Perhaps the most legendary figure in all of Australian sport, Sir Donald Bradman could just about fill this list on his own. Many will point to his 334 at Headingley – an Aussie record that stood unmatched for 67 years – as the high watermark, or the unbeaten 34-match tour as captain of ‘The Invincibles’ in 1948. But no single moment in Bradman’s career is more iconic, more ingrained in Aussie culture, than his very last.
‘The Don’ walked out to the crease in his final Test innings at The Oval needing only four runs to finish his career with a batting average over 100. Two balls later, he was bowled for a duck. The story goes Bradman could not pick up Eric Hollies’ googly for the tears in his eyes – a tale he denied for the remainder of his life. And so the greatest batsman in cricket history ended up with perhaps the most mythical set of digits in all sport – 99.94.
The younger folk out there might not know much about the man who gives his name to centre court at Melbourne Park. Rod Laver was the king of kings in what was a golden era for Australian tennis, topping a list that included the likes of Ken Rosewall, Roy Emerson, Fred Stolle, John Newcombe, and Neale Fraser. His 22 singles titles in a single season remains a world record, while only Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Ivan Lendl, and Pete Sampras have appeared in more Grand Slam singles finals (17).
In 1962, the ‘Rockhampton Rocket’ became the first player since Don Budge in ’38 to win all four major singles events (Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, and US Open) in a calendar year. In ’69 he repeated the feat, becoming the first man to claim the Grand Slam in the Open era – an achievement that has never been matched.
Where Laver was the king of Aussie tennis, Margaret Court was the queen. Although a controversial figure these days due to her views on LGBT rights, Court is still revered in the tennis world and remains one of the greatest players of all time – male or female.
The 1970 season was a golden one for the girl from Albury. On her way to winning 21 singles titles that year (a record still unmatched), Court became the first woman to complete the Grand Slam in singles. This was not her first Slam, however, as she had already achieved the feat in mixed doubles in 1963 and 1965. Court remains the only player in tennis history to claim three Grand Slams, and her tally of 64 major titles – 24 in singles, 19 in doubles, and 21 in mixed doubles – is unlikely to ever be bested by man or woman.
It was the longest winning streak in sporting history. For 132 years, since the inception of the America’s Cup in 1851, syndicates from the United States had thwarted all comers. But in 1983, a group of Aussies skippered by John Bertrand did the unimaginable, defeating the New York Yacht Club over seven races to bring the ‘Auld Mug’ down under.
Australia II’s stunning victory at Newport, Rhode Island, brought unprecedented global attention to the oldest trophy in international sport – not least due to the controversy surrounding the Australian yacht’s revolutionary winged keel. Millions of Aussies arose before dawn to watch the gruelling final race, sparking one of Prime Minister Bob Hawke’s most quotable lines: “Any boss who sacks anyone for not turning up today is a bum.”
Having dominated the 1,500 metre freestyle at the Barcelona Olympics as an 18-year-old, and after three gold medals at the 1994 Commonwealth Games, Kieren Perkins should have been primed to conquer Atlanta 1996. Instead, the Queenslander arrived in the US in the worst form of his life.
Perkins was a non-starter in the 200 metres and 400 metres – he had won both events at the Commonwealth Games two years prior – and only just scraped into the 1,500m final, snatching the last berth by just 0.24 seconds. But, from lane eight, Perkins overcame illness and wretched touch to win by more than six seconds from the favourite, Daniel Kowalski – Australia’s perennial runner-up. It was one of only two Aussie golds in the pool that summer, the other going to Susie O’Neill.
There were so many Australian highlights at Sydney 2000 that is was impossible to choose between them. There was Ian Thorpe’s phenomenal final leg of the 4 x 100 metre relay to snatch gold from the United States’ grasp; Grant Hackett and Kieren Perkins taking out the quinella in the 1,500m freestyle; and, most memorable of all, Cathy Freeman torching the field to win the 400 metre sprint in front of a capacity 110,000 crowd at Stadium Australia.
