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Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.




Fourth Olympiad, London, 1908: For the first time New Zealanders competed in the Olympic Games, two athletes being members of the Australasian team–H. E. Kerr, who had won the Australasian 1 mile and 3 mile walking titles and was to win them again in 1909 and 1911; and H. St. A. Murray, who had won three successive New Zealand titles (which he later extended to five) in the 440 yd hurdles, and the Australasian championship in which he had broken Smith's record with 58·4 sec. Kerr finished third in the final of the 3,500 metres walk, and qualified also for the final of the 10 miles, but could not start owing to injured feet. Neither event suited him, his specialty being 3 miles in which he set a New Zealand record of 21 min 36·6 sec that stood for 34 years. Murray, who had earlier run third in the A.A.A. 120 yd hurdles championship, competed in the 110 metres hurdles, but was eliminated in the early rounds as, too, was A. Halligan, another New Zealander representing Britain.

Festival of Empire Meeting, 1911: Regarded now as the forerunner of the Empire Games, a Festival of Empire meeting was held in London in 1911. Three New Zealanders competed: the 1909 New Zealand 880 yd champion, G. Haskins; and W. A. Woodger (100 and 220 yd, 1909) and R. Opie (100, 220, and 440 yd, 1911), the only New Zealanders who ever won an Australasian sprint title. That year Opie had run within 0·2 sec of the world record to set a New Zealand 220 yd record of 22 sec that stood for nearly a quarter of a century. In London he was third in the 100 yd and second in the 220 yd. Haskins was third in the mile; Woodger was ill and did not compete.

The modern straight-leg style of hurdling was now introduced into New Zealand by G. P. Keddell, who taught himself from photographs of the American originator of the style. Keddell, having set a long jump record of 23 ft 3 in. in 1906 (which lasted 42 years), now lowered Smith's record, made with the old bent-leg style, to 15·3 sec. The world record being 15 sec, New Zealand had narrowly missed again. Keddell won five New Zealand titles both in the 120 yd hurdles and in the long jump and one in the 440 yd hurdles, as well as both hurdling titles in the Australasian championships of 1909 and 1911.

Fifth Olympiad, Stockholm, 1912: G. N. Hill, three times New Zealand champion in the mile, twice in the 3 miles, and once in the cross-country, and 1911 Australasian champion in the mile and 3 miles, was sole athlete in a team of three. He ran in the 5,000 metres but was eliminated in the heats, the final being won in time almost a minute faster than his capabilities.

Seventh Olympiad, Antwerp, 1920: New Zealand representatives were the sprinter G. Davidson and the hurdler H. E. Wilson. Davidson had won the New Zealand 100 yd (9·8 sec, sloping track) and 220 yd championships, which he retained the following year, and Wilson was successful both with the A.A.A. and Australasian titles in the 120 yd hurdles an event he won in the New Zealand championships three times. They proved the most successful athletes to date, Davidson being eliminated in the 100 metres but running fifth in the 200 metres final, and Wilson taking fourth in the 110 metres hurdles behind three Americans. In the 14 Olympic races over this distance to date, only four hurdlers outside those of the United States have ever achieved a higher place than Wilson.

Eighth Olympiad, Paris, 1924: This produced New Zealand's first Olympic medal for athletics, when A. E. Porritt “finished with an astounding burst” to take third place in the 100 metres won by Abrahams (Britain). Porritt beat two world record holders, including the previous champion. The following year, as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, he beat Abrahams' Oxford-Cambridge 100 yd record with 9·9 sec, which was to remain the record for a quarter of a century, and he also set a 220 yd (straight track) record of 21·6 sec for the British universities against Harvard and Yale. In later years Porritt became the Royal Surgeon and was knighted K.C.M.G. He has served athletics for many years as London representative of the N.Z.A.A.A. and as chairman of the British Empire Games Federation . Another New Zealander, E. G. Sutherland, represented South Africa in the decathlon at Paris and was fifth. A magnificent all-rounder, he won 13 New Zealand titles in six different events from 1915 to 1929.

