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London 2013: The Sporting Year

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Forget London 2012 and the sporting successes of last year - there's much more to be excited about in a fixture-fuelled 2013, writes Felix Lowe

The Olympic party has left our back garden but London is still the place for sport. Highlights this year include another Champions League final at Wembley, an Ashes Test series, a new major professional cycling road race, Andy Murray's latest assault on SW19 and not one, but two, NFL International Series games.

No Olympic hangover

The legacy of the track and field will live on as world-class athletics returns to London with the British Athletics GP at Crystal Palace in July. Last year Mo Farah won the 5,000m event here with relative ease as he stepped up his preparations ahead of an Olympics that would see him secure two Gold medals. This is the only two-day Diamond League event on the circuit and it's also the final athletics event of the season - with day two on Saturday coinciding with the first anniversary of London 2012.

Exactly one year after a parachuting James Bond and the Queen marked the start of the Games, the redeveloped Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park is unveiled. The Velodrome and redeveloped Copper Box arena will open their doors, while 250 acres of beautifully landscaped parkland will be made available to the public. One weekend later (3rd & 4th August), Britain's biggest cycling festival will feature amateur and professional races that start in the Park. The RideLondon Classic will be the biggest one-day race in Britain and will attract some of cycling's best pro riders - including, we hope, Mark Cavendish and Tour de France champion Bradley Wiggins.

Hyde Park has been selected to host the eighth and final leg of the 2013 ITU World Triathlon Series following the success of the Olympic events last summer. All eyes will be on the Serpentine as the public cheer on the brilliant Brownlee brothers, who picked up Gold and Bronze back in August.


The British Basketball Playoff Final; Australia and England battle for The Ashes; two NFL International Series games are played at Wembley

Football: Celebrating 150 years

The Football Association reaches an important milestone in 2013 with a series of mouth-watering fixtures lined up to commemorate its 150th anniversary. Besides the ongoing World Cup 2014 qualifying campaign (with group games against Moldova, Montenegro and Poland), England have two special international friendlies at Wembley lined up against Brazil in February and Scotland in August.

Wembley will also host its usual cup competitions: the FA Cup Semi-Finals and Final, Capital One Cup Final, Johnstone's Paint Trophy Final, FA Vase and FA Trophy, as well as the Football League and Championship Playoff Finals, and the season curtain-raiser, the Community Shield.

But London's major football event for 2013 is the final of the Champions League. History will be made as Wembley becomes the first stadium in the world to host the European Cup final twice in three years as UEFA also doffs its cap to the FA's special anniversary. In 2011 Barcelona comfortably beat Manchester United in the Wembley final despite a brilliant goal by Wayne Rooney (main picture); perhaps this time, we'll get a British winner? Both Chelsea and Manchester City fell at the first hurdle, but United, Arsenal and Celtic enter the new year still in with a shout.

Wembley: Not just the beautiful game

Once a year Wembley is overtaken by scantily clad cheerleaders, giant buckets of fizzy pop, shoulder pad-wearing hulks and ample ad breaks for the annual NFL International Series game. But not this year; no, in 2013 'American Football' (as we Brits quaintly call it) touches down for double the fun in front of more than 80,000 fans. For the first time in history we have two Sunday afternoon regular-season NFL games coming to London, with the Minnesota Vikings hosting six-time Super Bowl winners Pittsburgh Steelers in September and the Jacksonville Jaguars taking on the San Francisco 49ers in October.

Wembley will also be in action for one of the biggest fixtures in the rugby league calendar, the RFL Challenge Cup Final in August, as well as the inaugural International Stadium Poker Tour earlier in the summer. Nearby Wembley Arena also hosts the showpiece showdown of the British Basketball calendar in April: the Playoff Final.

Rugby: Six Nation Army

It's another busy year for Stuart Lancaster's England at Twickenham, with home Six Nations clashes against Scotland, France and Italy. On the same Saturday in May as the Champions League final, the Aviva Premiership Rugby Final takes place in front of 82,000 fans, while Harlequins will swap their Stoop Stadium for Twickenham against as-yet-unknown opponents in the annual Big Game on the last Saturday of the year. The Marriott London Sevens also features the 16 best international teams in the fast-moving format of the game over one weekend in May.



