The Halberg Awards speculation is starting to heat up, and this year they’re actually pretty damned tough to call. Scott Dixon’s win at Indianapolis would be a shoo-in most years, especially when allied to his second championship win in the IRL.
But that was before the Kiwis went and produced a still-unfathomable sporting upset over Australia to put the cat amongst the pigeons there. And because this was, let’s not forget, an Olympic year, we kinda have to consider Valerie Vili’s feat as well (because, as good as they were Ashley and the Evers-Swindell’s achievements don’t stack up next to track & field gold).
So far this decade the choices have been relatively uncontroversial: Rob Waddell’s win was the only bright spot in a dismal Sydney Olympics, and thus the only sensible choice in a pretty average year for 2000. 2001 was worse again, the Ever-Swindell twins getting theirs on the back of two silver medals at the world rowing champs, in a year so flat even perrennial winners in minor sports like Marlene Castle and Steve Gurney were finalists.
2002 saw the Tall Blacks worthy winners after their dream run to fourth at the World Champs, though I remember this being hotly contested at the time, because they didn’t win. Which is completely ridiculous to my mind. Sure, winning is everything, this is sports etc etc, but winning at softball or rugby sevens (constant finalists both) is not even on the same planet as what the Tall Blacks did at that World Champs. In terms of significance on a global scale it was not far off the All Whites qualifying for the ’82 World Cup (which I think shoulda got them that year’s Halberg over, you guessed it, another rowing victory – amazing, but ROWING IS A MINORITY SPORT THE WORLD OVER).
But the Tall Blacks not only qualified, they made the freaking semis! This was one of the very rare occasions when I’ve disagreed with Telf, who believes, wrongly, that you pick the best winner in any given year.
The Silver Ferns gong for ’03 can’t really be disputed either, history has weighed heavily on our netball side’s shoulders, but they won the kind of close game they’d made habit of losing in Jamaica. It was beautiful moment from one of the best New Zealand teams any sport has put together this decade.
And Ulmer in ’04? LAY DOWN MISÈRE. Seriously, I don’t think New Zealand has ever quite realised what happened on that vélodrome in Athens. She took eight seconds out of the world record in an event which had traditionally seen drops in split seconds, and is still the world record holder today, with a fast ride anything under 3.30. It was a once-in-a-generation effort, and she can shill all the McDs she wants because that ride was outrageous.
You don’t even need to speak about Campbell’s rogue wave of a US Open win, because that’s nuts and incontestably the best thing a New Zealander will do this decade. Drysdale’s WR and gold medal the following year works over Nick Willis’ emotional Com Games win because, well, the Commonwealth Games don’t actually matter. And Vili’s World Champs win in 07 is significant for the same reasons mentioned above, Track & Field is real, in a way few other Olympic style sports are. It’s not like swimming with four strokes, innumerable distances before you even look at the teams events and medleys. If you win at T&F you’re ahead of a serious pack, even if most kids don’t dream of being shot putters.
Can she repeat? Personally I think not. This one comes down to two options, sentiment vs reality. Vili does well on both, but not well enough on either. The Kiwis win was ridiculously emotional, just because of the sheer improbability, and the way the skill and arrogance of the Australian team was made to wilt and crumble under a thorough examination from New Zealand. No one on earth, not even Butch, thought that we’d win a Rugby League World Cup before our next Rugby World Cup. But we did, in the most hostile territory we’re ever likely to face. And I’ll never forget it.
But if you’re a judge, you have to weigh it against history. Dixon’s win was in the Indy 500, the most famous event in motorsport, even if it’s not quite the sport’s pinnacle anymore. That’s something indelible that time will remember, in a way that an RLWC victory, 8 years after the last was held and 5 years from the next just isn’t quite. Of course there are those who view motorsport as somehow less sporting due to the ‘motor’ part, and they’ll vote, but there’s an austerity to the Halberg panel (who take themselves very seriously) which will, I think, see Dixon over the line.
For Vili, even though I think on balance her gold was bigger than the Kiwis win (huge as it was – and it was my own fave sporting moment of the year by far – RL is only a sport of real consequence in two – three if you squint – countries), but no one could convince me that shot putt is anything like as big as motor-racing. So to me Dixon’s got this one.
On a side note, it’s good to see the demise of the People’s Choice Sports Awards (was that what the abomination was called?), which I believe Sky and TRN and a few others ran for a spell in an attempt to make a glitzier, more mainstream Halbergs. At least I think they’ve died a death, I’ve heard nothing about them and they happened around this time of year in the past. As tired and lumbering as the Halbergs can appear, they also tend to get it right, vs a public vote that inevitably just becomes a popularity contest, and leads to farces like All Blacks winning sports people of the year when they really shouldn’t get near it until they return a certain trophy to its rightful home.
Anyway, one of the most awesomely pompous things about the Halbergs is that they happen in Fenruary of the following year, and don’t even convene to begin discussions until the new year. Just in case someone does something amazing in the NO SPORT THAT’S HAPPENING RIGHT NOW. I guess something might happen in the cricket; like had Martin been selected he might’ve gotten off the mark, but really, ’08’s done now. Which is why I think it’s cute that those sporting fogey’s are still sitting on their hands.
PS – Dead Ball will be posting its own sporting awards, incredibly prestigous ones that are so unimpeachable they lack even a big-name corporate sponsor (though we’re open to offers) in the next week or two. Stay tuned.