Perhaps the most famous race ever run in New Zealand took place in 1926 between R. A. Rose, then Australasian mile and 3 mile champion, and the visiting American miler, L. Hahn. Though beaten in their first meeting, Rose defeated Hahn in their other four races, and at Masterton set a New Zealand mile record of 4 min 13·6 sec which was to stand for 25 years. Rose dominated New Zealand longdistance running for many years, winning the mile title twice, the 3 miles five times, and the crosscountry once.

Ninth Olympiad, Amsterdam, 1928: Great hopes were held of a New Zealand victory, for in the previous year the javelin thrower S. A. Lay had won his second Australasian title with a throw of 218 ft 2¾ in. Three months before the world record had been 218 ft 7 in. Less than a month before the games Lay won the A.A.A. title with a British record of 222 ft 9 in., but in the games he failed to find form and the title was won at 218 ft 6 in. Lay threw 206 ft 4 in. in seventh place. (Our greatest field event athlete, Lay represented New Zealand at the Empire Games of 1930 (first), 1938 (second), and 1950 (sixth)–an international career spanning 24 years. His 222 ft 9 in. stood as a British Empire record for 26 years.) Our other athletes were W. J. Kalaugher (Rhodes Scholar), who represented Britain in the 110 metres hurdles and the triple jump, and Miss Norma Wilson. After being placed second in her heat of the 100 metres she just failed to reach the final. It was evident that she suffered from the lack of opportunity to train before the games, for her subsequent running in England was of world class.

Norma Wilson was the first of three great women sprinters produced by New Zealand at about this time. In 1927 she had twice run the 100 yd in 11·2 sec, equalling the world record, but on each occasion the tracks had been about 7 in. short. The world record was, however, equalled in 1929 by the New Zealand champion, Miss E. Martyn. In 1930 Miss T. Kench, too, ran the distance in 11·2 sec (a feat she repeated two years later, though by that time a Polish woman had recorded 10·8 sec). World records at this period were recognised by the now-defunct F.S.F.I. It was unfortunate that the N.Z.A.A.A. was not affiliated to this body but to the I.A.A.F., which had not yet taken over this function. Thus the records of Miss Martyn and Miss Kench have never been accorded the world recognition they undoubtedly earned. Miss N. Wilson returned to competition in 1933 and beat Miss Kench, the champion for the previous three years, to win the New Zealand 100 yd title. Shortly before, she had returned times of 11·2 sec and 11 sec on a sloping track.

First Empire Games, Hamilton, Ontario, 1930: New Zealand scored two successes, Lay's javelin victory and a winning 6 miles by J. W. Savidan in Canadian record time.

Tenth Olympiad, Los Angeles, 1932: Savidan proved our most successful athlete, running fourth both in the 5,000 and in the 10,000 metres. This warning to the world of New Zealand's coming pre-eminence in the field of distance running was the summit of Savidan's long career, during which he won 15 New Zealand titles–three in the mile and six both in the 3 miles and in the cross-country. Great things were expected also of J. E. Lovelock, who had just set a British mile record of 4 min 12 sec, but after winning his 1,500 metres heat he was relegated to seventh in the final. Miss Kench (100 metres), A. J. Elliot (100 and 200 metres), S. A. Black (200 and 400 metres), and C. V. Evans (800 metres) also represented New Zealand.

Lovelock's failure only set his mind more determinedly on winning the 1,500 metres in the next games, and he dedicated the next four years to studying every runner who might be a threat in that race, and to developing the ability to produce peak form for a particular occasion. In 1933 he beat the best Americans in the then world record time of 4 min 7·6 sec for the mile.

Second Empire Games, London, 1934: Lovelock completed another step in his plans by beating the English champion, Wooderson, to win the mile in 4 min 12·8 sec. (True to his belief that he was capable of only one supreme effort in a season, Lovelock lost to Wooderson in 1935 and again early in 1936, just as in 1933 he had lost to Beccali of Italy after his world record mile.) H. K. Brainsby was third in the triple jump to Metcalfe, of Australia, who was later to become the world record holder. Earlier in the year he had beaten Metcalfe to set a New Zealand record of 49 ft 8¾ in.–an achievement that was not beaten for 24 years.

