As another journey around the sun draws to a close, it presents us with the opportunity to look back at the year that was 2016. It is a wonderful time where sporting fans can argue with one another as to what were the best moments, achievements, and performances of the year. To that end this correspondent not so humbly submits for discourse and debate, The Bozza Awards for the Five Most Memorable Sporting Stories of 2016.
A Kangaroo bounds away with AFL’s Games Record
When Michael Tuck retired in 1991 after playing 426 AFL Games it was thought his Games Record would never be broken. What wasn’t known was that a 13-year-old high schooler running around the football fields of Preston and Melbourne’s northern suburbs was destined to do just that.
Against St Kilda in Round 19, North Melbourne’s Boomer Harvey played his 427th game and passed Tuck’s unbreakable mark to become the new AFL Games Record holder. The entire week prior was a celebration of the little champ and his extraordinary achievement. In front of a packed Etihad Stadium Crowd Harvey received bi-partisan standing ovations both pre and post games.
Although still one of North’s better players, at seasons end the curtain came down on his record breaking career. A storied journey that began way back in 1996 and saw the Preston youngster claim a premiership in 1999, 4 x All Australian Selections, 5 x North Melbourne Best and Fairests, an EJ Whitten Medal as best of field for Victoria in the 1999 State of Origin against South Australia and selection in North Melbourne’s Team of the Century, ended after game 432, at the Adelaide Oval in the Kangaroos Elimination defeat.
Despite being small in stature he left a massive imprint behind.
A Nightmare on O’Connell Street
The 2016 season opened with such enthusiasm for Parramatta and its long-suffering supporters. A successful off-season recruiting spree and the Auckland 9’s Trophy added to the Trophy Cabinet meant that premiership talk didn’t seem so far-fetched for the Eels. However, the promised season to remember was scuttled, a series of self-inflicted wounds and some stranger than fiction events conspiring instead to produce a year to forget.
Systematic breaches of the salary cap brought a 12-point penalty ending any Premiership aspirations, real or otherwise for the club. The 2016 campaign sacrificed for cheating in five of the six previous seasons. A double whammy of sorts, as another wasted season was inflicted for cheating in the years that brought no finals appearances and two wooden spoons.
If that wasn’t bad enough, captain and much celebrated off-season signing Keiran Foran sought and was granted a release from his long-term multi-million-dollar contract. Fellow halves partner Corey Norman was suspended after being caught up in a drugs scandal and superstar winger Semi Radradra continues to be linked with a move to French Rugby while also defending serious assault charges in the NSW courts. Then when Eels fans thought they were through the other side, there was one last sting in the tale. Former captain and San Francisco 49er Jarryd Hayne, despite a belief that he had an agreement in place to play with Parramatta if he was to return to the NRL, announced instead that his return would be with the Gold Coast Titans.
It was not a good year.
Swan songs for two Olympic Legends
Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps had reigned supreme over the Olympic Games throughout the early part of this century. In the lead-up to this year’s games’, both indicated that 2016 would be the last time they graced the Olympic stage. With the entire world cheering them on, Rio proved a glorious victory lap for each man.
For the ‘Baltimore Bullet’ Phelps, who stepped on to the blocks already the most decorated Olympic athlete in history, he mined the Rio pools for five Gold Medals to take his personal tally to a staggering 23! To try and put the magnitude of his haul into perspective, if he was a country he would sit behind only the all-time tally of 39 others, and ahead of countries like Mexico, Austria, and Argentina.
As a man, accustomed to writing his name into the record books it was of no surprise that he created history a few more times before signing off from Olympic competition. With victory in the 200m Medley he became the first man to claim victory in the same individual event 4 times. Even in defeat he was historic. When he was touched out in the 100m Butterfly by Singapore’s Jakob Schooling, Phelps was involved with Olympic swimmings first triple dead heat for second.
One of the most flamboyant, dominant, and popular competitors in Olympic history, Usain Bolt entered Rio under an injury cloud. A hamstring tear saw the two-time defending 100 & 200m Olympic Champion withdraw from the Jamaican Olympic trials, meaning he needed special dispensation just to be selected for Jamaica’s Olympic team. The question of his fitness, and the form of his rival Justin Gatlin, meant there was serious doubt as to whether Bolt would be able to deliver the unprecedented treble-treble that most of the world was desperate to see.
Expectant fans filled the Estadio Olimpico Joao Havelange to watch the world’s fastest man in his attempts to thrill us all on the grandest stage for the final time. Despite the early injury fears Bolt dominated his competition across each of his events. To almost universal cheers, Bolt became the first man to claim the blue riband 100m and 200m crowns three times before signing off undefeated with victory in the 4x100m Relay.
Many will now dispute the respective claims of either man to the title of the greatest ever Olympian, a fun but ultimately impossible argument to resolve. However, what is not in doubt is the fact that the Olympics will never be the same without them.
Tragedy in Medellin
“I would like to thank everyone, all the nations”, Chapecoense President Plinio David de nes Filho, said in an emotional presentation of South American Football’s Copa Sudamericana Trophy to the Brazilian club. Sharing the stage with his counterpart Columbia’s Atletico National he continued, “But let me, in a very special way, a very tender and grateful way, on behalf of our club, Chape, to share the trophy we just received with the one who gave us this possibility, thanks to their gesture of humanity and respect, their dignity and their demonstration of kindness.”
It was a small but touching gesture by South American authorities to declare the small Brazilian team Champions after a plane carrying their team crashed in Columbia en route to the first leg of the final. Atletico National, the team that awaited the Brazilians in the final, the driving force behind the honour being bestowed upon the devastated club.
Out of respect to those lost on the fateful flight, Chapecoense have vowed that they will carry on. The memory of fallen team-mates and officials to spur them on as they attempt the slow and long rebuilding process that lies in front of them. Football is the heartbeat of South America and the passion will slowly return to the fans of the ‘Verdao’ and the players that represent them. For now, they mourn a team forever lost in quest for them and their city.
The Rise and Rise of Women’s Sport
This year saw many important announcements for women’s sport in this country.
After the success of last years inaugural Women’s Big Bash tournament, the NSW cricket association announced that their womens team would become, for the first time, full-time professionals. Cricket NSW able to make the historic move after securing increased sponsorship from Lend Lease. An important first step that will enable players to focus solely on cricket, the minimum wage will be $35k with international players potentially earn in excess of $100K.
Netball Australia also announced that 2017 would offer greater opportunities for women to make a living playing the sport. With the creation of a national league to replace the Trans-Tasman competition there will be 3 new teams with contracts to offer players, contracts that have been heavily beefed up by the national body. With improved conditions and financials, the minimum wage will more than double rising from $13,250 to $27,375, the average wage also rises sharply from $40,000 to $67,500.
We will also see the inaugural Women’s AFL competition be contested next year with 8 teams across the nation compete in an 8-week competition in February-March. While the initially proposed -and even the renegotiated – financial terms have been rightly pilloried, a professional football league for women is a major step forward.
Without question, there is a long way to go in the journey for equality in sport in this country but after these announcements, at the end of 2016 we are closer than we were at the start.
The end of one lap of the sun is the commencement of another and with that we look forward to what events and stories 2017 hold in store for us.