Dick Joyce Born 1946 Wellingtonian Dick Joyce was a central figure in a memorable era of New Zealand rowing, being part of his country’s first two gold medal-winning Olympic crews.
The tall former Wellington High School student didn’t begin rowing until he was 18, having previously been a competitive swimmer.
He quickly impressed rowing followers and was chosen to represent New Zealand in North America in 1967. Surprised by this sudden elevation, he opted to finish his engineering degree at Canterbury University, not a popular decision with the selectors.
However, before his final year of study was finished, Joyce was called into the New Zealand team, as the stroke of the coxed four for a home test series against Australia in late 1967.
Coach Rusty Robertson pinpointed Joyce as an oarsman with the physical and mental attributes to be a champion.
Joyce was chosen in the coxed four for the 1968 Mexico City Olympics.
Like the rest of the four, he would have liked a spot in the New Zealand eight. But after a few weeks in camp at Kerrs Reach, Christchurch, the four realised they had a special chemistry. In Robertson’s words: “When they got together, they were they funniest-looking crew you’d ever seen.” This dark horse status was to work to their advantage.
The eight, so impressive in the build-up to the Olympics and in the early rounds, crumbled late in the final and came fourth. The New Zealand oarsmen finished in a state of distress, mainly because of the thinner altitude at Mexico City.
However the four – stroke Joyce, Dudley Storey, Ross Collinge and Warren Cole, plus cox Simon Dickie - never put a foot wrong, winning their heat and semi-final, though not in the fastest times. In the final they pushed their bow ahead at 300m and continued to attack, winning by nearly three seconds, from East Germany and Switzerland. That was the last time they raced together – three races, three victories, and the gold medal.
Joyce was then elevated to the eight, taking the No 4 seat, and was in the crew that finished third at the 1970 world championship at St Catharines, Canada, after earlier winning the United States national championship at Camden, Philadelphia.
In 1971 Joyce was promoted to the No 6 seat in a revamped eight that won international races at Duisburg, Germany, and Klagenfurt, Austria. When the eight beat the feared East Germans to win the European title at Copenhagen, they were awarded the International Olympic Committee’s Taher Pacha Trophy for excellence in amateur sport.
The New Zealanders were among the favourites at the 1972 Munich Olympics and duly delivered.
Robertson prepared them well, and they responded by outclassing a quality field to win by nearly three seconds, from the Americans and East Germans. This was a significant victory for the “amateur” New Zealanders over the “professional” northern hemisphere crews, and, significantly, the medals were presented by IOC chief Avery Brundage.
New Zealand’s rowing stocks were never higher than that emotional day at Feldmoching when the eight – Tony Hurt, Wybo Weldman, Joyce, John Hunter, Lindsay Wilson, Athol Earl, Trevor Coker, Gary Robertson and, again, cox Dickie – stood on the dais, gold medals around their necks, listening to God Defend New Zealand while they shed tears of joy.
The 1972 Olympics marked the end of Joyce’s international career. He continued to row at national level and in 1975, with an eye on the following year’s Montreal Olympics, embarked on a comeback. He made the eight for the world championship in Nottingham, but, after three months’ hard training, was laid low by colitis and had to withdraw just before the team departed. The illness degenerated into Crohn’s disease.
Joyce compiled an impressive domestic record. He won four national fours titles, three for the Hutt Valley club from 1967-69, and one for the Wellington club in 1972. He and Collinge also won the national coxed pairs title in 1970.
He built a successful career as an engineer, working first for New Zealand Railways and then, in 1986, setting up Dick Joyce Consultants.
Joyce coached at the Wellington, Petone and Horowhenua clubs at different times, and assisted at Hutt Valley High School. He won two greencoats, for coaching premier division national champions.
For two years in the late 1970s he was on the national rowing council. Later he became president of the Wellington Rowing Club, devoting time to assisting the club’s coaches.
The 1968 and 1972 Olympic rowing crews that included Joyce were inducted into the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame in 1990. The eight that won the world title in 1971 and the Olympic gold in 1972 won the New Zealand Sportsman of the Year award in consecutive years.