1. CRICKET: England wrap up Ashes win

It is hard to go beyond January's Sydney Test when England won the series against Australia – they had already retained the Ashes in Melbourne. Since the war England have not won so emphatically in Australia except when the home side was Packer-ed. In three Tests they produced well nigh perfect performances. The "run-out" of Ian Bell at Trent Bridge is also fresh in the mind. When he was given out just before tea, believing the ball had gone for four, the pens of the leader writers were poised. The Indian team was booed off the field; they were booed when they returned 15 minutes later. Then Bell reappeared alongside Eoin Morgan and there were cheers all round – high drama, cheerfully giving way to pantomime.Vic Marks

2. OLYMPIC SPORTS: Stevenson takes world title

For sporting drama alone, Sarah Stevenson's narrow last-gasp victory over Guo Yunfei of China to seal the third world title of a consistently successful taekwondo career was remarkable. Considered alongside her personal circumstances – she flew to Korea in May to compete for the welterweight title two weeks after learning both her parents had been diagnosed with terminal cancer – it was nothing short of extraordinary. Her father died in July and her mother in November. Stevenson is determined to win gold in London in their memory. "I want to win gold for mum and dad. After that, I can start grieving properly." Owen Gibson

3. GOLF: Clarke strides up the 18th

Darren Clarke walks up the final fairway at Royal St George's, four shots ahead of the Open field and a million miles from where anyone imagined he might be at this time on a cold Sunday night on the Kent coast. Clarke was always a wonderful player but golf's history is awash with wonderful players who have never won a major championship. Clarke was destined to be a member of that unhappy club until his four straight days of magnificent golf in Sandwich. Five putts to win the Open? Clear-eyed and clear-headed, Big Darren tapped in from three inches and took his applause.Lawrence Donegan

4. RACING: Frankel romps at Goodwood

The acceleration that carried Frankel clear of his field in the Sussex Stakes at Glorious Goodwood was irresistibly powerful, yet it came to him so easily. As he thundered away from Canford Cliffs – a top-notch miler himself – with a furlong to run, Frankel's brilliance was something that everyone, from the diehard fans to the first-timers on a corporate jolly, could appreciate. For centuries, people have devoted their lives to the breeding and racing of thoroughbreds. The dream of creating a freak like Frankel, and seeing a moment like this, is what drives them.Greg Wood

5. FORMULA ONE: Webber takes Alonso at Spa

Walk the track in Spa and two things are noticeable at the celebrated Eau Rouge. The first is how truly steep the hill is and the second, how narrow is its entrance. Watching from the top, as Mark Webber exited La Source and slipstreamed Fernando Alonso, there was scarcely time to realise that the Australian was actually going to try and skin Alonso through that gap. Then, the sound of frites being munched and beer being swigged seemed to stop entirely as he did just that. Brave, on a corner with no margin for error, it was extraordinary. Webber himself was long gone to Les Combes before realisation set in and the stand erupted.Giles Richards

6. ATHLETICS: Bolt's blitz in Daegu relay

In eight days of competition nobody had broken a world record in Daegu. The closest thing the World Championships had come to a single defining moment was Usain Bolt's disqualification for a false start in the 100m final. But Bolt wanted to deliver something special for the public. In the very last race he and his team-mates Nesta Carter, Michael Frater and Yohan Blake broke Jamaica's own world record mark in the 4x100m relay, and did it in style. When Blake handed the baton to Bolt on the final bend, chaos erupted in the lanes around them. Britain's Harry Aikines-Aryeetey collided with the USA's Darvis Patton, who tumbled, causing Trinidad and Tobago's Aaron Armstrong to leap up and out of his lane. Jamaica cruised serenely on. Bolt seemed to have the track to himself, but ran hard regardless. His split was clocked at 8.7 seconds, Jamaica finished in 37.04sec.Andy Bull

7. TENNIS: Djokovic return stuns Federer

In the semi-final of the 2011 US Open, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer looked across the net at each other like a pair of prizefighters. One more punch would do it and it was the Swiss's turn to go for the knockout. He led 7-6, 6-4, 3-6, 2-6, 5-3 and serving at 40-15. He could not believe what happened next. He put his first serve wide and underdone, it sat up – and the Serb belted a hit-and-hope cross-court forehand from heaven. Djokovic held his arms wide with a "What can I say?" shrug. Federer netted the next point for deuce and the match was gone. For the second year in a row, he had blown two match points against Djokovic. He was as close to livid as he has been since his wild teenage years. Kevin Mitchell

8. CYCLING: Cavendish's rainbow jersey

There can only be one contender for cycling and, in British terms, arguably the sporting moment of the year: Mark Cavendish becomes the first Briton since 1965 to win the rainbow jersey of the men's world road race champion. It was a late, perfectly calculated effort; he burst through in the final 150m of the 266km race. That sealed a year in which he had taken his tally of Tour de France stage wins to 20 and become the first Briton to win the points jersey in the Tour. William Fotheringham

9. FOOTBALL: Tevez goes on strike

If the footballing highlight of the year was Barcelona's almost nonchalent demolition of Manchester United at Wembley, the surprise was Manchester City doing the same thing with bells on at Old Trafford. No one was expecting that, especially a mere matter of months since the infamous "ticker" banner that used to mock City's trophyless seasons had finally been removed from the Stretford End. In terms of English football City were the story of 2011, although the most powerful image, the single moment that will be instantly recalled in seasons to come, was that of Carlos Tevez remaining bench-bound in Germany. Not something you see every week, or even every year. Paul Wilson

10. BOXING: Joshua wins silver in Baku

Not many people in amateur boxing had heard of Anthony Joshua when he went to Baku for the world amateur championships. They certainly had heard of the brilliant, raw London super-heavyweight when the final bell of the fortnight went and he had taken silver, as well as qualifying for the London Olympics. On his way to the final against Magomedrasul Majidov, Joshua had beaten the reigning Olympic champion, Roberto Cammarelle, then stopped Erik Pfeifer in the semi-final. He was then desperately unlucky to lose by a point to Majidov, who was cheered on by Azerbaijan's president in the stands. Kevin Mitchell

11. RUGBY LEAGUE: Burrow's grand final brilliance

The Grand Final, the fourth in five years between Leeds and St Helens, had gone 33 minutes without a try until Rob Burrow, the smallest man on the pitch, broke the deadlock with one of the most brilliant moments in a rugby match at Old Trafford. Taking the ball a couple of yards inside the Saints half Burrow, who had just come on as a substitute, ducked under the bulging biceps of two big forwards, and left the full-back floundering with a classic sidestep to scamper over. The 29-year-old also laid on a second-half try for Ryan Hall with another memorable piece of skill as Leeds sealed a 32-16 win in one of the best finals to crown a stirring run through the play-offs from fifth in the table. Andy Wilson

12. RUGBY UNION: Donald wins the World Cup

It's hard to overstate how rocked New Zealand were by the injury to Dan Carter at the Rugby World Cup. What a famous groin his became. Next, his replacement, Colin Slade suffered an injury there too. And then little Aaron Cruden hyper-extended his knee after 34 minutes of the final, leaving the fortunes of the All Blacks in the hands – and the foot – of the Beaver, Stephen Donald, who has been generally mocked throughout his career of 22 caps for not quite having what it took. Well, from fishing for whitebait on the Waikato to World Cup hero ... Donald landed New Zealand's one and only penalty and steered them to glory against France in front of his country's grateful fans. Eddie Butler

Observer Sport writers

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