Messi among the stars in our 12 sporting heroes of 2012

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The sporting year is coming to a close – and what a past 12 months it has been!

Team GB and Paralympics GB did the nation proud at the London Olympics, Europe basked in a remarkable Ryder Cup win, a photo finish in the Grand National saw 33/1-shot Neptune Collonges beat Sunnyhillboy and Bradley Wiggins made Tour de France history.

Andy Murray ended his wait for a maiden grand slam victory, the Formula One season started with seven different winners in the first seven races and Adrian Lewis successfully defended his Ladbrokes World Darts Championship crown.

Synchronised stopped Kauto Star from winning a third Cheltenham Gold Cup and the West Indies blasted their way to victory in the ICC World Twenty20.

In football, Chelsea were crowned champions of Europe, Spain won Euro 2012 and Sergio Aguero scored the most dramatic Premier League goal help Manchester City win the title.

The list could go on and on.

It’s fair to say that 2012 will live long in the memory and the following 12 sportsmen and women deserve their moment in the spotlight for their individual excellence.

Lionel Messi

Barcelona’s little genius became the most prolific goalscorer in a calendar year earlier this month when he surpassed Gerd Muller’s record of 85 goals.

Messi, who is 2/1 to end his career at Barca, has now smashed the 90-goal barrier and also holds the distinction of being the only player to score five goals in a Champions League match following his virtuoso display in the 7-1 thrashing of Bayer Leverkusen in March.

Michael Phelps

History was made at London’s Aquatics Centre as Phelps dominated in the pool to become the most-decorated Olympian of all time with a total of 22 medals.

With 18 golds, two silver and two bronze medals, Phelps hung up his trunks and goggles in style earlier in the summer when he retired from the sport.

Andy Murray

This year could well be a turning point in Murray’s career.

The 25-year-old after a few near misses became the first British man in 76 years to win a Grand Slam singles title with victory at the US Open, claimed gold at the Olympics and reached the Wimbledon final. The Scot is currently 3/1 to start 2013 with victory in the Australian Open in January.

Bradley Wiggins

The first Brit to win the Tour de France has enjoyed a remarkable 2012 that also included gold in the Olympic time trial.

Wiggins is now being tipped by some to receive a knighthood and is an 8/1 shot to retain the Tour de France next year.

Ian Poulter

Golf’s most flamboyant dresser masterminded the ‘Miracle in Medinah’ as he led Europe’s historic fightback to win the Ryder Cup in the most amazing final day.

Poulter himself can barely believe the manner in which Jose Maria Olazabal’s men snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, as he said recently: “It way surpassed anything I have ever seen happen on a golf course.”

David Weir

The fastest man on three wheels won four gold medals (800m, 1,500m, 5,000m and marathon) at the Paralympic Games and beat his rivals in the London marathon.

Thanks to the likes of Weir and Ellie Simmonds, Paralympics GB finished third in the overall medal table with a haul of 120 medals.

Eli Manning 

Manning turned in one of the best performances by a quarterback at a Super Bowl as the New York Giants came from behind to beat the New England Patriots 21-17 thanks to a last-minute touchdown in Indianapolis.

The two-time Super Bowl MVP must surely be in contention now for a place in the Hall of Fame.

LeBron James

It was a historic season for James as he joined Michael Jordan as the only players to win the NBA title, NBA MVP and Olympic gold in the same year.

Helping Miami Heat to a second NBA title and his first meant James ended years of waiting to get his hands on the biggest prize in basketball.

Sebastian Vettel

Vettel is the youngest driver to win three successive Formula One titles as the world championship was decided during the final race of the season in Brazil.

Can the 25-year-old make it four in a row? The German is the 5/4 favourite.

Mo Farah

In what was arguably the most iconic sporting image of 2012, Farah struck the ‘Mobot’ pose on the podium after winning Olympic gold in the 5,000m and 10,000m.

Farah is only the seventh man to claim both titles and the first Brit to achieve the feat.

Jessica Ennis 

Ennis was crowned Olympic heptathlon champion with a new British record, much to the delight of a partisan home crowd back in the summer.

The Sheffield athlete formed part of Team GB’s ‘Super Saturday’ that also included gold medals for Farah and Greg Rutherford.

Rory McIlroy

In a fitting end to the year, McIlroy has this week been named the European Tour golfer of the year.

The world number one won his second career major at the US PGA Championship with a convincing eight-shot victory and clinched the Race to Dubai for the first time.

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