Mad about sports all right, just the wrong ones
What a week. A wave of elation swept the country in celebration of previously unimaginable sporting success. New national heroes were born.
Or you were in Australia, where some world-beating, inspirational achievements went largely unnoticed and the nation is now facing into 18 busy sporting months where victories could well be the exception rather than the expectation.
Depending on your point of view, Australian sport is at one of its lowest-ever ebbs, or in a golden era of success – just in a bunch of sports that nobody cares very much about. Australians now bestride the world in motor sport, snooker, women’s cricket and pole vaulting.
Yet in the sports in which Australia has long been a dominant force – cricket, rugby, and men’s swimming – the national sides are in something of a rut.
The male cricketers were led back into Sydney yesterday by a crestfallen Michael Clarke whose future leadership role is under a cloud after the Aussies spectacularly choked and lost the Twenty20 World Cup final.
The Australian women’s cricket team, meanwhile, showed the boys how it was done. They won the Twenty20 World Cup in a final that included a stellar performance by a Sydney teenager name Ellyse Perry. At one stage she had bowling figures of 2 wickets for just four runs and finished with 3-18 off four overs.
She secured victory by using her boot to stop a probable boundary off her final ball. It was fairytale stuff.
In the Formula 1, after a career of being labelled as journeyman, Mark Webber is now being touted as a serious world title contender after winning what is arguably the world’s most prestigious car race at Monaco. He was in the news until Tuesday morning, but then disappeared as fast as a Red Bull car on the Hockenheim pit straight.
For such an immense achievement that has catapulted Webber’s status in this most glamorous of sports, it was almost a case that you would have missed it had you blinked.
Also on the weekend golfer Adam Scott had his first tour victory in two years when he won the Texas Open.
Melbourne snooker player Neil Robertson pocketed a quarter of a million pounds sterling earlier this month when he won the sport’s World Championship.
It says much that the one Australian sportsperson who has achieved total domination in his field and commands the total respect of his competitors is not a cricket legend like Shane Warne or Steve Waugh, a rugby great like Nick Farr-Jones or Michael Lynagh, a swimmer like Ian Thorpe or a tennis player like Yvonne Goolagong.
It’s Steve Hooker, the reigning Olympic and world pole vaulting champion and the unquestioned top athlete in the discipline.
Running out against the once-formidable Aussies these days many teams will be confident of being able to beat them.
Everyone wants the Socceroos to get out of the pool stage in the FIFA World Cup next month but that is, let’s be honest, a slim chance. (Yes, it’ll be some party if we make it through.)
In rugby the Wallabies head into the international season full of individual talents like Rocky Elsom, Quade Cooper and Drew Mitchell but an unknown quantity as a team. This is basically the same unit, remember, that produced one performance so wretched last year that coach Robbie Deans publicly declared some of them had no pride in their jersey. There is hardly a harsher condemnation of an elite athlete than to accuse them of just giving up.
Clearly there is much work to do for the Wallabies to be functioning at the level needed challenge for the Rugby World Cup next year. If they were to play tomorrow the top teams like France, New Zealand and South Africa would fancy themselves to give the Wallabies a bit of a touch-up.
The once all-conquering Australian cricket team is now a distant third in the world rankings behind South Africa and India. Ricky Ponting’s men have proved nothing if not inconsistent and don’t have much room for errors if they wants to regain The Ashes when England arrive here later in the year.
In the swimming we have Stephanie Rice and Leisel Jones, who in their specialist events are acknowledged as the world leaders and will probably scoop up some golds at the Commonwealth Games.
But what about the men? The country’s top sprinter, Eamon Sullivan, is but a strong competitor in a crowded field. I suppose there’s always Brenton Rickard in the 100m breaststroke.
We should have made more of the wins this week. I hope this is not the case and it turns out that there’s plenty to celebrate over the coming year, but it’s just possible it’ll be some time before we have those kinds of victories again.
Where is Webber racing this week?
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