(Australian Associated Press)
TOP AUSTRALIAN SPORT STORIES OF 2019
Ashleigh Barty is the feel-good story of the year for a sport-besotted nation. The humble 23-year-old is the women’s world No.1 tennis player, collecting a record $16 million in prize money with a season of stunning successes. The self-effacing Queenslander won the French Open – her first grand slam title and the first Australian woman to triumph in Paris since Margaret Court in 1973 – and capped her year with victory at the unofficial fifth major, the WTA Finals in China.
While Barty left Australians shaking their heads in wonder, Israel Folau left Australians shaking their heads in anger. In April, devout Christian and star Wallaby Folau posted on social media Hell awaits those including homosexuals, fornicators and liars. Rugby Australia terminated his contract and he took his case to the Federal Court, alleging restraint of trade on religious grounds. A confidential settlement was reached in December, a month after Folau triggered more outrage when suggesting bushfires and drought ravaging Australia were “God’s judgement” on the nation for legalising same-sex marriage and abortion.
Australia’s cricketers kept the Ashes with a 2-2 series result in England. In truth, the latest edition of the battle for the fabled urn belonged to Steve Smith in his return to Test cricket from a year-long ball-tampering ban. Sporting statistics often lie, but not these of the eccentric-styled batting genius: 774 runs, average above 110, three centuries, top-score 211, out for under 80 just once. And he missed a Test with concussion.
Australian swimmers won seven gold medals at the world championships in July in South Korea and were central in worldwide controversies. Mack Horton finished second in the men’s 400m freestyle behind China’s Sun Yang and refused to step on the dais in protest at the presence of his drug-tainted rival. Then, Australia were accused of hypocrisy when news leaked of Shayna Jack’s positive drug test – she was withdrawn from the meet before it began. Jack, facing a four-year ban, is fighting to clear her name after testing positive to a non-steroid anabolic agent popular with bodybuilders.
On-field, Australia’s women’s soccer team failed in France at the World Cup – knocked out at the round-of-16 stage when among the tournament fancies. But off-field, the Matildas broke fresh ground. They secured a historic pay which delivers equal wages with their male compatriots; played a friendly against Chile before a Sydney crowd of more than 20,000 – a record for a women’s soccer international – and glamour girl and national captain Sam Kerr inked a contract with English giants Chelsea which puts her among the top-paid women’s footballers in the world.
So close. Australia’s men’s basketball team fancied their chances of grabbing the nation’s first medal at a World Cup or Olympic Games. But, again, they departed empty-handed from the World Cup in China in August-September, finishing fourth. Patty Mills missed a free-throw which would have delivered a semi-final win against Spain and they were over-run in over-time; and were then defeated by France in the bronze-medal playoff.
Australia’s netballers also fell agonisingly short at their World Cup, losing the final by one solitary goal to arch-rivals New Zealand, whose main goal-scorer was Maria Folau, the wife of Israel. The Diamonds were cut-up by the loss but did manage to keep the Constellation Cup later in the year with a 2-2 series result against the New Zealanders.
Australia’s rugby players added to the nation’s list of World Cup failures this year. The Wallabies, without the polarising Folau, failed to advance from a quarter-final for the first time at the showpiece tournament since 2007. Coach Michael Cheika made good on his pre-tournament pledge to quit if he didn’t win the cup while Rugby Australia’s chief Raelene Castle conceded the Folau controversy was a distraction to the disappointing cup campaign.
Sydney Roosters became the first club to claim back-to-back NRL crowns in 26 years, bursting the bubble of Ricky Stuart’s rejuvenated Canberra Raiders. The 14-8 grand-final win was marred by controversy including trainer interference leading to a Roosters score; the ‘six-again’ furore after which the Sydneysiders scored the winning try while Jack Wighton became just the fifth player from a losing side to be awarded the Clive Churchill Medal for best-afield.
Richmond captured a second AFL premiership in three seasons with a brutal 89-point demolition of grand-final debutants GWS. Tiger megastar Dusty Martin collected his second Norm Smith medal for best-afield in a grand final; his sharp-shooting teammate Jack Riewoldt became just the fourth player in VFL/AFL history to outscore the opposition by himself in a grand final, booting 5.1 (31) to the Giants’ collective 3.7 (25); and Richmond’s Marlion Pickett became the first player in 93 years to become a premiership player in his first AFL game.
Australian cyclist Caleb Ewan, at the age of 25, basked in a breakout season with victories in three stages at the Tour de France. But compatriot Rohan Dennis controversially quit cycling’s showpiece event midway through the 12th stage. Dennis, in September, emerged from his funk to claim consecutive time-trial world titles.
AT A GLANCE
Sydney FC won the A-League championship; Tonga defeated Australia in a rugby league Test for the first time; Kelsey-Lee Barber won the women’s javelin gold medal at the world championships; 22-year-old golfer Hannah Green won her first major at the LPGA Championships; canoeist Jess Fox dominated World Cup events with three gold medals plus one silver and three bronze; and Vow And Declare became the first Australian horse to win the Melbourne Cup since 2009.