Peter Burling and Blair Tuke joined a select group of New Zealand Olympic heroes today.
The 49er yachties earned the 100th medal won by New Zealanders at the Olympics with their silver at Weymouth, and suddenly find themselves rubbing shoulders with some of the great names in our sports history.
It’s been a long haul getting to the magic century.
Harry Kerr started it off in the 1908 London Olympics, the first at which New Zealanders competed, even if in those days it was under the banner of Australasia.
The Wanganui walker won a bronze medal in the 3500m walk. He hadn’t had the easiest of careers, being declared a professional at one point and having to serve a period of rehabilitation before the amateurs would let him back in.
Even in London, things were a bit dodgy. He got lost in the tunnels of the Olympic Stadium at Shepherd’s Bush and emerged only moments before the starter’s gun fired.
The milestones came thick and fast for a while. In 1912, Aucklander Malcolm Champion became the first New Zealander to win an Olympic gold medal, as part of the Australasian 4 x 200m freestyle relay.
In 1920, when Australia and New Zealand had gone it alone, Darcy Hadfield won New Zealand’s first Olympic medal, in the single sculls.
Eight years later Wellington plumber Ted Morgan won our first gold medal, in the welterweight boxing. The southpaw broke his left hand a week before the tournament but still competed in Amsterdam, and won surprisingly comfortably.
Athletics provided a lot of the early medals, and what great names they are in New Zealand sports lore – Arthur Porritt, Jack Lovelock (who won the 1500m gold medal in Berlin in 1936 in front of Hitler), Yvette Williams, hurdler Dutch Holland, walker Norman Read, Murray Halberg, Peter Snell (three golds!), Barry Magee – all athletics medallists by 1960.
Gradually other sports made their presence felt. Rowers McDonald and Stiles in 1932, backstroke swimmer Jean Stewart in 1952 and, significantly, yachties Jack Cropp and
Peter Mander in 1956.
Since then things have rather gone in eras.
The great Arthur Lydiard stable of runners in the 1960s, Walker, Dixon and Quax in the 1970s, the canoeists in the 1980s, the equestrian champions of the 1980s and 1990s, and, of course, the rowers. They had a golden era from 1968-76, and there’s been another golden era since Rob Waddell won the single sculls at Sydney in 2000. Cycling has had a golden era at the Olympics in the 2000s.
Ian Ferguson and Paul MacDonald, with five medals each, have been our most medalled competitors, joined on the top rung in London by Mark Todd when he picked up a team bronze with the three-day eventing team.
Some medals remain in the memory for various reasons – Mike Ryan beating the Africans at their own game to take the marathon bronze medal at altitude at Mexico City in 1968, Russell Coutts beating boils and waterlogged gear to win the Finn gold in 1984, Kevin Barry winning the light-heavyweight boxing in 1984 after his contentious bout with future pro king Evander Holyfield, skier Annelise Coberger in 1992 becoming the only New Zealand medallist at a winter Olympics, Danyon Loader taking on the best freestyle swimmers in the world and winning twice in 1996, Hamish Carter and Bevan Docherty providing a 1:2 in the triathlon in 2004, Nick Willis reclaiming New Zealand’s 1500m glory days with his silver medal at Beijing in 2008.
But, of course, all medals are special, and everyone will have their own memories of performances that stand out.
It was appropriate that two sailors should have the honour of winning No 100 today. Since Cropp and Mander 56 years ago, there’s been Helmer Pederson and Earle Wells in 1964 and a splurge of them in the 1980s and early 1990s.
Except for the boardsailors, the yachties have had lean pickings since 1992, so perhaps Burling and Tuke have set something alight again.
In that case maybe they haven’t so much signed off the first century as kicked off the second century.