All-Time Top 10: Sporting Chokes

See what I did there. I published this before I have to add possibly the biggest sporting choke of all time to the number one position. The event in question is due to occur any minute now on the waters of San Francisco. Race 17 will decide the winner of the Americas Cup for 2013 and the most telling statistic that says this will go down in history, is that it could have been won in Race 10. That’s right Emirates Team New Zealand had an 8-1 lead over team USA. That’s huge.

If ETNZ prevail, then fair play. The time, investment and hard work has paid off but if they don’t…then there are some pretty serious repercussions and not just a bunch of sailors feeling remorseful about losing a trophy or for that matter the thousands of fans that have been turning up to Shed 10 for weeks to support them. If this challenge fails then it’s possible the syndicate ‘Team New Zealand’ could be disbanded. Its Director and main investor are already talking about jumping ship if the worst happens and the government portion of investment will follow.

In terms of the economic repercussions of no defence held in Auckland, it is millions of dollars that won’t be invested in the Auckland waterfront by national and local body government. The boat building industry may take a hit again. Even my Mum’s grocery store on little old Waiheke Island is going to miss out on the tourism dollars that an Americas Cup brings.

For a sport that spends more time in the court room than on the water and contains more mercenaries than the Battle of Carthage, it is hard for this sport to endear itself to us fun loving Kiwis at the best of times. However there will come a time when team USA Operations Chief (Russell Coutts) will have to decide whether his greatest sailing memories were the gold medal he won for New Zealand in the 1984 Olympics or the millions of dollars he has been paid beating on his countrymen ever since. If I am honest, I would like to see a declaration of intent like in rugby where once you have represented a country that’s it. We can’t go around bragging we have the ‘best sailors in the world’ if they aren’t sailing with us.

ETNZ - Will this be the biggest sporting choke ever?

ETNZ – Will this be the biggest sporting choke ever?

Speaking of rugby, the All Blacks could well feature in a number of sporting chokes lists but of their many difficult moments in the history of World Cups only one or two could be considered chokes. I touched on each of these incidents in ‘The Rugby Blanket’ and probably only one will make my all-time list. The 2011 Final was almost a ‘choke’ but this was down to residual pressure that builds as each world cup passes without success eg England’s Soccer World Cup win in 1966 (remember 1966? I don’t because I was minus 10).

What The Rugby Blanket touched on was the idea that superstition plays a part in all sports and you should never underestimate the balance of luck. Picnic blankets and of course ‘red socks’ can sometimes be that little point of difference that you need when all other avenues have been explored. In the first week of racing things mostly went ‘Team New Zealand’s’ way and in this final week there has been a complete absence of luck for them.  Perhaps what they need instead of believing that the Cup is rightfully theirs is to change the routine. Change-up if you will. Throw a splash of yellow zinc on the nose, shine the sunglasses in an anti-clockwise direction and wear an AC/DC t-shirt under those fancy Team New Zealand fleeces.

Good Luck Team New Zealand and God Bless Peter Blake’s Red Socks!!!

Here goes:

Special Mention: Jimmy White – Snooker – 1994: Technically this is a choke although Jimmy’s pedigree would suggest otherwise. Jimmy had a 14-8 lead in 1992 and threw that away. But in 1994 at 17 frames each he had a simple pot and missed by a mile. Why he doesn’t make the ten is because he was a ‘perennial bridesmaid’ during the Steve Davis/Stephen Hendry era. He was a brilliant snooker player who often came second.

10. Brazil – Soccer – 1950: In this installment of the FIFA World Cup Final, Brazil only needed a draw to win the Cup. They lost to Uruguay 2-1. They went on to claim a hat trick of World Cup wins in the next two decades. Is it possible these horrible losses give you new found resolve?

9. Australia – Cricket – 1981: Often referred to as ‘Botham’s Ashes’ this is more of a case of the individual inspiring a team to an against-the-odds win. Australia were in a commanding position with a big first innings lead but Botham’s 149 n.o. and Willis’ 8 for 43 gave the Poms an 18 run win.

8. New England Patriots – American Football – 2008: The  Urban Dictionary calls an ’18-1’ ‘…one of the most embarrassing records to have in football history.’ In 2008 the Patriots had an 18 win streak only to lose to a wildcard team in Super Bowl XLII.

7. Bayern Munich – Soccer – 1999: The German Champion’s European Cup Final unfolded like this: Score early, Hold the lead for the rest of game, Concede equaliser in injury time, Lose to Manchester United in the last minute. Ouch.

6. AC Milan – Soccer – 2005: Just to show that the universe has balance in mind, the real ‘Reds’ also benifitted from an almighty footballing choke. Leading 3-0 at halftime AC Milan succumbed to a Steven Gerrard inspired Liverpool in Istanbul. When you look at the respective teamsheets I am still dismayed at how Liverpool escaped that ‘Turkish prison’.

5. Yankees – Baseball – 2004: The Yankees were 3-0 up in the American League Championship. I watched game 4 of that series in a pub right beside the Empire State building. This was the beginning of the slide for the Yankees as the  Boston Red Sox prevailed and went on to break the ‘curse of the babe’.

4. Bill Tilden – Tennis – 1927: In the Wimbledon Final the score read: 6-2, 6-2, 5-1 (30-0) in the Americans’ favour. How do you lose from there?

3. South Africa – Cricket – 1999: If the All Blacks are the biggest chokers in Rugby World Cup history then this team are the biggest chokers in Cricket World Cup history. There’s been basic errors of addition and a couple of bastards named Duckworth and Lewis but the biggest misfortune occurred when Allan Donald forgot how to take a run.

2. Greg Norman – Golf – 1996: The Australian media hate chokers…especially if they’re Australian (remember the ‘lay down sally’ debacle at Athens). But when a favourite son ‘The Great White Shark’ loses The Masters from an unbeatable position, well it cuts to the bone. Forget about Adam Scott’s recent effort or McIlroy who was just a boy when he stuffed up his chance – This was golf’s greatest choke.

1. All Blacks – Rugby – 1999: We’ve seen it all from the AB’s at World Cups and they sure do know how to make an exit but something still troubles me deep at the centre of my being. I remember it well…the night I had forsaken the rugby blanket for a duvet at halftime. At the midpoint it was 17-10 to the All Blacks but we had dominated the previous three international seasons and had the most talented back-three combo to play the game (Although Cullen was out of position). The match finished 43-31 to France and they were magnifique. For large parts of the game though, the All Blacks honestly looked inept. Never doubt your lucky trinkets…

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