Everyone can identify with the underdog narrative – rooting for the idea that someone can rise to the challenge and shake up the establishment, for the conviction that an outsider can potentially cause an upset by pulling off the unthinkable. Much to everyone’s surprise, 2016 has clearly been the year of underdogs wherein they made triumphant comebacks, prevailing against enormous odds to leave their mark in the annals of history.
From mouth-watering sporting events to massive political tussles, the departing year has witnessed gripping tales of resilience from unlikely champions. Leicester City, being the epitome of the underdog, capped off one of the most remarkable stories in the history of English football by winning the coveted the Premier League title. Having narrowly escaped relegation the previous year, the Foxes overcame extraordinary 5000-1 odds to be crowned as the kings of English football. The mastermind behind this fairy-tale was an inspiring figure himself. Although Claudio Ranieri’s appointment at the helm of the club was fraught with criticism, the veteran Italian refrained from giving verbal responses and rather went about his job quietly by propelling the club into glory, earning him accolades from across the world.
The 2016 European Championship also saw the minnows deliver a reverberating blow to the traditional giants, with Iceland and Wales stunning the world football by reaching quarter and semifinals respectively. While Iceland, the smallest ever nation to qualify for a major international football tournament, pulled off the biggest shocks in the competition when they outplayed England 2-1, forcing the then manager Roy Hodgson to resign, Wales captured the imagination with their spirited run to the last-four stage, most notably their 3-1 win over dark-horse Belgium.
Winning the European Championship wasn’t a cakewalk for Portugal either as they had to overcome overwhelming favourites France in the absence of their captain Cristiano Ronaldo to lift their first ever major tournament. Despite having scraped through the group stages, Portugal managed to carve out a way to reach the pinnacle of the competition on a night when their talismanic striker had to be stretched off the field following an ugly tackle by Dimitri Payet.
The underdog wave was even felt in the American sporting circles as well. The Chicago cubs won Major League Baseball’s World Series in a dramatic fashion, edging out the Cleveland Indians 8-7 in a gripping 10-inning contest to end their 108-year championship drought. In golf, it was the story of unheralded Danny Willett that made headlines across the globe. Despite making a leap forward into top 10 from outside the top 100 in less than two years, a few would have tipped the British golfer to win the iconic green jacket in only his second appearance at the Augusta Masters. The 29-year-old pipped defending champion Jordan Spieth, who suffered an astonishing final-round meltdown, to claim one of the golf’s most prestigious tournaments.
The participation of Refugee Olympic team at the Rio Olympics had been a heartening sight. It was for the first time, 10 athletes formed a refugee team and competed against others under the Olympic flag. Despite enduring severe trials and tribulations, the Refugee Olympic team refused to be cowed down and were determined to carve out a path for themselves.
On the political front, Britain’s decision to leave the European Union following the Leave campaign’s stunning win over the Remain faction signalled the simmering anti-establishment sentiments across the Europe. The historic referendum plunged the country into political uncertainty and also dropped the pound to a three-decade low against the dollar. Although many doubted the prospect of Brexit becoming a reality initially, the final verdict dealt a severe blow to David Cameroon’s political legacy.
But the biggest turnaround of the year has to be the improbable victory of Donald Trump over Democrat Hillary Clinton in one of the fiercely contested elections in recent times. The Republican nominee relied heavily on anti-establishment sentiment and achieved one of the most unlikely victories in the history of US Presidential election. Despite leading a polarising campaign with his racist and sexist behavior, the controversial billionaire businessman managed to sway the votes in his favour.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos winning the prestigious Nobel Peace prize can also be counted as one of the underrated underdog tale of the year. Santos was honoured with the award for his relentless efforts to end a 52-year-0ld conflict with leftist rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) earlier this year. The civil war between the two sides killed more than 2,20,000 people and displaced millions. Although the initial deal was narrowly rejected in a referendum, a revised peace agreement was signed by the two groups last month.
As 2016 draws to a close, the question that keeps knocking at the door of one’s mind is the underdogs’ capability to sustain the momentum and produce another awe inspiring and surprising season in the forthcoming year.