Sport Sport Focus Our favourite sporting moments of 2014

Our favourite sporting moments of 2014

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The sporting year began with Australia finishing off a 5-0 Ashes drubbing, and a couple of months later we knocked off the world’s number one team on their soil.

We’ve seen the worst tragedy imaginable, when Phillip Hughes was felled by a bouncer and never regained consciousness, and another of grave magnitude when Newcastle Knight Alex McKinnon suffered a fractured C4 and C5 vertebrae that left him in a wheelchair.

Formula One driver Jules Bianchi remains unconscious in a French hospital after a horror crash at the Japanese Grand Prix, and F1 legend Michael Schumacher suffered a severe brain injury in a skiing accident.

However you slice it – it’s been a tough year in sport.

Yet, as always, sport has the capacity to lift spirits as well.

Team Australia: our sporting first XI of 2014
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Hawthorn won their 12th premiership in thumping style. The Rabbitohs broke a 43-year drought in the NRL, while Jarryd Hayne helped New South Wales to their first State of Origin win since 2005, then packed up his bag and headed for the US to try his hand in the NFL.

Matt Priddis, the son of a bricklayer who was overlooked in three national drafts, Stephen Bradbury-d his way to AFL immortality by winning the Brownlow Medal.

And the footballing world tilted on its axis when Germany became the first European country to win the World Cup on South American soil, along the way thumping host nation Brazil 7-1 in the semi-finals.

These are the moments that captured the imagination of our sports writers in 2014.

Patrick Smithers – Sally Pearson wins gold at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow

Sally Pearson crosses the line in Glasgow. Photo: Getty
Sally Pearson crosses the line in Glasgow. Photo: Getty

Since Ralph Doubell won the 800 metres in Rome in 1968 (it’s a stunning race, watch it here), Australia has won eight Olympic or world championship track gold medals, all to women: Debbie Flintoff-King (1), Cathy Freeman (3),  Jana Pittman (2) and Sally Pearson (2).

They have not always been given the respect or recognition they deserve.

Pearson could not add to that tally in Glasgow – the Commonwealth Games being a class below – but she did remind us of her elite calibre, triumphing over a poor preparation, Tiffany Porter and petty officialdom. All class.

Charles Happell – Europe’s Ryder Cup victory, and subsequent US meltdown

The Ryder Cup again proved it was the No.1 fixture on the golf calendar, if such things can be measured by passion, fan engagement, on-course niggle and over-the-top jingoism (as exemplified by the bug-eyed Ian Poulter).

Europeans have made this event their own in recent years and the US, under Tom Watson’s leadership, came to Gleneagles determined to right that wrong.

But they were to leave Scotland with their tail between their legs … again. And with deep divisions within the team, and its leadership, laid bare.

The Europeans, led by the steely Justin Rose and unflappable Henrik Stenson, overcame a poor start to register a 16.5-11.5 win, their eighth in the past 10 editions.

The pugnacious Patrick Reed, a 24-year-old from Texas, was the pick of the Americans, demonstrating a clear appetite for the fight.

But the recriminations began as soon as the final putt was holed, Phil Mickelson taking aim at Watson’s haphazard captaincy and communication.

Such is the emotion generated by this biennial donnybrook that even one of golf’s revered elder statesman was caught up in the post-match maelstrom and he limped back home to the US, his Ryder Cup reputation shredded.

Angela Pippos – Nick Kyrgios beats Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon

To beat the heavyweight tennis champion of the world you need a bulletproof serve, monster ground strokes and a sublime touch. You also need belief, truckloads of it – swagger is all well and good but you’ve got to back it up.

Nick Kyrgios after beating Rafa Nadal. Photo: Getty
Nick Kyrgios after beating Rafa Nadal. Photo: Getty

Rafael Nadal didn’t play badly – he was simply outgunned by the world number 144, who fired 37 aces in the stunning fourth-round win.

For someone so young, on the biggest stage in the game, perfect theatre took place – Sophocles would have been proud.

Nick Kyrgios did the seemingly impossible. He beat the best. He was fearless. And brilliant.

Francis Leach – Tim Cahill’s wonder strike against the Dutch/Western Sydney Wanderers becoming champions of Asia

Nine goals conceded, three games lost and somehow we still managed to enjoy the Socceroos 2014 FIFA World Cup expedition in Brazil.

Maybe it was Tim Cahill’s wonder strike against the Netherlands that made such a pummelling seem ok.

Cahill’s superb volley lit up the World Cup and confirmed his status as Australian sport’s finest big-game player.

Elsewhere, the Western Sydney Wanderers’ triumph in the AFC Champions League final confirmed Australian football has been fully integrated into the Asian football family.

Martin Blake – Adam Scott becomes golf’s number one

When Adam Scott assumed the world No.1 ranking in golf from Tiger Woods on 18 May, he became the first Australian man to hold the mantle since Greg Norman in 1998.

Ironically, Scott took over the post in a week that he didn’t play; it was a quirk in the rankings system, where points accrue over two years and tournaments from two years ago drop off each week.

But the Queenslander, who had been threatening to overtake Woods for a few months, did something special in the week that he achieved his lifetime dream.

He changed his schedule – always light on at that time of the year – and put himself in the field for the Crowne Plaza International at Colonial in Texas … and won.

It was vindication for a player who has done so much for the game in this country since his electrifying victory in the Masters tournament of 2013.

Will Evans – The NRL’s ‘Rise for Alex’ round

From the most harrowing tragedy to rock rugby league in recent memory emerged the most uplifting and poignant moments of 2014.

Alex McKinnon attends the Knights clash with the Titans in the 'Rise for Alex' round. Photo: Getty
Alex McKinnon attends the Knights clash with the Titans in the ‘Rise for Alex’ round. Photo: Getty

The neck injury that left 22-year-old Newcastle backrower Alex McKinnon facing life in a wheelchair cast a pall over the NRL, but the tyro’s courage inspired the nation, while the spirit, camaraderie and generosity of the rugby league community came to the fore.

The ‘Rise for Alex’ round in July was packed with symbolic gestures from the game’s superstars, and culminated in unforgettable scenes at Hunter Stadium, where McKinnon was presented to the crowd before the Knights’ clash with Gold Coast.

It was a day – amidst all the negative headlines that regularly plague the code – that rugby league could feel proud of itself.

Edward Sharp-Paul – Mitchell Johnson’s destruction of England

Mitchell Johnson’s sustained bogeyman impersonation during last summer’s Ashes series will live long in the memory. Rarely, if ever, has a bowler harnessed fear to such devastating and sustained effect. Over five matches, Johnson reduced Test cricket to a question of fight or flight, breaking the will of some of the best batsmen in the game.

We cheered every bumper, our blood rising at every desperate fend, a baying pack, senses inflamed. This, we thought, was what Test cricket was all about. It seems such a long time ago now.

Greig Johnston – Jarryd Hayne’s decision to leave rugby league and try the NFL

Jarryd Hayne had a fantastic year – a Dally M medal and a starring role in a drought-breaking Origin win for New South Wales.

Yet he turned his back on a massive contract offer from the Eels to try his hand at the NFL, announcing the news in an emotion-charged press conference at the the Parramatta Leagues Club in October.

To walk away from his league career, in his prime, was a crazy-brave decision.

In a world ruled by money and fear, in that order, it was edifying.

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