Former Australian tennis star Rod Laver is officially Queensland’s top sports legend. Picture: Coleman-Rayner
Former Australian tennis star Rod Laver is officially Queensland’s top sports legend. Picture: Coleman-Rayner

Sports champion choice a Maroon legend

ROD Laver began playing tennis on a court he and his brothers made from silt that they gouged from the mouth of the Fitzroy River in bushland near Rockhampton. "Rocket" rose to become the greatest tennis player of his age, perhaps of all time, and was last night named as Queensland's greatest ever sportsperson from a list of our top 100 as chosen by a panel of five experts.

Laver was the unanimous choice at No.1 of all five judges - award-winning journalist, author and member of the Australian Boxing Hall of Fame Grantlee Kieza, doyen of Queensland sportswriting Robert Craddock, three-time Olympic gold medallist Tracy Stockwell, QSport chief executive Peter Cummiskey and trailblazing sports journalist Margie McDonald.

But there was little between the top 10, indicating just what a great nursery of sporting talent Queensland has always been, and the keenest debate among the judges was for numbers 101 to 105, our great sporting heroes who just missed the cut.

Laver thinks long and hard about what makes Queenslanders punch so high above their weight on the world sporting stage and reckons it has a lot to do with the climate, the great outdoors and the competitiveness bred into the heart of this state.

His rise from humble beginnings in the bush to the top of the world is a shining example of the power of persistence. So too, the stories of the others in the top five - Greg Norman, Cathy Freeman, Wally Lewis and Kieren Perkins.

 

Freeman grew up running on grass tracks at bush schools throughout Queensland and not only ignited the Olympic flame at Sydney 2000 but set the world ablaze with her astonishing run in the Olympic 400m final.

Kieren Perkins began swim training at age eight as part of his rehabilitation from a serious leg injury caused by running through a plate-glass window and came to epitomise sporting courage with his herculean feats in Olympic 1500m finals.

Roy Emerson, who finished at No.6, was the son of dairy farmers and he kept fit as a lad chasing cows barefoot at dawn on his family's property at the tiny village of Nukku, near Blackbutt.

Anna Meares (No.8 on the list) won two Olympic cycling gold medals eight years apart and fought back from a broken neck between those triumphs.

Our Top 100 is sure to ignite debate among sports fans around Queensland because sport is all about passion and pride. Not everyone will agree with our voting but we can all agree that Queensland breeds great champions.

From our tennis aces to our rugby league immortals, from our swimming gold medallists to our track sensations, Queensland is blessed with an abundance of talent.

Laver, now 80, is the only player to twice win the Grand Slam of tennis singles but is just as happy to talk about catching yabbies in Rockhampton and fishing around Yeppoon as he is about the day he beat John Newcombe to win the last of his four Wimbledon titles.

His tennis-playing parents, Roy and Melba, fell in love in the Queensland outpost of Dingo, and Laver said growing up in country Queensland infused him with a love for sport and fitness. He was short and slight compared with most players but his speed, agility and determination made up for a lack of size.

From the age of eight Laver was practising for hours on the dirt court at his parents' cattle property near Rockhampton. There was no TV, no computer games, just healthy outdoor activities, winning and losing, getting ready for the game of life.

In recent years has taken his share of knocks with hip and knee replacements, a stroke and, most painfully, the loss of Mary, his wife of 46 years. But as he looks back on his long and spectacular journey from the Queensland bush, Rod Laver says he hopes to inspire other Queenslanders to one day take the No.1 spot from him.

He says it's amazing what you can do when you marry a dream with determination.

News Corp Australia


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