Australia’s best known sports commentator Bruce McAvaney, who turns 60 on Saturday, has seen it all – almost.
In his 35-year TV career he’s called eight Olympics, dozens of tennis Grand Slams, hundreds of AFL matches and Melbourne Cups.
This week he shared his Top Seven sporting moments with members of South Australia’s Olympic fundraising group, the Quarter Club, including the best AFL match he’s ever seen.
“I’ve been very lucky,” the Adelaide-based commentator says.
“I have seen some amazing things; some special moments.
“Ever since I was five years old I wanted to call the Melbourne Cup and I did.
“My job’s taken me to places that I never dreamed of and I’m very thankful for that.”
Bruce said there were some great moments he had to leave out of the list: the two Crows premierships in ’97 and ’98, the Ali v Frasier “Fight of the Century” heavyweight title fight in 1971 at Madison Square Garden, the 1977 Centenary Test match at the MCG and Bjorn Borg’s epic “Fire and Ice” five set battle with John McEnroe at Wimbledon in 1980.
“And I’ve left out Hewitt’s Wimbledon win and the Rugby World Cup where Jonny Wilkinson wrecked a nation’s hopes with a field goal in the dying moment.
“But you have to draw a line and these are my top seven.”
7. Men’s 200m freestyle final, Athens Olympics 2004
Billed as The Race of the Century it featured four of the fastest swimmers in Olympic history: Ian Thorpe (Australia, world record holder in the event at the time), Pieter van den Hoogenband (Netherlands, defending Olympic champion), Grant Hackett (Australia, former world record holder in the event), and Michael Phelps (United States, later became the most decorated all-time Olympian, with a total of 22 medals).
Van den Hoogenband, led the field through the first three laps under a world record pace.
Thorpe powered past his arch-rival in the last twenty metres to touch the wall first in an Olympic record of 1:44.71, the third fastest swim over the distance.
Phelps finished third.
6. Australian Open men’s tennis final 2012: Djokovic v Nadal
Novak Djokovic beat Rafael Nadal in five sets, in a match lasting 5 hours and 53 minutes – the longest match in Australian Open history.
Even more daunting, McAvaney said, was sharing the commentary box with Jim Courier for six hours.
WATCH: Highlights of the 2012 Australian Open men’s final
5. AFL Grand Final 2012, Sydney v Hawthorn
At separate stages of the match, both clubs looked to have the edge, only for the other to find a way back.
Sydney prevailed by 10 points when Nick Malceski goaled with less than a minute to go.
“It was the best footy match I have seen. I left that day feeling ‘wow – I could walk on air’,” says McAvaney.
WATCH: Highlights of the 2012 AFL grand final
4. Usain Bolt
The first athlete to hold the 100m and 200m world records, the first man to win six Olympic gold medals in sprinting and the first to achieve a “double double” by winning the 100m and 200m titles at consecutive Olympics (2008 and 2012).
McAvaney called the first double, in Beijing.
“Bolt is the most exciting track and field athlete I have ever seen.”
WATCH: Usain Bolt, Beijing 2008
3. Makybe Diva
Horse racing is McAvaney’s “first love” in sport and the Diva’s three Melbourne Cup wins were super-special.
“In the 150 years of the Melbourne Cup, few have won it twice. Only one horse has won it three times.
“It’s Bradmanesque; like the Don’s batting average of 99.94, you’ll never see it again.”
WATCH: The “Bradmanesque” Makybe Diva
2. Men’s 100 metre final, Seoul Olympics 1988, Ben Johnson v Carl Lewis.
Johnson won in a world record 9.79 secs.
Three days later he was stripped of his gold medal by the IOC when his drug test indicated steroid use.
“The best two sprinters of their time, they disliked each other intensely and the rivalry was fierce.
“Canada v US, extrovert v introvert and shoe company v shoe company.
“The race was spine tingling and then the Tuesday after the Saturday was tragic.
“We half-suspected it, but dared not to say it.”
WATCH: The infamous 1988 Olympic 100m sprint final
1. Monday night, September 25, 2000
Cathy Freeman won the women’s 400m final in front of 112, 534 spectators and an Australian TV audience of 10.5 million
“There were nine gold medal finals that night.
“We saw Michael Johnson cruise to victory in the men’s 400m and Maria Mutola in the women’s 800.
“Paul Tergat stunned the favourite Haile Gebrselassie in the men’s 10,000m and the great Gabriela Szabo winning the women’s 5000, and of course there was the great tussle between the ‘chicks on sticks’, Stacy Dragila and Tatiana Grigorieva in the pole vault.
“And then there was Cathy Freeman.
“The build-up had been going since she lost to Marie-Jose Perec in 1996 and right through the next 44 races where she won 43.
“I called it with Sebastian Coe and Raelene Boyle -the race unfolded and she won.
“Personally, it was the biggest minute of my sporting life.
“I’ll never have another night like it.”
WATCH: Cathy’s moment – capping the best sporting night of McAvaney’s career
Happy Birthday, Bruce … and thanks for the memories.
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