Eleventh Olympiad, Berlin, 1936: On Thursday, 6 August, Lovelock was supremely fit and confident. Knowing exactly the capabilities of his opponents in the 1,500 metres, he ran with such judgment that, as the British Olympic Report put it, “No matter where he was placed in the race he seemed to be controlling it”. Flashing past his opponents from the unheard-of distance of 300 metres out, he won easily in the world record time of 3 min 47·8 sec. V. P. Boot (800 and 1,500 metres) and C. H. Matthews (5,000 and 10,000 metres) were New Zealand's other representatives in athletics.

Third Empire Games, Sydney, 1938: The value of Olympic experience was proved when Boot won the 880 yd in 1 min 51·2 sec (and also ran third in the mile, beating Rose's time with 4 min 12·8 sec), and Matthews the 3 and 6 miles in 13 min 59·6 sec and 30 min 146 sec, both Empire records. New Zealand fielded its largest international team thus far and gained also one silver medal (Lay, javelin throw) and four bronze medals (J. G. Leckie, hammer throw; the men's team in the mile relay; and Misses R. I. Tong, hurdles; and E. M. Forbes, high jump).

An unsuccessful member of that team, Miss D. Lumley, became the first New Zealand woman to be officially recognised as a world record holder when in 1939 she beat the Empire champion, Miss Norman, of Australia, over 100 yd in 11 sec. Shortly afterwards Miss Lumley lost her life in a motor accident.

Fourteenth Olympiad, London, 1948: With the resumption of the Olympic Games after the Second World War, New Zealand again had a potential gold medallist in the 800 metres runner, D. M. Harris. With the speed of a sprinter, the stamina of a cross-country runner, and a highly economical running style, Harris had beaten the American champion the previous year over 880 yd in 1 min 49·4 sec–then 02 sec outside the world record. In his Olympic heat, despite being spiked in the leg, Harris qualified easily; but in his semi-final, when he was running confidently, his leg gave way and he had to be carried from the track. The final was won in the time about half a second slower than Harris's best. His team mates had little success, W. H. Nelson failing to see out the 10,000 metres and J. M. Holland being eliminated after winning his heat of the 400 metres hurdles. But two years later they were among the leaders in our Empire Games team.

Fourth Empire Games, Auckland, 1950: Nelson won the 6 miles and was second in the 3 miles; Holland, who had set records in the 120 yd, 220 yd, and 440 yd hurdles at the New Zealand championships, was second in the last event. Other silver medals were won by W. B. Hough, long jump; Miss J. B. Schoch, hurdles; Miss Y. W. Williams, javelin; and the women's team in the 440 yd relay. Bronze medals were won by D. W. Jowett, 220 yd; D. R. Batten, 440 yd; M. L. Marshall, 1 mile; N. Taylor, 6 miles; J. R. Clarke, marathon; D. Dephoff, long jump; the men's teams in the 440 yd and mile relays; Miss J. P. Shackleton, hurdles; Miss N. R. Swinton, high jump; Miss R. N. Dowman, long jump; and Miss C. P. Rivett-Carnac, javelin. The outstanding performance by a New Zealander was, however, Miss Williams's winning long jump of 19 ft 4? in., a New Zealand, Games, and Empire record.

Miss Yvette Williams now became the dominant figure in New Zealand athletics. A year later she jumped 20 ft 1? in., the third best jump on record by a woman. Already the New Zealand record holder for the shot put, she raised her figures three times and gained the discus record. As a sprinter she ran 75 yd in 8·5 sec, 100 yd in 11 sec, and 220 yd in 25·1 sec–all close to New Zealand record times. A world record narrowly evaded her in 1952 when slight wind assistance invalidated her championship jump of 20 ft 7¾ in., but she soon afterwards jumped 20 ft 2 in. to become the first woman to exceed 20 ft more than once. In the pentathlon she underlined her all-round ability by scoring 4,219 points, which remained the best by a New Zealander for 10 years.

