27 December 2021

2021 Year in Review: The sporting capital

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There may have been a lot of sport cancelled in the ACT in 2021, but it continued to play a big part in our lives.

Sporting memories, the loss of legends and the efforts of those extraordinary athletes that live in the region have all been captured by our reporters.

Take a look back at an instant replay of your top sports stories of the year.

15. 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.

For 50 years, the Maher Cup was the rugby league clash that entranced southern NSW.

There were extraordinary stories of trains loaded with 1000 supporters, fisticuffs, protests, flooded ovals, near riots and staggering betting.

A new book detailed all of the Maher Cup’s tall-tales and true.

14. 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.

Sadly, in 2021, legendary footballer Tommy Raudonikis died aged 70.

In many respects, it’s hard to encapsulate a life filled with so many stories that have been enshrined in folklore.

Tim Gavel remembers one of the game’s most beloved characters, who cemented his reputation in Sydney, but whose career began in rural NSW.

13. Why every sports club needs a character like Chris Rourke

Mike Burmeister, Mark Turner, Chris Rourke, Peter Schwab, Bill Tyson, Paul Taylor, Peter Stevenson and Simon Rourke

Mike Burmeister, Mark Turner, Chris Rourke, Peter Schwab, Bill Tyson, Paul Taylor, Peter Stevenson and Simon Rourke at the testimonial to Rourke in late April. Photo: Supplied.

The Ainslie Football Club honoured Chris Rourke after six premierships as coach, and the life-changing culture he embodied for countless footballers.

Every player who came under Chris’ charge seemed to be regarded as family.

12. The Belconnen Magpies: celebrating 50 years of football in Belconnen

Lexie Bennett and his father, David

Lexie Bennett holds the Club record for the highest number of first grade games with 278 games, overtaking his father, David, who had previously held the record with 268 first grade games. Photo: Supplied.

The Belconnen Magpies Football Club celebrated 50 years in 2021.

In the late 1990s, Belconnen affiliated with the West Canberra Football Club to become the Belconnen Magpies.

The long-running themes of mateship and teamwork were reflected in the book, Blue, Black, White and Teal: Celebrating 50 Years of Football in Belconnen.

11. The relationships that bind the Green Machine

Don Furner

Raiders CEO Don Furner has been at the helm of the Raiders for the best part of two decades. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

There have been accusations of nepotism at the Canberra Raiders over the years, given the close relationships of the key personnel.

Those close relationships, though, provided the club with stability and laid the foundations for the success the Raiders enjoy today.

Tim Gavel explored the enduring relationships that sustained the Canberra Raiders for decades.

10. Is it time for Canberra to formally recognise Lauren Jackson’s greatness?

Lauren Jackson playing basketball

Lauren Jackson is recognised worldwide for her contribution to basketball, and the time has come for Canberra to formally do the same. Photo: Basketball Australia.

Lauren Jackson is regarded as one of the greatest female basketballers of all time.

She’s earned hall of fame honours in the US, but her feats are not similarly recognised in Canberra.

We have recognition for plenty of male athletes in Canberra, is it time we honoured one of the greatest athletes Australia has ever seen?

9. Refereeing on the world stage: Canberra referee Ben Williams reflects upon his career

Ben Williams

Since retiring from refereeing, Ben Williams is now enjoying teaching PE at the UC High School, Kaleen. Photo: Tim Gavel.

Ben Williams rose to the top of his field as a world-leading football referee – and even officiated at one of the craziest games ever played.

He retired in 2016. He made the decision one day as he was saying goodbye to his family to travel to an A-League game in Sydney.

After 25 years it was becoming harder and harder to say those goodbyes and the constant travel was taking its toll.

8. Meet Russell Stewart: Canberra’s unassuming champion

Russell Stewart

Russell Stewart representing Australia. Photo: Supplied.

There was a time in the 1980s and ’90s when Russell Stewart was better known on London’s streets than in his home city of Canberra.

When he walked into a pub in England, there was instant recognition.

The unlikely darts champion (and former public servant) remained virtually unknown despite decades of success.

7. Canberra’s Vanessa Low wins Paralympics gold, breaks own record three times

Gold-winning Vanessa Low and her equally gold-winning husband, Scott Reardon. Photo: Scott Reardon.

Canberran long jump star Vanessa Low broke her own record three times enroute to winning a gold medal at the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics this year.

Low started the T63 competition as the only leg amputee to have cleared five metres in long jump, with a best of 5.07 metres.

But in the Tokyo rain she managed to jump distances of 5.16 metres, 5.20 metres and 5.28 metres.

Her story now includes gold medals at two consecutive Paralympic Games for two different nations.

6. Canberra’s Phil Lynch set the benchmark for a generation of basketball commentators

Phil Lynch in Nowra High School basketball team photo from 1962

Phil Lynch wearing number 10 for his Nowra High School team in 1962, with coach Peter O’Connor. Photo: Supplied.

Phil Lynch has spent a lifetime dedicated to basketball, and the veteran of four Olympic Games as a commentator set the benchmark for Australian sports broadcasting.

Phil was effectively a pioneer in Australian basketball commentary on television as he brought the NBL to life from the outset in 1979.

He had the ability to not only provide insight into the sport through his commentary, but to provide a verbal picture with his smooth delivery and confidence.

This made him one of the best in his craft.

5. Legendary Canberra rugby union coach Wayne Southwell calls time on his remarkable career

Wayne Southwell

After a playing and coaching career spanning decades in Canberra rugby union, Wayne Southwell is retiring. Photo: Supplied.

After a successful playing and coaching career spanning decades in Canberra rugby union, Wayne Southwell retired at the end of the 2021 season.

Southwell has been teaching in one form or another for the majority of his adult life.

He had a significant influence on a generation of rugby union players as a coach in the ACT region for the past 27 years.

4. Champions among us: Canberra dentist Paul Narracott was one of the fastest men on the planet

Paul coming in a close second to Alan Well

Paul Narracott in full stretch, just behind Alan Wells, Olympic gold medallist, at QE2 Stadium, Brisbane. Photo: Supplied.

Sixty-one-year-old Paul Narracott concedes some of his patients are surprised when they discover their mild-mannered dentist “waddling” along the corridor is widely considered one of Australia’s greatest 100-metre sprinters.

His record on the track was impressive, with many highlights.

Paul had high expectations heading into the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games.

He thought he had a slim chance of winning a medal in the blue ribbon 100-metres event on the track.

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

Dimity Douglas

Dimity at age 14 years, 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.

She has some hard-learned lessons for sporting children.

2. Canberra born Andy Bernal: The National Capital’s first Socceroo

Andy Bernal

The foundation of his football career: Andy Bernal playing for BelSouth FC. Photo: Supplied.

From a football prodigy to David Beckham’s agent and bodyguard, Canberra’s Andy Bernal has done it all.

At 55 years of age, he is still living life at a million miles an hour, and that is no exaggeration!

Tim Gavel unravels his extraordinary journey back to where it all began.

1. All in the family: meet Canberra’s top sporting siblings

Lauren Keir and Dan Keir

Canberra United’s Lauren Keir and her brother Dan Keir are part of a talented sporting family. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Whether through birth or travel, Canberra is home to some pretty impressive sporting families.

From rugby’s Lachlan and Ryan Lonergan, to golf stars Nikki and Chris Campbell

As a home for so many sports families, Canberra should be proud of this depth and breadth of experience and talent.

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