That’s the Greatest Of All Time. Whether it be Michael Phelps or Usain Bolt monopolising another Olympic Games, Novak Djokovic seeking a Grand Slam or Katie Taylor punching her way into legend, the sporting record books look set for another complete rewrite in 2016...
Usain Bolt - Third straight Olympic sprint double?
If the great Jamaican can achieve a third successive 100m/200m sprint double - actually, make that a third straight sprint treble, if you throw in the relay - it would surely be the greatest athletics feat in Olympic annals.
Only one other man, Carl Lewis, has successfully defended an Olympic 100m crown and nobody else has achieved back-to-back 200m wins.
Yet Bolt’s miracle would lie in its unprecedented length of consistent excellence - three titles in a row seems almost unthinkable.
But then Bolt has long been forcing us to look again at the limits of what we felt was possible.
His domination in global championships has become such that the only 100m or 200m title he has lost in the last two Olympics and four world championships was when he false started in the 100m final in Daegu in 2011.
If he wins three golds in Rio, it will take him to nine in total, equalling Lewis and Paavo Nurmi.
Michael Phelps: 20 Olympic golds?
It is easy to forget the magnitude of what Michael Phelps has achieved, and keeps achieving.
The man remains the wonder of the Olympic world, his 18 golds not just more than any other athlete has ever won, but actually twice as many.
For four years in between Games, we tend to forget him, apart from reading a little about some of his out-of-pool high jinks, his brushes with bongs, the law and Miss California. Now, he’s going to become a dad too.
Yet when the Olympics come around, Superman reappears. In Rio, he’ll be 31 at his fourth Games but his recent performances - he won his 62nd national title this month - betray no signs of diminishing powers as he embarks on a redemption song after being charged with a second drink-driving offence in 2014.
Six golds in Athens, eight in Beijing and four in London, who’s to say the most garlanded Olympian of all cannot now splash to 20-plus.
Ian Millar: 11 Olympic Games?
Millar is the silver-haired showjumper beloved by his country as “Captain Canada”, the grandpa who seems to ride on for ever.
At 69 by the time of the Rio Olympics, he may very well be the oldest competitor at the entire Games.
Almost unbelievably, that would be his 11th Games in all (it would have been 12 if not for the Moscow boycott in 1980).
His first was in the ill-fated 1972 Munich Games where he witnessed the unfolding nightmare of the terrorist gunmen taking Israeli hostages in the Olympic village.
It was an horrific start to an otherwise felicitous journey which has seen Millar mature like a fine wine, even winning a team gold in this year’s Pan-American Games.
When I last talked to him, Rio was still on the agenda.
“If I’m healthy, strong and have a good horse, then they aren’t going to get rid of me quite yet!” boomed the indestructible one.
Lionel Messi: Fifth world player of the year award?
Now, Cristiano Ronaldo can go on as many chat shows as he likes, protesting that he is the best player in the world.
We all know the truth. The little man who just lets his genius do the talking with the ball at his quicksilver feet will, later this month, become the first man to be voted world player of the year for a fifth time.
Now, you may think this FIFA Ballon d’Or fuss is so much stuff and nonsense but this footballing bauble at least does a service in reminding us about the enduring nature of Messi’s brilliance.
This will be the ninth successive year that the Argentine has been on the award podium, nine years of individual magic weaving into team glory, with 472 goals contributing to 25 winners’ medals.
No other player has won the Ballon d’Or/FIFA World of the Year award more than three times. Messi, at just 28, could go on and win seven or eight, to the point when we may be forced to think of him as the best footballer ever.
Novak Djokovic: First Grand Slam since Rod Laver?
In 2015, Djokovic enjoyed one of the great seasons in the Open era, winning 11 titles, including three Slams.
No one single player had been as dominant on the men’s tour since Roger Federer’s incredible 2006 campaign.
Yet the Serb actually came closer than Federer in his pomp to achieving the Grand Slam, missing out on winning all four Majors in the same calendar year only because he was unfortunate enough to run into a crazily-inspired Stan Wawrinka in the French Open final.
Yet the way he ended 2015, demolishing all-comers on the way to the ATP World Tour final title, suggested it is not inconceivable that he could go one better in 2016, perhaps winning all four Slams, the feat that has been achieved in the Open era just once before, by the great Rod Laver in 1969.
He is only a 10-1 shot to do so - and if he wins the Olympics singles too, he would be the only player since Steffi Graf in 1988 to achieve the ‘Golden Slam’.
Ruby Walsh: 50 Cheltenham Festival winners?
When a promising amateur rider piloted Alexander Banquet, fittingly trained by Willie Mullins, to victory in the Champion Bumper at the Cheltenham Festival back in 1998, he mused afterwards about his delight in winning because, as he said, it might be the only Festival winner he ever had.
Well, 44 more winners later, Ruby Walsh will be back at Prestbury Park in March as the undisputed king of Cheltenham, armed with another wonderful book of rides all provided by that man Mullins.
