Superstars who popped in
Ihad to smile at a TV One report about English darts player Phil ‘‘The Power’’ Taylor arriving in New Zealand this month.
The reporter described Taylor as ‘‘ arguably the greatest sportsman that’s ever stepped foot in New Zealand’’.
Granted Taylor is a 16 times world champion, and has a huge following in darts.
But the greatest ever sportsman!
The person who compiled the report probably thinks Tiger Woods playing in the 2002 New Zealand golf open was ancient history.
It followed a New Zealand Herald offering last month, listing ‘‘the biggest sporting names to visit New Zealand’’. The Herald’s list, on first reading, seemed impressive.
It named Caroline Wozniacki, who played in Auckland this month, and also listed Woods, Bjorn Borg, Maria Sharapova, David Beckham, George Best, Stirling Moss, Gary Player, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal.
You could, however, compile an equally impressive list from those overlooked: Muhammad Ali, Carl Lewis, Rocky Marciano, Rod Laver, Steffi Graf, Don Bradman, Martina Navratilova, Magic Johnson, Roger Bannister, Jimmy Clark, Jack Brabham, Jack Nicklaus, Vasily Alekseyev, Margaret Court, Billie Jean King, John McEnroe, Arnold Palmer to name a few.
These days it’s not unusual for sports stars to pop into New Zea- land. So when George Foreman or Joe Frazier, Monica Seles or Lindsay Davenport, Ruud Gullit or Sugar Ray Leonard stop by we fairly much take it in our stride.
But when heavyweight boxing champ Jack Johnson toured here before World War I and Bill Tilden turned up just after that war to play Davis Cup, they were immense occasions.
United States coastguard Gene Tunney, heavyweight boxing champ in the 1920s, visited during World War II.
Jesse Owens was guest speaker at a Sportsman of the Year dinner in 1969, and Don Bradman (who’d also been here in 1932) and Mark Spitz soon after, and there was quite a fuss made of them.
If we’re talking about superstars of sport, let’s not forget squash players Heather McKay, Hashim Khan and Jahangir Khan, table tennis player Victor Barna, every great netballer, rugby league, rugby union and cricket player, rowers who attended the world champs here in 1978 and 2010, sailors starting with Dennis Conner, motor racing’s Jackie Stewart, wres- tling’s Earl McCready, all those superb hockey players, including the best of all, Dhyan Chand, lawn bowls’ David Bryant, swimmer Dawn Fraser…
I’m uncertain if Australian billiards maestro Walter Lindrum played in New Zealand. Surely he did – he travelled widely between the world wars and one of his major rivals was our own Clark McConachy.
And did football superstar Pele and heavyweight boxing champ Jack Dempsey visit our shores? I can’t confirm it.
Anyway, it’s a formidable list, a tribute in a way to how far above its weight New Zealand punches on the world stage.
Our greats, like Susan Devoy and Ross Norman, Peter Snell and Murray Halberg, Denny Hulme and Bruce McLaren, Bob Charles and Chris Lewis, Ian Ferguson and Paul MacDonald, have drawn world stars here to compete against them and find out if there’s something special in the water, or in our training methods.
When you view all that talent, the claims of Phil Taylor as the ‘‘greatest ever’’ seem a little thin.
Darts legend: Phil Taylor in Porirua this month. The greatest?