Last Sunday, I was asked the question: “After Don Bradman, who are your top 10 Australians in order after nearly 50 years covering sport?”
That’s a huge ask for such a small number.
After nearly half a century, there are so many genuine contenders in our very sporting nation.
More like 50.
Nevertheless, here goes:
(1) Don Bradman – no argument with “The Don,” who averaged over 60% higher than the next best Test batsmen in the history of the game – 99.94 compared to Graeme Pollock’s 60.97, George Headley’s 60.83, and Herbert Sutcliffe’s 60.73. In a word, daylight.
(2) Herb Elliott – a magnificent athlete, pure powerful poetry in motion on the track. Unbeaten over the mile and 1500 metres throughout his stellar career culminating at the 1960 Rome Olympics, smashing his own world record, and winning by 30 metres, still the widest margin ever in the event. His time that historic day – 3.35.6 – would have gold at the 1964, 1972, 1976, 1980, 1988, and 1992 Olympics – 32 years later. He retired after Rome at 23, saying he had nothing more to prove.
(3) Rod Laver is the only tennis player in history, men and women, to win two Grand Slam singles titles – the first in 1962 as an amateur, the second in 1969 as a pro. Laver won 11 Slam singles, but he was a pro when the rest of the world were amateurs from 1963 to 1968, making him ineligible for 20 Slams. Had he been eligible his Slam singles would be at least 21, he was such a dominant figure. Roger Federer on 16 won’t get anywhere near 21 Slams.
(4) Margaret Court won a record 62 Slam titles between 1960 as a 17-year-old and 1975 with 24 singles including the Grand Slam in 1970, 19 women’s doubles, and 19 mixed doubles. To further emphasise her dominance, Margaret won every possible title at all four Slams, matched only by Doris Hart and Martina Navratilova.
(5) Heather McKay won 16 consecutive British Open championships between 1962 and 1977, acknowledged as squash’s most coveted title. In over 20 years of international competition Heather lost twice to Yvonne West in 1960, and Fran Marshall in 1962. But squash wasn’t her only claim to fame, representing Australia at hockey in 1967 and 1971, and winning the American and Canadian Racquetball championships consistently throughout the 1980s to be genuinely rated among the world’s greatest sportswomen.
(6) Dawn Fraser won three successive Olympic Games 100 metre freestyle golds in 1956, 1960, and 1964, but it should have been five. In Tokyo 1964 the Australian Swimming Union banned Dawn for 10 years for nicking the flag from the Emperor’s Palace. Dawn didn’t do it, and by the time the ASU got it right it was too late. I have no doubts Dawn would have won in Mexico 1968, and Munich 1972, setting a record of five successive golds in the same event that would never have been broken in the pool, nor unlikely in Games history.
(7) Ken Rosewall is without peer in the history of tennis for his longevity. He won his first Australian singles title in 1953, his fourth in 1972, 19 years apart. Won his first French in 1953, his second in 1968, 15 years apart, and his first US in 1956, his second in 1970, 14 years apart. Rosewall never won Wimbledon but reached four finals between 1954 and 1974, 20 years apart. Like Laver, Rosewall missed 44 Slam tournaments during his early pro career. It would be reasonable to suggest he would have won at least 15 of them to take his Slam singles title to 23. That’s realistic.
(8) Betty Cuthbert at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. Who could ever forget the “Golden Girl” with hair flowing, powering her way to three gold medals in the 100, 200, and anchoring the 4×100 relay. And eight years later winning a fourth gold at Tokyo in 1964 in the 400, an inaugural event at those Games. During the course of her wonderful career she set world records for the 100, 200, and 400 metres, as well as the 100, 220, and 440 yards.
(9) Peter Thomson either won, or finished second, in seven successive British Opens – no golfer has come anywhere near that record. Thomson won in 1954, 1955, 1956, and 1958, and came second to Bobby Locke in 1952, to Ben Hogan in 1953, and Locke again in 1957. Thomson won his fifth British Open in 1965 among his 82 tournament victories worldwide. He has kept in close contact with his sport as a world-class golf course designer, and until recently as a television commentator.
(10) Mark Ella was asked by rookie half-back Nick Farr-Jones before the 1984 Grand Slam tour, “Where do you want me to pass the ball?”. The mercurial one replied, “Just throw it, I’ll catch it”. That typified Ella, the most instinctive and intuitive footballer of any code I have ever seen. So instinctive he sometimes couldn’t even remember what he did after the game, it was so natural. He played only 25 Tests, and retired at 25, a huge loss to the 15-man code when he was at his peak. There’s never been anyone since who could remotely match him.
That’s my top 10 after long deliberation, including the agro in having to leave out the likes of:
* Invincibles Keith Miller, Ray Lindwall, and Neil Harvey along with Alan Davidson, Bobby Simpson, Shane Warne, Adam Gilchrist, Glenn McGrath, Dennis Lillee, and Greg Chappell.
* Immortals Clive Churchill, Reg Gasnier, Johnny Raper, Bobby Fulton, Graeme Langlands, Artie Beetson, and Wally Lewis.
* Wallabies Trevor Allan, Ken Catchpole, John Eales, and David Campese.
* VFL/AFL giants in Ron Barassi, Leigh Matthews, Ted Whitten, and Gary Ablett snr.
* Football’s Johnny Warren.
* On the track, Shirley Strickland, Marjorie Jackson, Cathy Freeman, and John Landy.
* In the pool, Shane Gould, Murray Rose, Kieren Perkins, and Grant Hackett.
* Along with Greg Norman, Jack Brabham, Jimmy Carruthers, John Bertrand, and Bill Roycroft.
Australia is blessed with a galaxy of sporting stars, and that’s just naming a few.