A new breed of sports stars
New Zealand’s rate of international sports achievements is increasing exponentially. It’s difficult to keep up.
Every month, it seems, we’re saluting our record-breaking All Blacks, our rowers or cyclists, emerging golf star Lydia Ko, canoeist Lisa Carrington, the fabulous Valerie Adams or some other sports hero.
There was a time when New Zealand’s true triumphs in the international arena were relatively scarce. A world title was guaranteed front page headlines and an Olympic medal was so rare it could cement a reputation for a lifetime.
But New Zealand won 13 medals at just the 2012 London Olympics, six of them gold.
I’ve been having a think about our new wave of sports stars.
In 2006 I was involved in a project to select New Zealand’s top 100 sports history-makers.
The 100 finally chosen by the panel of eight covered more than 100 years of New Zealand sport. The top 10 we came up with were Peter Snell (athletics) 1, Edmund Hillary (mountaineering) 2, Richard Hadlee ( cricket) 3, Colin Meads (rugby) 4, John Walker (athletics) 5, Jack Lovelock (athletics) 6, Danyon Loader (swimming) 7, Bob Charles ( golf) 8, Yvette Williams ( athletics) 9, Arthur Lydiard (athletics) 10.
Others who might be of particular interest included Russell Coutts ( yachting) 19, Michael Campbell (golf) 20, Mark Todd ( equestrian) 21, Jonah Lomu (rugby) 22, Sarah Ulmer (cycling) 23, Caroline and Georgina EversSwindell (rowing) 43, Irene van Dyk (netball) 53, Stephen Fleming (cricket) 59.
It is incredible how much the New Zealand sports scene has changed in just the few years since that voting took place.
A top 100 now would certainly include Valerie Adams (athletics), Hamish Bond and Eric Murray, Mahe Drysdale ( rowing) and Richie McCaw ( rugby). Others who would be difficult to omit would be Sophie Pascoe (disabled swimming), Ryan Nelsen (football), Alison Shanks ( cycling), Hayden Roulston (cycling), Bevan Docherty ( triathlon), Daniel Carter ( rugby), Nick Willis ( athletics), Lisa Carrington (canoeing), Val Smith (bowls), Jo Edwards (bowls), Daniel Vettori ( cricket) and coaches Graham Henry ( rugby), Ricki Herbert ( football) and Ruth Aitken (netball).
In addition, the Evers-Swindell sisters would have a stronger case after their exciting Olympic gold medal in 2008 and Todd would have strengthened his case after his unlikely comeback in his 50s to the top of three-day eventing.
Two for the near future would be Lydia Ko ( golf) and Steve Adams (basketball).
Even our original top 10, which was full of legends, would surely look different. Val Adams, with her two Olympic golds, four world titles and three Commonwealth Games golds, must find a place, and can McCaw and the BondMurray combination be omitted?
I suppose the key words were ‘‘history makers’’. Who has been more of a history-maker: Meads or McCaw? Perhaps McCaw, with his record number of tests and captaining the All Blacks to a World Cup triumph, shades the great Pinetree. Similarly, Yvette Williams or Val Adams? Are Adams’ gold medals just too much to ignore?
Does the Bond-Murray combination, superb though it is, have the history-making element of a Hillary, Lovelock or Lydiard?
My top 10 now would be Snell 1, Hillary 2, Adams 3, Hadlee 4, Walker 5, Lovelock 6, Loader 7, McCaw 8, Charles 9, Lydiard 10.
Let the arguments begin.
From left, Valerie Adams, Richie McCaw and Hamish Bond, left, and Eric Murray lead the way
Modern champions: today.