How old am I? I am so old, soooooo old, I remember when n swimmers only had to dip a toe in chlorinated water and they started growing gold medals on their chest! I remember when all it took for Kieren Perkins to beat American swimmers was to frown at them in the change-rooms, whereupon they’d burst into tears. And, yes, I can even remember when the World Swimming Championships were a big deal, with Ray Warren calling every race – “Hackett! Hackett! Hackett is world champion, I’ll tell a men he is!” – and they kept the n National Anthem on fast forward as they had to get through it so many times. They are, of course, days long gone, and after these latest World Championships in Budapest – where our mob secured just a single gold medal, n swimming has not been at such a low ebb since the 1976 Montreal Olympics when Stephen Holland managed to get a bronze medal only.
It is part of swimming folklore that when, shortly afterwards, the then Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser, got the exhausted and bitterly disappointed Queenslander on the phone to congratulate him for getting at least that, Holland uttered just two words. The first of them rhymed with “buck”, and the second one was “off” – so annoyed was he with the lack of government support for his endeavours, all while he was up against swimmers from the college system of America, and the professionally prepared, and drugged, swimmers of the Eastern Bloc. It was that outburst which was the genesis of the whole AIS system.
But this time? There appears nowhere to go. The swimming program is well-funded and our swimmers cannot complain of lack of support. The simple reality is that not only has the rest of the world caught up, some of them have lapped us. And the real problem, as n swimming tries to find its way back? We gotta face it: in itself, the sport is not the most compelling of spectacles. It’s been fabulous over the years watching the likes of Perkins, Hackett, Thorpe and O’Neill motor down competitors over the final lap – but watching their heirs come second, third and seventh just doesn’t quite do it for us. I wish I cared more. Maybe it’s that, having seen the mental anguish so many of our champion swimmers go through in later life – having spent “six hours a day every day, with my head in a bucket of water,” as Perkins put it to me – I’m less fussed if the sport does recede a little.
Interesting yarn. In the sixth game of the World Series back in 2003, the Chicago Cubs are leading the best-of-seven series 3-2 and in this game at their home Wrigley’s Field are ahead 3-0 at the bottom of the eighth innings. History is at their fingertips, when slugger Luis Castillo of the Florida Marlins hits a foul ball which soars towards the fence. The Cubs outfielder Mois??s Alou moves back … and back … and back and finally jumps high with his glove outstretched behind him. If he catches it, the Marlins will be just about hooked, cooked, and done for. Sitting in the front row at the time, Steve Bartman, a Cubs fan, watches stunned as the ball head his way. Is it going to hit him? He reacts instinctively. With no time to think, he puts his hand out just as ever did when his father threw him the ball in their backyard in the ‘burbs just above Alou’s outstretched glove, interfering with what would have been a catch and an out.
Long wait: Cubs fans celebrate the 2016 World Series win. Photo: AP
Castillo is still alive, and the Marlins are back in the game! The Marlins go on to score eight runs in that innings, win the match, and then the series. Bartman is suddenly starring in his own long-running horror movie, abused by fans at the field and all the way home, and in the newspapers and on the tv and radio thereafter. He gets death threats. It is so bad, he has to go into hiding, and doesn’t say a word in public, until this week…
The Cubs reached out to him and, having finally won the World Series last season, on Monday gave him a World Series ring, identical to the one the players receive.
“We hope,” the Cubs said, “this provides closure on an unfortunate chapter … While no gesture can fully lift the public burden he has endured for more than a decade, we felt it was important Steve knows he has been and continues to be fully embraced by this organisation.”
Bartman responded with equal graciousness, saying: “I humbly receive the ring not only as a symbol of one of the most historic achievements in sports, but as an important reminder for how we should treat each other in today’s society.”
The spirit of rugby lives
Early in the second half last Saturday, as the Kiama U13s were leading the Shamrocks 40-0, the fine Kiama coach decided it would be a better game to pull one of his players from the field. At 55-0, both coaches decided a new solution. The game was stopped, and some of the Shamrocks and Kiama boys swapped jerseys. Suddenly the game comes alive! Instead of a thrashing, it is a game. The boys grin, and chase, and tackle their own team-members like mad things, as the ball surges back and forth up the field and the spectators roar with appreciation.
“It was so memorable,” my spy says, “that a group photo was requested from parents from both sides. Thank you Shamrocks U13s and Kiama U13s for reminding us what playing with the spirit of rugby is truly about. It was a joy to watch.”
And that, friends, is rugby.
Shake of the head
I know, on concussion, I am a broken bloody record, am I right? But I am not the only one stunned that only a fortnight after Billy Slater was poleaxed against the Raiders, suffering brain trauma so bad he was unconscious for three minutes, with no memory of his last two weeks, he is still playing this weekend! Watching closely from Boston is Chris Nowinski, PhD, the Co-Founder & CEO of Concussion Legacy Foundation – driving force of the “Boston Brain Bank”, if you will, and the leading concussion activist in America. An outspoken critic of the way American sports rush their players back after being knocked out, and an expert in the consequences because it is his organisation which analyses the brains of deceased players – and documents the appalling high incidence of real brain damage – he is concerned to see the same pattern in .
Real risks: Sydney Seau, the daughter of former NFL player Junior Seau, poses with a bust of her father, whose brain was riddled with CTE. Photo: AP
He wrote me a long letter this week, expressing his concerns.
