Ted Morgan Born 1906 Ted Morgan remains the only New Zealand boxer to have won an Olympic gold medal. What's more, the Wellington southpaw achieved his triumph despite incredible handicaps.
Through the mid-1920s, Morgan, a quietly-spoken, phlegmatic young man, established himself as the best amateur lightweight in the country, winning the national title in 1925 and 1927. He was a pupil of Tim Tracy, who ran a fine boxing school in Willis Street, Wellington.
Morgan and his friend Alf Cleverley were the two boxers named in the 10-strong 1928 New Zealand team for the Amsterdam Olympics. But the long boat trip aboard the Remuera played havoc with Morgan's fitness.
A punch bag was rigged up on deck and that helped a little. Normally Morgan and Cleverley, a light-heavyweight, would have been able to put in some solid sparring sessions. However, Cleverley, a marginal selection in the team, was required to work his passage. The captain of the Remuera was a stickler for protocol and would not permit passengers to mix with the crew. Therefore Morgan and Cleverley were not allowed to spar.
Morgan packed on weight during the voyage and had to compete at Amsterdam as a welterweight, giving away up to 9lb to some opponents.
Even the weight concession was not Morgan's primary concern. On landing in England, the boxers trained briefly at Aldershot. Morgan was sparring with former European professional lightweight champion Ernie Rice a week before the Olympics when he had an accident in the ring that all but killed his Games hopes.
He smashed his left hand into Rice's elbow and dislocated one of the knuckles, meaning he could not punch with his left hand without severe pain. Arthur Porritt, the New Zealand team captain, and a doctor by profession, treated Morgan and the injury did improve slightly, but he was still badly handicapped when the boxing began.
It was amazing then that despite these problems, Morgan proved in a class of his own during the Olympic boxing tournament.
He knocked out a Swede, Selfrid Johansson, in the second round, then won points decisions over Italian Romano Canova, pre-games favourite René Calataud, of France, and, in the final, Argentinian Paul Landini.
“The fight with the Italian was terrible, worse than a street fight,” Morgan recalled. “He used his head as much as his fists, and I don’t mean he was a brainy boxer - he head-butted repeatedly. After the second round the ref told his manager that if the butting didn’t stop he would disqualify Canova. I got on better after that, but I was left with a big black eye from the fight.”
Calataud was a good boxer, but Morgan said the Frenchman’s style suited him perfectly. “He was very brave and aggressive, but he was shorter than me and kept coming in. Suited me down to the ground.”
Before the final the New Zealander’s left hand was so bad he could not straighten it. But Morgan boxed so well in the final, though he threw just two or three lefts, that even parochial Argentinians in the crowd agreed with the decision.
“I had good crowd support that day. I was the only English-speaking boxer left, so the South Africans, Australians and English all supported me. Made me feel very proud.”
Asked afterwards what his major attribute was, Morgan nominated his punching power.
Morgan thus became the first person to win an Olympic gold medal for New Zealand - Malcolm Champion had won his gold medal in 1912 as part of an Australasian team.
Indeed, 1928 was a landmark year in New Zealand boxing. Not only did Morgan win an Olympic gold, but Tom Heeney, of Gisborne, fought Gene Tunney in New York for the world professional heavyweight title.
Morgan’s career never touched the same heights again. He was approached in Amsterdam by English and American promoters offering him professional contracts. He declined, as he did again in Panama during his return journey when former Wellingtonian Ted Scott offered him $2000 to turn professional.
He regretted his decision. He did join the paid ranks, in 1929, and from 1931-34 held the New Zealand professional welterweight title. He also fought in Australia and the United States.
“I should have turned pro in England or America,” he rued. “I’d have got the experience I needed there. There just weren’t enough good fighters at home, and the game wasn’t so big.”
Eventually he turned to refereeing and controlled many top bouts through the 1930s and ’40s. During World War II he served as a nurse.
Morgan had attended Wellington College just after World War I. In 1978 the school marked the 50th anniversary of his Olympic triumph by unveiling a Ted Morgan plaque.
He is remembered in other ways, too. At the national boxing championship the winner of the welterweight division is awarded the Ted Morgan Cup.
In 1990 he was inducted into the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame and 10 years later the precious gold medal he won in 1928 was retrieved by his family from a bank vault in Melbourne to be displayed at the Sports Hall of Fame in Dunedin.