In a year full of historic events and incredible achievements, the world of sport provided twists and turns in 2023 as athletes put on their best performances in preparation for the upcoming Olympic Games this year.
The Australian Open kicked the year off in January as Novak Djokovic claimed the men’s singles title, his tenth Australian Open title and 22nd major title overall, equalling Rafael Nadal’s all-time record. Djokovic was allowed to play this year despite remaining unvaccinated from Covid-19 after the three-year ban that was initially handed to him following his deportation in 2022 was lifted. Nadal was the defending champion but lost to Mackenzie McDonald in the second round. Aryna Sabalenka won the women’s title, her first major singles title.
In the Super Bowl LVII in February, the American Football Conference champion Kansas City Chiefs defeated the National Football Conference champion Philadelphia Eagles 38-35. After the Eagles went into halftime up 24-14, the Chiefs mounted a comeback to win the game 38-35 with a game-winning field goal kicked by Harrison Butker. Fox’s broadcast of the game became the most-watched programme in American television history with an average of 115.1 million viewers, but it was the halftime show, headlined by Rihanna that saw coverage peak at 118.7 million viewers.
Closer to home, February saw Glasgow University’s women’s rugby team take home the varsity trophy, defeating Strathclyde University 22-17, with Debbie Lee winning Player of the Match. This wasn’t the varsity success for UofG in 2023, however, as merely a few weeks later, Glasgow took home the Glasgow Taxis Cup after a win in Scotland’s largest intervarsity, multisport competition.
The 2023 Six Nations ahead of the Rugby World Cup was set to be a closely contested tournament with France entering as not only the defending champions, having won the Grand Slam in 2022 but also the hosts for the World Cup. However, it was Ireland who won the tournament for the 15th time with a 13th Triple Crown and a fourth Grand Slam. It was also the first time that they won the title in Dublin, beating England in their final game on 18 March. Scotland had an impressive performance, finishing third in the table, ahead of England, Wales and Italy with three wins and retaining the Calcutta Cup for yet another year.
Scotland had more success in April as the Bruce Mouat rink, representing Scotland, won their first World Curling Championship title, and the first since 2009 for the nation, easily defeating host nation Canada 9-3 in the final.
As the year flew by quicker than Franki Detorri aboard King Of Steel, the second half of 2023 was filled with even more iconic moments that will undoubtedly have many supporters still trying to catch their breath.
The latter half of the year began with Carlos Alcarez defeating Djokovic in the men’s Wimbledon final. It was a tight affair between two of the leading players on the ATP tour this year, with Djokovic aiming for a fifth straight win in what would have been a multiple-record-breaking victory for the tennis legend. However, it wasn’t to be for the veteran. Unlike in their French Open semi-final the previous month, when Alcarez’s nerves over facing Djokovic led to body cramps, the young Spaniard fought back from a difficult start to win the tournament for the first time. At just 20 years old, he’s the third youngest to ever achieve this feat.
England’s wait for a maiden women’s World Cup final went on as they were defeated by Spain in Sydney in August. Both teams had been improving with each performance throughout the tournament, to be in top form ahead of the final but it was Spain that narrowly came out deserved victors. Unfortunately, the celebrations were darkened by the treatment of captain Jenni Hermoso, with the off-field proceedings still progressing heading into 2024 and undermining what was a landmark of progress in the women’s game. The almost 2 million in-person fans at the tournament dwarfed the levels of the previous World Cup while an estimated 2 billion people watched worldwide across the 64 games. The whole world watched on as these female athletes competed to the most elite level.
October saw jubilation and heartbreak for some of Scotland’s men’s teams. Previous Scotland rugby international, John Jeffrey, had touted the fifth-ranked team in the world as “without doubt the best ever Scotland team to take the field” heading into the World Cup in France. However, it was a group-stage exit for Gregor Townsend’s side who bowed out in defeat to Ireland, as South Africa took home the victory.
There was more joy in the footballing sphere though as qualification for next summer’s Euros was secured, with fans sent into raptures following Spain’s win over Norway ensuring participation for the Scots. Scotland have notoriously struggled in major tournaments but showed signs of improvement in these qualifiers. They’ll play the competition’s opening fixture against Germany next summer and will want this to be the year they defy the expectations and go further than previous campaigns.
October hadn’t finished there though as Frankie Dettori secured a Champion Stakes victory at Ascot with his final ride in Britain. The 52-year-old, 78-time-Royal Ascot winner, who retired at the end of the year, was last in the early stages of group one but galvanised his mount on the final stretch to pass out Via Sistina. The onlooking Brits erupted in response with Dettori himself stating the support and chants from the British fans would be sincerely missed ahead of his departure to the US.
December produced memorable scenes at the 2023 UK Snooker Championship. 30 years on from his first win, 47-year-old Ronnie O’Sullivan took the victory. The snooker icon made history in the process, being both the youngest and now the oldest UK snooker championship winner, extending his record of wins in the competition to a staggering eight.
Of course, sporting feats of the year can’t be discussed without mentioning Luke Littler; the 16-year-old who became the youngest ever PDC Darts World Championship finalist (technically three days into 2024). It wasn’t to be for the young man who missed out on the history-defying win to Luke Humphries, but he’s captured the hearts of so many supporters across his campaign and has done much to promote darts to an even wider audience.
The 2023 rollercoaster has reached its end in what was an undeniably iconic year for sport. We were treated to no shortage of inspirational performances and poetry-esque moments, and the list extends well beyond the key few we have mentioned. No doubt all sporting fans will be banding together in hopes that the excitement keeps going strong as we cycle, swim, and pole vault into 2024.