Su­per­stars who popped in

Kapi-Mana News - - SPORT -

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.

Photo: FAIR­FAX

Darts legend: Phil Tay­lor in Porirua this month. The great­est?

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