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The Olympics: 1908–2021

Page 1 – Introduction

Members of the New Zealand Olympic team en route to Antwerp in 1920
Members of the New Zealand Olympic team en route to Antwerp in 1920

New Zealand’s Olympic story began in London in 1908, when three athletes competed as part of an ‘Australasian’ team. In 2012 the Games returned to London; this was one of New Zealand's most successful Olympics yet. 

Over the years this country’s Olympians – nearly 1600 in total by 2021 – have produced plenty of memorable moments, from the pioneering efforts of Harry Kerr, Violet Walrond and Arthur Porritt to the track triumphs of Lovelock, Snell and Walker, and the golden achievements of our rowers, canoeists, equestrians and yachties. There have also been plenty of near misses and hard-luck stories. For many, it really was the taking part that counted.

But there has always been much more to the Olympics than the efforts of athletes. All too often, the Games have been marred by political wrangling, boycotts, controversy, even tragedy. From the Nazi spectacle of Berlin to the Montreal, Moscow and Los Angeles boycotts and the COVID-19 pandemic, New Zealand athletes have often been caught up in events far beyond their control. The modern Olympics have also seen a revolution in the speed and extent of media coverage, as well as the abandonment of its founders’ amateur ideals in favour of professionalism.

How to cite this page

The Olympics: 1908–2021, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated