Biography

Barbara Kendall Born 1967  Barbara Kendall was one of the most enduring and successful New Zealand sportswomen, and one of New Zealand’s best-performed female Olympians. Her level of achievement and longevity placed her at least on the same lofty pedestal as her contemporaries, Susan Devoy, Erin Baker and Sara Ulmer. 

Kendall, following in the footsteps of her older brother (by three years) Bruce, took up boardsailing in 1984, when she was 17, as a “fun way to see the world”. In her youth, she’d been a keen dancer, but sailing occupied much of her time. 

She competed first in P class and later Starlings, in which she and her older sister, Wendy, once beat the boys in an Auckland championship. 

In 1987, Barbara decided to join the professional boardsailing circuit, finishing eighth in her first year. She was fourth in 1989 and improved to second in 1990. 

In the early 1990s boardsailing, and especially women’s boardsailing, was very much a minor sport in most New Zealanders’ eyes. Kendall changed all that in 1992 when she burst into national prominence by winning the gold medal at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. It was New Zealand’s only gold medal of those Games and she was the first New Zealand woman to win an Olympic gold medal since Yvette Williams 40 years earlier. 

Amazingly, she had suffered a broken wrist earlier that year and had almost given away hopes of emulating Bruce in winning an Olympic boardsailing gold medal. Fortunately, the Olympic trials were delayed, giving her time to recover and prepare herself, often by training with Bruce and other men. 

Her finishes at Barcelona were 1-10-3-2-1-2-6-7-3-3 and she went into the final race knowing sixth place would be good enough for the gold medal. She carried the flag for New Zealand during the closing ceremony. 

Kendall tried valiantly to retain her Olympic title at Savannah in 1996, but eventually had to concede to Lai-Shan Lee, of Hong Kong, after finishing placings of 2-3-6-1-10-5-5-6-2. She was the New Zealand team’s captain and flag-bearer during the 1996 opening ceremony. 

The Auckland boardsailor completed her set of Olympic medals by winning bronze in Sydney in 2000. The only New Zealanders to have won medals at three separate Olympics are Mark Todd, Simon Dickie and Kendall. 

Her finishing placings in Sydney were 2-3-2-3-7-1-3-1-5-1-3 and she was disappointed to finish only third. Three sailors – Italian Alessandra Sensini, German Amelie Lux and Kendall - in the 29-strong fleet were several notches above the rest, and it was Kendall’s misfortune that she was shaded for the gold. 

There was speculation that she might retire at that point, and when she and husband Shayne Bright had their first child, Samantha, in 2001, it seemed even more likely. 

Instead Kendall came back to be as dominant as ever, regaining the world crown in 2002 (she had won the title previously in 1998 and 1999) in Thailand at the age of 36, and earning selection for her fourth successive Olympics with two subsequent second placings at world championships. 

She could well have won a medal in Athens in 2004, but finished fifth. She was as good as anyone in the field, but had two devastating results, both times because she crossed the start line too soon. One of the decisions was contentious. A look at her finishing placings shows just how costly her two false starts were: 1-9-27-2-27-5-5-3-1-1-4. 

“I definitely feel like I threw away a medal in Athens,” said Kendall. “One of them (the false starts) was my fault, the other wasn’t. It was just about the only time in 15 years I wasn’t in the top three at a world championship or Olympic event, so I was shattered.” 

In 2007 she has won a silver medal at the world championships in Portugal, was placed fourth in the European championships and won a Grade 1 Princess Sofia regatta in Spain. 

She bowed out of Olympic competition at Beijing in 2008 with a sixth placing, no mean feat for a woman of 40, and became the first New Zealand woman to compete at five Olympics. She retired from boardsailing in May 2010, after 24 years at the top of her sport. 

Kendall has undertaken various roles on behalf of her sport over the years, including being a Sports Ambassador for Sport and Recreation New Zealand, and for a time being an official New Zealand boardsailing coach. 

She has earned all sorts of honours. She has won a multitude of national boardsailing titles, been named New Zealand Sailor of the Year in 1992 and 1998, and won the Halberg Award as Sportswoman of the Year in 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2002. She won the Lonsdale Cup in 1999. 

She was on the New Zealand Olympic Committee’s athletes commission and in 2005 was appointed to the International Olympic Committee, as the Oceania athletes’ representative, replacing Australian swimmer Susie O’Neill. She was elected an IOC member in July 2011 and took a place on the IOC Athletes Commission, Woman and Sport Commission and Sport and the Environment Commission. 

Kendall was inducted into the International Sailing Hall of Fame in 2007.

Related Resources

Athlete Story: Barbara Kendall's inspiring story for students, and real-life examples of values-driven decision making and conflict resolution.
Relating to Achievement Objectives 7D1, 7A4 & 7C2 and Achievement Standards 2.5 & 2.6, this resource features Olympians Kiri Shaw, Sarah Ulmer and Barbara Kendall; as well as Pat Barwick, an Olympic Coach and Susie Simcock, a leader in the Olympic Movement.