The Roar
The Roar


Ten gut-wrenching moments in Australian sport

Autoplay in... 6 (Cancel)
Up Next No more videos! Playlist is empty -
Roar Guru
14th April, 2020
1626 Reads

In sport, someone wins and someone loses (and as we’ll see below, even when there is a draw, someone wins and someone loses).

Jubilation follows the winner, and then are times when a loss is just much, much worse than it normally is. The times when you give a big finger to the advice your parents would tell you as a kid that “sport is just about having fun” or the even worse “you’re all winners” cliche. No, a loss can just really sting.

Watching grown men and women in stadiums shed tears, either as players or fans, or that look of shock on their face when a win was cruelly taken from them at the last moment.

That pain and anguish – the counter balance to joy and jubilation is what makes sport so amazing to watch.

The list below is a collection of sporting events in Australia, of featuring Australia I’ve witnessed (so, I encourage anyone to add anything I wasn’t alive to see) where the loss was just a bit to painful to watch – even if I didn’t support the team or wasn’t particularly vested in it’s outcome.

Events in this list were ones where they played out (with the exception of number ten) on live TV and quite a few in prime time. As to be expected, the top five is basically ones where Australians suffered anguish in front of a global audience.

Basically, where a lot of people were exposed to seeing the heartbreak and pain of players and fans. Amazingly, such is the nature of sport, some of these listed below have a happy epilogue.

I definitely think I’m missing a few, so help me out in the comments if I’ve missed any you think should be in there.

10. Women’s 4 x 200m freestyle relay, 2001 swimming world championships
The 2001 swimming world championships represented the absolute peak of Australian swimming. The first and only time Australia topped the medal table (and thus, the only time Australia also finished ahead of the Americans), besting the second placed US by four golds.


Ian Thorpe got his revenge against Pieter van den Hoogenband, and the men swept the relays – the first and only time that took place.

Petria Thomas won three golds, solidifying her status as the new queen of butterfly. Giaan Rooney snagged a gold in the 200 freestyle. Amid all the triumph however was an absolutely hands-over-the-eyes moment in the women’s 4x200m freestyle relay, played out live in Australian prime time

The Australian women (Rooney, Thomas, Elka Graham and Linda Mackenzie) had just edged past the Americans to claim an unlikely gold. Celebrations ensued with Thomas, Graham and Mackenzie jumping into the pool to celebrate.

Out of the pool, the four women are being interviewed by Duncan Armstrong, beaming smiles on their faces, talking about how proud they are, when mid-interview they learn they have been disqualified.

Germany in the background celebrating. Ouch. Turns out jumping in the pool got them DQ’d as not all the other teams had finished. Tough to watch that. And as it was live and prime time – a lot of people did. The shock lasted a while.

Good news was, that the Americans were also DQ’d. Bad news was that Great Britain got gold by default.

9. Sydney v Geelong 2005 AFL Semi final
A personal one for me at number 9. If you are a Sydney fan, you can skip through this. This was obviously not as gut-wrenching for you as it was for us Cats fans. Finals time, this time the semis.

As expected, Paul Roos killed off any chance the fans would get to watch a football game and instead everyone at the SCG and on TV saw an absolutely garbage exhibition of football for three quarters.


None of it would be put on a highlight reel and sent around the world to promote the game. At 3/4 time, Geelong are 6.11 and Sydney are 3.12 – in clear conditions mind you. The 17-point lead Geelong nursed would be worth 40 in other games.

If Sydney were to win, they were going to have to double their score in a quarter and kick at least four goals, something believed to be impossible for a Paul Roos coached team.

Except they did. Or, more accurately, Nick Davis did. He played the quarter to beat all quarters to single handedly defeat Geelong.

As a Geelong fan, this was hard to watch. As a fan of fast-flowing football. It was harder to watch. Despite the clearly grandstand ending, this ranks as one of the five worst AFL games I’ve watched, made a ton harder by the end result.

The good times came two years later. And then some.

8. Parramatta v North Queensland 2005 NRL preliminary final
Parramatta have a storied history of losing big games. Big leads have been thrown away, extra-time losses or they’ve forgotten to turn up to grand finals (first half in 2001 anyone?)

But none of them really hold a candle to the 2005 preliminary final between them and North Queensland. Just a quick background. No sane person at the start of the finals series would have told you that the Cowboys and Wests Tigers would meet in a grand final. No one.

In 2005 there were two teams that had rightfully risen above the fold: the Dragons and the Eels. In the qualifying final, both the Dragons and Eels won to earn a week off, the Eels were particularly dominant.


And then the Dragons (with seven Origin players in the starting 13) choked against the Tigers. That was bad, but that was nothing compared to the next day.

The Eels simply forgot to turn up against the Cowboys, a team who was spending their fourth consecutive week on the road. It was car-crash television. 18-0 at halftime and it just got worse.

