Gymnastics refers to a variety of athletic exercises requiring physical strength, agility, coordination and balance. The sport grew from exercises developed in ancient Greece and the name derives from the Greek word for ‘naked’, as athletes exercised and competed without clothing. More recently specific forms of gymnastics have evolved, including:
A hall used primarily for gymnastics is called a gymnasium. Such halls were included in New Zealand secondary schools and other institutions from the 19th century. The Auckland Gymnastic Association was formed in 1948, and further local associations followed in the 1950s.
The New Zealand Gymnastic Association was formed in 1956. Its first president was Hungarian-born Andreas Pillich, who, with his German wife, spread knowledge of international gymnastic trends. National championships were held annually from 1958.
In 1964 a New Zealand gymnastics team competed in the Olympics for the first time. In 1978 the women’s team won New Zealand’s first Commonwealth gymnastics medal – a bronze – at Edmonton, Canada.
At the 1990 Commonwealth Games, New Zealand gymnasts won a total of two gold and four bronze medals in various disciplines. That level of success has not been repeated, but in 2014 David Bishop won a bronze medal at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games for the floor exercise. In 2004 Aucklander Angela McMillan won the Aerobic Gymnastics World Championships in Bulgaria.
Jenkins Gym in Lower Hutt was perhaps New Zealand’s first commercial fitness centre. It was founded in the 1920s by Australian-born Alf Jenkins, who was an avid sportsman and practised acrobatics, bodybuilding, boxing and ju-jitsu. His equipment was originally limited to barbells, dumbells, medicine balls and rubber mats. By 2012 Jenkins Gym offered classes in BodyPump, Tae Bo, Pilates and many other gymnastic disciplines.
The trampoline, a sprung mat in a steel frame, was invented by US gymnast George Nissen in the 1930s. Since 2000 individual trampoline has been included in the Olympic Games. The world trampoline championships were held in Auckland in 1992. In 2011 Dylan Schmidt of Waihī became the junior world trampoline silver medallist. In 2016 Schmidt was selected as New Zealand's first trampoline representative at an Olympic Games.
In 2006 the New Zealand Gymnastic Association became GymSports New Zealand, responsible for the development, promotion and governance of rhythmic and artistic gymnastics, aerobics, trampoline sports and Gym for All – a movement development programme for all ages. In 2012 GymSports New Zealand represented 105 affiliated clubs. More than 350,000 New Zealanders practised gymnastics in 2012, although only a small proportion took part in formal competitions.
Badminton is played with lightweight rackets on a rectangular court divided by a head-high net. Players score points by striking a shuttlecock over the net. The shuttlecock is a rounded cork projectile with stabilising feathers attached.
Badminton is the world’s fastest racket sport, with smashes timed at more than 300 kilometres per hour. Championship events follow the pattern of lawn tennis, with men’s and women’s singles and doubles, and mixed doubles.
In New Zealand the earliest badminton matches were probably played in the mid-19th century by people who had learned the game in England or India. Badminton equipment was advertised for sale in Wellington from as early as 1874. Regular play began about 1900 when the Auckland Badminton Club was formed.
In 1925 the Auckland, Whanganui and Napier clubs combined to form the New Zealand Badminton Association, later known as Badminton New Zealand. The first national championships were held in Whanganui in 1927.
In 2004 Badminton New Zealand chose ‘Black Cocks’ as the nickname for its national teams, hoping the gimmick would attract sponsors and fans. There was immediate sponsorship interest from condom companies, but the name drew ridicule from the public and firm opposition from the International Badminton Federation. It was soon officially dropped.
New Zealand was one of the nine nations that, in 1934, formed the International Badminton Federation. Since 1938 the Whyte Trophy has been contested biennially between New Zealand and Australia, and may be the world’s oldest surviving inter-country badminton tournament.
New Zealand has also competed in international tournaments for the Thomas Cup (for men) and the Uber Cup (for women). Badminton has been a Commonwealth Games sport since 1966, and an Olympic sport since 1992.
In 2012 about 120,000 New Zealanders played badminton, and about 12,000 of those played regularly. They belonged to 27 regional associations, represented nationally by Badminton New Zealand.
Squash, originally known as squash rackets, is a sport for two players or two pairs of players, played in a four-walled court. Players use oval rackets to strike a small, hollow rubber ball, bouncing it off designated areas of each wall.
Squash was invented in Harrow school, England, around 1830, as a variant on the game of rackets, played by bouncing a ball off outside walls. Pupils discovered that a punctured rackets ball squashed on impact, producing a greater variety of shots. Harrow’s first four squash courts opened in 1864.
Contemporary squash shots include:
Squash was introduced to New Zealand by players who had encountered it in England. One of New Zealand’s earliest squash enthusiasts was Herbert Watson, who had a private court in his Palmerston North home in 1919.
The sport was first played on a national basis in 1932 at the Christchurch Club, whose courts, along with the Devonport Naval Base courts in Auckland, were the only ones then available for competitions. In 1933 the first public (that is, non-exclusive) squash club opened in Timaru and the following year the first New Zealand players took part in the Australian championships.
The New Zealand Squash Rackets Association, formed in 1932, was incorporated in 1939.
From the 1950s more public clubs appeared. World champion Hashim Khan toured New Zealand in 1952, playing several exhibition matches a day and greatly raising squash’s local profile.
