Sport Sport Focus Why it is spring time for Australian sport
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Why it is spring time for Australian sport

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Kyle Chalmers celebrates his gold medal success in Brazil. Photo: Getty
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It is spring time for Australian sport.

In 2016, we saw the stars of the past fade away, replaced by bright-eyed and hungry youngsters.

If last year’s Olympic campaign could be summed up in two faces, it would be those of Anna Meares and Kyle Chalmers.

Meares, four-time Olympian, six-time medallist – two of them gold – and the Australian flag-bearer in Rio, tearfully apologised to the nation after finishing 10th in her attempt to defend her sprint gold medal from London.

After a cuddle from her old English rival Victoria Pendleton in the stands, the 32-year-old fronted the cameras with misty eyes and said: “I didn’t think I’d be that far off the mark.

“I’ve given it my everything and I just hope people can forgive me.”

Meares had no reason to apologise.

She represented her country wonderfully at the Games, and in succumbing to the only unbeaten figure in world sport – time – she embodied the end of one era and the beginning of another.

Six days before that emotional goodbye, Chalmers announced himself as Australian swimming’s brightest star in years when he broke a 48-year drought to win the men’s 100m freestyle.

The 18-year-old from South Australia was initially just hoping to make the relay team at the Rio Games and his qualification for the 100m final was somewhat surprising.

With his shock triumph he achieved what heavily fancied Eamon Sullivan and James Magnussen missed out on in London and Beijing.

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Mack Horton also won a surprise gold medal in Rio. Photo: Getty

Chalmers’ victory, along with those of Mack Horton in the 400m freestyle and Chloe Esposito in the modern pentathlon, heralded the dawn of a new age.

Our Olympic performance in total may have been underwhelming – with the highly touted Cameron McEvoy, Cate Campbell and Emily Seebohm all battling – but Chalmers, Horton and Esposito are the next generation of faces we’ll see on the Weet-Bix box.

Regeneration was a theme seen throughout Australian sport in 2016, in our cricket and soccer teams, and our most popular football codes.

In AFL, players such as Hawthorn trio Luke Hodge, Sam Mitchell and Cyril Rioli didn’t own September the way they’ve often done, instead being run over by Western Bulldogs quartet Marcus Bontempelli, Tom Boyd, Luke Dahlhaus and Jason Johanissen.

Looking ahead, the young guns of Greater Western Sydney will prove very difficult to beat this year.

The Giants’ growth last season was remarkable, and frightening for supporters of opposition clubs.

In the NRL, rising stars Jack Bird and Valentine Holmes were brilliant for Cronulla in their historic win over the old stagers of Melbourne Storm.

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Valentine Holmes was a key figure in Cronulla’s success. Photo: Getty

Ten years after the stratospheric heights of 2006, the next generation of Socceroos made their mark, with Tom Rogic and Aaron Mooy beginning to show why everyone is so excited.

In basketball, Andrew Bogut’s best days are probably behind him.

A 20-year-old from Melbourne, Ben Simmons, was taken as the number one pick in this year’s NBA draft, though, and 19-year-old Thon Maker went just six spots behind.

Simmons’ initial progress has been curtailed by injury, but both teenagers look like being megastars for years to come. Roll on the Tokyo Games in 2020.

The Australian cricket team is nearly unrecognisable following disastrous showings in Sri Lanka and at home against South Africa.

Matt Renshaw, Peter Handscomb, Nic Maddinson and Hilton Cartwright are all in the mix after winning debuts over the past two months.

In Renshaw and Handscomb, Australia appears to have found two players who could bat in the top order for the next 10 years.

In golf, a young Western Australian amateur named Curtis Luck showed why he’s tipped to be the next big thing in the sport by winning the US Amateur and Asia Pacific Amateur titles in 2016.

Luck, 20, will make his US Masters debut this year, before turning professional.

So, after winter follows the spring.

Australia will always have new sporting stars to replace the old.

Rather than reflecting on the disappointments of 2016, we should be heralding the new dawn.

And it looks like a beautiful day.

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