Canberra sporting identities to keep an eye on in 2014
Michael 'Bling' Matthews. Photo: Jay Cronan
If ever Canberra cycling needed a hero right now, Michael Matthews – known as Bling – could be the man to deliver.
Making the switch from Dutch outfit Rabobank to Australia’s Orica-GreenEDGE team in 2013 resulted in a breakout year for the 23-year-old.
Matthews started with silver and bronze medals at last January’s Australian road titles and notched up GreenEDGE’s historic 100th victory at the Tour of Utah.
But Matthews’ biggest achievement was two stage victories in his grand tour debut, at Spain’s Vuelta a Espana – ranked with the Tour de France and Italy’s Giro d’Italia as cycling’s biggest races.
The under-23 world champion in 2010 is aiming to debut at the Tour de France in 2014 and is tipped by many to be a future green-jersey winner as the race’s best sprinter.
There’s a lot of questions about Raiders players. Can Terry Campese return to his best? Can Josh Papalii grow from his representative form of 2013? Will Jack Wighton replace sacked Blake Ferguson?
But most scrutiny will be on Milford. Raiders fans will look to every game as a gauge of his commitment to Canberra.
There’s no denying his talent, given that the exciting full-back was the youngest player to win the Mal Meninga Medal as best and fairest in 2013.
But he’s stated a preference to be with family in Brisbane and has signed with the Broncos in 2015. He will need to win over Raiders fans quickly with his form.
Ricky Stuart and Stephen Larkham
They were champion halves for the Canberra Raiders and ACT Brumbies, respectively, during the clubs’ glory years, but Stuart and Larkham are now under pressure to deliver the same results as coaches.
Stuart, in particular, will need to hold off critics with his early results, given that he controversially quit wooden-spooners the Parramatta Eels to return to his ‘‘spiritual home’’ in Canberra.
Larkham has, for years, been groomed to eventually take over as Brumbies coach. But given that departing coach Jake White took the Brumbies to a grand final last season, there’s only one place higher to go.
Just the third Australian to be named hockey’s world young player of the year, Flanagan showed in 2013 she has the hockey world at her feet.
At just 21, she already has more than 100 international caps, won a Commonwealth Games gold medal in 2010, represented Australia at the 2012 London Olympics, and scored Australia’s only goal in the World League gold-medal loss to the Netherlands in Argentina in December.
Just when you thought it couldn’t get any bigger, there’s a Commonwealth Games and World Cup to look forward to in 2014. A marketing dream for the sport, it appears Flanagan is a Hockeyroos captain in waiting.
She finished the 2012 London Olympics out of the medals, but 2013 was a pot of gold for Buchanan as she added two more rainbow jerseys – the symbol of world championship titles – to her wardrobe.
The 23-year-old competed in three world championship events in three different countries in 56 days in 2013.
She finished as world champion in BMX and Four-cross events.
She then became just the third woman – joining Anna Meares and Anna Wilson – to be awarded Cycling Australia’s highest honour – the Sir Hubert ‘‘Oppy’’ Opperman Medal – as Australian cyclist of the year.
If only we could watch Rogic right now. Instead, persistent injuries are stalling the exciting career of the 21-year-old, who is struggling for game time at Scottish club Celtic.
The attacking midfielder is widely regarded as a potential X-factor for the Socceroos at June’s World Cup in Rio, but Aussie coach Ange Postecoglou has warned that he may not take Rogic if he can’t get regular matches. It has prompted talk of a possible move to Japan in the January transfer window, but Rogic has so far resisted.
There’s a target on the Canberra-based rower, given that she remained undefeated in the single scull in 2013.
But Rowing Australia has given her the best chance to continue her winning ways, having already preselected her to represent the country in the single scull for all international events, including the world championships in August.
This will enable the 28-year-old to plan her training schedule for 2014 and peak at the right times.
Crow was named world female rower of the year in November after a world championship-winning performance in South Korea.
This time last year, Nick Kyrgios was about to win his first individual junior grand slam title at the Australian Open, making him the No.1 junior in the world. This summer, we’re asking if he can ever reach those heights on the professional circuit.
In his first year on the senior tour, the 18-year-old made his Davis Cup debut for Australia, won his first grand slam match against former world No.10 Radek Stepanek at the French Open, won entry to the US Open, and became the youngest player in the world’s top 200.
Managing his fitness and health remains one of the biggest concerns in his development. After struggling with a chronic elbow injury, Kyrgios is now fighting a shoulder complaint that threatens his Australian summer.
Torah Bright and Laura Peel
Cooma’s Torah Bright will defend her Olympic snowboard title in the halfpipe at Sochi, but the career of Canberra’s aerial skiier Laura Peel is also ramping up.
Bright, 26, is about to compete at her third Winter Games, having claimed gold in Vancouver in 2010. She’s again showing good form, winning a prestigious Olympic warm-up event in Colorado last month.
The new girl on the block is former gymnast turned aerial skiier Peel.
Aerial skiing has been Australia’s best event at the Games, with gold medallists including Alisa Camplin and Lydia Lassila.
Peel, 24, has won a World Cup event and was a silver medallist at the Sochi test event last year.
The San Antonio Spurs point guard is a key figure in Australian basketball’s NBA renaissance.
After battling for game time in the star-studded Spurs line-up last season, Mills has played a major role this season as deputy to Tony Parker.
In December, three Australians started an NBA game for the first time when Mills and Spurs teammate Aron Baynes battled Andrew Bogut’s Golden State Warriors.
If the Australian Boomers are to fulfil their promise and break through for an international medal, Mills is one of the key cogs.
In 2012, Haddin’s international career looked as though it could be over but, on 2013 form, there’s no end in sight.
Having taken time out to care for his daughter, Mia, during her battle with cancer, the 36-year-old has been outstanding in this Ashes series.
He has scored 390 runs at an average of 65 in the first four Tests, including four half-centuries and a ton in Adelaide.
But it’s his glovework that is earning even bigger praise. Australian great Adam Gilchrist said Haddin’s keeping in the Ashes series was as close to perfection as he had seen.
It is a pivotal year for Canberra sprinter Mel Breen, because she’s lost Athletics Australia funding. The Commonwealth Games in Scotland loom as a defining moment for Australia’s dominant sprinter.
But it may also be the opportunity for middle-distance runner Zoe Buckman to confirm that she is truly world-class.
Buckman, a former student of Canberra Girls Grammar School, became Australia’s first female representative in a world championship 1500-metre final in 2013. She qualified fastest and was a medal hope, but was checked in the final and finished seventh.
The 25-year-old is still hitting her peak.