Kōrero: Olympic and Commonwealth games

Whārangi 10. Commonwealth Games stars

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While never showcasing as many superstar athletes as the Olympics, the British Empire and Commonwealth Games have produced outstanding moments in New Zealand sport. Athletics has often received the most attention at the games, but New Zealanders have consistently won medals in sports with a lower profile, such as shooting and bowls. Since 1962, disabled athletes have taken part in Commonwealth Games, and since 2002 they have been full members of national teams. 

Olympic and Commonwealth gold medallists

Yvette Williams, Olympic long-jump gold medallist at Helsinki in 1952, was also a multiple medallist at the Commonwealth Games. She won gold in the long jump and silver in the javelin at the Auckland Commonwealth Games in 1950, and followed this up with golds for long jump, discus and shot put at Vancouver in 1954. Other New Zealand Olympic champions who have won gold at the Commonweath Games include Jack Lovelock, Murray Halberg, Peter Snell, Danyon Loader, Sarah Ulmer and Valerie Adams.


Field events star Valerie Young (née Sloper) and squash player Joelle King have won the most Empire and Commonwealth Games gold medals of any New Zealander. At the 1958 British Empire and Commonwealth Games in Cardiff, Young won a shot put gold and a discus bronze. She followed with golds for both shot put and discus at Perth, Australia, in 1962, then repeated this feat at Kingston, Jamaica, in 1966. In 1974 she emerged from retirement to win a silver medal in the shot put at Christchurch.

Pompey Heremaia won two gold medals in the Perth Commonwealth Paraplegic Games in 1962, in javelin and snooker. At the 1966 games at Kingston, Jamaica, Peter Welsh had a memorable victory in the 3,000-metre steeplechase. A rank outsider, he won by about 18 metres, with a time just 0.6 of a second outside the world record.

At Brisbane in 1982 Anne Audain led the field throughout the 3,000-metre race and won in Commonwealth record time. Team-mate Lorraine Moller came third.

Discus-thrower Beatrice Faumuina won her first Commonwealth Games medal, a silver, at Victoria, British Columbia (Canada), in 1994. She went on to win gold in discus at Kuala Lumpur in 1998 and again at Manchester in 2002.

Shot-putter Valerie Adams won silver at Manchester in 2002 and on the Gold Coast in 2018. In between she won gold at Melbourne in 2006, Delhi in 2010 and Glasgow in 2014.

Precious McKenzie

The great crowd-pleaser at the 1974 Christchurch games was weightlifter Precious McKenzie, who won gold for England. McKenzie had moved to England because he was unable to represent his birth country, South Africa, being designated ‘coloured’. McKenzie went on to immigrate to New Zealand, and won a gold medal for his newest country at the 1978 Commonwealth Games in Edmonton, Alberta (Canada).


New Zealand weightlifting achieved prominence in the 1974 Christchurch games, where seven medals were won by nine lifters. The team coach, Don Oliver, had earlier achieved fame as a heavyweight lifter, winning the silver medal at Perth in 1962 and gold at Kingston in 1966.

At the 1974 games in Christchurch, New Zealand super-heavyweight weightlifter Graham May won gold. A lift in the lead-up to his winning effort provided a famous moment of television footage when he staggered across the platform and fell forward, all but dropping the bar on Princess Anne in the front row of the audience.

At Kuala Lumpur in 1998, Darren Liddel won three gold medals, and Nigel Avery won two bronzes. Avery went on to win two golds and a silver at the Manchester games in 2002.


Some of New Zealand’s most prolific medallists have been shooters. Greg Yelavich won a total of 12 Commonwealth Games medals – more than any other New Zealander. At Edinburgh in 1986 he won two golds and a bronze. Over the course of the next six Commonwealth Games, he won five silvers and another four bronzes. Rifle-shooter Stephen Petterson also chalked up an impressive record, winning gold and silver medals at Auckland in 1990, two golds at Victoria in 1994 and a fourth gold at Kuala Lumpur in 1998.

Lawn bowls

New Zealand has participated in lawn bowls since its inclusion in the Hamilton games of 1930. Women’s bowls has only been included in the games since 1982. By 2022 New Zealand bowlers had won 13 gold, 11 silver and 16 bronze medals.


At the 1982 Commonwealth Games in Brisbane, Australia, New Zealand paraplegic archer Neroli Fairhall created history not only by being the first paraplegic athlete to compete at a Commonwealth Games against able-bodied athletes, but by becoming the first to win a gold medal. She went on to become the first paraplegic athlete to compete in the Olympic Games.

Squash and table tennis

Squash player Leilani Rorani won gold medals at the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester, England, for the doubles and the mixed doubles. By 2022, Joelle King had won five gold, one silver and two bronze medals at four Commonwealth Games, making her New Zealand's most successful female competitor at the Commonwealth Games.

Also at Manchester, table-tennis player Li Chunli won a gold, a silver and two bronzes.

Rugby sevens and netball

Team sports have been introduced into the Commonwealth Games. The New Zealand men's sevens rugby team, coached by Gordon Tietjens, won the first four Commonwealth Games tournaments, but came second in 2014. Now coached by Clark Laidlaw, they won a fifth title in 2018 and came third in 2022. The Black Ferns were victorious when women's sevens debuted at the Commonwealth Games in 2018. They won the bronze medal in 2022.

Netball was included in the Commonwealth Games in 1998, and the competition has been largely a continuation of the rivalry between the two top teams in the world, New Zealand and Australia, which contested all the Commonwealth Games finals until 2014. Australia was the victor in the first two clashes, including the 2002 game, which went into double extra-time. New Zealand won gold in 2006 and again in 2010 – another double extra-time thriller. Australia regained the ascendancy in 2014, but was beaten by one goal by England in 2018, when the Silver Ferns finished fourth. They finished third in 2022.


New Zealand's road and track cyclists topped the medal table at the 1990 Commonwealth Games with 12 medals, six of them gold. At Glasgow in 2014, with mountain biking now part of the cycling programme, they won 15 medals, including six golds. In 2018 New Zealand's cyclists won 17 medals, three of them gold. At Birmingham in 2022, the cyclists were again the stars, with 17 medals in all, 10 of them gold, across road, track, time trial and mountain biking events. Aaron Gate won three gold medals in the velodrome, and then went on to win the gruelling road race. 


New Zealand's star Para swimmer, Sophie Pascoe, has won five gold medals at Commonwealth Games, two in both 2014 and 2018 and one in 2022. New Zealand had its most successful Commonwealth Games swimming campaign at Birmingham in 2022, with nine medals, five of which were gold. 

Me pēnei te tohu i te whārangi:

Joseph Romanos, 'Olympic and Commonwealth games - Commonwealth Games stars', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/mi/olympic-and-commonwealth-games/page-10 (accessed 19 June 2024)

He kōrero nā Joseph Romanos, i tāngia i te 5 Sep 2013, updated 1 Jun 2023