News of Bruce McAvaney’s battle with leukaemia has sent a shockwave through the Australian sporting community. The good news is that from all reports he is and will be fine. It does allow us to pause though and realise the tremendous place that McAvaney has had on Australia’s sporting landscape and how he has shaped some of Australia’s most important sporting memories. The tributes that have flooded in over the last twenty-four hours have been such positive ones and from all corners of the globe. And rightly so.
As a nation, sport so often brings us together. While we may be conflicted about major political issues such as marriage equality, renewable energy and the like, sport unites us like nothing else in this country. We may in some cases have different teams, but our love of a particular game so often brings us together. You need to look no further than social media when a major event such as the Melbourne Cup, AFL Grand Final or Olympic Games is on. It is as if the whole country pauses as one to come together to experience the particular event, while putting the pressures of everyday life on hold. McAvaney has so often been the voice of these moments and it is for this reason that he holds such a romantic spot in every Australian’s sporting experience.
My earliest memories of McAvaney are in 1997, when Adelaide beat St Kilda in the AFL Grand Final. You get the feeling, being a South Australian that McAvaney enjoyed that one. During the 2000 Sydney Olympics, his commentary of Cathy Freeman’s famous run was one for the ages. Bruce in recent interviews has mentioned how he was hard on himself for his call of “what a legend, what a champion” at the end of Freeman’s race and how he should have said these words in the opposite order. It is his devotion, care and precision to the research of statistics and facts about everything and anything that make him one of the best in the business. At Rio’s Olympic Games Opening Ceremony, McAvaney seemed to have a fact for every country during the Parade of Nations. Every country. That is dedication.
His commentary at the 2016 Rio Olympics of Usain Bolt making history was one of his best. What makes him such a great caller is the fact that his passion for the sport he is covering shines through in droves. It does not seem like a job for McAvaney, it seems like a regular sports lover, doing what he loves and not taking a moment for granted. That old saying of ‘if you love what you do, you do not work a day in your life’ seems a very appropriate way to sum up this man.
From horse racing to AFL to athletics and many other hosting roles in between, McAvaney knows his stuff and Australia knows him because of it. Phrases such as “special” and “we know that” have become common sayings throughout the country. His love of Cyril Rioli is brilliant, the way he can bounce of his fellow callers is even better. In particular his partnership with Dennis Cometti was one of the best partnerships of all time.
In recent years, McAvaney has also help to launch Lleyton Hewitt into a promising tennis commentary career at the Australia Open. It was such a sad occasion that McAvaney could not have been there to call one of the best Australian Open Finals of all time between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in 2017. Still though, you imagine he was sitting back in his Adelaide home commentating anyway, such is the passion and dedication of this man.
I’ve seen Bruce a few times down at the beach at Glenelg and Somerton in Adelaide, often out for a spot of exercise. People will often stop him to say hello and he alway has time for anyone, no matter who they are. This says a lot about a person.
Bruce is one of the good ones. I am sure I join in all of Australia in wishing him all the best. May there be many more Friday Night’s, Olympic Games and horse races around the country that feature the voice of Bruce McAvaney.
Picture – Sydney Morning Herald