Kieran Iles’ six favourite sporting stories from 2017

IT has been another big year in Bendigo sport. Addy sports reporter Kieran Iles lists his five favourite stories from 2017.

1. Kevin Gray smashes world powerlifting record

It might not be the highest profile of sports, but it was hard not to get swept up by the astonishing exploits of Bendigo powerlifter Kevin Gray. Standing just 122cm tall and weighing just over 50kg, the New Zealand-born pocket dynamo signalled his intentions for a big year when he established a new 59kg class Australian squat record last December with a 222.5kg lift. It was an effort that left his coach Dean Mawby, from the Real Strength Studio gym in Castlemaine, and plenty of followers convinced Gray would soon better the world record mark held by Russian legend Sergey Fedosienko. The now 33-year-old did not disappoint, setting a new world record with a 240kg squat at a competition in Sydney during May. His record was more than 10kg more than the previous record of 227.5kg. For good measure, Gray continued to raise the bar and bettered his own world record in October with a staggering 245kg squat. In life, as in sport, Gray showed his preparedness to stare down a challenge, standing up to a pair of men from a Melbourne-based gridiron club, intent on harassing him and his girlfriend Ashleigh while shopping at a Bendigo supermarket, proving himself a class act both in and away from the sporting arena.


2. Bulldogs rebound to claim LVFNL netball flag

Little more than six months after winning its first Loddon Valley A-grade netball flag in 2015, Pyramid Hill found itself ravaged by player losses on the eve of the 2016 season. Just a few players remained from the premiership line-up as the Bulldogs registered just six wins for the season and failed to qualify for finals. But what a difference the following pre-season made as the Bulldogs regained some key personnel and added a few class recruits to once again become a contender. They were forced to do things the hard way, losing their qualifying final against reigning premiers Newbridge by 16 goals before surviving a tough semi-final against Calivil United. From there the Bulldogs kicked into overdrive, turning the tables on Newbridge in the preliminary final before proving too strong on grand final day for a class Mitiamo team, which had lost only one other game during the season and by only one goal to the Bulldogs. Inspired by a standout game in goals by Zoe Kennedy, Pyramid Hill saves its best for last to complete a remarkable premiership triumph, which appeared ever so unlikely 12 months previously.


3. Courtney Pace wins second picnic jockey's premiership

Courtney Pace’s pursuit of the 2016-17 Victorian picnic jockey’s premiership took her to a dozen racetracks splattered across Victoria and roughly 25,000 kilometres distance travelled on weekends and public holidays across a six-month span. However, it was all worth it for the ‘Queen of the Picnics’ as she has been dubbed as the 28-year-old landed the title with an emphatic performance. Pace’s 47 winners was 13 clear of her nearest rival Reece Goodwin, with daylight to  Ray Douglas and Matthew Corbisiero in equal third with 19 victories. She previously won the premiership in 2014-15. At the halfway point of the new season, Pace remains on track to defend her title with 10 wins, more than double that of Goodwin and fellow Bendigo jockey Toby Lake (five apiece). Underlining her dominance, Pace has finished second on 11 occasions and been placed-third eight times.​​

4. Bowe bowls over Big Bash

The Big Bash has taken Australia by storm in recent seasons and on January 10 Bendigo was able to tune in to witness one of its own take centre stage. Making his debut for Melbourne Stars, the former Leg-spinner for BDCA club Sandhurst did not disappoint, claiming a tidy 1-21 off three overs and removing dangerous Adelaide Strikers batsman Ben Dunk. Perhaps the biggest praise came from his Stars teammate and champion former English batsman Kevin Pietersen. "I'd love to be the consummate professional and say this wasn't the first time I saw him bowl, but it was. So I am mightily impressed,” he said during the telecast.

5. Oliver wins second Betty Thompson Medal in a thriller 

Sporting vote counts can often be dull and tedious affairs, with the winner genuinely either predictable or a sure-fire thing. The 2017 Betty Thompson Medal count for the BFNL A-grade netball best and fairest was none of these things as the league’s best two players – Sandhurst’s Heather Oliver and Gisborne’s Maddy Stewart - engaged in a Titanic battle to the end. The duo, who are VNL teammates at Melbourne University Lightning, separated themselves from the pack early and traded positions at the top of the ladder board throughout the count. After 12 rounds the pair was tied at 28 votes, before Oliver edged ahead with a three-vote performance in round 13 and a further two votes in round 15. Not to be outdone, Stewart added three votes in round 15 and a further one in round 16 to narrow the margin to one vote. With neither player polling in round 17, the result hinged on the votes from the final round encounter between Oliver’s Dragons and Stewart’s Bulldogs at the QEO. Again both players missed on gaining votes, leaving Oliver to win her second Betty Thompson Medal with 33 votes to Stewart’s 32. Ironically, Oliver polled three votes in the Dragons-Bulldogs’ round nine clash and Stewart two, which helped set up the joint Sandhurst coach’s one vote win.


6. Calivil teen sets new kettlebell record

IT’s not every day a 14-year-old from country Victoria sets a new world sporting record. But that’s what Georgia Welsh was able to achieve in September. The teenager from Calivil set a new junior (under-15) two-hour kettlebell world record, when she completed 1632 repetitions with a single 8kg kettlebell. Not a bad effort for someone who has dabbled in kettlebells for less than two years.