The View From Down Here #77 – End Of The Decade Special

25 top moments in Australian sport for the decade 2000-2009

 Everyone’s doing end of the decade stuff here, so I thought, from an Australian perspective, I’d throw in what I consider the top 25 moments in Australian sport for the past 10 years.

Before I go on, there are the many events that were ignored because, basically, it’s my list. However, in these following three cases I feel I should explain myself:

            Cathy Freeman won gold at the 2000 Olympics. Feel good factor, wow. But it was one medal in one race at one Olympics. They said she had the weight of Australia on her shoulders; that was the media’s doing, not her own. Yes, she also won 2 world championship golds in the 1990s, and four Commonwealth Games gold medals (one in 2002, in the 4×400 relay), and she was a powerhouse 400m runner, but really most of her career was not in the 2000s. She has been called Australia’s greatest female indigenous athlete; I think Evonne Goolagong Cawley is far more deserving, of that title, especially winning Wimbledon in 1980 (her 7th grand slam singles title) after having her first child! [I didn’t mean for this to be a rant, as Freeman was a truly gifted runner and an inspiration for a number of children and young athletes, but I just know this one is going to cop me the most flak.]

            Stephanie Rice may have won a swag of medals at the 2008 Olympics, but who cares? She only got publicity because of her looks. And all swimmers by then were cheating with their swim-suit technology anyway.

            Geelong won 2 out of 3 grand finals (2007-2009). Sorry, guys, Brisbane did so much better. And Central Districts better still.


Honourable Mentions: Ian Thorpe and Grant Hackett in swimming. Just couldn’t quite fit them in. Again, this is my list, but at least being here they get some mention. Ditto for Mark Webber in Formula One, and Lauren Jackson in the basketball. The Melbourne Commonwealth Games as an event also get a mention here as they were a well organised event, but failed to capture the nation quite like the Sydney Olympics. And finally, the 2002 reinstatement of the South Sydney Rabbitohs to the NRL; this would have made the actual list if they had then gone on to do something amazing with this, like make a grand final (even if they didn’t win), but they didn’t so it’s not in.


Countdown, from 25 to 1:

25. Rugby Union – Sailor, Rogers and Tuqiri leave league for union
            Three of the biggest names in league leave to play union. It may not seem like much, a trio of players changing codes, but at the time it was huge news. The aftermath of the Super League wars in rugby league saw a bit of disillusionment, and these three were coups for union. And for this decade, league struggled.

24. Athletics – Steve Hooker and the pole vault
            Australia has not had a track and field athlete be on top in an individual sport for a very long time. But after winning gold at the Melbourne Commonwealth Games, Hooker won Olympic gold in 2008 and the world championships in 2009 (while injured), with only the great Sergey Bubka having jumped higher than him. And he seems a genuinely nice guy as well. Now, after my comments about Cathy Freeman winning one gold in one event above, this may seem like an inconsistency. The difference is, all his achievements have been this decade, and the Olympic Gold has not been the pinnacle of his career, but the start of it. And, damn, but pole vault is hard to do!

23. Basketball – national league almost collapses
            It’s a shame a negative like this has to come in, but it is a big moment, when the NBL went from 12 teams, including teams in New Zealand and Singapore to a struggling 8 team comp in 2009.

22. AFL – Sydney win first premiership in 74 years
            A feel-good moment for sure, as one of the longest droughts in Australian sport was finally broken and long-suffering supporters found a reason to cheer in 2005.

21. Golf – Karrie Webb youngest winner of the LPGA Career Grand Slam
            She started the decade dominating women’s golf to such a degree that this honour in 2001 was not only well-deserved, but also half-expected. While she may have fallen a little off the radar as the decade ended, her youth means she will undoubtedly be back.

20. Rugby League – Hopoate’s finger ban
            Hopoate was banned for sticking his finger up the anus of opponents in 2001, a tactic that allegedly was given tacit approval by management and leadership of his rugby league club. While it is a negative and it is actually amusing, the publicity it garnered was unbelievable! Hopoate, it should be pointed out, is the current (as of writing) Australian heavyweight boxing champion.

19. Cricket – Hayden sets new high test score
            Matthew Hayden became the highest individual innings test run scorer with 380 against Zimbabwe in 2003. This would have appeared higher on this list, by the way, but West Indian Brian Lara scored 400 not out 6 months later against England, relegating Hayden to number 2 in the overall standings.

18. Cricket – Steve Waugh retires
            Another feel-good moment in January of 2004. Waugh had been under pressure for a while, announced his retirement, then scored an 80 in his last innings. His departure was also the start of the end for Australia’s dominance of world cricket. On a personal note, having been brought up on cricket, Waugh was/is my favourite Australian captain.

17. AFL- Jason McCartney’s comeback
            McCartney suffered terrible burns in the 2002 Bali bombings – more than half his body suffered second degree burns. After extensive rehabilitation, the North Melbourne Football Club allowed him to have one last game for the club, a moment that will stick with all who saw it.

16. Tennis – Hewitt number one for a year
            2001 to 2002 he was number one, winning Wimbledon along the way. He went from a lucky kid to a dominant force in the sport. And while the decade may have ended in lean fashion for him, results in 2009 indicate that he may be making his way back.

