You know it has been a great year in New Zealand sport when winning an Olympic gold medal isn’t the standout achievement. With due respect to our Olympians, 15-year-old Lydia Ko’s victory in the Canadian Open gets my vote for achievement of the year. She became the youngest winner in the 62-year history of women’s professional golf and the first amateur to win a pro tournament since 1969.
There was a time in Tiger Woods’s career when a year in which he didn’t win a major tournament was a bad year: between 1997 and 2008 he had only three bad years. Four-and-a-half years have elapsed since his last – and greatest – major victory, winning the 2008 US Open with a torn anterior cruciate ligament and two stress fractures in his left tibia.
Although he has clawed his way back to third in the world rankings (interestingly, the only American in the top seven), it seems increasingly clear that disgrace and injury have brought down the curtain on the Woods era. And as is the way in sport, as Woods was falling back to earth, 23-year-old Ulsterman Rory McIlroy was achieving lift-off.
Our Olympic rowers’ medal haul makes them team of the year, pipping the Breakers who won back-to-back National Basketball League titles, enabling Auckland to avoid being officially designated a sporting wasteland. Honourable mentions to two Hamilton-based outfits: the Waikato- Bay of Plenty Magic, the first Kiwi team to win netball’s ANZ Championship, and Super 15 champions the Chiefs.
Sportsperson of the year is Richie McCaw, whose consistency, commitment and courage continue to astound. Fittingly, he became the first rugby player to be on the winning side in 100 test matches, and with the assistance of playwright, novelist and former Junior All Black Greg McGee, produced an autobiography that was worthy of the subject.
Rugby provided my petty grievance of the year. Grant Nisbett is the best commentator in the business, but he has allowed the tautologous “good” to creep into his work, as in “good strong surge” and “good solid tackle”. Former All Black halfback Justin Marshall could become a decent comments man, but my unscientific sampling indicates I’m far from the only one to have already tired of his tendency to forensically examine every refereeing call that goes the All Blacks’ way for traces of error or unfairness. This may endear him to foreigners, and certainly differentiates him from his Australian counterparts – Rod Kafer excepted – who no longer bother making a pretence of analytical detachment.
However, it grates when the same degree of beady-eyed scrutiny isn’t applied to refereeing mistakes that disadvantage the All Blacks. A case in point is Springbok wing Bryan Habana’s try in Soweto: the scoring pass was made outside the All Blacks 22 and collected inside it, yet a magnanimous silence reigned in the commentary box.
New Zealand Cricket (NZC) should have sent Lance Armstrong a Christmas card. If it wasn’t for the seven times Tour de France winner being exposed as a serial drugs cheat, NZC would have picked up every booby prize on offer. In July, when advertising for yet another coach, NZC revealed an aim for the Black Caps to be sustainably No 1 or 2 in the world in all forms of the game and regularly win global tournaments and series.
I suggested that a more realistic goal would be for NZC to establish itself as the biggest joke in world cricket. After the Ross Taylor affair, I think we can safely say “nailed it”.