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Five Of The Greatest Personal Rivalries In Sport

Ste McGovern
By Ste McGovern
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Sport is a haven for rivalries. Sometimes they're good-natured, and sometimes they get very ugly. But very often they make the sports we love even better. Like the rivalry between Lightning McQueen and Jackson Storm in Cars 3, they grab our attention and create drama in front of our very eyes. For the sports stars on our screens, the rivalry become bigger than the sport, and their sole focus is on beating that person. Here are five sporting rivalries that reached that pitch.

Roy Keane vs Patrick Vieira


Man United and Arsenal may have finished fifth and sixth respectively this past season, but for years the Premier League was dominated by these two teams. Their constant battles for the title were epitomised by the intense rivalry between their on-field leaders, Keane and Vieira.

The midfielders were absolute warriors on the pitch and neither one was willing to back down, to the point where they frequently fought each other during games between the two. On one infamous occasion Keane couldn't even wait until the game started to have a go at his adversary.



In terms of ability there wasn't much to separate the two legends, as they both had stellar careers. The Frenchman may have been far more successful on the international stage -- winning the World Cup, Euro 2000 and the Confederations Cup -- but the Corkonian had the better of it domestically. Keane won five Premier League medals during his rivalry with Vieira, who won three in that time.

The two footballers left the league within six months of each other in 2005, signifying an end to the great rivalry between the two clubs. At least they seem to be able to get along these days.


Winner: Roy Keane

Padraig Harrington vs Sergio Garcia

Golf probably wouldn't make the top of your list when it comes to potential rivalries between competitors, but any sport that pits individual sports people against each other is ripe for animosity.

This is the case with Harrington and Garcia.  In 2007 the Irishman beat his opponent in a playoff for the British Open, leaving the Spaniard in second place of a major once more.




According to Harrington, Garcia didn't take it very well, and explained why earlier this year:


We went into the majors and obviously I beat him at the majors. I gave him every out I possibly could. I gave him every out I possibly could have at the 2007 Open.

I was as polite as I could and was as generous as I could be, but he was a very sore loser. And he continued to be a very sore loser.

Garcia eventually got his major at this year's Masters, at which Harrington was a pundit for Sky Sports. When he was asked if his heart would choose Sergio Garcia in the battle between the Spaniard and Justin Rose, Harrington replied, 'Well, maybe not mine.'


Thankfully there has been a detente in their frosty relationship, after Harrington and Garcia recently had a chat to smooth things out.

Winner: Draw

Tom Brady vs Peyton Manning

You could make a very strong case that American football in the noughties was defined by these two men. The dominance of Brady and Manning in the NFL during that period is astonishing, but the rivalry between the two was one-sided for a long time.

It took seven games for Peyton to finally beat the Patriots' quarterback in 2005, but by that stage Brady had already won three Superbowl titles. Manning wouldn't get a sniff of his first title until 2007, dispatching the Pats in the AFC Championship game along the way. It was a sweet victory for the New Orleans native, but normal service resumed thereafter, with Brady winning four of the next five meetings.


Manning would eventually get two more playoff wins over his opposite number in 2014 and 2016, as he would hobbled over the line to his second Superbowl win last year with the Denver Broncos, beating the Carolina Panthers 24-10.

While he would retire amidst a myriad of injury problems, Brady has continued to play on to his own very high standard, winning another ring this past season with many wondering if he could even go on to play for several more seasons.


On top of having three more Superbowl victories to his name, Brady has beaten Manning by a total of 497 points to 412 over the course of their 17 meetings together.

Winner: Brady

Steve Ovett vs Seb Coe

The 100m sprint is the blue ribbon event at the Olympics these days, but nearly forty years ago it was the mile, and that was thanks to these two men.

While Coe and Ovett's rivalry never boiled over in an aggressive manner, it captivated audiences, even when they weren't facing each other directly. They traded the world mile record back and forth in 1979 and '80, with people in England becoming heavily invested in the duel. "You were either for Ovett, or you were for Coe," wrote Pat Butcher in the 2004 book 'The Perfect Distance'. "There were no agnostics."

The rivalry came to a head at the 1980 Olympics in Moscow. With 65 countries, including the US and Canada, boycotting the Games as a result of the Soviet war in Afghanistan the focus on the two runners was intense. Everyone looked forward to the 800m, for which Coe held the record, and the 1500m, for which Ovett held the record. Who would come out on top?

Ironically enough, both men would win gold medals -- but not in the manner expected.

Coe suffered severe nerves ahead of the 800m, and allowed himself to get boxed out before squeaking over the line for silver. Ovett won, but was almost disappointed by how it happened.

This was supposed to be the race of the century, one of the great Olympic duels, two rivals going hammer and tongs down the straight. But it was almost like being in a dream. I thought, 'You're Olympic champion, what was all the fuss about?'

The 1500m showdown would come a mere six days later. Ovett was the red-hot favourite, having not lost a race at that distance (or the mile, for that matter) in three years. Surely it was just a matter of showing up?



As Coe crosses the line in first place, he throws his arms up in disbelief at what he's just achieved. Just behind him, you can see the disappointment on Ovett's face as he takes home the bronze.

That was the peak, but they would continue to battle each other for years after, culminating in another face-off at the '84 Games. This time Ovett wouldn't even medal, as Coe became a repeat Olympic champion and the king of the middle distance.

Winner: Seb Coe

Roger Federer vs Rafael Nadal

Tennis isn't short of legendary rivalries, but in the modern era Federer versus Nadal is the greatest of them all.

These two have met a record nine times in Grand Slam finals, but the highlight of them all has to be the 2008 Wimbledon final. At this point Nadal had already beaten the Swiss in the three straight finals of the French Open, establishing himself as the king of the clay court, but had lost the Wimbledon final to his foe twice consecutively.

The tension and the hype ahead of the match was insane, but it lived up to its billing and more, going down as one of the greatest sporting contests of all time. Due to rain delays, it became the longest Wimbledon final of all time at four hours and 48 minutes. As darkness descended over Centre Court, Nadal would finally get his win.



They have yet to meet again in Wimbledon final, with Federer edging the head-to-head 2-1 and has three more Grand Slam titles overall, but Nadal has a clear lead in major finals, winning nine of their twelve match-ups. In fact, the Spaniard has come out the right side more often than not, with a record of 23-14 overall.

There has never been any ill-will however, with the two always willing to have a laugh together. Sometimes a little too much.

While Federer will likely go down as the greatest of all time, his record against Nadal screams of second best in this rivalry.

Winner: Rafael Nadal


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