Editorial: Sport's year of scandal and surprise

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Unpredictability is one of the enduring appeals of sport. In the humdrum certainty of everyday life, underdogs rarely prevail. But on any given day in any given event, we are enthralled by upsets in what appear, on paper at least, to be lop-sided contests. Often, a frantically paced professional world, in which winning is supremely important, offers similarly extraordinary developments off the field. Perhaps never more so than in 2009.

The year saw developments in this country's two premier sporting codes which, if forecast 12 months earlier, would have been dismissed as almost unbelievable. Who would have foreseen that the All Black coaching triumvirate would switch roles? Who could have predicted that Daniel Vettori would take virtual sole charge of the Black Caps as captain, de facto coach and selector? Most remarkably of all, who could have forecast that Tiger Woods' image, as carefully cultivated and manicured as the greens at Augusta, would come crashing down around him?

Each remarkable event said something about the world of modern sport. Woods' "transgressions" spoke of the temptations placed before the successful athlete. Such people have always enjoyed a status that owed little to rational thought. Now, that is supplemented by an ever-escalating wealth. A mature man playing one of the world's most staid and buttoned-down games proved no less fallible than one of the brash tyros who perennially tarnish rugby league's name.

Woods' image as a family man was shown to be a sham. Andre Agassi, for his part, revealed he had succumbed to drugs during a turbulent period of his tennis career.

Agassi's use of methamphetamine was not performance-related. Other athletes, however, were found to have yielded to that temptation in their quest for glory. Bahrain's Beijing Olympics 1500m champion Rashid Ramzi was found to have taken a banned blood-booster, clearing the way for New Zealand's Nick Willis to be in line for the silver medal.

The developments in the national winter and summer games also reflected the thirst for success. The All Blacks' season started badly with a loss to France and Tri-Nations losses to South Africa. With the 2011 World Cup looming ever larger, there was mounting concern that the coaching panel of Graham Henry, Steve Hansen and Wayne Smith was on track to repeat its 2007 failure. Their response, a swapping of roles, smacked more of self-preservation than solution. The new structure did, however, breathe life into the end-of-year tour of Europe, particularly against France, which erred by trying to take the All Blacks on at an expansive game. Most tellingly, however, by tour's end Henry was already talking of reverting to type. The purpose of the switch had, it seemed, been served.

Vettori took control of the Black Caps after player power had spelled the end of coach Andy Moles. His many roles will probably never secure the success he craves, not least, perhaps, because of unease among his own players. The pressure under which he now operates will also surely be counterproductive at some point.

Elsewhere, there was also a degree of unpredictability in the All Whites' World Cup qualification. Bahrain, their opponents were more highly ranked but less resilient. More predictably, shot-putter Valerie Vili continued her world domination. Rowing and cycling also prospered. Astute management and coaching has kept these sports at the top of their game.

Others showed the odd paths that can be trod when success proves more elusive.

- NZ Herald

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