Written by Dr Micheal Warren
We have seen many of our prospective Olympians competing and succeeding on the world stage over the past month, with some encouraging performance as eyes begin to turn to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Many athletes are now looking towards qualification opportunities as they head to Europe for the European summer.
This month’s blog will look at two of the biggest Olympic sports, boxing and swimming where New Zealand has enjoyed success throughout its Olympic history.
New Zealand first sent a boxer to fight at the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris. Charlie Purdy competed in the Light Heavyweight division and lost to a French component in his opening bout.
The 1928 Olympic Games were held in Amsterdam. They would turn out to be a golden one for New Zealand as the games in Amsterdam are remembered as the first time New Zealand won an individual gold medal at the Olympic Games. Boxer Ted Morgan won the Men’s Welterweight event on August 11, 1928. In the final, Morgan faced Argentinian Paul Landini. Morgan, a southpaw boxer who had suffered a broken hand on his way to the Olympics, fought through to the final after beating competitors from Sweden, Italy and France. A group of New Zealand supporters were in the crowd for the final. By reaching the final, Morgan had secured New Zealand a silver medal already, with gold on the table. In the final, it was clear from the start of the first round that Morgan was the superior boxer and was deemed the winner. Broken hand and all, Morgan became Olympic champion, and his result was a huge achievement for the New Zealander, who well and truly placed New Zealand on the Olympic map.
New Zealand sent boxers to the Olympic Games on a regular basis following the 1928 Olympic Games, but with little success. However, in 1984 that would change when Kevin Barry won through to the semi-final of the light-heavyweight event. Barry would face future Heavyweight Champion of the world and hometown hero Evander Holyfield for a place in the final. Barry was clearly outboxed throughout by Holyfield, but Holyfield knocked Barry out at the end of round two after the referee called stop. The referee subsequently disqualified Holyfield for hitting after the referee stopped the bout. This outraged the mostly American audience and made headlines around the world. Barry was through to the final, but because he had been declared a knockout victim and therefore, under amateur boxing regulations, was not able to fight again for 28 days. The gold medal went automatically to Yugoslav Anton Josipovic, the winner of the other semi-final and Barry won the silver medal.
At the Barcelona 1992 Olympic Games, David Tua won New Zealand’s third boxing medal, a bronze in the heavyweight competition.
At the 2012 Olympic Games in London, women’s boxing made its debut and two New Zealanders Siona Fernandez and Alexis Pritchard competed. Pritchard won her opening bout, before losing her quarter-final bout to eventual silver medallist Sofya Ochigava of Russia.
Double Commonwealth Games gold medallist David Nyika will be striving to qualify for the Tokyo Olympic Games next year after missing qualification for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.
Alongside athletics, swimming is one of the most competitive and most watched of all Olympic sports.
New Zealand’s first Olympic gold medallist came in the sport of swimming at the 1912 Stockholm Olympic Games. New Zealand and Australia joined forces in Stockholm to compete as a combined Australasian Olympic Team. Malcolm Champion combined with three Australians to win a gold medal in the men’s 4x200 metres freestyle relay. In the final, Australasia beat the United States by nine seconds in a world record time.
It would take until the 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki for a New Zealand swimming to reach the podium. Jean Stewart won bronze in the women’s 100m backstroke.
In 1976, Rebecca Perrott broke the Olympic record in the heats of the women’s 400m freestyle. Perrott finished fourth in the Olympic final, missing the bronze medal by .16 of a second.
The next notable results for New Zealand in swimming came at the Seoul 1988 Olympic Games when Paul Kingsman and Anthony Moss both won bronze in the 200m backstroke and 200m butterfly events.
Four years later in Barcelona, a young New Zealander by the name of Danyon Loader shot onto the world stage by winning the silver medal in the 200m butterfly. By the time the Centennial Olympic Games were held in Atlanta, Danyon Loader had continued to excel on the world stage. Loader won three medals at the 1994 Swimming World Championships in Rome and five medals at the 1994 Commonwealth Games. The Olympic Games in Atlanta was Loader’s moment by winning two gold medals. Loader won his first gold medal in the 200 metres freestyle event on day one of the Olympic Games.
Loader won by half a second ahead of Gustavo Borges of Brazil and Daniel Kowalski of Australia. Three days later Loader lined up in the final of the 400 metres freestyle event, again prevailing and winning gold by over a second from Paul Palmer of Great Britain in second and Daniel Kowalski of Australia in third. Dave Gerrard, New Zealand’s Chef de Mission in Atlanta and former Commonwealth Games swimming gold medallist, eloquently put Loader's achievement into perspective:
I was in Tokyo when Snell won his two gold medals. He did it like Danyon, finishing with a withering final sprint. And he imposed himself on the field, just like Danyon. At first, you might think it's stretching things to put him in the same breath as Snell, but that’s where Danyon belongs.
Unfortunately, Loader’s double gold in Atlanta would be the last medal won by a swimmer for New Zealand at the Olympic Games. Moss Burmester (200m butterfly) and Lauren Boyle (800m freestyle) both finished in fourth place at the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games respectively.
 Joseph Romanos, Our Olympic Century, p.209.