Greatness takes many forms

Just a horse, running around a track.

Just a man, whacking a little ball with a stick.

Just a woman, running and jumping into a pit of sand.

Yet they are - in one case, were - so much more than that.

Wonder horse Winx, golf comeback king Tiger Woods, and Otago sporting immortal Yvette Williams represent the sort of glorious mix of success, elite achievement, excitement, charisma and pioneering spirit that delights fans and bolsters the case for sport to be considered the best of all trivial pursuits.

They each also have or had a touch of magic, and perhaps it is that, more than anything else, that ensures their place in their respective sporting pantheons.

To Winx, firstly. Winx - the name suggesting something a bit cheeky, even flighty, but which came to stand for an outrageous dominance of the racetrack.

The mighty mare finished her career on Saturday with a remarkable 33rd straight win, the sort of streak that just does not happen in a code where few horses can sustain their peak for long.

She equalled Phar Lap's record of 37 career wins, and finished as the highest-earning thoroughbred in racing history, pocketing $27million.

But Winx was about more than statistics. She transcended racing. To gather the family or flatmates or work colleagues together in front of a television screen or at the track to watch her race was to witness a cultural phenomenon.

Racing is in uncertain times - it has long lost its place as a core pastime in New Zealand, it remains a target of political agitation from groups concerned about the welfare of horses, and it is about to close multiple tracks around the country - but when a rare beauty like Winx appears, it can indeed seem like the sport of kings.

Winx worshipping gave way to the thrill of the Tiger yesterday as American golf superstar Woods completed a jaw-dropping comeback with victory in the Masters.

Woods had to come from behind to win his 15th major, a full 11 years since his last success was followed by a ghastly period of scandal, public embarrassment, injury and poor golf.

He is still not to everybody's taste - his record as a philandering husband has not suddenly been erased, and the whiffs of arrogance and a sort of cold distance remain distinct - but it would be a hard heart that witnessed his raw emotion at sealing a green jacket and did not feel something.

Last year, BBC writer Tom Fordyce memorably described Woods, during the period when his body seemed broken and a comeback impossible, as ''somewhere between holy relic and washed-up film star''.

Now, watching Woods hugging his son after walking off the 18th at Augusta National, it is tempting to say golf's biggest star is burning brightly again.

Then there is our Yvette.

She did not get to perform her heroic feats in the era of live television, nor make untold millions from her athletic prowess.

But as New Zealand's first female Olympic gold medallist, she was a genuine trailblazer, a pioneer for the likes of Valerie Adams to follow.

Yvette Williams (then Corlett) exemplified a golden age of New Zealand track and field. Humble and hard-working, she is a quintessential Kiwi sporting great.

Vale, Yvette. Happy trails, Winx. And welcome back, Tiger.


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