest to the less flattering.
Rugby: adieu, Jonny !
From one retirement to another, 2014 was also the year France – and the world – bid farewell to one of rugby’s all-time greats: England’s Jonny Wilkinson. The Toulon fly half went out in style this summer, helping the French squad to a historic double (French Top 14 and Heineken Cup). Few players have inflicted greater pain on French rugby fans over the years. Yet the fondness with which France bid farewell to Wilkinson is a measure of the Englishman’s legacy on and off the pitch.
Jonny Wilkinson's last game
France also played host to the women’s World Cup in the summer, and while bitter foes England clinched the title, the home team’s excellent run drew unprecedented crowds in a country otherwise scarcely interested in the women’s game.
Cycling: a Tour of the trenches
The 2014 edition of the Tour de France was marked by a poignant tribute to the cyclists who fought and died during World War I. From Ypres to Verdun and the Somme, the riders followed the battle lines of the Western Front, filing past historic sites whose names still resonate in the collective memory, a century after the start of the Great War. The race, won by Italy’s Vincenzo Nibali, also saw the emergence of a new crop of French cyclists who raised hopes of a first victory for the home nation since 1985.
Judo: Teddy ‘Winner’
French judo heavyweight Teddy Riner (pronounced “Reener”) claimed his seventh world championship in September, confirming his dominance of the sport’s flagship category. FRANCE 24 takes a closer look at the giant from Guadeloupe who became a legend, aged just 25.
Athletics: Bigger than Bubka
Teddy Riner was a strong challenger for sports personality of 2014, but there was no beating pole vaulter Renaud Lavillenie this year – not after he broke Sergei Bubka’s “unbreakable” world record. Lavillenie was just 6 years old when the mighty Ukrainian vaulted 6.15 metres in Donetsk back in 1993. Twenty-one years later, France’s Olympic champion added one centimetre to Bubka’s indoor record, in the very same Ukrainian city.
Lavillenie's record-breaking jump
Swimming: Manaudou the Second
2014 was a bumper year for 24-year-old swimmer Florent Manaudou. While his retired sister Laure made headlines for allegedly shoplifting at Disneyland, the hulking Frenchman picked up five gold medals at the European championships in March, then another three at the World short course championships later in the year, smashing two world records in the process.
Tennis: chapeau, Roger !
France lost their third Davis Cup final in a row in November, despite Gaël Monfils’s rare drubbing of Swiss legend Roger Federer in their opening singles match. But there was some comfort in the knowledge that the home team’s defeat meant King Roger finally picked up the one title missing from his medal haul.
Baseball: a brand new ball game
The French are hardly known as fans of the “old ball game”. But France’s baseball federation managed to cobble together a national team this summer, in time for the first France International Baseball Tournament. FRANCE 24 went out to meet the players, officials and fans determined to put their country on the baseball map.
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