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Olympics dominate sports year

SPORTS TALK BY JOSEPH ROMANOS
Last updated 10:41 17/12/2012
Bond and Murray
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Champion rowers: Hamish Bond, left, and Eric Murray, after winning gold at the Olympics.

Sophie Pascoe
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YOUNG ACHIEVER: Sophie Pascoe with her spoils from London.

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OPINION: The London Olympics towered over New Zealand sport this year.

It's impossible to overstate the significance of the Olympics.

Except for 1980, when New Zealand boycotted the Moscow games, the Halberg winner (or previously the Sportsman of the Year) has always come from the Olympics in an Olympic year.

New Zealand performed above expectations in London, winning six gold medals, two silvers and five bronzes. It was our equal highest Olympic medal tally and the second-highest (after 1984) number of golds.

It's tough selecting standouts among such superstar performers, but single sculler Mahe Drysdale, sprint canoeist Lisa Carrington, shot putter Valerie Adams and the men's rowing pair of Hamish Bond and Eric Murray seemed to most capture the public imagination.

Drysdale earned the Olympic gold he would have won four years earlier if he hadn't fallen ill and Carrington was a breath of fresh air on our national sports scene.

There was endless drama over Adams. She didn't have a single room at the village, her entry was botched, she lost to Belarusian Nadzeya Ostapchuk, she was elevated to gold when Ostapchuk failed the drugs test, she was awarded the gold at a hyped-up ceremony in Auckland, and she wrote a rather vitriolic biography.

It amounted to a huge amount of publicity, and a degree of over- exposure.

Other special Olympic favourites were BMX rider Sarah Walker, yachties Jo Aleh and Olivia Powrie and rowers Nathan Cohen and Joseph Sullivan.

There was also a good deal of sympathy for the women's hockey team that lost to the brilliant Dutch team in a penalty shootout in the semi-finals and ended up with no medal.

Immediately after the Olympics, the Paralympics produced another batch of New Zealand heroes. Chief among them was Canterbury swimmer Sophie Pascoe, who produced a Michael Phelps-type performance with three gold medals and three silvers.

Wellingtonians had a soft spot for 19-year-old Upper Hutt swimmer Mary Fisher, who won four medals, including one gold, at the Paralympics.

Outside the Olympics there was plenty of other joy for New Zealand sports fans.

Wonder golfer Lydia Ko, still an amateur, won the New South Wales Open at only 14 - the youngest winner of a professional women's tournament - and later beat the world's best professionals to win the Canadian Open.

The All Blacks had an excellent year. A draw with Australia and final-match stumble against England were the only hiccups in a year in which new coach Steve Hansen imposed his stamp on the team.

Old hands Dan Carter, Richie McCaw and Conrad Smith were outstanding, and the next generation - Israel Dagg, Aaron Cruden and company - stepped up impressively.

Hansen was also able to blood talented players such as Wellingtonians Julian Savea (wing) and Dane Coles (hooker).

One All Black cloud was the poor discipline during the northern hemisphere tour when Adam Thomson and Andrew Hore incurred suspensions for foul play.

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The New Zealand cricket team had another forgettable year, with a fighting test win in Sri Lanka the only real highlight, after undistinguished tours of the West Indies and India.

The shabby removal from the New Zealand captaincy of Ross Taylor, and the machiavellian manoeuverings that accompanied it, dominated recent weeks.

The Silver Ferns netball team, under Wellington coach Waimarama Taumaunu, had a superb year, winning the Constellation Cup test series against Australia, the quad series, also involving Australia, South Africa and England, and the Fast 5 tournament.

On the domestic front, the Magic became the first New Zealand team to win netball's ANZ Championship, with a thrilling 41-38 victory over Melbourne Vixens in the final.

It was a forgettable year for the Warriors, who finished only 14th (of 16 teams) in the NRL. Before the season had ended, coach Brian McClennan had been dumped.

The Phoenix were solid but not inspired. After limping into the A-League play-offs, they had a good win over Sydney, then lost to Perth Glory.

It is worrying how the Phoenix's crowd support has dwindled during the 2012-13 season.

The Chiefs, who beat the Sharks 37-6 to win the Super rugby competition, the Breakers, who played heroically to defend their NBL basketball title, and the New Zealand surf lifesaving team that won the world title in Australia were other New Zealand teams to excel.

Andrew Nicholson, who was robbed of an Olympic equestrian medal by poor officiating, but bounced back to win the prestigious Burghley event, and Joelle King, who climbed to No 5 in the world women's squash rankings, also had years to remember.

My pick for the major Halberg gong would go to Bond and Murray, who have never been beaten in a pairs rowing event and who were a vast distance ahead of their rivals in London.

Their closest challenger will be Pascoe, who would break new boundaries for disabled athletes if she was to take the overall award.

- The Wellingtonian

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