Early International Competitions
The first Olympic Games were held in 1896, but New Zealand did not take part until 1908. Our first arena for international competition was therefore the Australasian championships, the first of which were held in 1893 and the last in 1927. There were, however, a few individual exploits in the British A.A.A. (then virtually the world) championships. In 1886 Godfrey B. Shaw was third in the A.A.A. 120 yd hurdles. He later returned to England and won the title four successive times, from 1893 to 1896. Shaw failed by 0·2 sec (then the smallest margin recognised) to equal the world record, but in 1891 he ran the 440 yd hurdles in 57·2 sec, a world best. H. W. Batger was third in the A.A.A. 120 yd hurdles in 1892; he, too, had failed by 0·2 sec to equal the world record, with 16·2 sec in 1890 and again with 16 sec in 1892. Batger was more successful in England than his team mate, J. H. Hempton, who in 1892 had equalled the world 100 yd record of 9·8 sec–his time stood as a New Zealand record for a “record” period of 63 years–and had in fact run the distance in 9·6 sec with wind assistance two seasons earlier. Hempton, however, had had the misfortune to pull a muscle in his first race in England.
The early Australasian championships confirmed New Zealand's hurdling prowess. Our first great champion was A. H. Holder, a reinstated professional, who at the New Zealand championships of 1897 had become the first of four men to win four titles–the 250 yd, 440 yd, and both 120 yd and 440 yd hurdles. His time in the latter event was 58·8 sec, a remarkable one since the hurdles were not the lightweight 3 ft ones of today but stood 3 ft 6 in. and resembled heavy farm gates. Even that record was beaten seven years later when G. W. Smith, also a famous rugby player, won the Australasian title in 58·5 sec. Smith, too, won four titles at one meeting (in 1900), as well as a triple at each of three others, and five Australasian titles. His 15·4 sec for the 120 yd hurdles in 1902, the same year in which he won the A.A.A. title, made him the third New Zealander to fall short of the world record of his day by a mere one-fifth of a second.
Our pole vaulters, too, were in world class. H. L. Kingsley cleared 10 ft 5 in. in 1895; R. Hunter, 10 ft 6? in. in 1896; H. Eruera, 11 ft 0¼ in. in 1897 (a New Zealand record for 19 years); and J. Te Paa, 10 ft 11¾ in. in 1899. By comparison, the Olympic title in 1896 was won at 10 ft 9¾ in., and 9 ft 4 in. gained third place. (Eruera and Te Paa, both Australasian champions, were first to show that Maoris were natural athletes. P. H. Buck, later Sir Peter Buck, held the New Zealand championship record for the long jump in 1903, but it is only now after 60 years that Maoris are again showing out on the athletic field.) There were also many battles between two fine walkers, F. H. Creamer (whose mile record of 4 min 27·4 sec stood for 40 years) and D. Wilson, who won eight New Zealand titles over a period of 24 years. Long-distance runners began to set records, W. F. Bennett winning the Australasian mile title in 1896 with 4 min 28·4 sec, and W. F. Simpson the mile and 3 miles in 1901, the latter in 14 min 49 sec, a New Zealand record for 23 years. In 1905 H. G. Burk, who had set a New Zealand 880 yd record of 1 min 58·2 sec that lasted 26 years, won the mile championship and beat A. A. Shrubb of England, world record holder at every distance from 2 miles to nearly 12.