OPINION: Halberg Awards celebrate David vs Goliath (or Team NZ vs Oracle)

Halberg Award
Halberg Award. Photo credit: Newshub.

OPINION: Tomorrow morning, we'll all be debating the merits of tonight's Halberg Award winners - and lamenting the misfortunes of those that missed out.

Just don't get too emotionally caught up in that argument - the results really are a lottery.

By the time you've compared a dominant non-World Cup campaign for the All Blacks (maybe not so much this year) with an Olympic gold medal in kayaking/rowing/shot put (fill in the blank), a world title in netball/softball/cricket or just a creditable showing in a sport that actually means something on the world stage (namely football or basketball), you could drive yourself crazy trying to figure out who is most worthy.

So just relax - if they're in the room, they're already a winner.

If you've ever attended a Halbergs function, you'll understand the actual awards are only a very small part of the entertainment, albeit the one everyone talks about.

Every recipient - without exception - is genuinely in awe of the high-calibre of opposition they've beaten to their particular prize. They, better than anyone else, understand the sacrifices and preparation their rivals have put into achieving their goals.

Lisa Carrington
2017 Halberg Award winner Lisa Carrington. Photo credit: Photosport

And the dream of winning a Halberg gong had probably never entered their heads along the way.

Having attended a few of these awards ceremonies now, the real highlights have been the interaction between sporting legends, under the same roof for one night only each year.

It's two-time Olympic champion Valerie Adams approaching two-time World Cup-winning captain Richie McCaw for a quick selfie.

A few years ago, when the Kiwis were finalists in a few award categories, NZ Rugby League took halfback Shaun Johnson to the Halbergs as the team representative. Sometime after dinner, an autograph hunter from the next table leaned over and asked for his scribble, and Shaun duly obliged.

He had no idea (and was shocked to learn) that his new fan had actually won 10 NZ Ironman titles and was 2001 NZ Sportsman of the Year - Cameron Brown.

There is usually no rhyme nor reason to how the awards are dished out.

When twins Caroline and Georgina Evers-Swindell captured the 2001 Supreme Award, they did so on the strength of finishing runners-up at the world rowing championships.

Yet, the following year, they won the world title and lost their Halberg crown to the Tall Blacks, who had 'only' reached the semi-finals of their world basketball championship.

To be sure, both were great achievements, but obviously the judges had decided basketball was a truly international code and harder to crack than a sport where the talent was spread over several different events.

Still, you had to scratch your head.

They obviously felt the same about the All Whites and their 'unbeaten' pool record at the 2010 World Cup, as opposed to the All Blacks' unbeaten 15 tests and 10th Tri Nations crown, and Adams' second Commonwealth Games gold medal that same year.

Tom Walsh
Tom Walsh. Photo credit: Photosport

At the end of the day, the Halbergs are simply a marketing gimmick for NZ sport - a chance to reflect on our achievements over the year and rejoice, once more, in our small nation punching above its weight.

So, in the spirit of celebrating David against Goliath, if you like, here are some fearless predictions for tonight's proceedings.

Sportswoman - Lisa Carrington (kayaking)

It stands to reason that last year's Supreme Winner should at least retain her women's mantle, after adding two world titles to her extensive CV.

But this was also a breakout year for women's rugby, and Sarah Goss has played a part in both the Black Ferns World Cup triumph and Sevens World Series success. 

Sportsman - Tom Walsh (athletics)

The world indoor shot champion added the outdoor crown in an upset, but there's a sense that this was no fluke and his best is yet to come.

Motor racer Brendon Hartley is making a late run, with victory in the iconic Le Mans 24-hour race and promotion to Formula One ranks.

Disabled Sportsperson - Sophie Pascoe (swimming)

In a year when her closest rivals were silver medalists at their respective world para championships, Pascoe set six world records at the NZ short course championship.

You could argue short course records are not worth as much as long course marks, but Pascoe is simply dominant in the pool and in this category.

Team - Team New Zealand (yachting)

Yes, we love us some Black Ferns and the Black Sox epitomise the fighting spirit of Kiwi sport, but Team NZ's tale of redemption, after the bitter disappointment of San Francisco four years ago, is just too good to resist.

No-one really cares about the America's Cup - until New Zealand flexes its ingenuity (who can forget the cycle grinders) to vanquish the American-Aussies.

Team NZ
Team NZ celebrate their America's Cup victory. Photo credit: Photosport

Coach - Gordon Walker (kayaking)

Maybe he's lucky to have Carrington in his squad, but guiding four different boats to two gold, one silver and a bronze medal at world championships still sounds pretty impressive.

But also beware Glenn Moore and the Black Ferns factor in the 'Year of the Woman'.

Emerging Talent - Ellesse Andrews (cycling)

Always a difficult category to judge, since these athletes largely fly under the radar of media coverage, but Andrews' individual pursuit world title and world record trumps Josh Armit's Laser Radial world sailing title.

Favourite Sporting Moment - Mitchell Hunt (rugby)

OK, I know it was only a glorified provincial rugby game, pitted against so many international highlights...¦

But for sheer drama, Hunt's long-distance injury-time dropped goal for the Crusaders to snatch victory over their arch-rivals, the Highlanders, captured what's great and unpredictable about sports.

So many great moments and great memories.

Supreme Winner - Team New Zealand


Grant Chapman is senior online producer for Newshub.