15. Rugby League – Queensland win 4 straight State of Origin series
            The State of Origin series between New South Wales And Queensland has always been about pride with no one side getting too much over the other. However, for the first time since it became a series (instead of one-off matches), one team dominated the other, with Queensland winning from 2006 to 2009 inclusive, and New South Wales getting more and more desperate as the years have gone on.

14. Commonwealth Games – Australia wins 221 medals
            The 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne (Australia) saw Australia so dominate with 84 gold, 69 silver, and 68 bronze medals that there were serious concerns for the future of the Games.

13. Boxing – Kostya Tszyu unifying boxing titles
            The Russian-born Australian unified the junior welterweight titles, dominating the weight division until 2005. Pound for pound, he was one of the best fighters in the world at the time, and certainly one of the best in Australian history.

12. Rugby League – Bulldogs stripped of points for salary cap breach
            The Canterbury Bulldogs were stripped of all their competition points when on top of the ladder after rorting of the salary cap by its administration was discovered. The fans and players were distraught as this shut them out of the 2002 finals series. Another negative, but all clubs were on notice that this was now looked at seriously. It would also have future ramifications, with players leaving for bigger pay cheques elsewhere in the world.

11. AFL – Brisbane win 3 in a row
            2001, 2002 and 2003 were the years of the Lions, setting up what looked to be a new northern dynasty. Their fourth grand final in 2004, however, saw them defeated by Port Adelaide, and the dynasty thing never really came into play after that (hence this not as high as expected position) but for the start of the decade, they were the team to beat.

10. AFL – Ben Cousins, his fall and resurrection
            He won the Brownlow Medal in 2005, then in 2006 resigned the West Coast Eagles captaincy after running from a police ‘booze bus’. In 2006 the Eagles won the premiership. In 2007 he missed some training and was internally suspended by the club, then underwent rehab for substance abuse. He came back to the Eagles with very strict conditions. He was then sacked for being arrested for possession. The AFL banned him for a year. In 2009 Richmond threw him a lifeline and his comeback was nothing short of amazing.

9. Tennis – Hewitt beats Sampras to win the US
            Young Lleyton Hewitt defeated Pete Sampras in 2001 to win the US Open, surprising everyone. He had won the doubles title the previous year, but 2001 was his year with 6 titles. And that first one was still such a great Australian sporting moment.

8. Soccer – Australia make their 2nd ever World Cup
            They’d only been there once before, in West Germany in 1974, but in 2006 they not only made it, they made it through to the second round. And this was not the end, as this achievement has been followed through with qualification for the 2010 World Cup, one of the first countries to do so.

7. Cricket – Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath retire
            Even more than the retirement of Steve Waugh, these two leaving in 2007 made the hole in the Australian team almost impossible to fill. The two greatest bowlers ever produced by Australia both bowing out at the same time was shocking. And Australia has yet to really recover. [At the same time batsmen Justin Langer and Damien Martyn also retired (four at once!) but although their experience was invaluable, there have been other batsmen come up to take their place.]

6. Horse Racing – Makybe Diva wins three successive Melbourne Cups
            The first horse ever to win three cups, in 2003, 2004 and 2005 (in which year she also won the Cox Plate), she was a beloved racehorse. She retired at the end of 2005, by which time she had become the highest earner in the history of Australian horse racing (estimated at more than $14 million).

5. SANFL – Central Districts domination
            Formed in the 1960s, they couldn’t buy a win at first. That started to change in the 1990s, and by the new decade they were completely rampant. They appeared in all 10 grand finals and won eight times, being runners up in 2002 and 2006. They have set a new and impressive bench-mark for football in South Australia.

4. Rugby League – Sonny Bill Williams leaves for union and cash
            He stirred up controversy when he left the Bulldogs rugby league club to go to France and play rugby union for Toulon. He was branded a traitor and some-one in it for the money. However, as was pointed out at the time, he may have left for the money, but if he had had a bad year, the club would have had no problem in dumping him. Turn around is fair play, and now the boundaries have been set slightly differently.

3. Olympics – Sydney hosts 2000 Games
            Number 3? Yes. Now Sydney hosted a marvellous Games, well organised and everything else. And they included other parts of the country and it really did pull the country together like nothing else. But it really is letting a foreign country invade your soil, so I didn’t go the whole hog with it. However, as a sporting moment, there was little to beat it.

2. Motor Sport – Brock dies
            Peter Brock was a legend in motor racing in Australia. He won Bathurst nine times, and Sandown nine times. When you thought of closed wheel car racing in this country, you thought of Brock. However, in September of 2006, while driving in a rally in Western Australia, he had an accident. The car hit a tree and he died instantly. A sad moment, but one of the ones that stands out this decade. Unfortunately.

1. Winter Olympics – Steve Bradbury wins Australia’s first gold
            Australia had never won a gold medal at a Winter Olympics. But everyone thought we would in 2002 – Alisa Camplin, the aerial skier. She did win gold… but she was the second to do so at these games. The first went to Steven Bradbury. In the final of the men’s short track 1000m speed skating event, Bradbury was bringing up the rear. Then the four in front of him took a spill on the last corner, he skated through and took the gold medal. Some said he was lucky, but he had still made that final where so many others had not, he had won a world championship in the 1990s, and had even broken his neck in 2000 in a training accident. So, no matter what, he won, and his courage and the underdog status he enjoyed has made him into an Australian folk hero. Was he lucky? Of course. Did he deserve to win the medal? Hell, yeah. And that was the finest moment in Australian sport for the past decade.

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