DETROIT, Dec 18 (Reuters) - American sports fans endured a Hall of Shame year in 2007 as a parade of athletes once worshipped and honoured were unmasked as charlatans and drug cheats.
There were few achievements to celebrate during a gloomy 2007 that saw disgraced sprint queen Marion Jones return five Olympic medals, Tour de France champion Floyd Landis stripped of his title and Barry Bonds crowned Major League Baseball’s (MLB) home run king but under a cloud.
Americans said a sad goodbye to Barbaro and Formula One racing and hello to David Beckham and Daisuke Matsuzaka.
The U.S. ended a 12-year Davis Cup tennis drought with a win over Russia in Portland but the serious action was taking place in the courts, not on them.
Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick, a three-time Pro Bowl selection with a 10-year, $130-million contract, was jailed for 23 months for his role in a dog-fighting and gambling ring and could be soon joined by Bonds, who faces jail time if found guilty of lying to a grand jury about using performance-enhancing drugs.
On Aug. 7, the San Francisco Giants slugger claimed one of American sport’s most cherished records when he slammed home run number 756 to replace Hank Aaron at the top of the MLB all-time homer list.
The blast should have sealed automatic entry into the Baseball Hall of Fame for Bonds but as 2007 drew to a close the seven-time National League MVP was closer to prison than a spot in Cooperstown.
After paying $750,000 for the historic home run ball, fashion designer Marc Ecko said he would brand it with an asterisk to represent the belief by many fans that Bonds’s pursuit of the record was fuelled by drugs, before handing it over to the Hall of Fame.
Jones and Landis both joined the ranks of disgraced champions.
A tearful Jones admitted her triple-gold, five-medal spree at the 2000 Sydney Olympics was powered by performance-enhancing drugs.
She promptly returned her five medals and had all her results dating back to September 2000 erased.
Landis protested his innocence, taking his fight to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in a last-ditch attempt to overturn a two-year doping ban and reclaim the 2006 Tour de France he lost after testing positive for elevated testosterone levels.
Beckham’s move from Spanish giants Real Madrid to the Los Angeles Galaxy in a huge deal that could net the midfielder $250 million brought unprecedented attention to Major League Soccer.
News of Beckham’s arrival sparked a stampede for tickets from Toronto to Dallas but the former England captain failed to live up to the hype, limping though his debut season with knee and ankle injuries.
Matsuzaka, the righthander with the mysterious gyro-ball pitch, generated huge buzz on both sides of the Pacific when he moved from the Japan league’s Seibu Lions to the Boston Red Sox in a deal worth more than $103 million.
Like Beckham, Matsuzaka never quite lived up to the huge expectations, winning 15 games in his major league rookie campaign.
Dice-K, as Matsuzaka became known to American baseball fans, still left his mark on the sport by becoming the first Japanese pitcher to start a World Series game, helping the Red Sox to a sweep of the Colorado Rockies and their second championship in four years.
The Indianapolis Colts finally lived up to their championship billing by beating the Chicago Bears 29-17 in Super Bowl XLI in rainy Miami, Tony Dungy becoming the first black coach to hoist the Vince Lombardi trophy.
For the National Football League (NFL), 2007 was a year filled with more tragedy than triumph.
On the first day of 2007, Denver Broncos’ Darrent Williams was gunned down in a drive-by shooting and as the year drew to a close Washington Redskins safety Sean Williams died of gunshot wounds sustained in an apparent botched robbery.
The loss felt most deeply in the U.S. was the death of Barbaro, the Kentucky Derby-winning colt who was put down eight months after shattering his right hind leg at the Preakness.
The Stanley Cup took up residence in southern California when the Anaheim Ducks beat the Ottawa Senators, prolonging a championship drought for hockey-mad Canadians. No Canadian team has won the treasured Cup since the Montreal Canadiens in 1993.
The San Antonio Spurs led by Tim Duncan, Frenchman Tony Parker and Argentine Manu Ginobili swept the Cleveland Cavaliers in four games to lift their third championship in five years.
The National Basketball Association (NBA) did not escape 2007 untouched by scandal, with referee Tim Donaghy admitting that he had bet on games at which he officiated and passed on inside information to bookies.
The Big Four North American leagues all sought to expand their global reach in 2007.
The NFL and NHL both played regular-season games in London while the NBA staged preseason games from Italy to China and the MLB announced more plans to tap into Asian markets, scheduling games for Japan and possibly Beijing in 2008.
Formula One, however, decided it did not need a race in the United States when F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone and Indianapolis Motor Speedway boss Tony George were unable to reach an agreement and the U.S. Grand Prix was removed from the calendar. (Editing by Clare Fallon)