Oxford and Cambridge come head to head in the Varsity Boat Race on 31st March; 'Polo in the Park' returns to Fulham's Hurlingham Park in June

Cricket: Ashes to Ashes

Following winter tours to India and New Zealand, England's busy year continues with home series against New Zealand and Australia. Alastair Cook's side play the first of two Tests against the Kiwis at Lord's in mid-June before returning to the same venue for the first of three ODIs on the last day of the month. The ICC Champions Trophy - a knock-out competition featuring the world's top eight one-day international sides - gets under way with West Indies taking on Pakistan at the Oval on 7th June. There follows three other group games at the Oval - including England's clash with Sri Lanka - ahead of one semi-final clash on 19th June before the final, which is played at Edgbaston in Birmingham.

After two Twenty20 games at the Oval against New Zealand in late June, the focus moves onto the main cricketing event of the summer: the Ashes. Australia's touring side will attempt to emerge victorious in cricket's oldest rivalry after two consecutive series defeats at the hands of England. The Second Ashes Test starts at Lord's on 18th July just four days after the series opener at Trent Bridge, while the Fifth Ashes Test is played at the Oval from 21st August. Two T20 and five ODI series matches against Australia all take place outside the capital - before England head Down Under in November to defend what they hope will be a third successive Ashes series win.

Tennis: Murray's moment

Andy Murray came of age last year, avenging his heart-breaking Wimbledon final loss to Roger Federer with an Olympic gold after defeating the Swiss maestro in straight sets on Centre Court. Murray then became the first British man to win a Grand Slam singles title since 1936 when he defeated Novak Djokovic in five sets in the US Open. Expectations will once again be high for Murray as he bids to end Britain's 77-year wait for a Wimbledon winner. But Federer will target a record eighth victory, while in the women's game Serena Williams will eye a sixth SW19 title.

The Queen's Club Championships takes place earlier in June and sees many of the world's best grass-court players fine-tuning ahead of Wimbledon. Later in November, the world's eight best men's players descend upon the O2 Arena for the ATP World Tour Finals, last year won by Djokovic. As well as tennis, London's most important indoor arena hosts an array of contrasting sports throughout the year, including NBA London Live in January and Premier League Darts in May.

In December, the major tennis stars of yesteryear gather at the Royal Albert Hall for the annual Masters Tennis tournament, the highly entertaining season-ending event of the ATP Champions Tour which usually features the likes of John McEnroe, Tim Henman and Goran Ivanisevic.

Rowing and running

Organisers of the annual Boat Race will hope that Australian anti-elitism protesters keep out of the water and steer clear of the oars when Oxford and Cambridge come head to head on 31st March. The Light Blues eventually won last year's controversial race and now lead the Dark Blues by 81 wins to 76. A week earlier, some 420 crews take part in the Head of the River Race on the same stretch of water, only in reverse.

More people have walked on the moon than have successfully rowed around Great Britain's coastline - and the GB Row 2013, the world's richest rowing race, looks to overturn that striking anomaly. The 2,000-mile race - expected to attract 15 crews - starts on 1st June at Tower Bridge. Less gruelling but still tough enough to be described as rowing's equivalent of the London Marathon, the Great River Race takes place one week later as numerous crews cover the 21 miles between the London Docklands and Ham.

The rowing season concludes with one of Britain's most famous summer sporting fetes, the Henley Royal Regatta, which runs for five days in early July. It's a picnic-'n'-Pimm's extravaganza that attracts hordes of Tim Nice But Dims from the upper echelons of English society, who flock to the riverside village in boaters and pink trousers to watch international crews battle it out on the Thames.

As usual, London's runners have a vast array of events to choose from with the return of the London Marathon, the Bupa London 10,000, the British 10K London Run, the Royal Parks Foundation Half Marathon and Run to the Beat.

Horseplay: Plenty of polo

Four major horse racing festivals take place annually at the racecourses that surround London. The Derby Festival at Epsom Downs in early summer centres around one of the oldest and greatest horse races in the world; later in June, the five-day Royal Ascot attracts all the biggest names in the racing fraternity - plus some outrageous hat designs on Ladies' Day; in July, Glorious Goodwood (above right) brings some of the nation's finest thoroughbreds (horses and humans) to what King Edward VII described as "a garden party with racing tacked on" while on Boxing Day festive punters flock to the Winter Festival to watch the King George VI Chase.

International Polo at the O2 in May and Polo in the Park in Fulham's Hurlingham Park in June both return. And finally, fans of jumping and dressage will make their annual festive pilgrimage to the London International Horse Show, which runs for seven days in December at Olympia. Whatever sport you're into, in water, on horseback or under your own steam, you can see world class athletes cross swords in London in 2013.


A bird's eye view of the All-England Club at Wimbledon. Could this year be the year that Andy Murray ends Britain's long wait for a winner?