30 December 2021

2021 Year in Review: Sport stars hit it for six

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Sport took a bit of a battering in 2021, with stop-start competitions and COVID-19 cancellations. Despite that, our love affair with all things sporting was undimmed and there was plenty of sports news to keep us going.

Take a look back at 10 of our top sporting stories from 2021.

10. Champions among us: Canberra tennis prodigy Helen Gourlay

Helen Gourlay

Helen at her first Australian Open in Brisbane at just 13. Photo: Supplied.

In the current era of professional tennis, it is hard to imagine a 13-year-old girl playing in the main draw of the Australian Open.

For Helen Gourlay, it seemed like a natural progression. As a 12-year-old she was the top open women’s player in Tasmania. But in her debut at the Australian Open, Helen was drawn to play Margaret Court, who would go on to win 24 Grand Slam singles titles.

“It was unbelievable to play Margaret; I was proud when I won a point,” remembers Helen.

9. Cooma Sports Hub takes another step forward

John Barilaro and a large group of people at sports facilities in Cooma

Canberra-based firm CK Architecture will design the $15 million Cooma Sports Hub. Photo: Supplied.

Canberra-based firm CK Architecture was awarded the job of designing the long-awaited Cooma Sports Hub.

Snowy Monaro Regional Council’s recreational planner Alannah Dickeson said CK Architecture was selected after a local government open tendering process.

The state-of-the-art sporting hub will feature a three-court indoor sport facility at Monaro High School and synthetic athletics track and field facilities at Snowy Oval. The $15 million sporting facility will cater for a range of sports including basketball, athletics, Australian rules football and cricket.

8. Selected for the Commonwealth Games at 12, Dimity was thrown in the deep end

Dimity Douglas

Dimity at 14, wearing the 1984 Australian Olympic swimwear. Photo: Supplied.

Dimity Douglas was just 12 years of age when she competed in the 100 metres breaststroke at the 1982 Commonwealth Games in Brisbane.

She was in Year Six at Canberra Girls Grammar Junior School when she was selected in the Australian team. The selection was just three years after she started training in a squad at the Deakin Health Spa.

Initially, it was treated as an after-school activity in a busy schedule.

7. Hail Marys and hyperbole: Maher Cup rises again

Royal Hotel, Gundagai

The Maher Cup once was the talk of the town, and a hot topic in the pub. Here, Jack Coulton, Ray Dunn, Vince Sullivan and Gordon Hardwick share a beer at the Royal Hotel, Gundagai about 1950. Photo: Lost Gundagai Facebook page.

A famous bush football competition that flourished after the Great War for 50 years then disappeared is returning – at least in book form.

A Group Nine, Saturday afternoon contest, the Maher Cup ignited rugby league full-throated fanaticism among anyone who played or followed the game until the early 1970s.

At Tumut, where the late Ted Maher launched the cup when he was the local publican, a reunion game saw the local Blues team thump their close rivals the Gundagai Tigers by 30-12.

Among the big crowd of onlookers was Neil Pollock, who has over the years created a comprehensive blog, The Maher Cup, that will be published into a book, The Maher Cup – a social history of football in the Group Nine towns 1920-1971.

6. Australia’s regional sporting capital: Queanbeyan or Wagga Wagga? The case for Wagga

Aerial view of Central Wagga Wagga

Aerial view of Central Wagga Wagga. What makes this town a producer of sports champions? Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Which city has produced the most sports champions – Queanbeyan or Wagga? Tim Gavel initially thought it would be hard to go past Queanbeyan.

“That is, until I took a closer look at Wagga Wagga,” he wrote.

“I discovered that it’s daylight between Wagga and every other city region of comparable size, not just in Australia, but potentially globally.”

5. Harness racing legend Tom Hewitt honoured at Goulburn Paceway

Historical photo of Thomas Hewitt and Goff Hewitt harness racing.

Thomas Hewitt (back right) and his brother, Goff (front right), harness racing. Photo: Supplied.

When Thomas Hewitt switched his focus from cattle and sheep farming to harness racing in the late 1970s, he did not imagine his enthusiasm for the sport would inspire the lives of two generations and all the local punters.

In fact, Tom’s name became synonymous with harness racing in the Crookwell district after setting several race records and breeding numerous high-quality performers.

Today he and wife Angela are remembered by an annual race at Goulburn Paceway, the Hewitt Memorial.

4. Michael Beard’s quest for the ultimate challenge

Michael Beard packrafting on Shoalhaven River.

Michael Beard soaking up the adrenalin rush of packrafting at Welcome Reef on Shoalhaven River in 2020. Photo: Andrew Oberg.

Goulburn’s Michael Beard has not yet found his limit as an athlete and adventurer, but he might be close.

As he prepared for the Franklin River’s rugged whitewater experience in Tasmania, he gratefully looked back at the freedom his parents Stephen and Barbara gave him while he was growing up on a farm at Windellama, east of Goulburn.

Roaming the bush, riding his motorbike, learning to read maps and walking down into the Shoalhaven Gorge for days of camping and hiking were the foundations for his action-filled adulthood in the wilderness.

3. Farewell Tommy Raudonikis: the hardest man in rugby league was also beloved

Tommy Raudonikis

Tommy Raudonikis played 202 matches for Wests and 37 for Newtown, 24 for NSW and 20 tests for Australia. Photo: tommyraudonikis.com.

The rugby league family this year mourned the death of Tommy Raudonikis.

The legendary hard man of rugby league lost his long battle with throat cancer at age 70.

It was hard to encapsulate a life filled with so many stories that have been enshrined in folklore but Tim Gavel gave it his best.

2. Watch out Stromlo! Wagga Wagga developing major sporting facilities, including Multisport Cycling Complex

Velodrome under construction at Wagga Wagga Multisport Cycling Complex

Construction of the velodrome at the new Wagga Wagga Multisport Cycling Complex. Photo: Wagga Wagga City Council.

For the past 15 years, Canberra’s Stromlo Forest Park, which took shape following the 2003 ACT bushfires, has been the jewel in the crown of ACT’s sporting facilities.

Attracting an estimated 700,000 visitors a year, the facility includes mountain biking, criterium, cross-country running and now swimming.

But the new Wagga Wagga Multisport Cycling Complex is expected to give Canberra’s Stromlo Forest Park a run for its money.

1. How a Dalmeny teenager broke the halfpipe world record in Switzerland

Snowboarder Valentino Guseli

South Coast snowboarder Valentino Guseli has set a new halfpipe world record. Photo: Pabs Visions.

The beachside town of Dalmeny on the NSW South Coast seems an unlikely home for a champion snowboarder.

Yet its 16-year-old resident, Valentino Guseli, recently made international headlines for breaking the world record for the highest snowboard halfpipe air.

The teenager jumped a staggering – and terrifying – 7.3 metres on the halfpipe at Laax in Switzerland, where he’s been training for the past five years.

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