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Stuff's sporting heroes and villains of 2022 – Stuff

ANALYSIS: For pure sporting theatre, 2022 will live long in the memory.
From the Winter Olympics through to an unforgettable football World Cup, it was a year that delivered drama and upsets aplenty on the world stage.
* Stuff’s sporting predictions for 2023
* Ten of the top rising stars of New Zealand sport under the age of 21
* Flops, fades, fan favourites, feelgood, breakouts and brilliance: our big sporting moments of 2022

Yet for every star that shone brightly in 2022, there was a rogue who brought shame on their sport.
Here’s our picks for the best and the worst of the past 12 months.
In 70 years of trying, New Zealand had never struck gold at the Winter Olympics. Indeed, heading into the 2022 Games in Beijing, they had only won three in total.
Zoi Sadowski-Synnott was determined to change that sorry statistic and came into the women’s snowboard slopestyle event as the favourite having dominated global events for the past four years.
In a dramatic final, the 20-year-old from Wānaka delivered when it mattered most, snatching gold from American Julia Marino in the last jump to become her country’s first Winter Olympic champion.
Nine days later, she came agonisingly close to adding a second gold to her collection, only to miss out to defending champion Anna Gasser in the big air.
But the humble Kiwi earned plaudits around the world for the way she graciously applauded her rivals golden jump.
What she said: "I was more disappointed that I didn’t land that 1260 … but I couldn’t be more stoked for Anna."
Barely six months after stunning Anthony Joshua to become unified heavyweight champion, Oleksandr Usyk’s world was turned upside down.
His native Ukraine had just been invaded by Russian forces, putting the lives of his family and friends in jeopardy.
Usyk was in the UK shooting sequences for a video game when war broke out, but quickly made his way back home to enlist in a Ukrainian territorial defence battalion and vowed to defend the besieged capital Kyiv till his last breath.
Defending his IBF, WBA and WBO titles in a contracted rematch with Joshua was far from his mind, but he was persuaded by the Ukrainian authorities to resume his boxing career to bring some much-needed joy to his people.
He did just that, outclassing Joshua again in Saudi Arabia with another masterful display that he dedicated to "all the military" defending his homeland.
What he said: "My country and my honour are more important to me than a championship belt."
Aged 35, Lionel Messi arrived at the World Cup in Qatar knowing this would be his last chance to add an elusive world title to his trophy collection.
Already considered one of the game’s greatest ever players, the little magician would remove any doubt by guiding Argentina to their third crown and first for 36 years.
Yet Messi appeared set for more heartbreak on the world stage when La Albiceleste slumped to a stunning 2-1 loss to outsiders Saudi Arabia in their opening match.
But with their inspirational captain to the fore, Argentina swifty bounced back to beat Mexico and Poland and set up a last 16 meeting with Australia.
Messi opened the scoring in a nervy 2-1 win over the Socceroos, and he was also on target from the spot as they advanced to the semifinals via a shootout against the Netherlands.
He scored his fifth goal of an extraordinary tournament in the 3-0 rout of Croatia to book a return to the title match, having lost the 2014 decider to Germany.
This time, however, he wouldn’t be denied. In a final for the ages, Messi bagged two more goals as Argentina overcame France on penalties following a 3-3 extra time thriller to send his beloved homeland into raptures.
What he said: "I craved for this so much. I knew God would bring this gift to me. I had the feeling that this [World Cup] was the one."
The Black Ferns’ defence of their Rugby World Cup crown in November captured the public imagination more than any other event this year.
And one person helped rekindle Kiwis’ love of rugby more than any other – step forward, Ruby Tui.
Throughout a thrilling campaign that concluded with a 34-31 victory over favourites England in the final, the 31-year-old typified the Black Ferns’ joyous approach.
Her fearless play on the field – and wise-cracking ways off it – turned her into a national treasure and allowed every girl in Aotearoa to dream of running out at a sold-out Eden Park.
Indeed, Tui gifted her winners’ medal to a young fan called Lucia who had recently recovered from leukaemia and dreamt of one day becoming a Black Fern.
What she said: "They said nobody cared about women’s rugby. Well guess what? We out here! We out here fam!"
More than a few eyebrows were raised when Brendon McCullum was appointed as England’s new test coach in May. After all, the former Black Caps captain had no test coaching experience and was seen as more of a white ball specialist.
However, those fears were soon allayed when McCullum guided England to a hugely impressive – and wildly entertaining – 3-0 sweep of world test champions New Zealand in his first series at the helm.
The term ‘Bazball’ was quickly coined by the English press to describe the swashbuckling brand of cricket played by a team that had won once in 17 tests before the arrival of McCullum and Ben Stokes as captain.
Cynics insisted McCullum’s men would soon be found out, but apart from a stumble against South Africa at Lord’s, they have been virtually flawless, winning nine of 10 tests, including a national record run chase of 378 against India and an historic series sweep of Pakistan on away soil.
Bigger tests await in 2023 – namely a tour of New Zealand and a home Ashes series with Australia – but McCullum deserves our gratitude for making test cricket sexy again.
What he said: "I love people and I love seeing talent flourish. I hate talent being stymied and suffocated."
The much-maligned chief executive of New Zealand Rugby found himself in the firing line after a calamitous year on and off the field.
