As we remember the best sporting moments of 2013, Minnaar’s World Cup must rate tops

2013-12-14 00:00

AS 2013 winds down, there is an element of reflection in the air as the country, and the world, looks back on one of the most influential lives yet documented.

And while some sports have been put on ice over the weekend — the PSL will resume only on Monday — now is as good a time as any to reflect on the sporting year that was.

Opinions will vary depending on the individual, but it is always interesting to ask people what their highlight of the year was, from a South African perspective. What was South Africa’s sporting highlight of the year? Which team or individual provided a show-stopping moment unlike any other?

There is no right answer, as is made apparent by The Witness sports team’s inability to agree.

Our seasoned (that is not another word for old) cricket expert David Knowles reckons it could be Bafana Bafana beating Spain at FNB Stadium last month. No doubt that it was a turn-up for the books, but does one win erase another year of disappointment in which we failed to qualify for the next edition of the World Cup?

Knowles was also moved by this year’s Comrades Marathon. Claude Moshiywa became the first South African to win an up-run in 21 years — surely a more impressive feat than Bafana’s 90 minutes of glory?

Lunga Biyela — our dedicated Maritzburg (United) scribe — has a few ideas of his own. Orlando Pirates reaching the final of the Caf Champions League was his first pick. If they had beaten Al Ahly in the two-legged final, then this would have almost certainly trumped any other achievements by our sporting darlings. Biyela also motivates for young Quinton de Kock’s three ODI centuries in a row. But maybe we should refrain from building him up too much just yet. He turns 21 on Tuesday, so let’s wait until at least then before we start calling him the next Bradman.

Any of these suggestions could make a case for the title, as well as many others.

The Springboks had a stellar year, but the failure to beat the All Blacks home or away detracts from that somewhat. The Proteas continue to dominate the Test arena, but their journey to the summit of the rankings ended in 2012. And Chad le Clos hasn’t stopped his domination of world swimming, as he won this year’s Fina World Cup by a country mile — bagging a gazillion medals in the process.

For me, though, there was a moment that stood out above the rest. It is likely to come across as a little bias, given my love for all things Pietermaritzburg, but in my mind there was no greater moment than when Greg Minnaar absolutely rocked the socks off everybody who was at Cascades on September 1 to win his third MTB World Championships.

Mountain biking may not be a glamour sport in this country, but for Maritzburg to have secured the biggest event on the sport’s annual calendar was big enough news.

And then the story of Minnaar unfolded. At 31-years-old, many suggested that his best years were behind him and that there was no way that he could beat a younger and quicker field to win, despite the fantastic story it would make.

These fears were confirmed when the Maritzburger went fifth fastest in the Saturday time trial, and although those closest to him claimed that he was “keeping something in the tank”, for most it seemed that there would be no fairy tale.

But Minnaar found something, from somewhere, on the Sunday, and crossed the line fastest, with a puncture in his front tyre to boot.

It was a moment that brought the house down, and the raw emotion on Minnaar’s face was there for all to see. That is likely to be his finest hour when everything is over, and what happened that day is the epitome of a home crowd lifting an athlete to heights that he otherwise wouldn’t reach. It was a performance worthy of a champion, and one that the cycling community will remember for a very, very long time.

So well done, Greg, you’ve won the title. Although I suspect the one you won in front of your screaming supporters may mean a little more to you.

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