The standard of competitive squash improved sharply from 1967, when Mohamed Dardir was recruited as national coach. In 1976 Bruce Brownlee became the first New Zealander to win a major international title, the British Amateur.
John Key, New Zealand’s prime minister from 2008, was a keenly competitive squash player while studying accountancy in Christchurch in the 1980s. In March 2012 he played against squash legend Dame Susan Devoy at the opening of Tauranga’s Devoy Squash and Fitness Centre.
During the 1980s Susan Devoy of Rotorua was perhaps the greatest figure in international squash. She eventually held four world, eight British Open, 10 New Zealand and many other national titles. Devoy was made Dame Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 1998.
In 1986 Ross Norman also took the world title. Leilani Joyce and Philippa Beams won the women’s doubles world title in 1998. In that year squash was first introduced to the Commonwealth Games, and Sarah Cook and Glen Wilson won bronze in the mixed doubles. In 2002 Wilson and Joyce won gold in the Commonwealth Games mixed doubles. By 2018 Joelle King and Jaclyn Hawkes had won three gold, one silver and two bronze medals at three Commonwealth Games.
Squash New Zealand is the national body responsible for the promotion and development of squash in New Zealand. In 2012 it represented about 19,000 members in 196 clubs and 11 district associations.
In table tennis, also known as ping-pong, two players or two pairs of players use bats to hit a lightweight, hollow ball over a net stretched across a waist-high hard surface (the ‘table’). Players must allow a ball only one bounce on their side of the table and must return it so that it bounces on the opposite side.
Table tennis began in England in the 1880s as a winter ‘parlour game’ for lawn tennis enthusiasts. By 1901 it had acquired the status of a serious sport, and it became an Olympic sport in 1988.
Public competitions were held in New Zealand as early as 1902, when Gisborne hosted a tournament. It was reported that, ‘The attendance was in keeping with the remarkable hold which this fascinating pastime has obtained on young and old.’1
During the 1930s several district associations were formed to administer table tennis and the New Zealand Table Tennis Association (NZTTA) was formed in Wellington in 1934. In 1996 it became Table Tennis New Zealand.
In 1949 Austrian-born Richard Bergmann, then the world singles champion and later the world’s first professional table tennis player, gave exhibition matches in a number of New Zealand towns. He wrote, ‘If you want a real thrill come to Wanganui, down under! Never in my life have I witnessed such wild scenes of enthusiasm.’ Even the 1948 world championship in London, he said, ‘was a well-mannered affair by comparison with the din of the Maoris, who clapped, laughed, and cheered themselves almost into hysterics.’2
The International Table Tennis Federation was formed in Berlin in 1926. In 1949 Norm Ballinger, then secretary of the NZTTA, was appointed a vice-president of the federation, becoming the first Australasian to hold the position.
‘Ping-pong diplomacy’ – tournaments played between politically hostile countries – was initiated by the People’s Republic of China in 1971. The following year the Chinese toured New Zealand, deliberately losing a few games to encourage the locals.
One of New Zealand’s greatest table tennis players was Te Whareteneti (Neti) Davis (later Traill). She became New Zealand junior champion at the age of 14 and later held the women’s singles title for eight years. In 1975 she and doubles partner Anne Stonestreet reached second place in the world championships.
By 2012 the best international result by an individual New Zealander was Li Chunli’s third placing in the 1997 Women’s World Cup. She went on to win a gold, silver and two bronze medals at the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester. This was the first year table tennis was admitted as a Commonwealth Games sport.
In 2012 Table Tennis New Zealand represented 18 regional associations, with about 7,500 registered players. Social players numbered about 75,000.
Volleyball is played by two teams, each of six players, separated by a net more than two metres high. Players rotate to each position on the court during a game. Each team scores points by hitting the ball over the net with the hands or arms so that it cannot be returned. The ball may be hit up to three times on one side of the net before it must be hit across the net.
An outdoor variant, beach volleyball, is played on sand with two players per team.
Volleyball was invented as an alternative to basketball by US physical education instructor William Morgan in 1895. Indoor volleyball has been an official Olympic sport since 1964, and beach volleyball since 1996.
Ctirad Benáček represented Czechoslovakia in volleyball before migrating to New Zealand in the early 1950s. Along with other recent immigrants he formed the Sparta club in Panmure, Auckland, in 1954. In 1968 Sparta, with a team comprising Dutch, Australian, Samoan, Russian, Czech and New Zealand players, won the first New Zealand Club Championships.
New Zealand volleyball teams competed in the first Oceania Championships in Sydney in 1973. Three years later the Oceania Championships were held in Nelson.
By 2012 New Zealand’s only Olympic representatives were brothers Reid and Glen Hamilton, who competed at beach volleyball in the 1996 Olympics. However, Hugh McCutcheon of Christchurch coached the US volleyball team which won gold at the 2008 Olympics, and its women’s team which won silver at the 2012 Olympics.
The game’s governing body, Volleyball New Zealand, represents 14 regional associations with social and competitive players from primary school to masters level. In 2012 volleyball was one of the top five school sports in New Zealand, and an estimated 250,000 New Zealanders played the game annually.
Romanos, Joseph. Long or short? The story of New Zealand squash. Auckland: New Zealand Squash Hall of Fame, 2010.
Wilkinson, Ken C. Fifty years across the table: a history of the New Zealand Table Tennis Association 1934–1984. Auckland: New Zealand Table Tennis Association, 1984.