Fifteenth Olympiad, Helsinki, 1952: The outstanding success for New Zealand was the long jump of Yvette Williams, though it came very close to failure. After qualifying in the morning with an Olympic record of 20 ft 2½ in., Miss Williams began the final with a leap of more than 21 ft–but it was a foul! Then followed another foul. Failure and disgrace were only a jump away (two days before, in fact, the favourite for the men's title had suffered just this fate when he made three foul jumps and was eliminated from this event). Under this severe pressure Miss Williams calmly jumped 19 ft 4¼ in. to qualify for a further three jumps. On her next she sailed 20 ft 5? in. to win a gold medal and an Olympic record that was a bare centimetre short of the world record. Two days earlier J. M. Holland had run third in the 400 metres hurdles, despite a waterlogged track, and so New Zealand had for the first time won two medals at one Olympic celebration. Miss Williams added further success when she was sixth in the shot put and tenth in the discus throw. Our other representatives were M. L. Marshall (800 and 1,500 metres) and G. W. Hoskins (1,500 metres).

Fifth Empire Games, Vancouver, 1954: Six months after long jumping 20 ft 7½ in. and so adding 1½ in. to the world record that had defied everyone for 10 years, Miss Williams closed her career by winning three Empire titles. She was first, with record performances, in the shot, discus, and long jump, and was also sixth in the hurdles. D. W. Jowett, who had been a star of the 1950 games as an 18–year-old, was our only other medallist with a first in the 220 yd and second in the 440 yd. Miss Williams retired with her name written four times in the roll of the greatest women athletes of all time–first in the long jump, fifth in the pentathlon, twelfth in the discus, and nineteenth in the shot put.

With the end of the Williams era came the beginning of that of Lydiard. Having the background of a New Zealand marathon champion behind him, A. L. Lydiard believed that the existing methods of training runners could be improved on. One of his theories was that speed is unimportant, and stamina all-important, in every race beyond the sprints. Hundreds of athletes can run 440 yd in 60 sec, and so every one of them could run the mile in 4 min if only he had stamina enough. Lydiard's pupils soon began to prove his theories by breaking record after record: L. A. King (formerly a mediocre runner), 6 miles; M. G. Halberg, 1 mile (4 min 4·4 sec, a world best for a 20-year-old runner) and four other distances; E. W. Haskell, 2 and 3 miles; W. D. Baillie, 3 miles; and H. Rodger and A. B. Magee, 6 miles.

Sixteenth Olympiad, Melbourne, 1956: M. G. Halberg, who had been severely injured only six years before, still lacked strength, and finished eleventh in the 1,500 metres, his rival, N. I. Scott, running seventh in time equivalent to a 4 min 1·2 sec mile. The games were most successful for New Zealand. N. R. Read, a former Englishman, surprised the critics, his opponents and, above all, the British officials who did not require him for their team, by winning the road walk of 50,000 metres (31 miles). He had prepared himself wisely by preceding the New Zealand team to Australia, where he had won the Australian title over the Olympic course. Miss V. I. Sloper exceeded 50 ft for the first time to gain fifth place in the shot put; Miss B. D. E. Weigel, only just 16, was sixth in the long jump, although officially given seventh; and Miss J. M. Donaghy, also 16, jumped the second-best height in the high jump, but was relegated to seventh on the countback of failures. Miss Weigel soon afterwards jumped 20 ft 5¼ in., a world best for a 16–year-old, and Miss Donaghy proved herself the only woman ever to have jumped more than her own height–which she eventually exceeded by 4½ in. Our other competitors were Miss M. F. Stuart (100 metres and hurdles); M. L. Rae, who had lowered Hempton's 100 yd record to 9·7 sec and then 96 sec (100 and 200 metres); and A. W. Richards (marathon). P. Wells, for some years a New Zealand resident, competed for Britain in the high jump.

Sixth Empire Games, Cardiff, 1958: Having turned to the 3 miles, Halberg won this event and defeated the world record holder. Scott was an excellent third. Miss Sloper won our second gold medal in the shot put, but was surprisingly beaten by Miss J. Thompson in the discus, the New Zealanders taking second and third. Other silver medallists were Miss Donaghy (who recorded the same height as the winner) and L. R. Mills, discus throw. M. D. Richards (pole vault) and D. S. Norris (triple jump) gained bronze medals. (Both had won the A.A.A. titles, Norris with a championship record of 51 ft 4 in., though he was still a junior. After the games Halberg ran the mile in 3 min 57·5 sec, the first under 4 min by a New Zealander; 1,500 metres in 3 min 38·8 sec (a slightly better performance); and 4 miles in 18 min 22·6 sec, a world best performance.