After a run of poor results culminating in that historic home test series loss to Ireland, the calls for All Blacks coach Ian Foster to be sacked reached a crescendo.
Yet Robinson was nowhere to be seen, refusing to publicly back or sack the under-fire Foster. When he finally did front – the day after a surprise win over the Springboks in Johannesburg – he refused to answer journalists’ questions on the coaching quandry.
Foster was eventually endorsed through to the 2023 Rugby World Cup but Robinson had undermined his authority and appeared out of his depth in his high-profile role.
The way that New Zealand Rugby handled everything from the long-running Silver Lake saga to the Black Ferns review and the Super Rugby stoush with Australia did not reflect well on the CEO or the board.
Even something as simple as meeting Sport NZs diversity board target has proved beyond them under Robinson’s leadership, costing the organisation $280,000.
What he said: "We acknowledge we haven’t got everything right, we’re not hiding from that."
When Cristiano Ronaldo finally hangs up his boots and looks back over his storied career, the 37-year-old may well skip over 2022.
It’s been something of an annus horribilis for the Portuguese superstar, who found himself frozen out at Manchester United following the arrival of manager Erik ten Hag in the summer.
A frustrated Ronaldo didn’t take kindly to sitting on the bench, refusing to come as a late substitute against Tottenham and openly criticising his team-mates.
Things came to a head in November when the five-time Ballon d’Or winner gave an unauthorised interview to Piers Morgan in which, among other things, he said he had "no respect" for Ten Hag and felt "betrayed" by the club.
That proved the final straw for the United hierarchy as the one-time club icon had his contract terminated and left in disgrace prior to the World Cup.
But if Ronaldo thought his luck would turn in Qatar, he was sadly mistaken. While he did make history by becoming the first male player to score at five World Cups with a penalty against Ghana, he was soon dropped for another display of petulance and had to watch his replacement score a hat-trick before Portugal crashed out to Morocco in the quarterfinals, bringing his world title dream to a tearful end.
To rub salt in the wounds, his great rival Lionel Messi guided Argentina to glory to strengthen his claims as football’s GOAT. Ronaldo, meanwhile, couldn’t find a Champions League club willing to take on his sulky services and instead joined Saudi outfit Al Nassr on a lucrative deal.
What he said: "If you don’t have respect for me, I’m never gonna have respect for you."
The vicious civil war between the PGA Tour and the breakaway LIV Golf competition dominated the headlines this year and turned former friends into foes.
And no-one was more central to golf’s internal strife than Phil Mickelson, a six-time major winner known for his love of the greenback.
Mickelson sparked outrage in February when he admitted he only sided with the Saudi-backed rebel series to "gain leverage" out of the PGA Tour, calling the Kingdom "scary motherf…..s" to deal with and decrying their "horrible" human rights record.
The American subsequently apologised for those "off the record" remarks and took a break from golf as sponsors abandoned him in their droves.
Yet he still wound up taking the Saudi cash and joining the LIV Golf revolution, later boasting he was "on the winning side".
Once a fan favourite, the man known as Lefty has since been heckled by US fans angry at him cosying up to a Saudi regime accused of financing the 9/11 terrorist attacks and murdering Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
What he said: "This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape how the PGA Tour operates."
Argentina goalkeeper Emilliano Martinez was his country‘s hero in the World Cup final, making crucial saves in extra-time and in the shootout. But his antics during and after the tournament did little to endear him to supporters of rival nations.
The Aston Villa stopper first drew the ire of the Dutch after saving two penalties in their bad-tempered quarterfinal match, running towards their bench to insult his beaten opponents and tell their coach Louis Van Gaal to "keep your mouth shut".
And he took that rather unsportsmanlike conduct up a notch in the decider, taunting France’s penalty takers and throwing the ball away from Aurelien Tchouameni, who subsequently sent his effort from 12 yards wide.
Martinez wasn’t quite done there, holding the Golden Glove award given to the best goalkeeper to his groin and waving it about in a crude manner in response to French fans who had booed him.
And during the wild post-match celebrations, Martinez mocked French superstar Kylian Mbappe – who scored a hat-trick in the final – by calling for a moment’s silence and then holding a baby doll with the Paris Saint-Germain forward’s face on it.
The president of the French Football Federation was not amused, making a formal complaint to his Argentine opposite regarding Martinez’s "abnormal" behaviour.
What he said: "I did it because the French booed me. Pride does not work with me."
Is Kyrie Irving more trouble than he’s worth? On his day, the Australian-born point guard is one of the NBA’s best players, a seven-time All-Star and 2016 championship winner.
But his time in New York with the Brooklyn Nets has been marred by a string of controversies that will have given their Kiwi GM Sean Marks plenty of sleepless nights.
Last year the conspiracy-prone Irving refused to get vaccinated against Covid-19, breaking the league’s protocols and forcing him to miss the majority of the 2021-2022 season.
And this year he was suspended for five games after publicising a film containing antisemitic tropes on social media.
Irving’s subsequent refusal to apologise cost him his lucrative sponsorship deal with Nike and made him a pariah in the NBA.
What he said: "I cannot be antisemitic if I know where I come from."
© 2023 Stuff Limited



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