‘So, who was the greatest?’ Peter Newlinds answers the question about sporting greats

After my eighteen years commentating on ABC Grandstand I am often asked the question ‘in your opinion who was the greatest?’ In the process of writing Around The Grounds I have had the chance to reflect on the myriad of sporting champions that was my great privilege to observe and commentate on in my career.

I saw Serena Williams playing the Hobart International Tournament in 2007, what a chance that was to observe, at close quarters, one of the dominant figures of world sport this century. Then there’s countless cricketers, the very best of which I watched from behind the microphone through a generation of summers. The names of Lara, Tendulkar, Sangakkara, Ponting, Warne, McGrath, Langer, Hayden and the Waugh brothers, come to mind but the list could go on.

In my formative years as a scoreboard operator at the SCG there was another generation of stars to admire, Chappell, Lillee, Marsh, and the galaxy of West Indian greats lead by the great Clive Lloyd.

There was no shortage of star power on the football field as well. In my time working in community radio in Canberra I saw first-hand the green machine of the Canberra Raiders at its mightiest. Mal Meninga, Laurie Daly, Ricky Stuart, Brad Clyde and others set a dazzling standard and brought some real emotion and life to the ‘cemetery with lights’.

In the later and Tasmanian phase of my career I got to observe another champion team playing a different code. The mighty Hawks of the late 2000’s lead by Luke Hodge and supercharged by the likes of Roughhead and Franklin found a part-time home in Launceston and were a dominant force and a pleasure to watch.

There is one name however that stood out from the array of talented and driven individuals, I’ll give you a name that will probably come as no great surprise.

In early 2001 in the afterglow of the Sydney Olympics the trials for the world swimming championships were held at the Hobart Aquatic centre (just across the road from the ABC studios) all the stars of the day were there, Susie O’Neil and Grant Hackett, even at that most elite of levels one athlete stood way above the others.

Ian Thorpe in his black swim suit powered by his size 16 feet was never as dominant as he was that week. Put another way I’ve never seen an athlete stand out so far in his or her sporting category.

He broke records and sent benchmarks at will. His intimidating physical form made him appear like a creature from the sea as he churned up the water and churned through the record books.

On one memorable night in a race I broadcast live around the country on ABC Grandstand, he as the Olympic 400m champion and Hackett as the Olympic 1500m champion met over the middle distance of 800 metres. A highly anticipated event.

In the end it was not a fair contest. Hackett who by his admission was in awe of his contemporary couldn’t keep up with Thorpe who slammed into the wall several lengths ahead of an opponent who himself was at the peak of his powers. I can’t think of another week where one athlete was so completely in control of his own domain.

**Photo courtesy of http://sel.com.au/

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