Seventeenth Olympiad, Rome, 1960: Friday, 2 September 1960, was the greatest day in the history of New Zealand athletics for, within a wonderful space of two hours, Halberg won the Olympic 5,000 metres and P. G. Snell the 800 metres. Halberg burst away from his opponents as Lovelock had done in 1936–but with three laps to go!–and won a victory that has gone down with Lovelock's among the classics of the Olympic Games. Six days later he ran a token race in the 10,000 metres and finished fifth. Snell, who had proved himself an iron man at home, though without recording any times that excited hopes of a place in an Olympic final, had the stamina (through Lydiard training) to see out four hard rounds of the 800 metres and still produce an unanswerable final sprint to lower the Olympic record by 1·4 sec. Later, in England, he ran 880 yd in a relay race in the fantastic time of 1 min 44·8 sec, 2 seconds under the world record. Another Lydiard pupil, Magee, secured third place in the marathon. Miss Sloper lost a medal in the last round only of the shot put, being placed fourth, and Read was fifth in the 20,000 metres walk, though later failing to finish in his specialty, the 50,000 metres. Our other competitors were J. L. Julian and R. L. Puckett (marathon), Mills (shot and discus), Norris (long jump and triple jump), B. C. Robinson (200 and 400 metres), D. I. B. Smith (800 metres), and Misses V. A. Morgan (100 and 200 metres), Thompson (discus), and Weigel (who long jumped over 20 ft but gained only tenth place).

A. L. Lydiard was fittingly appointed manager of a New Zealand team comprising Halberg, Snell, Magee, and G. F. Philpott that toured Europe the following year. The first three returned with “World Games” titles, Halberg with world records for 2 miles (8 min 30 sec) and 3 miles (13 min 10 sec), Magee with the third-best time (13 min 11·2 sec) on record for 3 miles, and the quartet with a world record of 16 min 23·8 sec for the 4 mile relay. Three more world records fell early in 1962 when Snell, in the course of 28 days, ran 880 yd in 1 min 48·2 sec (New Zealand record), 1 min 47·1 sec (Empire record), and 1 min 45·1 sec (world record), with corresponding 800 metres records of 1 min 47·7 sec, 1 min 46·3 sec; and 1 min 44·3 sec; and the mile in 3 min 54·4 sec (world record) and 3 min 56·8 sec. In the latter race five New Zealanders finished under 4 min 3 sec; only the United States and Britain could claim five milers as fast in 1962. Snell visited the United States later that year and again in 1963 to beat the best Americans in three great races (all below 3 min 57 sec).

Seventh Empire Games, Perth, 1962: Snell not only won both the 880 yd and mile, but also shepherded J. L. Davies (who later became the third New Zealander to better four minutes) into second place in the mile. Halberg toyed with a first-class field before sprinting away to win the 3 miles, and Mrs V. I. Young (née Sloper), who had earlier set an Empire record of 176 ft 5in for the discus and equalled her shot put figures, won both events. Miss M. A. M. Chamberlain, who earlier in the year had broken the world 880 yd record but finished behind Miss Willis of Australia, was second to her again. (One of the first world record holders for the 440 yd when the I.A.A.F. recognised the distance in 1947, Miss Chamberlain remained in Perth after the games and recorded a world best of 4 min 41·4 sec for the mile.) Norris and Miss D. H. Porter also gained silver medals in the long jump and 100 yd, and Mrs A. M. McIntosh and the women's team, bronze medals in the hurdles and 440 yd relay.

Eighteenth Olympiad, Tokyo, 1964: P. G. Snell proved himself an outstanding middle distance runner when he achieved the rare feats of winning both the 800 and 1,500 metres, and of retaining his title in the former event. Four other runners have performed the first feat–none since 1920–and two others the second, but none apart from Snell has ever achieved both. Snell's two gold medals were supplemented by two bronze medals which, together with one fourth, one sixth, and two seventh placings, made this New Zealand's most successful Olympiad.