We met 2016 holding sparklers in the garden, trying to get them to light up at the precise moment the clocked ticked twelve and we could say for sure that 2015 was behind us. Over the fence, beside our property near the bay, a man fired two red signal flares used by sailors in distress. They arced upward in a blaze and come back to earth slowly, like burning leafs.
Someone pointed at the sky and said something maudlin about the possibilities of 2016 and where this new air should take us, but nobody was much interested in that. The first hour of the New Year was spent doing what we’d done for most of the year previous, drinking at nighttime and talking about the things that went wrong during the day.
The distress flares worked as a glowing allegory for this new age in which so much is about shooting for greatness, for wellness, and often finding a natural anti-climax. And ours being a sporting bunch, the flares preceded a discussion about the anti-climaxes of 2015 according to the field of dreams.
Of my favourite misfires, the first happened early in the year at the Australian Open. An enthusiastic manager at Rod Laver Arena was informed that Kenny Rogers, the ailing country singer, would be in attendance at Andy Murray’s match. He cued the Gambler to play over the speaker system upon Rogers’ arrival, which coincided with Murray’s bluster, talking into the palm of his hand and wearing the expression of a tired child. He missed a forehand to lose a tight game and it was then, at the change of ends, that Rogers began his journey down the stairs.
The Gambler rang out and the big screen drew our attention to Rogers’ struggle. It was embarrassing for Rogers, who took about two minutes to reach his seat. A few people clapped him but Murray was not among them. He turned to face Rogers with his hands on his hips, letting the old boy know whose show this was. Kenny gave him a little wave but Murray was bouncing a ball on his racquet, far away inside the crazed mind of a tennis star where the universe moves around him and his routine, and the strange etiquettes of his sport.
Someone else nominated the Ashes series, and Michael Clarke’s retirement, which was among the neatest anti-climaxes of 2015. Clarke’s was a rapid descent to the finish line, followed by the tasteless rumours that his presence would not be missed. The English preyed on his late batting fragility, then Clarke resided over two of the more definitive Ashes defeats in memory and retired. Maybe it was a bitter taste of the real world calling him on, his back pain a signal flare for a new era.
Jarryd Hayne’s first moment in the NFL was another beautiful anti-climax. The dropped punt return is among the worst and most visible mistakes a player can make in the NFL. His parade into Americana, the "Hayne Plane", the hash-tagging and the fulltime coverage of his efforts lead, perhaps inexorably, to that outcome – a lost chance in prime time and then a cascade of "Shake it off" references on Twitter.
Then there was Roger Federer at Wimbledon, after all this time, managing again to lose the final after playing some of the most harmonic tennis I’d ever seen against Novak Djokovic. Watching Federer lose on grass is like watching money burn. It had me thinking of the rich boys on a yacht near San Sebastian I’d seen, opening thousand-dollar bottles of Champagne and pouring them into the sea just because they could afford it. What a glorious waste.
Naturally, the AFL Grand Final found its place around the table, but I was there, and I did see something inspiring in Hawthorn’s performance despite the one-sided nature of the game. It was like being shown the inner makings of a Swiss watch, every tiny movement the result of another, equally fine and well measured.
But I think by way of definition, and since he was the highest paid athlete in the world in 2015, Floyd Mayweather’s fight against Manny Pacquiao has to reside near the heart of the topic. The fight was delayed for years, deliberately to maximise the obscene money it generated, and when at last it happened there could only ever be disappointment.
It was one of those peculiar cases in which one felt compelled to watch but somehow repelled at the same time by the trick of paying for it, for contributing to that great wealth, in the way one can feel about watching Star Wars at the cinema.
I cannot say honestly I didn’t enjoy anything about that bout, since Mayweather’s defence and timing was still remarkable at his ripened age. But according to the International Business Times, he made something in the air of $220 million that night, without getting hurt or hurting his opponent. That fight said something to me about the sporting age we’ve entered, the one of extreme business moves, of advertising and exaggeration.
What I anticipate most in 2016 is the athletics at Rio, and the sight of Usain Bolt crouched in the lights, waiting for the gun to send him into the climax of his running life.