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But it’s also a sporting nation.

With a fantastic climate and an abundance of year-round sports to choose from, there’s always a game being played, a race being run or some type of contest being held.

First grade leagues around the country are where our best athletes are found, but the true legends of Australian sports are born on the bigger stages. We’re talking about international cricket matches, state of origin duels and even Olympic events.

Below are 5 of the greatest sporting personalities that have made a name for themselves on these stages. Celebrated as much for their unique spirit as their sporting accomplishments, the following individuals are looked up to by Aussies of all generations.

Sir Donald Bradman

When you think of sporting mega stars, who comes to mind? Michael Jordan? Tiger Woods? Serena Williams? Well we’ve got news for you.

None of these icons have anything on Sir Donald Bradman. This man is without a doubt the greatest cricketer of all time. Not of the last decade and not of the last 100 years… but all time. This isn’t just a bold claim either. Bradman averaged nearly 100 runs per innings over his test match career, which was roughly 40 runs more than second place.

For over 20 years spanning from 1928 to 1948, Bradman ticked just about every major cricket milestone off the list. When he finally passed in 2001 at the ripe old age of 92, he was given a lavish state funeral and farewelled by everyone in Australian society. There really wasn’t a more respected Australian sporting personality.

Cathy Freeman

Those old enough to watch the Sydney 2000 Olympics will forever remember the image of Cathy Freeman in her famous body suit bouncing out her nerves (and there were plenty of nerves to bounce out) at the starting line of the 400-metre final.

The sheer pressure that Freeman was under must have been staggering. Here we had a highly publicised race featuring one of Australia’s most iconic sprinters taking place in our own backyard. The weight of the nation was on her shoulders.

Of course Freeman handled this pressure with aplomb, beating out other runners to secure the gold medal and etch her name into Australian sporting folklore. Just when we couldn’t get any prouder though, she then did a lap of honour with both the Australian and Aboriginal flag draped over her shoulders.

Arthur Beetson

Rugby league is big in Australia, but perhaps not as big as some of the men and women who have played it. And the biggest and arguably greatest sporting personality to have ever played this great game goes by the name of Arthur “Artie” Beetson.

Regarded as the greatest ball-playing forward in history and deemed to be the catalyst for the almost mythical state of origin series, this hulking Eastern Suburbs player won back-to-back premierships in 1974 and 1975. He also became the first ever indigenous person to captain Australia in any sport, leading the Kangaroos during their 1973 and 1977 tours.

Big Artie embraced his large frame in more ways than one though, once woofing down 11 hot dogs at a formal dinner and earning the nickname “Meat Pie Artie”. Beetson finally passed in 2011 at the age of 66, but not before earning the distinguished honour of being named an immortal of rugby in 2004.

Ian Thorpe

Cathy Freeman wasn’t the only hero of the Sydney 2000 Olympic games. Ian Thorpe, who at the time was just 17 years old (with size 17 feet), also did our nation proud by picking up three gold medals and two silver medals in the pool.

Thorpe then furthered his legend at the Athens Olympics, winning another two gold medals and taking his total gold medal tally to five. This is still the most gold won by any Australian at the Olympics. Bravo, Thorpedo. Bravo.

Stephanie Gilmore

While Layne Beachley can lay claim to being Australia’s first female surfing superstar, Steph Gilmore has already accomplished more in her short career as a surfer and is showing no signs of slowing down.

Born in New South Wales in 1988, Gilmore rose to prominence as a stylish surfer with a relaxed approach to wave riding that was underscored by a fierce competitive streak. Since dominating competitions as a junior, she’s come a long way.

Gilmore now has seven world titles, including her first one that was won in her rookie year, plus the distinguished honour of going on to win another three world titles in a row for a grand total of four on the trot – a feat that’s never been repeated. To top it all off, Gilmore recently qualified to represent Australia at the Tokyo Olympics.


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