The Copenhagen Post’s three main sports contributors, Ben Hamilton, Christian Wenande and Bjarke Smith-Meyer, have chosen the five Danish sportspeople who have impressed them the most this year.
Who will succeed 2011’s winner Thomas Bjørn as The Copenhagen Post’s Sports Personality of the Year 2012? The competition was fierce, but in the end only one sportsperson made all three lists. Read on to find out who.
The best of years, the worst of years
It’s been another good year for Danish sport, and it’s a testament to its depth in talent that none of the 2011 Copenhagen Post top five have made my shortlist this time around.
Before I reveal who’s in it, let’s take a brief look at those who nearly made the grade.
Football continues to be the country’s most popular sport, and while Christian Eriksen somewhat stalled, his fellow countrymen Jores Okore, Daniel Agger and William Kvist all had storming years.
And while two Olympians have made it, a special mention must go to Jonas Høgh-Christensen in the laser sailing class, who in the end faced an opponent who had history and the host nation willing him over the finish line.
So, in a very particular order, here are my top five.
Most rowers are tall. Even when they’re lightweights, they tower over you. So how refreshing to see stocky powerhouse Rasmus Quist, an everyman Dane just 173cm tall, propel his lightweight double sculls partner Mads Rasmussen across the line to beat the cheating Brits. It was a victory for rump steak over steamed broccoli and fish.
As Europe’s brightest golfing prospect since Rory McIlroy, the 21-year-old snappy dresser Thorbjørn Olesen underlined his immense potential in 2012 by finishing in 9th place at the British Open and jumping into the world’s top 50, which should see him compete in all four majors next year. You know something: he might win one.
It’s no exaggeration to say that for a sustained ten-minute period during the second half of the European Handball Championship final that Mikkel Hansen produced a Maradona 1986-esque performance to carry Denmark to the title. It completed a fairy tale finals for Denmark who recovered from losing two of their first three to win their first major title since 2008. Sadly, though, they came up short in London and went out in the quarters. Hansen, 25, is the best player is the world and should be around for two more Olympics.
Lasse Norman Hansen
Let’s keep Lasse Norman Hansen’s performance in London in perspective. The omnium only made its Olympic bow in 2012, and history has shown us that vast improvements often follow introductions. And his recent two-medal haul at the UCI Track Cycling World Cup was at a championship bereft of most of the 2012 gold medallists – strange as it was once again taking place in the UK. Nevertheless, Hansen showed tremendous spirit to win gold in London, battling back from a crash in the penultimate discipline that could have derailed his bid. Just 20, he could go on to dominate for two, maybe three, more Olympics.
Frederik Løchte Nielsen
If you’d told Caroline Wozniacki last Christmas that a Dane would win a grand slam in 2012, she would have said: “Thank you, Santa” and slept like a baby. For never in her wildest dreams could she think he was referring to Frederik Løchte Nielsen, a now 29-year-old who has never been higher than #190 in the world. Enter Jonathan Marray, an experienced doubles player who in the spring persuaded Nielsen to play in a few tournaments with him, the third of which was Wimbledon. Granted a wildcard, due mainly to Marray being British, they required five sets to see off four of their first five opponents. But as the momentum grew, so did the home support as they dug deep to see off the defending champs in the semis. The final was an emotional one, and Nielsen showed nerves of steel at critical times in the decider to see them home. In doing so he became the first Dane to win a grand slam since his grandfather, Kurt Nielsen, in 1957. Still, there’s a general consensus that Nielsen is a bit of a ninny as he’s decided not to pursue a doubles career with Marray and instead concentrate on his singles. Which is a shame as he’s hopeless on his own.
A solid year, despite some collapses
The year 2012 was a rollercoaster ride for Danish sports, including an exciting 2012 London Olympic Games that yielded more highs than lows.
Honorable mentions must go to young footballers Viktor Fischer, who should be on this list by next year, and Jores Okore, whose excellent season has resulted in a league championship and a debut for Denmark.
One could also talk about any of the nine medal winners, the most since 1948, with particularly the badminton team and the rowers, including Mads Rasmussen and Rasmus Quist, making a lasting impression with their last second come-from-behind gold against the unsympathetic British pair.
There were also lows, however: the heralded swimming team coming home empty-handed, Jonas Høgh-Christensen losing the gold to Ben Ainslie on the last day of sailing, and the collapse of the men’s handball team.
Nevertheless it was a solid year for Danish sportspeople and below you can find my five of the best.
It may seem odd having Stockholm on this list, but the midfield veteran has had the season of a lifetime. FC Nordsjælland’s captain first led his team to their first ever Superliga title, before leading them during their Champions League adventure. His efforts also led to his return to the Danish national team, all at the ripe old age of 36.
Men’s handball team
It was way back in January, but the men’s handball team deserves much acclaim for becoming European champions for the second time in four years. The Danes scraped through the opening groups after losing twice, but won five straight games, including the final against the Serbian hosts 21-19.
