The end of 2015 has helped knock over some sporting misconceptions.
Ronda Rousey takes one for the media (kind of)
The media gets a bashing for a perceived bias against women's sport. Then along came the biggest sports story of the year, a mixed martial arts smash between Americans Ronda Rousey and Holly Holm. The media couldn't get enough of Holm's upset win over Rousey, because the public couldn't get enough of it. Rousey became even more famous in defeat, after taking a mighty kick to the face. A re-match, if Rousey has recovered emotionally and physically, will be one of the biggest stories of 2016. The problem with a lot of women's sport is it is boring to the masses, no matter what the apologists say. It lacks storylines, big personalities, naked ambition, aggression, conflict. It tries to be too nice. Sport thrives on controversy and big personalities, and it's always been that way. The media isn't biased against women's sport, it's biased against stuff that doesn't sell or interest many people. You may not like that, but it is reality. You, the public, do the voting on this, and modern media has the analytics to prove it. Lydia Ko, for instance, is a stunning sports person, and rates well at times. But she is not a natural, consistent headline maker. Some people protest (I get the emails) that we don't give her enough coverage, but Ko doesn't have the publicity x-factor, or not yet. The media is more than happy to love women's sport. Rousey and Holm proved that.
MMA is not a joke
MMA is the sport that is sweeping the planet. I used to hate it, but have given myself an uppercut and started to take a bit of MMA in. Or to be more accurate, I stop in the cage now and then while channel surfing. There is, let's face it, a human fascination with violence. Love it or hate it, MMA is the real deal. There are no holds barred. They aren't mucking about in there. It's way more legitimate than the Super Rugby contrivance, for instance. MMA makes boxing, the previous heavyweight champ of combat sports, look somewhat tame. MMA is the mouse which roared, and it's rise is not done yet. And the Rousey-Holm fight took this sport of primal instincts to a whole new place.
The EPL is a closed shop no more
First, the Highlanders. Now, Leicester City. The Highlanders were given no show of winning Super Rugby but turned the tables on the pundits. That is nothing compared to what is going on in football's English Premier League however. Also-rans Leicester City were bottom of the EPL last Christmas, and will be top this Christmas. Staggering. They only clung to their EPL place with a late 2014/15 season revival. Claudio Ranieri was appointed the new manager in the off-season and he has worked a miracle. Leicester City leading the EPL is like a social worker leading the Republican nomination race. Leicester's owner is Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, a duty-free baron worth about $4b. The new EPL TV deal, for the British domestic market alone, is worth over $11 billion. Reputations, which have bolstered clubs like Manchester United, are being swept away by a tidal wave of money. In Leicester's (and the Highlanders') case, exceptional scouting and coaching mixed with self belief is at the heart of the matter. Against a history of big club domination of the EPL, Leicester's rise is staggering.
He is, was, a rowing guru of unprecedented success, an eccentric taskmaster, a hard nut, and a Kiwi sports legend. But the halo is slipping. Tonks is not a myth, certainly not, but any suggestion that he is indispensable and close to perfect certainly is.
Tonks took aim at Rowing New Zealand during last week's open feud, claiming he was continually undermined and that CEO Simon Peterson "couldn't run a bloody corner dairy". Corner dairies, small businesses, are actually difficult to run. And so is Tonks by many accounts.
I see a parallel - although not an exact one - with the outstanding former national sprint cycling coach Justin Grace, who went where no man had gone before in creating a world-class squad. In Grace's case, he ran up against a high performance manager in Mark Elliott who wanted to raise the bar further, and institute science-based systems that would last rather than rely on Grace's more traditional coaching instincts. Track cycling, conducted in precisely controlled conditions, is made for a scientific approach. In came Anthony Peden, who has done brilliantly.
Tonks' old school ways are also on the way out, and deservedly so in some regards. Super rower Eric Murray confirmed to NewstalkZB and other media over the weekend that in 2005, Tonks yelled at and threatened him at Lucerne before grabbing Murray by the scruff of the neck.
In last week's extraordinary rowing standoff, and as Rowing CEO Simon Peterson explained it, a Chinese crew had turned up at Lake Karapiro's - unannounced to the hierarchy - to be trained by Tonks. No wonder the rowing administration called Tonks to account.
Tonks is now set to coach his Olympic rowers as a private contractor, an awkward solution after the bust-up. His medal haul and contribution will remain legendary, and I do not want to diminish that. But his strength, his obsessiveness, may also be his weakness.
It's unlikely that elements of his approach can or should be replicated. The sport appears ready to move forward, after the Rio Olympics, without him.