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Do we care? Should we care?
Normally, I find that question very easy to answer when it comes to the Olympic Games.
Yes, we do care. And yes, we should care.
For all their gauche extravagance, hyperbole and commercialism, the Olympics are great fun every four years and mean so much to the athletes involved and the countries taking part.
Just sport, of course. But important sport, and a massive part of the calendar, and soaked in drama and brilliance and history.
... for the Olympics
These Olympics? I won’t know how much I care till they start.
Talk about a hard sell. The world is still battling this pandemic, most Japanese people don’t seem to want a bar of the Games, there will be no fans — which automatically devalues much of the action — and some of us are really bugged by the phrase ‘‘Tokyo 2020’’ when it is 2021.
It does feel slightly uncomfortable that a mass meeting of people from around the globe is happening under these circumstances.
That’s my ‘‘nah, can’t care about these Olympics’’ voice talking.
My ‘‘buzzing, can’t wait for the Olympics’’ voice has still not entirely been muted.
I’m thinking of Dame Valerie Adams, seeking her fourth Olympic medal. A chance to see running great Nick Willis go round one last time. The various rowing and yachting crews set to tear up the water. The very strong likelihood amazing things will happen in sports you didn’t know you cared about.
And I’m thinking of the most exciting Otago swimming prospect to emerge since a gangly, awkward lad called Danyon came out of the Duncan Laing school of excellence.
We should all watch schoolgirl Erika Fairweather in Tokyo, if only to be reminded that, at their core, the Olympic Games are actually about something quite wonderful.
Apart from the morons who behaved poorly and the despicable human beings who racially abused players on social media, it was impossible not to feel a BIT sorry for the English football fans left despondent after the European Championship final.
And it got me thinking: what’s the worst I’ve felt after a sporting occasion?
Tempting, obviously, to go with something involving Liverpool — perhaps the end of the 2013-14 season, the Stevie G slip and all that.
But the one that is really seared into my memory is the 2001 NPC third division final. (Yes, kids, the NPC once had three divisions and made perfect, glorious sense.)
North Otago had been beaten (in Oamaru) by East Coast in the 2000 final. But I could live with that — the East Coasters had gone from whipping boys to national sweethearts, and their success was a cool story.
But in the 2001 final, again in Oamaru, the opponent was the auld enemy, South Canterbury, and the prospect of defeat was highly distasteful.
Defeat duly arrived, and I don’t mind admitting I bawled like a baby that day. It was just awful.
(Happily, the Old Golds absolutely crushed Horowhenua-Kapiti in the 2002 final, erasing 12 months of hurt.)
I asked my colleagues in the sports department to pinpoint the sporting event that caused them the most pain — again, stressing here that we all accept sport is effectively a trivial pursuit.
Adrian Seconi has been around a long time but plumped for recent heartbreak: the Black Caps’ cruel ‘‘loss’’ to England in the 2019 Cricket World Cup final.
‘‘Drained. Depleted. Annoyed. But thoroughly entertained. And we have the Mace, so who cares about boundary countbacks now?’’
Our ‘‘junior’’, Jeff Cheshire, reached further back for one that many New Zealand rugby fans still grimace about: the All Blacks losing the 2007 Rugby World Cup quarterfinal to France in Cardiff.
‘‘I was 14, and so excited I couldn’t sleep. I had an All Black jersey and everything. Just the way it happened — absolutely gutted.’’
The Last Word extends an invitation to readers to share their moments of heartbreak. You will do well to find something more painful than losing to South Canterbury.
The penalty pickle
Sorry, Mr Southgate, but you got that badly wrong on Monday morning.
Putting on two rusty reserves with seconds remaining, just so they could take penalties, was bizarre. Getting the teenager to take the crucial fifth penalty was cruel.
It made me wonder: can you change the order of penalty takers on the fly? Or is the order set in stone when you give a list to the officials? Does it list all 11 players or just the first five?
The abandoned city
Happy days for netball fans with news the Constellation Cup will be back later this year, and the Silver Ferns will get to head overseas for the first time in two years.
The tests in New Zealand are in Auckland and Wellington.
I haven’t followed much netball for the past six years but I presume there is just a shrug of the shoulders when an itinerary is released and Dunedin is not included.
The city hosted a test in 1998 — I covered it, as a VERY green sports reporter, at a temporary facility at the Edgar Centre — and one more in 2008. And that’s it — that has been our lot in terms of international netball in 23 years. Still doesn’t seem right.
I ran out of space last week to tip my hat to the man who succeeded me as ODT sports editor and whose move to a different role at the paper created a chance for me to return.
Steve Hepburn is a good bugger, a remarkably knowledgeable reporter who worked tirelessly to cover Otago sport since he joined the department as rugby writer in 2008.
He had the golden touch, covering Otago winning the Ranfurly Shield (twice!), the Highlanders winning the Super Rugby final, the All Blacks winning the World Cup (twice!), and Zingari-Richmond winning a game (sorry, Hep).
He is a humble man, turning down my request to write a piece reflecting on his tenure in the sports department. But I hope the Otago sports community appreciates the work he did.