The young golfer from northern Zealand burst onto the golf scene in earnest this year, capturing his first victory on the European Tour in a one-stroke victory in the Sicilian Open in April. His rise continued with solid performances in his first two major appearances: a top ten placing at the British Open and a top 30 placing at the US PGA. The 22 year-old’s meteoric rise sees him sit only five spots behind the top Dane, Thomas Bjørn, in the official World Golf Rankings, where he is number 50. That’s quite an achievement considering he wasn’t even in the top 100 when the year began.
Frederik Løchte Nielsen
Denmark’s new tennis darling, Fredrik Løchte Nielsen, could very well have deserved a place at the top of this list. Along with his British partner, Jonathan Marray, he made tennis and Danish history when he pulled off one of the greatest upsets in tennis history when he won the Wimbledon men’s doubles in July. Nielsen became the first Dane to win a grand slam for over 50 years, and the first wildcard entry to ever win the Wimbledon Men’s Doubles. To top off his amazing year, the 29 year-old was crowned the Danish tennis player of the year for the first time, breaking Caroline Wozniacki’s five-year streak.
Lasse Norman Hansen
Young Hansen was considered a solid young talent before 2012. Not anymore. After winning the bronze medal at the 2012 UCI Track Cycling World Championships in Melbourne in April, the 20-year-old from Funen burst onto the world scene during the London Olympics by capturing the gold in the omnium. Hansen showed incredible poise and mental strength when he somehow managed to claw his way back into contention despite being bruised and battered from a crash in the fifth of the six disciplines. Hansen followed up on his Olympic triumph by becoming the Danish champion in omnium, before securing a couple more gold medals in the team pursuit and the individual pursuit at the UCI Track Cycling World Cup in Glasgow in November. Hansen said that he plans to win the omnium and team pursuit in Rio in 2016, before following in the footsteps of his idol Bradley Wiggins by switching to road racing and eventually winning the Tour de France.
Five from among many
Forget the World Cup in 2014. Brazil may have the weather, women and wild festivities, but they don’t have ‘The Killing III’, Tuborg juleøl and røde pølser. Sometimes it’s better to enjoy the home comforts rather than going to exotic countries, where people don’t even speak English.
So maybe it’s not THAT important that Denmark’s national football team is about to crash out of World Cup qualification. Besides, it’s two years down the line.
And when you consider how great a year it’s been for Denmark’s sportspeople, it’s hardly worth worrying about the future when there’s so much we can enjoy in the past.
This year has been witness to Danish Olympic Gold winners, world boxing champions, Champions League football and even the country’s growing popularity of kabaddi.
So here are just a few of the stars that deserve a mention for my top five Danish sportspeople of 2012.
Lasse Norman Hansen
The 20-year-old cyclist didn’t really grab the nation’s headlines when he won bronze in Melbourne at the 2012 UCI Track Cyling World Championships. But he became a national hero after winning gold in the omnium event at the London 2012 Olympics. One to watch out for in Rio 2016.
The Viking Warrior’s recent victory against Brian Magee has put him back on the international scene, making 2012 a comeback year for Mikkel Kessler. Injuries have limited the boxer to only four fights in three years. But with his demolition of Magee, Kessler will be eager to get in the ring next year. Rumours suggest Carl Froch or Andre Ward will be his next opponent.
It’s been a big year for the young striker, who’s managed to break into Ajax’s first team at the age of 18, scoring three goals in seven appearances. One of the big up-and-coming star strikers of Danish football, you might say he was destined for big things as a boy when he managed to score a total of 80 goals in a single season for his childhood club Lyseng IF. His prolific statistics in front of the goal attracted the likes of Manchester United and AC Milan, after spending two years at FC Midtjylland’s academy from 2009-2011.
Laudrup’s first managerial position in the Premier League might not be with one of the biggest clubs in world football, but that’s what makes his success all the more impressive. Swansea currently lies tenth in the table, six points off the Champions League places. And while Laudrup may have played down expectations, his recent away wins against Newcastle (1-2) and Arsenal (0-2) have left pundits tipping Swansea as the possible dark horses in the fight for European qualification. That managerial prowess has also led to Laudrup becoming the bookies’ favourite to succeed Morten Olsen as Denmark’s national coach.
From the time that he made his debut for FC Nordsjælland in April of 2011, he’s won the 2012 Superliga title, played Champions League football and been called up for international duty. Oh, and he’s also been named ‘Denmark’s Best Under 21 Talent’ of the year. All at the ripe old age of 20. FC Nordsjælland may have tried to tie their star defender down by giving him a new lucrative four-year contract this year, but that hasn’t warned off the growing interest from English clubs. Okore’s already been linked to the likes of Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United, and he has been quite open about his ambitions to play abroad. “I want to play for a big club, and I want to play Champions League,” Okore told The Copenhagen Post in November. “I greatly appreciate what FC Nordsjælland has done for me in terms of development, but my dream is to play in the English Premier League.” No matter where Okore ends up, when you consider the amount of success he’s managed to achieve within the first two years of his professional footballing career, it’s difficult to imagine that he’ll still be in Denmark past the summer of 2013.