There was triumph and tragedy, cheating and dirty money – but also some sheer wonder in Australia’s year in sport.
The Melbourne Cup was won by a female jockey for the first time, while everyone’s favourite bridesmaid Red Cadeaux had to be euthanased two-and-a-half weeks after the race.
Here’s some of the year’s top sports stories.
TRAGEDY IN ADELAIDE
Phil Walsh, the first-year coach of AFL club Adelaide, was allegedly murdered by his son on July 3. The death shocked Australia’s sporting world with the close-knit AFL community plunged into mourning. Adelaide’s West Lakes headquarters became a public shrine to the 55-year-old before Walsh’s Crows went on an emotional journey to the second week of the AFL finals.
Michelle Payne became the first female jockey to win the Melbourne Cup, riding rank outsider Prince Of Penzance to victory in the famous Flemington race. Her story became instant folklore: one of 10 kids, mostly jockeys; mother killed when she was a baby; father a trainer and top jockey. And she used her win to decry chauvinism in the racing industry.
After 43 days of cricket’s one-day World Cup, Australia thumped co-host New Zealand in the final to take the mantle as world champions. Australia’s fourth victory in the past five editions of the showcase tournament was built by paceman Mitchell Starc, who claimed 22 wickets at the barely-believable average of 10.18.
The Socceroos delivered Australia’s first major men’s football trophy with a gripping 2-1 extra-time triumph against South Korea in the final. Ange Postecoglou’s squad played with panache and poise and unearthed a new hero in attacking midfielder Massimo Luongo, who won the tournament’s Most Valuable Player award.
ASHES ROAD KILL
Michael Clarke, Brad Haddin, Ryan Harris, Shane Watson, Chris Rogers. All were gone from Australia’s Test cricket team at the end of a disastrous Ashes series in England. Clarke’s crew were pummelled by the Poms, who held the Ashes after winning three of the initial four Tests. Australia turned to prolific runscorer Steve Smith as the leader of the next generation.
Jason Day won his first major championship, the US PGA Championship, and became just the third Australian to hold the No.1 world ranking – albeit briefly. In doing so, Day fulfilled the promise in a letter he wrote to himself as a 12-year-old: “Trust me on this one. You’re going to be the No.1 golfer in the world.”
Rugby league superstar Jarryd Hayne’s switch to American football with the San Francisco 49ers made him a walking headline – from the glory of six games to demotion to the practice roster. Hayne dazzled in pre-season but frazzled in the real stuff, and the 27-year-old was cut from the active roster until just after Christmas. While he returned to action on December 27 with a strong showing, the jury remains out on his NFL future.
Nick Kyrgios headlined tennis coverage with brattish behaviour, capped by his on-court sledge to Stan Wawrinka in Montreal in August: “Kokkinakis banged your girlfriend, sorry to tell you that mate.” The grubby remark drew widespread condemnation and a fine and suspended ban from the ATP Tour. It remains to be seen whether it proves a turning point for the gifted but combustible 20-year-old who finished the year with a world ranking of 30.
At long last, someone took action over long-suspected dodgy dealings within football’s world governing body. It started in May in Zurich when several FIFA officials were arrested on the eve of the annual congress. It spread to the top, with both president Sepp Blatter and one-time protege Michel Platini suspended then banned for eight years by FIFA’s ethics committee for conflict of interest and disloyalty to FIFA in a $US2 million payment deal that is also the subject of a criminal investigation.
Usain Bolt saves his sport again. The Jamaican megastar entered the world athletics championships in August with poor form and injury concerns. He left with two more world titles. Bolt beat drug-stained American Justin Gatlin in the 100m and 200m finals in Beijing. But then, in November, the next thing happens:
A World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) report alleges systematic doping in Russian athletics. WADA suspends the Russian Anti-Doping Agency, and Russia’s participation at next year’s Olympic Games is in question.
Denied the World Cup by the world-best All Blacks, the Wallabies gave some much-needed air to rugby union in Australia with a gallant campaign in Britain. David Pocock emerged as one of the most influential players in the world, the backrower’s outstanding feats helping take coach Michael Cheika to the brink, but falling short in a final widely hailed for its spectacle.
WINNERS ARE GRINNERS
Johnathan Thurston’s heroics deliver North Queensland the NRL title in an epic 17-16 extra-time grand final win against Brisbane Broncos; Hawthorn are justifiably compared with all-time AFL greats after winning a third premiership in a row; Melbourne Victory collect all the soccer spoils – the A-League championship and premiers’ plate, and the FFA Cup; and the Highlanders take the Super Rugby crown.