OPINION: All around the world sporting beacons were being lit. The new century blazed with hope. 2000 was a year to look forward.
The 2000 Sydney Olympics - oh that Magic Monday when Cathy Freeman, Michael Johnson and Haile Gebrselassie set fire to the track - silenced the explosions of Atlanta and was proclaimed the best of modern times.
The same year a very young Roger Federer was appearing in his first final. And then there was Tiger Woods, precocious, charming, powerful, brilliant, changing the look of golf forever. He won the 2000 US Open at Pebble Beach by 15 shots, the first of four consecutive majors, the Tiger Slam.
In France a young Lance Armstrong, a survivor of cancer, was pedalling over real and metaphorical mountains on his way to a second tour victory. Brian Lara and Sachin Tendulkar were in their pomp. The world was full of dreams.
In 2013, sport's annus horribilis, it would need a mighty urn to hold the ashes of those dreams. Sachin, the little master, retired, but the big cricket stories were about sledging and match fixing and the vagaries of the DRS system. Federer is raging against the dying of the light. Woods is still piling up world ranking points, but broke the rules of golf three times in 2013 and cannot escape the cheat word.
Graeme Swann, on his retirement from cricket, said modern players "have no idea how far up their own backsides they are". He is right, but it is a daft world in which we pay players millions of dollars, smother them in adulation and then expect them to behave like normal people. Rory McIlroy, a thoroughly decent young man when he came on tour, is hanging on by his fingernails.
It has been that sort of year. New Zealand sport, led by the All Blacks, Valerie Adams, Lydia Ko and the America's Cup designers, has been a beacon of hope. But the world stage has looked dirty. The filth is reflected in my choice of the top three global stories of 2013.
3. Lance Armstrong
The old fraud came clean, ha, ha, on Oprah Winfrey. It was the perfect picture of modern sport. Self-serving reality TV posing as a confessional. The queen of chat with the king of crap. The studio was awash with dollars and self justification.
Then Oprah asked what was Lance's most humbling moment. He said, "I believe it was a Wednesday. Nike called . . . I don't like thinking about it, but that was a $75 million day. All gone and probably never coming back . . . Everybody that gets caught is bummed out they got caught. I got a death penalty."
Oh, so perfect. There was little real contrition for the people whom Armstrong had called "little trolls" or "f------ scumbags", the lives he had tried to ruin. He still did not really want to apologise to journalist David Walsh. There was little real contrition for the drug use which was the "air in our tyres and the water in our bottles". He denied cheating because he was not gaining an advantage over his rivals.
No, Armstrong was most cut up about the loss of dollars. The person Lance Armstrong really felt sorry for was Lance Armstrong. Me. The big lie and the even bigger I.
2. Oscar Pistorius
Another Valentine's Day Massacre. On February 14, Oscar Pistorius, the bullet in Nike's chamber, shot down his girlfriend and a whole lotta love. One of the symbols of disabled sport is up on trial for murder, for anger, for a God complex. Pistorius says it was an accident. Most of the world doesn't believe him.
Over in America another young athlete has just been indicted for the execution of a friend. Aaron Hernandez, a $40m tight end with the New England Patriots, is accused of luring Odin Lloyd and shooting him following an argument in a nightclub. It is also alleged that Hernandez destroyed evidence. The Patriots have cut Hernandez and his likeness has been removed from the NFL video games that he endorses.
Should we have seen this coming? If we treat our young men like gods, then sooner or later they will start to believe it. Theirs is the power and the glory. Pistorius was described as "a superhuman soul". It looks like he believed it.
1. The Boston Marathon
Two maniacs exploded pressure cookers at the finishing line of the Boston Marathon, killing a 29-year-old woman, a Chinese university graduate and an 8-year-old boy. More than 250 people were injured, 14 people had limbs amputated.
Every sports event is now affected. Six days later, hundreds of extra police officers were out on the streets of London for the capital's marathon. Russia has stated that security will be stepped up for the Winter Olympics. Some may not attend through fear. Others will pay extra because insurance premiums for big events will continue to soar.
Boston went into lockdown for several hours. Frightened people hid in their houses. And then, at last, some new growth. Some hope for the future.
Carlos Arrendado, the cowboy hat hero, was seen vaulting a barricade to help a man who was trying to stand with no legs. He tore up a sweater for a tourniquet and commandeered a wheelchair. Arrendado's 20-year-old son had been killed in Iraq and his younger son had hanged himself, unable to move on from his memories. Arrendado had attended the marathon, handing out 200 flags in memory of his sons. He had one left when the bomb went off.
"Look at the flag, all bleeding," he said.
A symbol of our times.
Arrendado lifted our spirits and the New York Yankees played Sweet Caroline, the anthem of their bitter foes, the Boston Red Sox. "A home run in my heart," said Neil Diamond.
Nelson Mandela is dead, but maybe there is still some hope for sport's Rainbow Nation. Let's rise above the violence. Let's look forward again.
Happy New Year.
- Sunday Star Times
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