But our greatest achievement was not on the track or in the pool, and it was not the 58 medals that saw us finish fourth in the overall standings. The shining light was the event itself, which has been widely celebrated as the most successful Olympics since the modern games kicked off in 1896. Every aspect of Sydney 2000 was praised worldwide, from the organisation, to the quality of the competition, and how Australia as a whole embraced the Games. One Canadian reporter went so far as to declare, “the IOC should quit while it’s ahead. Admit there can never be a better Olympics, and be done with it.”
Before Steve Waugh’s Australia started conquering the globe in the late ’90s, few would have even joked that any side could hold a candle to the West Indies’ dominance of Test cricket during the 1980s. But between 1999 and 2001, an all-star Aussie team led by Ponting, Hayden, Warne, McGrath, Gilchrist, and co. went on a 16-match rampage to smash the Windies’ record of 11 consecutive Test wins.
What was so impressive about the Baggy Greens’ hot streak was that they did not merely beat their opponents; they pulverised them. Among those 16 straight victories were no less than four wins by an innings and change, along with three 10-wicket triumphs. This reign also included one of the great fight-back performances, when Justin Langer and Adam Gilchrist battled a greasy wicket and the lethal Pakistani attack of Wasim Akram, Shoaib Akhtar, Waqar Younis, and Saqlain Mushtaq to steer Australia to a momentous four-wicket win in Hobart.
For 32 years, Australia had been a non-factor in world football. Indeed, the Socceroos’ profile was so invisible up until the 1990s that many of our finest players refused to don the green and gold. Liverpool hero Craig Johnston never once represented the country of his birth, and infamously claimed that playing football for Australia was “like surfing for England”.
But in 2005, on a magical November night in Sydney, Australia’s long-suffering soccer fans finally had their wildest dreams fulfilled. It looked like another narrow miss was on the cards as Uruguay brought a 1-0 lead into the second leg of the World Cup qualifying play-off. But a first-half goal from Marc Bresciano was enough to force extra time, and the resulting penalty shoot-out proved one of the most defining moments in Australian football. Two outstanding saves from Mark Schwarzer and a nerveless finish from John Aloisi later, and an entire nation was on its feet as the Socceroos booked their place at Germany 2006.
The Tour de France has not been to kind to Aussie cyclists as a general rule, as the treacherous climbs through the French countryside never suited our gun sprinters such as Stuart O’Grady and Robbie McEwen in the long run. Up until 2011, no Australian had ever won the race – but Cadel Evans was determined to change that.
The Northern Territory boy had come agonisingly close in previous years, finishing runner-up in 2007 and 2008 before rotten luck ruined his chances in 2009 and 2010. The following year brought up more issues, including mechanical failures, but Evans battled through to chase down Andy Schleck in the final stages and waltz into Paris with the yellow jersey. Many consider Cadel’s Tour de France victory as Australia’s most significant sporting achievement since the America’s Cup win in ’83 – high praise, indeed.
If ever there has been a tournament that has haunted Aussie sports fans’ dreams, it is the US Masters. So many had gone so close, and yet in over 80 years none had prevailed. How many of us remember watching on in horror as Greg Norman surrendered a six-shot lead to Nick Faldo in the final round in 1996?
Adam Scott came into the 2013 US Masters still hurting from a painfully Normanesque moment the year before, where he blew up on the 72nd hole at Royal Lytham and St Annes to hand Ernie Els the British Open crown. Many felt that may have been the end of Scott’s pursuit for a maiden major championship, but oh how wrong they were. The Queenslander put in four superb rounds at Augusta National, coming home with a wet sail to force sudden death with former winner Angel Cabrera. Scott birdied the first play-off hole to break his duck and do what none of his heroes could: become the first Australian to wear the fabled green jacket.
What’s your favourite Aussie sporting highlight? Should we have included Herb Elliott’s record-breaking 1,500m run in Rome? Does Pat Cash’s fairytale Wimbledon win rate a mention? Or what about the Sydney Swans’ dramatic AFL Premiership victory in 2005? Write in the comments section below and tell us your 10 greatest moments in Australian sport.