New Zealand has won just one Olympic shooting medal. It was entirely appropriate that a man with the surname Ballinger should have won it.
At the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, Ian Ballinger was the oldest member of the team, even though it was his first Olympics. He turned 43 during the Games, but that didn’t stop him winning a smallbore bronze medal. He was the first shooter New Zealand had sent to an Olympics.
Ballinger is one of the most famous names in New Zealand shooting history.
The Ballinger Belt is New Zealand’s premier rifle shooting prize. The Ballinger family’s link with the belt has been remarkable. Corporal William Ballinger of the Petone Rifle Club won the championship belt in 1879, and again in a shoot-off with Private Arthur Ballinger of the Wellington Guards in 1895. Arthur Ballinger won the belt three times, in 1893, 1897 and 1907. His third title earned him the belt outright, but in 1938, he presented it to the National Rifle Association.
Ian Ballinger, two generations later, won the belt in 1969, representing the Sydenham club. The family tradition didn’t stop there, for in 1996, his son Graeme Ballinger of the Levin club won the coveted belt.
In Mexico City, Ballinger began badly. His sighting shots were bulls, but he slipped to an eight with his first counting shot. Ballinger’s personal best in this nerveless sport was the Olympic record of 597 and he knew he would need to reproduce that sort of form to be in the medal hunt.
Ballinger rattled off scores of 98, 100, 100, 99, 100, equalling his best of 597. Then he had an anxious wait as the other smallbore competitors finished.
A Czech, Jan Kurka, and a Hungarian, Laszlo Hammerl, both shot 598 and Kurka won the gold on the countback. Behind them, Ballinger took the bronze on a countback from Romanian Nicolae Rotaru, bringing yet more shooting glory to the famous Ballinger family.
Ballinger continued to compete at a high level until he was in his mid-50s. He earned selection for the 1972, 1976 and 1980 Olympics, though the American-led boycott in 1980 ruled him out of competing at Moscow. His next best finish, after his bronze medal effort, was his 20th placing at Montreal in 1976.
He also competed in two Commonwealth Games, finishing fourth in Christchurch in 1974 and seventh at Edmonton in 1978.
Ballinger was born in New Plymouth and worked in the automotive spare parts trade in Taranaki until 1950 when he moved to Nelson. A few years later he shifted to Christchurch.
After some years in the sports good industry, he and Maurie Brons started Brons and Ballinger, building a successful business selling firearms. Ballinger bought out Brons in 1961 and headed the company until retiring in 1981. Ian Ballinger Ltd, as it became, was later managed by his son-in-law.
As well as his lifelong passion of shooting, Ballinger developed a strong interest in lawn bowls.
Ballinger won the Lonsdale Cup in 1968.
He died in 2008.