Three stories from the weekend that resonated, and a reflection on All Black coaching.
A HAPPY THROWER IS A GOOD THROWER
Dame Valerie Adams took just one throw, of 18.55m, in Napier to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics. Then just for fun she threw the shot once more, and a bit further, at 18.65m. I'm hopelessly biased about Valerie, who my wife and I grew to love like family while working on her book in 2011. But being so close to her does allow me to feel confident about saying that in the decade we've known her, Valerie has never been in a better head space than now. In a happy marriage, with huge support from her husband Gabriel and his family, and motherhood fitting her like a glove, she has the enthusiasm for the Olympics of a rookie off to their first big show. She'll return to Switzerland, where her technique will be sharpened even more by her veteran coach Jean-Pierre Egger, and then compete in the Diamond League in the European summer before heading to Japan. The Games in Tokyo will be a huge mountain to climb, but by the time the afternoon of Friday, July 31, rolls around, and the best women shot putters in the world walk out in the Olympic Stadium for their qualifying rounds, I doubt anyone will have a more competitive gleam in her eye than Valerie.
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WHO DOESN'T LOVE THE ENERGISER BUNNY?
There is forever something electrifying about a rugby winger who is smaller than most on the field but beats the bigger players with nerve, courage, toughness, and an ability to apparently hit top speed in one stride. Think Sevu Reece, Nehe Milner-Skudder, or, for those old enough to remember, Grant Batty in the 1970s, who was basically a 1.65m (5ft 5in) sparkplug in footy boots.
There was plenty to enjoy at the sevens in Hamilton, but I'd defy any rugby fan not to be jumping up or shouting with joy every time Michaela Blyde touched the ball. She's been a star since she juggled term time at New Plymouth Girls' High School to go to Australia in a New Zealand sevens team in 2013. She returned from a leg injury to play in Hamilton looking as sharp as if she hadn't been away from the sevens circuit for a second, not, as she in fact had been, more than two months. (In passing, Blyde is 2cm, about an inch, shorter than Batty).
WHEN WATCHING CRICKET IS THE HAPPIEST PLACE ON EARTH
Okay, so I yelled in glee at the screen watching Michaela Blyde burn up the turf in Hamilton, but, like most older Kiwis of largely Pakeha descent, my default position watching sport is earnest concentration. My excuse for being so inhibited is that I grew up in a time, in the 1960s, when the New Zealand way was to copy the emotional example of the All Blacks, who, when one had scored a try, walked back with his head bowed looking as grim as if he'd just heard of a death in the family.
How fantastic it is that in 21st century New Zealand we have Pasifika fans cheering, singing and waving banners when Tonga play test league, and Indian cricket supporters who lit up Eden Park with unabashed, full throttle, dancing, waving, elation as India took on the Black Caps? In his coaching days in India former New Zealand captain John Wright always swore that the happiest people in the world were Indians, and if that proposition was ever put to the test the crowds at Eden Park would provide great evidence for the affirmative.
THAT WHIRRING SOUND WAS DOUR COACHES FROM THE PAST SPINNING IN THEIR GRAVES
The change in approaches to All Black coaching in recent years has been illustrated in many ways, not least with the statement by Steve Hansen that sometimes players needed a cuddle not a smack, and "you can't do much harm with a cuddle." The future looks just as honest and genuine when Ian Foster, on the day he was appointed All Black coach, would say on NewstalkZB to Simon Barnett and myself, that his wife's reaction when he said he had the All Blacks job was "Oh, no." And good on Scott Robertson too. When we asked him last week how he felt when he was called to be told he hadn't got the position, he said that when wife Jane saw his face she gave him a hug. Then "the kids came in and we just lay on the bed for half an hour. Not much was said. We shed a few tears. It was a really emotional half an hour, and then I got up, went for a swim, down here in Sumner at the school pool, and just started to think what would a player do? What would I expect a player to do if I'd told him he was being stood down, that he's missed out? I've got to do that." Then he laughed. "It's easier to say than to do." Foster and Robertson, in their own ways, are a reminder that coaches, like players, are not robots, but real people with real emotions.