Smith: NZ looking as good as gold in Glasgow
OPINION: The 2013 sporting year is done and dusted. Fairfax sports reporter TONY SMITH peers ahead to 2014 with plenty of predictions and some wishful thinking.
Few nations will be looking forward to the Glasgow Commonwealth Games as eagerly as New Zealand.
They won't even be the highlight of 2014 for Scotland.
The Games will be knocked into the silver medal slot in the Land of the Deep Fried Mars Bar by the September referendum on Scottish independence.
But Kiwi hopes of sporting glory in 2014 rest largely on the goings-on in Glasgow from July 23 to August 3 because there's precious little else to get unduly excited about in a fairly fallow season.
The Commonwealth Games are, strictly speaking, second-tier compared with the Olympic Games and major sporting codes' world championships.
Some of sport's biggest names, often give them the old Israel Dagg swerve. Double Olympic 100m champion Usain Bolt many only run the 200m in Glasgow and world and Olympic 5000m and 10,000m gold medallist Mo Farah might not front.
But New Zealanders continue to love the Comm Games, a passion kindled by our hosting of the 1950, 1974 and 1990 editions.
The Comm Games aren't dubbed The Friendly Games for nothing.
The Olympics may be the pinnacle, but they're almost too professional, dominated these days by big-brand multinational sponsors, drug and cheating scandals, grandiose opening and closing ceremonies and state-of-the-art stadia developments that threaten to bankrupt the beleaguered taxpayers of the hubristic host nation.
The Comms have an element of all of the above but somehow retains their old-world charm and festival vibe.
And, let's face it, without the USA, most of Europe, Asia and South America attending, we win a bucket load more medals (36 at New Delhi in 2010, including six golds).
So what can we expect from Glasgow?
Unseasonable rain and unfailing good humour from the citizens of one of the friendliest cities on the planet? Yes, that's a given. Heck, we could even see Glasgow Rangers fans cheering the home team for once at Celtic Park at the opening ceremony.
But the 2014 Commonwealth Games should cement the reputations of some of the superstars of New Zealand sport.
Put your house now on Valerie Adams sleepwalking to a third consecutive shot put gold medal.
No other Commonwealth athlete made the 2013 world championship final where Adams won an unprecedented fourth consecutive title. Big Val is so far ahead of the pack she could probably chuck with her left arm and still win the Comm Games gold.
She should enter the discus just for a giggle - and any residual cross-training benefits, but she'll be conserving her undoubted strength for the more competitive and lucrative IAAF Diamond League series.
Glasgow could see the resurrection of middle-distance man Nick Willis, who, at 31, should still be sprightly enough to ascend the 1500m dais for the third time and atone for his London Olympics final flop.
After three world championship bronze medals in the 400m, 800m and 1500m freestyle, swimming ace Lauren Boyle should get gold at Glasgow. Sophie Pascoe, the five-time world Paralympian swimming champ, should also belatedly celebrate her 21st birthday with a gold medal at her first Commonwealth Games. The Christchurch swimmer smashes world records for fun.
There's no rowing on the Comm games programme - surprising given New Zealand, Australia, England and Canada's Olympic Games success - but cycling is a major sport at commonwealth level and the Kiwi trackies, plus road rider Linda Villumsen, can expect a veritable medals haul in Glasgow.
Oh yes, the Silver Ferns are assured of at least a silver medal in the Glasgow edition of the Groundhog Day trans-Tasman Commonwealth Games netball final.
But what else is there outside Glasgow? Certainly not Edinburgh. The rugby and cricket World Cups don't take place till 2015, the year New Zealand will also host the Fifa under-20 World Cup tournament. Netball's world championships are also slated for Sydney next year, not that anyone outside the sport will take it seriously till someone other than Australia or New Zealand wins the world title outright.
There is the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia in February. But Annelise Coberger's slalom silver medal in France in 1992 remains our sole success. Hopes are high that Wanaka-based brothers Jossi and Byron Wells might break the drought this year.
But we'll be relying on the two Rs - rugby and rowing - again.
The rowing world championships, mercifully, are held every year outside the Olympics. Expect the Kiwi boat men and women to improve on their 2013 tally of five medals (just one gold) at the 2014 regatta in France in late August.
The All Blacks can't do any better than 2013 when they became the first international team to win every test in a calendar year since rugby turned professional in 1996.
Or can they? Should Steve Hansen set his team the challenge of winning every test by a bonus point margin through scoring four tries or more?
It's a lay-down misere anyway that brilliant backrower Kieran Read will win another world player of the year title.
In cycling, the Kiwi contingent can expect to score some silverware at the UCI world track cycling championships in the high altitude climes of Cali in Colombia in February. New Zealand has always had its share of excellent endurance riders, particularly pursuit legends Gary Anderson, Sarah Ulmer and Hayden Roulston. But our speed merchants are emerging as a world force, particularly the sprint team and keirin ace Simon van Velthooven.
The Black Sticks will contest the men's and women's World Cup hockey tournaments in Holland in June.
The men are ranked seventh in the world and unlikely to be a serious medal contender. The women, while ranked fifth, have been rebuilding since the London Olympics where they finished fourth.
The hockey World Cups should be taken much more seriously by New Zealanders. Hockey is, after all, a much bigger sport internationally, than rugby league or netball. New Zealand's White Sox will also be going Dutch for August's women's softball world championships.
But it's been 24 years since they last stood on the podium and, despite a fourth place finish by the Junior White Sox at last year's under-19 world champs, the New Zealanders still lack the power pitching and strategic savvy to break into the medals bracket.
2014 is sure to have its highights but it's basically the entree to 2015's main feast.
PREDICTIONS FOR 2014
With the strains of Robbie Burns' Auld Lang Syne still ringing in aching ear drums, let's gaze into a crystal ball clouded by constructive imagination and seasonal silliness and make a few sporting predictions (and not a few predilections) for 2014:
Valerie Adams accepts a handicap and puts the shot blindfolded but still wins the Commonwealth Games gold medal on her first throw. She then stuns the sporting world by not saying she "smashed the crap out of it".
The All Blacks go through the year unbeaten for the second successive season. Coach Steve Hansen breaks out into a big beaming smile, abandons his dogeared "all credit to the opposition" script and says: "We are the greatest team in world sporting history - eat yer heart out Robbie Deans and Warren Gatland".
Todd Blackadder's hair reverts to brown after the Crusaders win their first Super rugby title since 2008 and save his coaching job. Captain Kieran Read insists Richie McCaw raise the trophy with him - shades of David Kirk-Andy Dalton at the 1987 World Cup. McCaw then confirms he's leaving for the Highlanders in 2015 to become Super rugby's first player-coach.
The Silver Ferns lose the Commonwealth Games final to Australia and ace shooter Irene van Dyk finally hangs up her dress, first fashionable in the late 1980s. Netball NZ panic and appoint Norma Plummer as the Ferns' first "director of netball". Netball writers rejoice at finally getting a quotable coach.
The Black Caps go through the 2014 year winning every test. Brendon McCallum and Ross Taylor announce they will be co-captains after attending a men's encounter group and coach Mike Hesson is overcome at receiving a Christmas card from Taylor.
Lydia Ko wins five world women's PGA majors but renounces her professional status, sacks IMG, rehires lifelong coach Guy Wilson and says "golf's much better when you play it for fun".
The New Zealand Sporting Journalists' Association signs a memorandum of understanding pledging all sports scribes will refrain from second-guessing selectors, scrutinising sporting bodies' finances, calling for coaches' heads and pillorying players for being pampered, over-paid prima donna professionals for the duration of 2014.
- The Press
Should Sonny Bill Williams start boxing again?