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The decade that delivered

From the track and field to the footy field and even the Olympic ski slopes, Australians made their presence felt in the noughties. Ben Waterworth looks back at the decade in sport.

2009 has been and gone.

However, it gives us the perfect opportunity to reflect on what was such a memorable decade in sport. Millions of people were bonded together by the fortunes of their favourite athlete, team or country. There were moments where one individual act made some athletes heroes, some villains and some both. The noughties were certainly full of high drama sports events across so many different sports worldwide. It truly was the decade that delivered.

Australia at the Olympics (Summer and Winter)

The decade kick started with a bang with the 2000 Olympics held in Sydney. By the end of the two weeks, they were labelled the best Olympic Games ever and they were highlighted by Cathy Freeman’s inspirational victory in the 400m sprint. Seemingly carrying the expectations of a whole country on her shoulders, Freeman rose to the occasion in front of a full house at Homebush stadium to win gold. Overall, Australia finished fourth on the medal tally.

At the 2004 Olympics in Athens, the Australian mens hockey team finally broke through for their first ever gold medal, defeating the more fancied Netherlands 2-1. For many years, an unofficial curse hung over the Kookaburras due to their inability to win a gold medal at the Olympics, despite their never-say-die attitude. However, on this occasion, Jamie Dwyer had other ideas, scoring a goal in extra time, causing an outpouring of emotion from his teammates and supporters. Swimmer Grant Hackett won back-to-back Olympic gold medals in the 1500m and our cyclists won an amazing six gold medals between them.

In Beijing at the 2008 Olympics, Stephanie Rice became the new face of Australian swimming, winning three gold medals in the pool. It was also the Olympics where the red-headed Steve Hooker won gold in the pole vault with an Olympic record jump of 5.96 metres, the first Australian Track and Field gold medal in 40 years. And Emma Snowsill dug deep in muggy and humid conditions on her way to gold in the women’s triathlon.

Salt Lake City hosted the 19th edition of the Winter Olympics in 2002, and who could forget the performance of Australia’s Steven Bradbury.  The relatively unknown Bradbury became the first athlete to win a Winter Olympic Gold medal from the Southern Hemisphere, when he too out the 1000m-track speedskating final as his rivals famously crashed around him on the final turn. Australia also tasted success through Alisa Camplin, who won gold in the aerial skiing event with fractured ankles.


On 16th November 2005, John Aloisi scored a goal from a penalty against Uruguay in Sydney that sent Australia into the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany. Players and fans went crazy as Aloisi took his shirt off and ran down the left wing of the ground as his teammates struggled to catch him. The goal, voted by the Sport Australia Hall of Fame as one of the three greatest moments in Australian sporting history, meant that it was the first time since 1974 that Australia had qualified for a World Cup.

The Socceroos’ first match against Japan at the World Cup was truly memorable. Down 1-0 with little time remaining, Tim Cahill scored two historic goals at the 84th and 89th minute marks to put Australia 2-1 up. When Aloisi scored Australia’s third goal in extra time, it sealed a 3-1 victory. Not only was this the first time Australia had scored goals in a World Cup match, but the first time Australia had won a World Cup match. They went on to lose against Brazil (2-0) and draw with Croatia (2-2). However it was enough for the Socceroos to advance to the final 16. Australia was given the tough task of facing eventual champions Italy in a knockout game, and when Lucas Neil gave away a controversial penalty in injury time, it allowed Franceso Totti’ to score, signalling the end of a fairytale run for the Socceroos.

After the collapse of the National Soccer League, the new and revamped Hyundai A-League took over as the number one domestic soccer league in Australia. The Melbourne Victory defeated Adelaide United 6-0, with Archie Thompson scoring 5 of those, to win the premiership in the first inaugural season of the competition in 2005-06.

Horse Racing

In one of the most remarkable sporting events of the decade, the Lee Freedman-trained Makybe Diva won her third consecutive Melbourne Cup in 2005, an unprecedented feat. Carrying 58kg – 2kg above the standard weight-for-age scale – the legendary mare came from nowhere in the last 500 metres to take out the most esteemed race in Australia for the third time. So emphatic was the Diva’s victory that Freedman said after the race, “Go find the smallest child on this course, and there will be the only example of a person who will live long enough to see that again.” We may never see the likes of Makybe Diva again, but if we do, it will be one special racehorse.

