Money's on a medallist winning Halberg award

TONY SMITH
Last updated 05:00 02/01/2013

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OPINION: A 28-year-old record is set to continue with an Olympic Games medallist destined to win the Halberg supreme award for the eighth time on the bounce in an Olympic year.

You might as well gift-wrap it now and present it to rowing pair Eric Murray and Hamish Bond or singles sculler Mahe Drysdale rather than wait for the bunfight on February 14.

It would be a 21st century version of the St Valentine's Day massacre if an Olympian or Paralympian did not take the gong. Indeed, it would take a herculean effort - a New Zealand golfer winning a major tournament or two or a tennis player taking Grand Slam titles - to supplant an Olympic Games gold medallist. Only once in 15 editions has someone from a non-Olympic sport won the big bauble in Olympic year - cricketer Richard Hadlee took the honours in 1980 when only five Kiwi athletes went to the Moscow Olympic Games after New Zealand joined a Western Bloc boycott in protest at the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan.

From long jump diva Yvette Williams at Helsinki in 1952 to Valerie Vili (now Adams) at Beijing in 2008, the quadrennial Kiwi champion sportsperson has mostly been an Olympian, but not necessarily a champion. Winter Olympics skiing silver medallist Annelise Coberger won in 1992 over board sailor Barbara Kendall, who won gold at Barcelona.

Marathon man Mike Ryan won in 1968 after his bronze medal at the Mexico City Games. Rowing's coxed four won gold in '68 but no New Zealand team won the country's premier sports award until the champion Munich rowing eight in 1972.

Expect the Olympic trend to continue for the 2012 sporting year. The list of 2012 finalists is teeming with Olympic champions or podium finishers.

The challenge facing the judging panel will be how to compare the rowers and kayaker Lisa Carrington's deeds at Eton Dorney lake with shot putter Valerie Adams' upgraded gold medal or yachties Jo Aleh and Polly Powrie's line honours.

Drysdale is a dead cert to win sportsman of the year for his gold medal in London after his illness-affected bronze in Beijing. Track cycling bronze medallist Simon van Velthooven is a rising star and it's good to see equestrian's unheralded star Andrew Nicholson acknowledged for his team bronze at the Olympics and a third victory in the prestigious Burghley Horse Trials. The 51-year-old has too long lived in the shadow of Sir Mark Todd and Blyth Tait.

As great as Richie McCaw is, it's almost possible for even an All Blacks superstar to beat an Olympian. Only three All Blacks, Ron Jarden (1951), Don Clarke (1959) and Wilson Whinerary (1965) have ever won the supreme award.

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Three cricketers - Sir Richard Hadlee (twice), John Reid and Bert Sutcliffe - have achieved the feat.

The sportswoman of the year is a real scrap, with Carrington, Adams and 15-year-old golf sensation Lydia Ko all boasting top credentials. Olympic BMX silver medallist Sarah Walker made the finals after the organisers' controversial decision to list triple Paralympics swimming gold medallist Sophie Pascoe in the disabled sport cate gory.

Pascoe was a sportswoman finalist in 2008 after winning gold in Beijing, but there was no disabled sport prize then. Why shouldn't she be considered for sportswoman now? Or why couldn't the 19-year-old be selected in multiple categories? Ko is also in the emerging talent pool.

Murray and Bond should win team of the year, and their four-year winning streak and world record at the Olympics could see them clinch the supreme Halberg Award.

FINALISTS AT A GLANCE

Sportswoman of the Year: Lisa Carrington (canoeing), Valerie Adams (athletics), Lydia Ko (golf), Sarah Walker (BMX).

Sportsman: Mahe Drysdale (rowing), Andrew Nicholson (equestrian), Simon van Velthooven (cycling), Richie McCaw (rugby).

Disabled sportsperson: Cameron Leslie, Mary Fisher, Sophie Pascoe (all Para swimming), Phillipa Gray (Para cycling).

Team of the Year: Joseph Sullivan and Nathan Cohen (rowing, men's double scull), Eric Murray and Hamish Bond (rowing, men's pair), Jo Aleh and Polly Powrie (sailing, women's 470), Peter Burling and Blair Tuke (sailing, men's 49er), All Blacks (rugby).

*The supreme Halberg Award comes from the winner of these categories

Emerging Talent: Andrew McKenzie (sailing), Lydia Ko (golf), Dylan Kennett (track cycling), Anton Cooper (mountainbiking).

Coach: Gordon Walker (canoeing), Richard Tonks (rowing), Calvin Ferguson (rowing), Nathan Handley (sailing).

A HISTORY OF EXCELLENCE

Previous Halberg supreme award winners in Olympic Games years:

1952: Yvette Williams (track and field, long jump).

1956: Norman Read (track and field, race walking).

1960: Peter Snell (track and field, 800m).

1964: Snell (track and field, 800m/mile).

1968: Mike Ryan (track and field, marathon).

1972: New Zealand rowing eight.

1976: John Walker (track and field, 1500m).

1980: Richard Hadlee (cricket).

1984: Ian Ferguson (canoeing).

1988: Mark Todd (equestrian).

1992: Annelise Coberger (Winter Olympics, skiing).

1996: Danyon Loader (swimming, 200m/400m freestyle).

2000: Rob Waddell (rowing, single sculls).

2004: Sarah Ulmer (track cycling, individual pursuit).

2008: Valerie Vili (track and field, shot put). 

- © Fairfax NZ News

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