Brave Clarke vying for best comeback of 2011 honour

THERE was no more heart-warming sporting moment in 2011 than Darren Clarke’s victory in the Open Championship. At the age of 42, at his 20th attempt, the odds were decidedly stacked against him.

His victory came at the end of difficult personal time for him following the death of his wife four years earlier. As he concentrated on looking after his sons, inevitably his golf had suffered.

Now, after his emotional success at Royal St George’s, he is one of the nominees for the Laureus World Comeback of the Year Award. He will find out if he has won on February 6, at the glamorous awards ceremony in London.

The winners are chosen by the 47 members of the Laureus World Sports Academy, which includes global sports stars of the stature of Boris Becker, Sebastian Coe, Nadia Comaneci, Sean Fitzpatrick, Marvin Hagler and Martina Navratilova, plus golfing greats like Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player. Until his passing in May, the great Seve Ballesteros was also a Laureus Academy Member.

WIN A PAIR OF TICKETS

FANCY rubbing shoulders with the very biggest names from the world of sport at next month’s glitzy ceremony in London? Of course you do. Well you’re in luck, because City A.M. has a pair of tickets to the Laureus World Sports Awards at Central Hall, Westminster, on 6 February – and the exclusive aftershow party – to give away to a lucky reader. Just keep watching these pages for full details of how to win this money-can’t-buy prize in the coming weeks.

THE NOMINEES

ERIC ABIDAL
(France) Football

In May, Barcelona beat Manchester United 3-1 to win the Champions League. Despite having treatment for liver cancer just two months earlier, Frenchman Eric Abidal had recovered well enough to play the whole game. In a moving gesture, he was handed the captain’s armband for the night and he was the first to lift the trophy.

DARREN CLARKE
(United Kingdom) Golf

Darren Clarke’s victory in the Open Championship at the age of 42 was his 20th attempt to win the Major and came at the end of difficult time. His wife Heather had died the day before his 38th birthday and he had put golf to one side as he concentrated on looking after his two sons. He dedicated his triumph to his children and late wife.

CRUSADERS
(New Zealand) Rugby Union

Super 15 side Crusaders were devastated when their home city of Christchurch was hit by the massive February earthquake which caused 181 deaths. With their home stadium badly damaged, the Crusaders had to travel more than 100,000km to play their rugby. Despite this, they reached the final of Super 15, eventually losing 18-13 to Queensland Reds.

SERGIO GARCIA
(Spain) Golf

In October, flamboyant Spanish golfer Sergio Garcia ended a three-year tournament drought with victory by 11 strokes in the Castello Masters. He dedicated his success to his fellow Spaniard and Laureus Academy Member Seve Ballesteros, who died in May. The next week he won the Andalucia Masters to finish the year 17th in the world.

QUEENSLAND REDS
(Australia) Rugby Union

Victory in the Super 15 by Queensland Reds gave a huge lift to people in the area who had suffered in the floods of December 2010, in which 35 people died. Following several seasons of mediocrity, the Reds finished the regular season perched at the top of the table, with 13 wins and just three losses, and beat New Zealand’s Crusaders in the final.

LIU XIANG
(China) Athletics

After managing just three steps in the Beijing Olympics in 2008 before suffering a hamstring problem, Liu Xiang came back from injury to win the silver medal in the 110m hurdles at the 2011 World Championships. He became an icon of Chinese sport by claiming the gold medal at the Athens Games in 2004, for which he won a Laureus Newcomer Award.