It’s possible, having being the Festival’s top jockey in nine previous editions, that he will ride the five winners which would make him the first jockey ever to reach the 50 landmark. With the likes of Douvan, Un De Sceaux, Vautour, Faugheen, Djakadam, Annie Power and Min at his disposal, why not?
Europe Ryder Cup team: fourth successive victory?
We are tending to take Europe’s Ryder Cup pre-eminence for granted these days after winning eight of the last 10 editions but if Darren Clarke’s men prevail in Hazeltine in October, it would represent a fourth straight victory, a run of domination unprecedented since the change of the Cup’s format in 1979 to introduce European opposition.
Ireland rugby team: first Six Nations ‘treble’?
Europe’s rugby nations have been licking their wounds since the Southern Hemisphere World Cup monopoly but the Six Nations Championship represents a welcome and swift opportunity to regain lost prestige.
Especially for Ireland.
The anti-climactic feel left by the comprehensive defeat by Argentina came accompanied by a ‘what might have been’ sensation with no O’Connell, Sexton, O’Brien and O’Mahony on board.
Now though, Joe Schmidt’s side have the chance to rebound with a slice of Six Nations history by becoming the first side ever to win three titles in a row in the extended format and the first to achieve the feat since France won three titles in a row in the old Five Nations 26 years ago.
Leighton Aspell: a third straight Grand National?
In the 176-year history of the world’s greatest steeplechase, no jockey has ever won on three successive occasions.
In 2016, if all goes well, the opportunity to make history at Aintree will fall to the unlikely figure of Leighton Aspell, a 39-year-old who would have laughed you off the racecourse if you had suggested this fantasy seven years ago when he retired from the saddle having lost all enthusiasm for riding.
After returning in 2009, though, first Pineau de Re in 2014 and Many Clouds the following year carried him to glory.
Many Clouds has continued to look the part and, currently priced at 16-1, looks set to start favourite to transport the Dubliner into legend.
Tom Brady: the first five-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback?
One of America’s favourite pastimes is the debate over who is the greatest quarterback ever to play their great game.
Each year, Tom Brady seems to offer his backers more ammunition that he’s the man and if he can lead the New England Patriots to victory in Super Bowl 50 - the NFL has done away with Roman numerals for the landmark event in Santa Clara in February - a record fifth Super Bowl ring for any quarterback, beating the four by Joe Montana, of the San Francisco 49ers, and Terry Bradshaw, of the Pittsburgh Steelers, may make his case unanswerable.
Judging by his pristine form as we enter the playoffs, he has every chance yet even if he fails, what’s the betting that 38-year-old Brady will go on to end all arguments over the next few years anyway with the great man insisting recently that he intends to play for another 10 years?
Ha! A 48-year-old winning the Super Bowl!? Er, but it is Brady we’re talking about…
Spain: the first country to win three successive Euro titles?
One of the hardest arts in world football has been to replicate success at major championship after major championship.
Spain discovered this in Brazil in 2014 when their defence of the World Cup flopped so dismally even though they had entered as favourites alongside the hosts on the back of a second straight European Championship crown, which sandwiched their 2010 triumph in South Africa.
Yet there are arguments to believe now that it was just a blip even if it as painted at the time as an era-ending reverse as Carles Puyol, Xabi Alonso, David Villa and the great Xavi bowed out.
Yet when you look at the rich pedigree and experience of Andres Iniesta, Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos and David Silva, allied to the brilliance of the likes of Koke, Thiago, Pique, Busquets, Isco, and then think of the players who might not even get a look in like Ander Herrera and Javi Martinez, then you know their Euro 2016 defence in France, re-enthused and re-energised by Vicente del Bosque, will be formidable.
Should they prevail, they would be the only team apart from Argentina, Copa America winners between 1945 and 47, to win the same major international championship three times in a row but as the South American event was held annually at that time, it is an achievement which bears no recognition.
Katie Taylor: first Irishwoman to win gold at successive Olympics?
The Bray Bomber’s greatness already goes without saying after a career which already identifies her as the most decorated woman boxer in history.
Yet 2016 could see the exclamation mark placed after her GOAT - Greatest Of All-Time - moniker as she sets out to equal the great Cuban Felix Savon’s record of six senior world titles and then goes for gold in Rio with the aim of becoming the first Irishwoman in history to win back-to-back golds at the Olympics.
She still loses so rarely that you would be foolhardy to bet against her but it gets no easier as she approaches 30, as her hard-fought win in the European Games demonstrated.
If she could win in Rio, she would emulate a feat of wins at successive Olympics only ever achieved by one Irish Olympian - Pat O’Callaghan, who took the hammer title in Amsterdam in 1928 and Los Angeles 1932.
There’s already an argument to say she is Ireland’s greatest sports performer of all; that might just end any debates.
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