“Loss of consciousness for three minutes,” he wrote, “and lasting retrograde amnesia are concerning as each is extremely rare in a sports setting. If there is ever a case to be cautious with, it is this one.”
But no. Out you go, Billy, and let’s just hope you don’t take another hit like the last one, before your brain has had a chance to heal.
This is madness.
Medical madness. Moral madness. Legal madness.
The pay war winner
Glad they got the cricketer’s pay dispute sorted. The bloke who emerged with flying colours was David Warner, and TFF will be with him on the panel of Sports Sunday with Paul Gallen and Liz Ellis at 10am. Warner’s strength is he does not use weasel words, and tells it like it is – which in that pay dispute was most useful! What they said
Craig Foster on Les Murray: “The world lost a football colossus this morning, Les Murray AM. He fought well into extra time but whistle has blown. His legacy is lasting.”
Legend: Les Murray passed away this week. Photo: James Alcock
Swimmer Kyle Chalmers looking ahead: “It would be amazing to win the 4x200m on home soil next year [at the Commonwealth Games] and I think we are a good shot at that.” Oh, alright, I’ll be the dickhead and say it – it’s a living. “Home soil,” Kyle?
Like the n cricketers wearing their baggy greens at Wimbledon, Sergio Garcia now has a new favourite part of his wardrobe: “I will definitely be bringing the green jacket with me to the Gold Coast.”
Daniel Ricciardo unhappy with team-mate Max Verstappen after he took him out of the Hungarian Grand Prix: “F—ing sore loser. It was amateur to say the least. There was no room to pass . . . I don’t think he likes it when a team-mate gets in front.”
Speaking to NBC after the Hungarian Grand Prix, Nico Hulkenberg said of his clash with rival driver Kevin Magnussen: “I congratulated him for being the most unsporting driver of the whole grid once again. When it comes to racing, he’s just nasty . . . What he did there, opening up the steering, making me run wide, it’s just being an asshole basically. We had really nice words, he said (‘suck my balls’), that was his return, so it’s quite interesting with him.”What is it with all this racing aggro, all of a sudden?
Laurie Daley on Josh Dugan and Blake Ferguson getting pissed as newts, a few days before Origin III: “Did they do anything legally wrong? No they didn’t. Did we know they were going down to have a few beers? No we didn’t. Yes we knew they were going down to Lennox Head to meet up with a mate. Obviously we’ve done something wrong . . .”
Usain Bolt, who turns 31 later this month, gave an emphatic answer when asked how he would feel on Saturday night after his final, final 100m final:”Unbeatable. Usain Bolt has retired unbeatable over that event. For me that will be the biggest headline. Unbeatable and unstoppable.”
Unbeatable: Usain Bolt. Photo: AP
Patrick Dangerfield on being suspended after his tackle caused the “tackl-ee” to miss the rest of the game: “I respect the AFL for what they’re trying to do in trying to protect the head. Concussion is certainly something that we take very seriously as an industry and as a club.”
Stephen Mayne, a spokesman for the Alliance for Gambling Reform, on the average yearly pay of AFL players to $370,000: “This is partly funded by state-sponsored abuse in poor areas by dangerous and addictive [pokie] machines. This is going to be an issue at the upcoming annual general meetings of all these clubs, and the directors there had better be ready to explain themselves. Let the NRL be the pokies-dominated code . . . we are not the NRL, we are better than that.”
Richmond coach Damien Hardwick on former team-mate turned media pundit Kane Cornes: “Seriously I would love to see Kane, I would love to see Kane. Don’t get me wrong that’s his job, he’s there to write s–t comments.” Listen, Damo, it’s a living.
AFL CEO Gil McLachlan on the resignation of two employees, for having affairs with other staff. “I think our industry has a ??history of being forgiving and they are talented executives who made a mistake. They took full accountability. I think that when people take ??accountability for their errors, I think ns give people a second chance.” I think most ns think that if no sexual harassment was involved, and they weren’t doing anything rude in work time, it is none of your damn business, and certainly none of our damn business. Team of the week
The Matildas. Finally defeated the USA! And took apart Japan and Brazil for good measure.
Emily Seebohm. Won the one gold medal for at the World Swimming Championships in Budapest.
Karrie Webb. Wound back the clock with a 3rd place finish at the Scottish Open.
Nathan Walker. This year this young star is destined to be the first n to play ice hockey in the Big Show in the NHL.
Lions – Crusaders. Meet in the Super Rugby Final. Did not meet a Kiwi opponent before the semi-finals. Is it me, or that completely ludicrous? Does it not show that the format of this tournament is totally out of kilter?
The Olympics. Speaking of having passed high noon, with only two cities bidding for the 2024 games they gave them to Paris first up, and 2028 to LA as a consolation prize. 2032 is anyone’s guess, but the way things are heading, if Dubbo put up its hand, they might be a chance!
Jack Doohan. The 14-year-old son of n motorcycle legend Mick Doohan, has secured the biggest win of his European karting career. Won the Swedish leg of the European Championship in the OK-Junior class.
Peter Lonard. Aussie golfer finished 3rd at the Senior British Open
RIP. Les Murray. The beloved football commentator who, with Johnny Warren and Frank Lowy was one of the three most significant people in the country in putting their code on the map in Oz, passed away early this week. Well done, oh good and noble servant of the game.