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Australia’s ten most inspirational sporting moments

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8th April, 2020
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Narrowing down millions of amazing Australian sporting moments into a concise and tight top ten was a daunting task. In doing so, setting criteria was important.

This list includes not necessarily the most notable, tragic or infamous sporting moments, or the most often replayed or viewed, it is a summation of the most inspirational things I have witnessed in my life as a sports fan.

Monday’s article on sporting documentaries led to some wonderful discussion on The Roar. I thought this list of inspirational moments might do the same. Here are my selections and while feeling certain that yours will be very different, I hope you enjoy the trip down memory lane.

10. Australian cricket team – The Ashes (1989)
Labelled the worst team to ever leave Australian shores and travel to England to compete for cricket’s Ashes, captain Allan Border’s men stunned the Old Dart by thrashing the hosts four Test matches to nil.

Crafty medium-pacer Terry Alderman was unplayable at times with 41 wickets, Mark Taylor peeled off 839 runs and an array of promising players finally felt comfortable in their skin. Names like Ian Healy, Merv Hughes, Steve Waugh and David Boon would become the backbone of an Australian squad that continued to improve in the seasons that followed.

The win was all the more satisfying after reading the Fleet Street criticism of the squad on arrival. There is nothing more enjoyable than seeing a Pom eat a little humble pie.

9. Pat Cash – Wimbledon (1987)
Longing for another Wimbledon champion, Australian tennis fans were not always convinced that Pat Cash was exactly for what they had hoped. A child prodigy in the junior ranks, good-looking, brash and outspoken, Cash still stands as the greatest athletic serve-volley tennis player in history.

Blessed with nothing more than a serviceable slice backhand and an erratic forehand, Cash used a solid serve and his physical gifts to dominate the front court, even on surfaces that may not have always suited his game. His win in the 1987 Wimbledon final was convincing, as the planets aligned for Cash in a straight-sets victory over Ivan Lendl.

Cash’s madcap climb into the stands to thank his support crew became synonymous with the Championships and has been emulated many times over. And after waiting so long for another major champion, Cash’s victory will never be forgotten.

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8. Greg Norman – British Open (1993)
Growing up an avid golfer and a fan of Australia’s greatest modern player Greg Norman condemned me to the most painful of decades. Despite all the flair, popularity and personality, Norman managed to fall agonisingly short in all of golf’s four major championships between 1983 and 1993.

Greg Norman tips his hat

(AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

Opponents holed miraculous shots, chipping in when least expected and Norman managed to dance with the evil C word – choke – on more than one occasion, throwing away chances to seal victory when in contention. In that decade, only the 1986 British Open had fallen his way, yet Norman’s greatest ever moment came at Royal St George’s in 1993 when he blew the field away on the final day with an exquisite round of golf.

Nick Faldo, Bernhard Langer, Corey Pavin and a world-class field were left in his wake and his final round of 64 was only marred by a nervous late bogey on the 17th hole. It was a rare moment when Australia’s favourite golfer finally put together a performance befitting his talent. As Jack Nicklaus had said some years earlier, “Greg Norman’s best is betting than anybody’s.” It is a shame we didn’t get to see it more often.

7. John Aloisi – World Cup qualifier (2005)
Many people claim to know precisely where they were when Harold Holt forgot his floaties and JFK was assassinated. Most Australian sports fans could also probably tell you where they were on the 16th of November 2005, when John Aloisi sent Australia into the World Cup football finals for the first time in 32 years.

In the view of many, it was the biggest thing to ever happen in Australian sport and the penalty shoot-out against Uruguay in which Aloisi put the icing on the cake was sport at its most intense and gripping. The SBS commentary on the night is utterly hilarious, with all sense of professionalism and decorum thrown out the window when the Olympic Stadium erupted.

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6. Leo Barry – AFL grand final (2005)
Seventy-two years is a heck of a long time to wait for another triumph to come the way of your team, yet that is exactly what South Melbourne and Sydney Swans fans experienced. Relocation from the southern parts of Melbourne to the harbour city had looked promising early, however the Swans mostly struggled throughout the 1990s.