A 29-0 drubbing. 44,000 fans at the ground of which about 43999 were Eels fans left absolutely shattered.

Peter Sterling who was beaming at the start of the broadcast only just managed to hold it together on the TV in the post-match wrap up. But only just. The lump in this throat was the size of a tennis ball.

You could see the desperate sadness in his eyes. It’s never easy watching a club great on live TV fighting all he can to not breakdown like a five-year-old.

The Eels eventually got to the GF in 2009 on the back of Jarryd Hayne brilliance, but were put in their place by the Storm. They are still waiting for the drought to break.


7. St George v Melbourne NRL grand final 1999
Oh boy. A world record attendance for a rugby league match. The mighty big Red V lining up for their fourth grand final of the decade, versus the southern upstarts making their first grand final in just their second year.

By halftime, Dragons players were already day dreaming what font they would be inking “1999 premiers” into their thighs. 14-0 up including a spectacular Nathan Blacklock try. You wouldn’t say this was in the bag, but Melbourne hadn’t turned up and you couldn’t see them turning it around on grand final day.

But then, in the second half Anthony Mundine doesn’t pass the ball and thinks he can score himself. He drops the ball. And much like Herschelle Gibbs…the Dragons drop the trophy.

Melbourne wore them down and with the help of a penalty try, got the lead. 20-18. The fourth grand final loss in a decade for the team, but more painfully, for Mark Coyne too.

It was brutally tough to see him distraught on the pitch. Like telling your kid Santa isn’t real.

6. Footscray v Adelaide AFL preliminary final 1997
Football finals are very clear. There are winners and there are losers. And when the stakes are raised, there’s always more pain for losing than there is joy in winning.

It’s 1997. Terry Wallace has turned Footscray into something unknown for generations – competitive. In a pretty even season, he’s got the doggies finishing third on the ladder just one game behind St Kilda and Geelong. Prelim final time, they are playing Adelaide at the MCG.


They are playing inspired football. Leading by 31 points at halftime, the fans are starting to think that a first grand final appearance in 36 years is on the cards. Adelaide edge back a bit to reduce the deficit to 22 points at 3/4 time. But the Doggies should hang on.

In the final quarter, Libba kicks a goal, big team celebrations ensue (he’s lifted up and having a dance). But it was a behind. The Doggies wouldn’t kick a goal in the final quarter, and Adelaide got over the line by two points.

When the final siren sounds, the Dogs players reacted as if their houses burnt down. Rohan Smith just kept punching the ground hard with his fist. They knew what they blew. It was incredibly tough to watch….and I’m not even a dogs fan.

To rub salt in the wound, the final quarter was the only quarter of the year the Dogs went goalless. Ouch.

There would be no happy ending. Adelaide won the flag, and Footscray had to wait another 19 years before they made the GF and get that elusive flag.

5. Australia v Italy 2006 World Cup
After a 32 year wait, Australia made the World Cup. Huzzah. And took the nation on a grand journey during the tournament as well.

The 3-1 win against Japan features highly in my most memorable sporting moments list. The Brazil loss was expected, but Australia still played very well. But the real “victory” was securing a 2-2 draw against Croatia to proceed to the second round where we would face powerhouse Italy.

Lucas Neill after giving away that penalty to Fabio Grosso

Lucas Neill (Photo : Jean Catuffe / Icon Sport via Getty Images)


Make no mistake, Australia played out of their skin that day and quite a few times had Italy absolutely scrambling to defend their goal. 90 minutes pass by, it’s still 0-0. Injury time, the clock ticks away.

There’s a school of thought floating around that if Australia could get the match to extra time, they might just be able to outlast Italy, and have a crack at the lottery of a shootout. Except, at the death in the 95th minute, Lucas Neill concedes a penalty, or did he?

Debate all day, but the penalty was awarded. The Italians score.

Game over. Boy, did that hurt….as did watching Italy go on to the win the World Cup. Not saying it could have been us, but it shouldn’t have been them!

4. Second Ashes Test Edgbaston, 2005
This game had it all. Cricket is a game where you ride your luck. Sometimes it falls in your favour, and sometimes it doesn’t.

Usually the luck of the coin toss begins, funnily enough, at the coin toss. Except it didn’t. It began earlier. Glenn McGrath rolls his ankle over a ball while playing a scratch game of football. He’s out of the match.

Then the coin toss…the luck England have with the McGrath injury is squared up with Ponting winning the toss. Or so we thought. Turns out Ponting read this pitch as well as a four year old reading War and Peace, and sends England into bat on a flat deck.

Captains usually play a straight bat listening to the other captain make the call.


But Michael Vaughan did not hide his happiness at that decision. He couldn’t. It was a shocking call by Ponting. It’s been written numerous times Shane Warne went ballistic in the dressing room.

Anyway, let’s skip to the business end of this. Australia have fourth innings target of 282 and it’s not gone well. 7-137 and then 8-175 at stumps on day 3.

