Story: Olympic and Commonwealth games

Page 5. On the water – the 1980s at the Olympics

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Success in sailing

New Zealand had competed for the first time in Olympic sailing in 1956. Jack Cropp and Peter Mander had immediate success, winning gold in the Sharpie class. At Tokyo in 1964 Helmer Pedersen and Earle Wells dominated the Flying Dutchman category, gaining another sailing gold for New Zealand.

In the 1980s New Zealand sailors began to achieve further Olympic success. Russell Coutts won gold in the Finn class at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. He risked disqualification after the final race because his wet gear weighed more than the allowable 20 kilograms. However, the gear was dried out and re-weighed, coming in just under the limit. Coutts went on to become one of the finest sailors in America’s Cup history.

Boardsailor Bruce Kendall picked up a bronze medal at the 1984 games, followed by a gold at Seoul in 1988. At the 1992 Barcelona Olympics Barbara Kendall, Bruce’s younger sister, struck gold in the women’s boardsailing – the first time it had been contested at Olympic level. Barbara went on to win silver in 1996 and bronze in 2000. The Kendalls continued to make a huge contribution to New Zealand’s Olympic campaigns, Bruce as an Olympic yachting coach, and Barbara as an International Olympic Committee (IOC) member.

During and after the 1980s New Zealand had many other Olympic successes in sailing:

  • Rex Sellers and Chris Timms won gold in 1984 and silver in 1988 in the Tornado class.
  • John Cutler won the Finn bronze in 1988.
  • Jan Shearer and Lesley Egnot won the 470 silver in 1992.
  • Don Cowie and Rod Davis won the Star silver medal in 1992.
  • Craig Monk won the Finn class bronze in 1992.
  • Aaron McIntosh won the boardsailing bronze in 2000.
  • Tom Ashley won the boardsailing gold in 2008.

The canoeing era

In the early 1980s canoeing was a little-known sport in New Zealand, with fewer than 50 competitive canoeists. This changed dramatically after the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics when New Zealand canoeists won four gold medals. Ian Ferguson won the K1 500; Alan Thompson won the K1 1000; Ferguson and Paul MacDonald won together in the K2 500; and Ferguson, MacDonald, Thompson and Grant Bramwell crewed the K4 1000 to victory.

The New Zealand canoeists were dedicated and independent-minded athletes. Three had attended the 1980 Moscow Olympics, defying the government-backed boycott, and at Los Angeles the team members, rather than the team manager or the coaches, decided who would compete in each event.

At the 1988 Seoul Olympics, Ferguson and MacDonald won gold in the K2 500. They were silver medallists in the K2 1000, while MacDonald picked up a bronze in the K1 500.

Boxing controversy

At Los Angeles in 1984 American boxer Evander Holyfield was controversially eliminated in his light-heavyweight bout with New Zealander Kevin Barry. At the end of the second round, Holyfield floored Barry just after the referee had called ‘Stop’. The referee counted out Barry, but disqualified Holyfield for hitting after the break. The crowd, who felt Holyfield deserved the win, reacted so strongly that police had to escort the boxers and referee from the ring.

As a knockout victim Barry could not fight again for 28 days, so the gold medal went automatically to Yugoslav Anton Josipovic, the winner of the other semi-final. Barry took the silver. Holyfield and Algerian Mustapha Moussa shared bronze.

Barry turned to training and persuaded young heavyweight David Tua, a bronze medallist at the 1992 Olympics, to turn professional. Barry guided Tua all the way to a shot at the world heavyweight title against Lennox Lewis in 2000.

Drugs at the Olympics

The East Germans who dominated the female swimming events at Montreal in 1976 were later revealed to have been using illegal performance-enhancing anabolic steroids. Rebecca Perrott, the New Zealand swimmer who came fourth in the 400 metres at Montreal, commented, ‘The East Germans were much bigger and musclier than the other women and some of them had deep voices. I remember being in the changing room and hearing these voices behind me and thinking I might have gone into the men’s changing room by mistake.’1

Swimming successes

Before the 1980s the only two Olympic swimming medals won by New Zealanders were Malcolm Champion’s gold in the relay in 1912 (for Australasia) and Jean Stewart’s 1952 bronze in the 100-metre backstroke.

At the 1988 Seoul Olympics things began to change. Paul Kingsman picked up bronze in the 200-metre backstroke, with only 0.04 seconds to spare. Fellow Auckland swimmer Anthony Mosse won bronze in the 200-metre butterfly, despite a distressing lead-up. His father had died not long before the games, and on the eve of the Olympics, Mosse’s coach, Paul Bergen, walked out on him.

At the 1992 Barcelona Olympics Danyon Loader, coached by the renowned Duncan Laing, won silver in the 200-metre butterfly. Four years later, in Atlanta, Loader was one of the superstars of the Olympics, his swimming characterised by sizzling finishes. He won two golds, one each in the 200-metre and 400-metre freestyle.

  1. Joseph Romanos, Our Olympic century. Wellington: Trio Books, 2008, p. 141. Back
How to cite this page:

Joseph Romanos, 'Olympic and Commonwealth games - On the water – the 1980s at the Olympics', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 22 July 2024)

Story by Joseph Romanos, published 5 Sep 2013, updated 1 Jun 2023