When Dean Cox launched a deep kick into the Swans’ defensive zone in the dying moments of the 2005 decider, Sydney cult figure ‘Leaping’ Leo Barry leapt high and took the most astonishing of marks that, seconds later, proved to be the key moment in protecting the Swans’ four-point lead.

The wait was over. In the end, Barry would play 237 AFL matches and average five marks per game, but very few will remember the other 1184.

5. Kieren Perkins – Atlanta Olympics (1996)
After the most underwhelming of qualifying performances, Kieren Perkins entered the 1500-metre freestyle final in Atlanta in 1996 seemingly without a hope in Hades. Instead, the Australian swimming legend swam the race of his life, despite still suffering the effects of an illness that had affected his preparation.

The race appeared tinged with madness as Perkins extended early to open a lead that, based on his earlier swim, appeared unlikely to be maintained. However, it was and in a time of 14 minutes 56.40 seconds, Perkins touched the wall well in front, defended his title and leapt from the pool in celebration arms aloft.

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It was simply stunning, comprehensive and reeked of the refuse-to-lose attitude that the greatest champions possess.

4. Cadel Evans – Tour de France (2011)
I will openly admit to experiencing saddle sores all the way through the 2011 Tour de France as I rode the race from the comfort of my living room. Australia’s Cadel Evans did not have a team capable of fighting off the attacks of others, nor did he possess a level of acceleration that could concern his main rivals.

Australian Cadel Evans celebrates the pink jersey

(Source: AFP PHOTO)

What Evans did possess was years of experience, a Phar Lap-sized heart and the ability to stay the course longer than most. Over the three weeks, the Australian rarely drifted back and rode at the head of the peloton as the race wound its way through some of the most famous roads on the planet.

Evans put paid to his opposition in the final time trial, where his effort was supreme and Australia celebrated its first Tour de France champion on the Champs-Elysees.

3. Australia II – America’s Cup (1983)
While knowing absolutely nothing about the noble and elitist art of sailing large vessels, it was impossible not to be gripped by the events of September 1983, as Australia II rescued the America’s Cup from the New York Yacht Club in Rhode Island.

The Americans had held the trophy since its inception and for a total of 132 years. With a secretive winged keel providing all the ammunition required for the hosts to claim Australia were cheating their back sides off, skipper John Bertrand led the crew to a tight 4-3 victory. I learnt words and terms whose meaning to this very day I am still unsure about. Tacking?!

A nation celebrated, Bob Hawke lost his marbles in a very bad jacket and the Americans predictably launched unsuccessful protests.

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2. Cathy Freeman – Sydney Olympics (2000)
Only one person on the planet can even comprehend the challenge that Cathy Freeman faced leading into the 400-metre final during the Sydney Olympics. With her greatest rival Marie-Jose Perec losing her cool and subsequently vanishing and an expectant Australian public that lumped levels of pressure on an athlete as it had never done before, Freeman lit the flame, put on her cat suit and ran like the wind.

The proud Indigenous woman ran for all of us amid the flashes of cameras and a noise level inside an Australian stadium that will never be matched. The relief on Freeman’s face was obvious as she crossed the line. To her credit, despite all the peripheral components, she never wavered from the task.

1. Sydney – Summer Olympics (2000)
If there was ever a better time to be temporarily unemployed than during the month of September in Australia in the year 2000, I’m not sure when it could have been. I watched every second of coverage of the summer Games, from early-morning hockey and basketball matches between minnows to all the heroic and patriotic highlights at the Aquatic Centre and Olympic Stadium in the evening.

While many took the chance to escape the country, fearing chaos and disaster, those of us who stayed behind soaked up the greatest sporting spectacle imaginable. Between Cathy Freeman lighting the cauldron at the opening ceremony and all the way through to the festival and party that was closing night, Sydney came alive. It was a privilege to witness it all. Sadly, it might be my only opportunity to do so.