Shane Warne bowls

Shane Warne of Australia in action (Photo by Hamish Blair/Getty Images)

This game is surely over, and England will square it up a 1-1. But Shane Warne (who’s batting kept Australia in the series as much as his bowling it has to be said) hits a fighting 42 but hits his wicket.

9-220 with 62 runs to go. Kasper comes in, and he and Lee patiently and diligently bring the total down. From certain defeat to possible victory. A tired nation starts to think that – as usual – we will beat the English, cause it’s what we do. Our hopes are lifted.

All it would take to win would be an edge to the boundary. We’d take it with both hands. McGrath injured, Ponting making the biggest blunder…and yet still win this?

Of course, we know what happened. Kasper gloves one (or did he!?) to Geraint Jones. Game over.

It got worse… England eventually won the series, and Australia went on a decade long search foolishly looking for an all-rounder.


3. Jane Saville, 20km walk, 2000 Sydney Olympics
Oh, this was heartbreaking. This is just about as painful as it can get in sport. Like 99 per cent of the nation, we don’t really give much thought about walkers until the Olympics pop up, and then even then, only care just a little unless an Australian has a better than 80 per cent chance of winning a medal (never mind gold).

Well, as it happened, Jane Saville was in for a good shout of not just medalling, but perhaps even getting a gold. And on the day, she was living up to the expectations. She built an insurmountable lead and was heading down the ramp to enter the stadium. It was on the TV screens inside the stadium, the crowd was roaring.

In under two minutes, Australia was chalking up another gold at home, with daylight taking silver. This was In. The. Bag. Except, on the same big TV screens, and on every TV in Australian living rooms, we saw the lead umpire approach Saville. Surely not now.

We knew what was coming, he did it many times throughout the race. He’s only there for one reason, and yet you still refused to think he was going to do it. And then he did. Out comes a red disk. Goodbye gold.

Saville bursts into tears immediately, starts running back to find her coach, clearly stunned by what happened.

Shock and anger do endless loops around Stadium Australia. This was hard to watch, and it was all on live TV. The hundreds of replays later that day only compounded the anguish.

A happy-ish ending would come four years later. Saville would medal at Athens, but it would be a bronze.

2. Greg Norman, 1996 US Masters
Even for non-Australian golf fans, people can only watch this with the hands shielding the eyes (in fact, The Guardian yesterday did their live commentary of this). This was horrifying.


A six stroke lead going into the final round. Even for a man who has had spectacularly bad luck come his way before in this tournament (Larry Mize anyone?), a six stroke lead would surely have been enough to finally wear that coveted green jacket.

It didn’t start well, with a bogey on the first but he cancelled it out with a birdie on the second And then the wheels came off. By just the 11th hole he had surrendered the six stroke lead. Faldo moved from -7 to -9 while Norman went from -13 to -9. It only got worse. A double bogey on the 12th handed Faldo the lead.

There would be no miracle recovery, a double bogey on the 16th put paid to that. By the time they teed up on the 18th, Faldo was holding a four shot lead and would birdie the hole for good measure. Norman was a broken man.

Credit to him though – he was the consummate sportsmen that day, but you could see the absolute heartbreak in his eyes. TV is cruel…there was no place for him to hide.

Norman had one last chance in 1999, but never did get that jacket. Instead of him wearing a jacket, we are now forced to watch him embrace nudity on instagram.

1. Australia v Iran 1997
For mine, the most gut-wrenching moment in Australian sporting history. We all know the story. 24 years since Australia played in a World Cup, a litany of failed qualifications between then and 1997.

Australia went to Iran and secured a 1-1 draw in front of 110000 Persian men (apparently there were handful of women were in the stadium dressed as men). The return leg at Melbourne…Australia 1-0 up at halftime, thanks to an emerging Harry Kewell.

Vidmar gets an early second half goal. 2-0 up, Iran not in it.


If Webjet was around, you’d have started booking your tickets to France. The Australian Soccer Federation (as it was then known) were probably already looking to order a few dozen France lonely planet books. It was in the big.

Until it wasn’t. A streaker disrupted the game. Kewell got a yellow, Iran got a goal. OK, nerves shot up, but we just had to hold out another 15 minutes.

Four minutes later Iran stunned everyone again with another goal. 2-2, and now down on the away goals rule. Australia had no reply. The score didn’t change.

Stunned silence from everyone. Shock, horror, pain…everything. Les Murray was physically battling to move his lips to state that Australia would not be going to was if his brain just could not string those words together.

Johnny Warren openly weeping. It was painful. I was a young boy, and I was given permission from mum and dad to stay up past my bedtime to watch it. I re-watched it on YouTube a couple of years ago. It’s still torturous watching the post-match wrap up by Murray and Warren (may both continue to rest in peace).

And to rub salt into the wound, Terry Venerables went back to England and recorded a genuinely shocking music video to wish England well for the World Cup. A bad luck charm if there was any. Check on the YouTube.