Jaynie Parkhouse’s swimming career was brief when compared to other leading New Zealand sportsmen and women. She swam at international level for only four years. But if her peak was fleeting, it was certainly memorable.
When Parkhouse, a 17-year-old Christchurch schoolgirl, won the 800 metres gold medal at the Commonwealth Games in her home town in 1974, she provided New Zealand with a fabulous sporting moment. She beat world record-holder Jenny Turrall and a host of other big-name performers and did it in one of the most exciting races imaginable.
Moments after the race, Parkhouse leaned on a lane rope and waved to her school friends in the stand. The smile on her face – they said it lit up thousands of living rooms throughout New Zealand – was one of exhaustion and delight.
This was one of the moments of the never-to-be-forgotten Christchurch Games, to rank alongside Dick Tayler’s 10,000m triumph and Graham May’s antics in the weightlifting arena.
Parkhouse, born in Cambridge in 1956, had competed, unsuccessfully, at the 1972 Munich Olympics, and by 1975, when she married fellow swimmer Craig Hudgell, she had retired.
She and her husband lived in Canada for five years, then settled in Auckland until the late 1980s. After that they had a stint in Melbourne, where Parkhouse set up a computer dealership, and then moved to Wellington, where they have run several businesses from home.
She has vivid memories of that gold medal in Christchurch, even so many years later.
“Winning that 800 metres was a great day in my life,” she said. The experience I’d gained two years earlier in Munich certainly helped me.
“After Munich, anything was going to seem small. That was the year of Mark Spitz and Shane Gould and of our rowers.
“Three of our swim team – Mark Treffers, Susan Hunter and me – won medals in Christchurch, so I guess the experience paid off.” All three were members of the Wharenui club and were coached by Jaynie’s father, Pic.
“I had had a really bad year in 1973. I didn’t swim well at the trials or at the nationals. I couldn’t even get a placing.
“It got to the stage where I was tossing up whether to even keep going and I was lucky to get selected for the games. They were in my home town and it was cheap to have me there, otherwise I might not have made it.”
Parkhouse was eventually picked for the freestyle sprints, the last swimmer chosen for the New Zealand team. She changed her kick from a two-beat to a six-beat and went into a training camp for six weeks.
“That was great. I’d had some flak from people who said I only got chosen because my father was a coach. That has an effect on you.
“So I was quietly determined to prove those critics wrong and once in camp, I started to swim well again.
“I was motivated by all sorts of things – fear of failure, letting myself down, letting other people down. These things always seem so important to you when you’re young.”
In training, Parkhouse did an 800m time trial in 9min 24s, which was a couple of seconds faster than her national record. So she was then entered for the 800m and 400m as well as the 100m and 200m, which had previously been regarded as her best chances. She was in every freestyle event.
“By the end of that camp, I’d swum the 100m in 60.30s, a national record. I was sharp and fit. I looked at little Jenny Turrall, the world record-holder, and thought she couldn’t possibly be fitter than me, and anyway, I was taller and could sprint faster.
“In the 800m heat, I surprised myself by swimming 9min 04s, which was 30 seconds faster than I did at Munich. I’d done good splits in training, but to put it together like that in a big race was a shock.”
Even so, Parkhouse was only the fourth fastest qualifier and still not regarded as a strong medal prospect. But she began the final fired up after watching fellow New Zealander Mark Treffers win a swim gold the same day.
The final was expected to be an Australian clean sweep fought between Turrall, Rosemary Milgate and Sally Lockyer.
“The final was very close. I was only fourth at the last turn, but then I introduced the six-beat kick and it gave me the sprint I needed. I thought I’d won, even though there was a lot of splashing and it was close.
“It was only when I looked at the time later that I realised how close it really was. I was so excited.”
Her winning time was 8min 58.49s, and she headed off the three Australians by mere fractions of a second. After she clambered out of the pool, she walked past her father – “my coach, all my life”.
“He grabbed my hand and I gave him a hug; he was just beaming. I felt that I had been able to do it for him. A coach’s life is not easy. He had dedicated his whole life to swimming.
“I got invited to lunch with the Queen on the Brittania. It was the same day as the 400m final, but I thought, ‘What the hell’, and went.
“It was all a bit overwhelming. I did get a bronze in the 400m and reached the finals of the two shorter races, so I suppose I did okay.”
Back at school, she was “a bit of a hero” and had to “do a talk” about her Games experience. The Villa Maria “nuns were really proud”.
Parkhouse retained her links with swimming, through her business and because she continued to swim recreationally. She was a member of the New Zealand team at the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games, where she had a mentoring role.
Jaynie Parkhouse Drive, within QE II Park, where she won her gold and bronze medals, was named after her. There is also a Parkhouse Reserve and a Parkhouse Street in Rangiora, named after the swim champion.

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Jaynie's Games History