After losing his brother only one week before the running of the 2002 Melbourne Cup, Damien Oliver rode Irish horse Media Puzzle to a magnificent victory in the prestigious event. As Oliver crossed the finishing post aboard the five-year old, he blew a kiss towards the heavens in an outpouring of emotion, leaving few onlookers with a dry eye.

–          Veteran trainer Bart Cummings won his 12th Melbourne Cup when his stallion, Viewed, won the 2008 Melbourne Cup in a tight photo-finish over second-placed Bauer.

–          New Zealand mare Ethereal became the 11th horse to win both the Melbourne and Caufield Cup in the same year in 2001. Even more significant was the achievement by Ethereal’s trainer, Sheila Laxon, who became the first woman to train a Melbourne Cup winner.


Steve Waugh was the Australian captain during the 2002/03 Ashes series and while his team was doing a brilliant job of demolishing the old enemy, he was struggling to make runs. The momentum was starting to build, especially from the media, to have him sacked as captain and from the team. On January 3rd 2003, Waugh defied his critics, scoring a magical and aggressive century in front of his home crowd at the SCG on the second day of the last Ashes test. Waugh smashed a wide delivery from Richard Dawson for four runs, as only Steve Waugh could, to bring up his hundred on the last ball of the day. He triumphantly raised his arms in the air in relief and left the ground to a standing ovation, knowing that his fairytale century certainly saved his career.

The year of 2005 was a dark one for Australian Cricket. In the ultimate humiliation for the Aussies, England regained the Ashes for the first time in 18 years, winning the series 2-1 in England. But while it was degrading to see the Australians lose, it was cricket who was the real winner, with many labelling the series as the most exciting in recent memory. Two years later, Australia regained the Ashes on home soil thrashing England 5-0, where Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath and Justin Langer all announced their retirement from the game. The Poms got their revenge back in England though, defeating Australia 2-1 again in 2009.

Remember these moments?

–          Glenn McGrath took a rare test hat-trick against the West Indies in 2001, with one of those wickets being his 300th, the prize scalp of star batsmen Brian Lara.

–          Speaking of Lara, he became the first batsmen to score 400 runs in an innings against England in Antigua on April 12th 2004.

–          Known more for his bowling, Jason Gillespie scored 201* against Bangladesh in 2006, the highest score ever by a night watchmen. However, Gillespie was out of form with the ball and was consequently dropped. He’s never played a test since.

–          Shane Warne became the first man to take 700 test wickets when he bowled England’s Andrew Strauss in front of his home crowd at the MCG. As Warne said, his scriptwriter does a good job.

–          Twenty20 Cricket arrived in 2005, with Australia and New Zealand playing the first international match. And with the introduction of the Indian Premier League in 2008 such a successful one, the future of cricket looks set to have a Twenty20 flavour to it.

–          On a sad note, Sir Donald Bradman, the best batsmen to ever play the game of cricket, died peacefully in his Adelaide home aged 92 in 2001. His legacy will continue to live on.


One of the more inspirational and emotional sporting performances of the decade came from Jason McCartney on the night of 6th June 2003. After suffering severe second degree burns to 50% of his body in the horrific Bali bombings in 2002, McCartney courageously came back to play one more AFL game against Richmond. McCartney wore special gloves and a long sleeve top, which said ‘88’ and ‘202’, representing the 88 Australians and the total of 202 people that died in the bombings. He finished with the modest statistics of three kicks, one mark, one goal and one behind. But his presence out on the field certainly lifted his team, with North Melbourne defeating Richmond by three points in a thriller. After the game, an emotional McCartney inevitably announced his retirement, admitting that his body couldn’t possibly live up to the expectations of the modern AFL game. But his actions, just to play in that game, were truly inspirational and worthy of the recognition he received.

