Monday, 25 May 2009

Until very recently the only waterfall I’d witnessed was at Mataura!

That experience was dwarfed somewhat by a recent visit to the Niagara Falls. Then as fate would have it, in a waterfall double-dip, a trip to Taupo last weekend meant I ticked the Huka Falls box.

And the while the mighty Waikato river tumbling through a hard rock chasm was a sight to behold, my mind kept floating back to Peter Plumley-Walker who floated over the falls in 1989.

For those of you with short memories, the mustachioed Plumley-Walker was the infamous cricket umpire who made a few dodgy decisions! Seems naughty old Pete was into a bit of bondage and discipline and got caught out leg before wicket when one of disciplinary sessions with a dominatrix went sadly awry. The net result of which saw a bound and gagged (and dead) Plumley-Walker preside over the ultimate dismissal before departing to that great scoreboard in the sky.

All of which got me reminiscing about 1989. It’s 20 years ago but it only seems like yesterday we witnessed the fall of the Berlin Wall, George Bush senior taking residence at the Whitehouse, David Lange resigning as Prime Minister, Paul Holmes making his television debut on the self-titled Holmes and four men surviving 119 days at sea on the upturned Rose-Noelle.

On the sporting front the All Blacks under the stewardship of Grizz Wylie and Buck Shelford were untouchable, Southland beat France 12-7 at Rugby Park, Susan Devoy reined supreme on the squash court, Tawrrific won the Melbourne Cup, the Canberra Raiders beat the Balmain Tigers in the NRL final, Nick Faldo won the Masters and a 21 year old Boris Becker won his third Wimbledon title in five years.

Super rugby, as we know it, did not exist, let alone in a format that would eventually take half a year to complete! We were the Rugby World Cup holders and with Shelford, the Whetton twins, Steve McDowell, Michael Jones, Grant Fox, Joe Stanley and John Kirwan running the cutter, we were hot favourites and full of hope to repeat the effort in 1991.

But time and tide have a way of biting you in the bum or, in Plumley-Walker’s case, whipping you cruelly. Back in 1989 I loved rugby. Twenty years on, with the World Cup cupboard still bare from 1991, I hope the hope of 2011 will reignite the passion.

Any sports columnist worth his salt, especially one with a rugby bent, should, at this point of the season, be penning a deep and meaningful look at the run-in to the Super 14 finals. He could add icing to his insightful expose by second-guessing Graham Henry’s first All Blacks team of the international season.

Sadly, I must confess, I can do neither.

Before my recent offshore jaunt, I endured more than enjoyed, three Highlanders games at Carisbrook. Upon my return, when the Super 14 inevitably comes to life post-Easter, duckshooting conspired to deprive me of all but a fleeting glance of the exciting Blues-Hurricanes clash. Similarly last weekend’s game-of-the-season, the Canes v Chiefs, was also the victim of a prior engagement.

Therefore I’m in no position to comment other than to say the Super 14 starts too early and goes for too long. It has become a real problem child for the NZRU and I worry the Air New Zealand Cup is heading down the same path. Why the fascination with 14 team competitions?

With 13 round-robin games and then semis and finals, the NPC, too, starts too early and goes for too long. The Stags have seven home games this season plus, by my reckoning, a good chance to repeat last year’s semi-final heroics. Do provincial unions have a fan base to sustain so many games? And more importantly do provincial unions have a chequebook to sustain such a lengthy competition?

The players, not surprisingly, want to play every other team but surely the answer lies in a ten team competition that is done and dusted within 11 weeks (beginning mid August and finishing with the finals at Labour Weekend) rather than the current 15 week scenario (August 1 to November 7).

Such a competition would allow the top players to play in their club finals and for those finals to be played at the end of the club season rather than moved forward to early July to accommodate the NPC.

I have watched even less netball than rugby but I did flick over on Monday night to witness the win over the Mystics.

The Steel would appear to be a much better unit with Donna Wilkins back to her dead-eye best. I understand there has been criticism of her fitness in some circles but Wilkins at even 80% is surely a better bet than many at full fitness.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Nothing broadens the mind like travel.

There are some downsides however. The most obvious, unless you’re journeying to the Pacific Islands or a banana republic, is the exchange rate and the resultant credit card balance that greets you upon your return.
One of the numerous upsides is the memories. More so if you’re a columnist because the tales you regale provide you literally months of copy.
Today’s tall travel tale is about the Muhammad Ali Centre.
Located in downtown Louisville, Kentucky, just a block from the mighty Ohio river, the Ali Centre contains three levels of innovative and interactive exhibits chronicling the greatest athlete of the 20th century’s life and boxing career. I spent three hours there. You could easily spend three days.
My favourite exhibit was the interactive screens where you could sit and watch 15 of Ali’s greatest fights. Time was the enemy but I made time for the 1964 world heavyweight title win over Sonny Liston (TKO in the 7th), the 1971 comeback fight with Joe Frazier at Madison Square Garden (Ali lost in 15 bruising rounds), the 1973 bout against Ken Norton (Ali lost in 12 after breaking his jaw), the 1974 ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ with giant George Foreman (Ali won in the 8th) and the 1975 ‘Thrilla in Manila’ with Frazier (Ali won with a TKO in the 14th in what he later described as closest he’d come to death on Earth).
Those fights epitomized the Muhammad Ali I admired when I was growing up. After that his career waned somewhat and by the time he lost, and then regained, the heavyweight title from Leon Spinks in 1978, to become the first man to win title three times, he was a fighter in decline. His career finished on low with two fights he should never have taken against Larry Holmes (1980) and Trevor Berbick (1981).
I’ll leave you with some of the great Ali quotes I noted from my visit:
I got nothing against no Viet Cong. No Vietnamese ever called me a nigger.
Boxing is a lot of white men watching two black men beat each other up.
I'll beat him so bad he'll need a shoehorn to put his hat on.
I hated every minute of training, but I said, "Don't quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion."