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New Zealand’s Olympic Story

A record 182 New Zealanders will compete at the Beijing Olympics in just a week’s time. Amid the building excitement, the team at have compiled the inspiring story of New Zealanders at the Olympics in the century 1908 to 2008.

The Ministry for Culture and Heritage website tells New Zealand’s Olympic tale: from the pioneering efforts of Harry Kerr, Violet Walrond and Arthur Porritt to the great track triumphs of Lovelock, Snell and Walker, and the golden achievements of our rowers, canoeists, equestrians and yachties.

For example, swimmer Violet Walrond was New Zealand's first female Olympian at the 1920 Antwerp Games. Travelling for nine weeks with little chance for training, Violet and her team mates, including bronze medallist rower Darcy Hadfield, were severely disadvantaged.

Darcy Hadfield had been to Belgium before but in very different circumstances. In 1917 he was wounded at the horrific battle of Passchendaele. With more than 4600 Kiwi soldiers lying in Belgian war graves, the Antwerp Games were laden with meaning for many New Zealanders.

Although New Zealand will compete in Olympic soccer for the first time this year, in 1956 a Kiwi soccer referee, Morrie Swain, found himself ‘the least popular man in the stadium’ as his offside decision helped hand the gold medal to the USSR team just weeks after the brutal Soviet invasion of Hungary.

New Zealanders had more problems at the 1976 Montreal Olympics. Not only did they face resentment from African nations dismayed at the All Blacks decision to tour South Africa but technical problems meant Keith Quinn was unable to broadcast much of the opening ceremony to Kiwis eagerly awaiting the first live television coverage of the Games.


  • The media gallery showcases the best and worst of Olympic history with footage ranging from mid-air shots of 1954 gold medallist long jumper Yvette Williams to that famous radio commentary of the gold medal runs of Peter Snell and Murray Halberg at the 1960 Rome Olympics.
  • The Classroom invites students to examine not only the place of the Olympics in New Zealand's history but the many intersecting historical events that have contributed to the international fascination with the Olympics - the political wrangling, boycotts, controversy and tragedy.
  • “16 Olympic Stories” has one story one for each day of the 2008 Games.
  • An Olympics quiz tests sporting smarts with 20 questions and a virtual gold medal for those who score over 80%.
  • A Community Contributions section invites visitors to challenge well-known sports writer Joseph Romanos’ list of New Zealand’s best Olympians.

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Updated on 23rd July 2015