The Brisbane Lions were the most successful team of the decade. They made it three premierships in a row when they comprehensively defeated Collingwood by 50 points in the Grand Final of 2003. Simon Black typified the Lions’ dominance over those three years, by collecting a record 39 possessions in the Grand Final to win the Norm Smith Medal for best on ground. It was only the fifth time that an AFL/VFL side had won a hat-trick of premierships. The Lions will go down as one of the greatest sides in the history of the game.

However, the Geelong Football Club created an awesome legacy themselves. After a horrid 2006 season, the club ordered an internal review of the football department, with many losing their jobs. Since then, the Cats never looked back. They finished on top of the ladder in 2007 and defeated Port Adelaide by a record 119 points in the Grand Final, their first flag in 44 years. The Cats showed little sign of slowing down in 2008, losing only one game throughout the home and away season, only to fall short at the final hurdle as Hawthorn took out the premiership. With redemption firmly on their mind, Geelong came back in 2009 with a vengeance and defeated St.Kilda by 12 points in one of the toughest and most physically draining grand finals in the history of the game.

Remember these moments?

–          Essendon produced one of the most dominant seasons ever by an AFL side, losing only one game for the entire season en route to its 16th AFL premiership, defeating Melbourne in the Grand Final by 60 points in 2000.            

–          Sydney’s Adam Goodes, Adelaide’s Mark Riccuito and Collingwoods’ Nathan Buckley tied for first in the 2003 Brownlow count, making it only the second time the prestigious medal has been awarded to three players. Other noteworthy Brownlow Medallists throughout the decade were Jason Akermanis, Chris Judd, the ever controversial Ben Cousins, Goodes for a second time and Gary Ablett Junior, an achievement even his great father couldn’t do.

–          In 2005, Sydney won the premiership, breaking a 72 year streak without a flag, defeating West Coast in a thriller by 4 points. The game will be remembered for Leo Barry’s courageous pack mark in the dying seconds to save the game for his team. However, West Coast would have the last laugh in the sequel the following year, winning another ripping match by just one point.

Ben’s Top 10 Athletes of the Decade:

  1. Michael Phelps dominated the 2004 and 2008 Olympic Games. He won a combined total of 14 gold medals, including a world record eight in 2008. Phelps broke an incredible 37 world records in the pool during the decade.
  2. Usain Bolt set Beijing alight at the 2008 Olympics when he officially became the fastest man to ever grace the face of the earth. He won gold in 100 metres sprint, 200 metres sprint and, along with his Jamaican teammates, the 4×100 metres sprints. All were world records. Bolt is only 23 and still has the scary potential of running faster.
  3. Known as one of the greatest athletes of all time, Lance Armstrong made it seven consecutive Tour De’ France victories when he won the gruelling race in 2005.
  4. Tiger Woods became the first golfer since Ben Hogan in 1953 to win three major tournaments in a calendar year in 2000. Overall, Woods won a record-breaking 27 majors that year and throughout the decade he would take his career earnings to over $10 million.
  5. Roger Federer dominated the decade in tennis. The Swiss genius set new standards in the sport and when he defeated Andy Roddick at Wimbledon in 2009 for his 15th Grand Slam, it made him the most successful tennis player of all time, surpassing Pete Sampras’ record of 14 career titles.
  6. Ferrari’s Michael Schumacher set a new record for the most number of Formula One championships, when he won his 7th title in 2004.
  7. Annika Sorenstam won an incredible 68 tournaments during the decade, making her the most successful professional women’s golfer in history. She even had the guts to compete against Phil Mickleson, Fred Couples and Mark O’Meara, and ended up finishing second.
  8. Floyd Mayweather is a true champion of boxing, holding six different titles at five different weights. Watch out for the eagerly awaited fight between Mayweather and the controversial Manny Pacquaio in March.
  9. The greatest spinner of all time, Shane Warne revolutionised the game of cricket, highlighted by his awesome 2005 Ashes series, taking 40 wickets in a losing side. He ended his career in 2007 with over 700 test match wickets.
  10. Layne Beachley became the most successful women’s surfer ever when she won the World ASP Surfing Championship for the seventh time in 2006.

Ben Waterworth is a Bachelor of Journalism student at La Trobe University. He also writes regularly for upstart about AFL and cricket. Check out  his  preview of  the second test between  Australia and Pakistan  at the  SCG.

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