From Cubs to Foxes: Why 2016 is the year of the underdog

Story highlights

Historic World Series triumph is just one of many underdog stories this year

From the Cubs to Leicester City, 2016 has seen many unexpected winners

CNN  — 

The last time Chicago Cubs won the World Series, just 1.7 billion people walked the earth – the same number of Facebook users around the world today.

The year was 1908, production on the Titanic had begun, and the Cubs were defending champions.

They comfortably beat the Detroit Tigers to claim the title that day, and nobody would have dreamed it would take this long for them to win another.

READ: Chicago Cubs end the curse, win 2016 World Series

But baseball’s history makers are far from the only fairytale story of 2016…

Ireland stuns the All Blacks

Donnacha Ryan of Ireland celebrates his team's historic 40-29 victory over the All Blacks at Soldier Field, Chicago.

With the Windy City still celebrating the Cubs’ famous comeback victory, Soldier Field played fitting host to an international match that shook the rugby world.

Ireland had not beaten New Zealand in its 111-year history, but shocked the All Blacks with a stunning 40-29 win, ending their world record run of 18 matches without defeat.

READ: Japan stuns South Africa at the Rugby World Cup

The scene was set as Ireland met the New Zealand team’s traditional Haka war dance with a poignant tribute to one of their own – legendary number 8 Anthony Foley who passed away in October aged just 42.

And the Irish team did him proud, crossing the line five times to hand the reigning world champion its first loss since August 8 2015.

A new Master

masters danny willett first major riddell intv_00013814.jpg
Danny Willett claims first major at Masters tournament
03:01 - Source: CNN

Danny Willett had never even made the top five at a major – placing 38th in his only previous Masters appearance – and yet, after a dramatic weekend at Augusta, the British golfer sat in the clubhouse with the iconic green jacket on his back.

The man from Yorkshire had capitalized on an astonishing final-round collapse from defending champion Jordan Spieth to win one of golf’s most prestigious tournaments.

At one stage, Spieth held a five-shot lead only to drop six shots over three nervy holes.

Willett profited from the American’s misfortune, although he hadn’t even planned to be playing as the tournament coincided with the due date of his son.

Fortunately, Zachariah James Willett was born early, and his father took care of the rest.

What was the best underdog story in sport this year? Tweet @CNNSport and you could feature on CNN.

Sport’s greatest triumph

Captain Wes Morgan and manager Claudio Ranieri of Leicester City lift the Premier League trophy.

When Leicester City began the 2008-09 season in the third tier of English football, Jamie Vardy was working in a carbon-fiber factory while playing semi-professional football for Stockbridge Park Steels.

Just two years ago, Claudio Ranieri was without a job having been fired by the Greek national team after defeat to the 187th-ranked Faroe Islands.

And at the start of last August, weeks after the team had miraculously escaped Premier League relegation, you would have got better odds on Kim Kardashian becoming president of the US by 2020 than the unthinkable occurring.

But of course it did.

And the fairytale endures; just this month, Ranieri has been shortlisted for FIFA’s Coach of the Year award, while Vardy – the EPL’s second top scorer in 2015-16 – has been nominated for the Ballon D’Or.


Hibernian David Gray Scottish Cup

Edward VII was succeeding Queen Victoria on the English throne the last time Hibernian won the Scottish Cup back in 1902.

Over a century on, Scottish football’s most prestigious knockout competition once again involved the team affectionately known as “The Cabbage” – only this time Hibs, and their opponent Rangers, were both languishing in the second division.

In the years since, Rangers had been to the bottom of the Scottish football pyramid and back again – having won promotion to the Premiership last season– and sought to crown their resurgence with victory.

Over 50,000 fans descended on Glasgow’s Hampden Park that afternoon, with most expecting 33-time winners Rangers to add another trophy to the cabinet.

Only Hibernian had other ideas, and an injury-time winner from club captain David Gray was enough for the men in green to prevail 3-2.

Olympic underdogs

Yusra Mardini captured the hearts of the world with her valiant performance in the 100m butterfly at Rio 2016, a year after swimming for her life.

But the Syrian was far from the only underdog story in Rio. For the first time ever, 10 athletes formed a refugee team and competed under the Olympic flag.

Many countries at the Olympics had never won a medal in their history… until 2016.

Jonathan Schooling won Singapore’s first ever gold, beating childhood hero and the most decorated Olympian of all time, Michael Phelps.

Monica Puig did the same for Puerto Rico, urged on by chants of “si se puede” (yes you can) as she defeated world No. 2 Angelique Kerber of Germany in the women’s tennis singles final.

Monica Puig falls to her knees having beaten an opponent ranked 34 places above her.

There were also fabulous firsts for the likes of Kosovo, Vietnam and Fiji – where an official national holiday was declared.

Fiji rugby sevens team won the Pacific island nation's first gold medal after 16 appearances in the Olympic games.

But as the Olympic flame was extinguished, the spirit of the Games lived on.

In the the Paralympics two weeks later, former F1 driver Alex Zanardi won paracycling gold on the eve of the 15-year anniversary of the crash that could have taken his life.

Aged 45, Indian shot putter Deepa Malik “dared to dream” and became India’s first ever female medalist.

Malaysia had never won gold in the entire history of the competition, before promptly winning two in one evening.

The year of the bulldog

Down under, the Western Bulldogs beat Sydney 89-67 to win their first Australian Football League Premiership since 1954.

Elsewhere, Cronulla Sharks won their first-ever National Rugby League Premiership final, beating Melbourne Storm 14-12 to end 50 years of hurt, reducing skipper Paul Gallen to tears.

Eder’s redemption

Albania, Iceland, Slovakia, Northern Ireland and Wales all qualified for the European Championships for the first time.

Iceland – population 330,000 – knocked out England, delighted crowds with Nordic grit and thunderclaps, and journeyed home heroes. The Welsh, buoyed by Gareth Bale, reached the semifinals at their first major tournament since the 1958 World Cup.

But Portuguese striker Eder was an underdog on one of soccer’s biggest stages.

The 28-year-old had never scored a competitive goal for Portugal, and hadn’t even registered a shot for his club side that season, but rifled a 30-yard strike into the bottom corner of Hugo Lloris’ goal in the dying embers of the Euro 2016 final to win his country’s first major international trophy.

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As coach Fernando Santos put it, the “ugly duckling” had become a “beautiful swan.”