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The Olympics: 1908–2021

Page 3 – 16 Olympic stories

We created a story for each day of competition at the Summer Olympic Games:

NZ Olympic pioneers (1908)

1908 Olympics programme cover

Distance and money prevented New Zealanders from competing at the first three modern Olympic Games in Athens (1896), Paris (1900) and St Louis (1904). At the 1908 Games in London, three New Zealanders competed as part of an ‘Australasian’ team. One of them, walker Harry Kerr, bagged our first medal. More...

Our first female Olympian (1920)

Violet Walrond

Violet Walrond was New Zealand’s first female Olympian. She was only 14 when selected and 15 when she swam at the 1920 Antwerp Games. Standing 1.6 m tall, she weighed just 48.5 kg. After spending nine weeks travelling to Antwerp, Violet finished fifth in the 100-m freestyle final, swum in a murky canal with no lane markings.  More...

Birth of an Olympic rowing tradition (1920)

Darcy Hadfield

Our first official team made its debut at the 1920 Antwerp Games, the first Olympics held after the Great War. It was a happier return visit to Belgium for sculler Darcy Hadfield, who had been wounded at Passchendaele in 1917. He became the first New Zealander to win an Olympic rowing medal when he came third in the single sculls.  More...

Kiwi wins bronze in Chariots of fire race (1924) 

In the Academy Award-winning 1981 film, based on the true story of British athletes competing in the 1924 Paris Olympics, a New Zealander named ‘Tom Watson’ finishes third in the 100-m final. The character was based on Arthur Porritt, who reportedly refused permission for his name to be used out of modesty. More...

Ted Morgan – boxing for gold (1928)

Described by an English writer as the ‘best boxer at the games’, Ted Morgan proved the point by winning the gold medal in the welterweight division at Amsterdam. His victory was all the more remarkable given that he was considerably lighter than most of his opponents and fought with a dislocated knuckle. More...

Jack Lovelock wins 1500-m gold at Berlin (1936)

Jack Lovelock

Jack Lovelock won New Zealand’s first Olympic track gold in front of Adolf Hitler at the Berlin Olympics of 1936. He led the 1500-m field home in a world record time of 3 minutes 47.8 seconds. His finishing burst famously caused the BBC commentator to forget his broadcasting etiquette: ‘My God, he’s done it! Jack! Come on! … He wins! He’s won! Hooray!’. More...

Covering the Olympics

newspaper report about Harry Kerr

Today when our athletes perform at the Olympics we can follow up-to-the-minute coverage via radio, television or the internet. Back in 1908, when New Zealand walker Harry Kerr won our first medal, the report of his feat in the following day’s Taranaki Herald – published in Kerr’s home region – was brief and low-key. More..

Yvette Williams leaps for gold at Helsinki (1952)

Yvette Williams

New Zealand’s first female Olympic medallist, Yvette Williams won gold in the long jump with an Olympic-record leap of 6.24 m (20 feet 5¾ inches). Her triumph came 32 years after New Zealand’s first female Olympian, swimmer Violet Walrond, competed in the 100 m and 300 m at the 1920 Antwerp Games. More...

Kiwi linesman offside in football final (1956)

Kiwi linesman offside at 1956 football final

No New Zealand footballers appeared at the Olympics before 2008, but linesman Morrie Swain was a central figure in the 1956 gold-medal match in Melbourne. The USSR was leading 1–0 late in the game when Yugoslavia appeared to equalise. Swain, though, had his flag raised for offside – much to the disgust of the 102,000-strong crowd. More...

Golden day for Kiwi runners in Rome (1960)

It was arguably New Zealand’s greatest day at the Olympic Games. Just half an hour after the previously unheralded 21-year-old Peter Snell had won gold in the 800 m, the experienced Murray Halberg followed up by winning the 5000 m, completing a remarkable track double in Rome’s Olympic Stadium. More...

The Montreal boycott (1976)

In 1976 New Zealand athletes found themselves at the centre of a storm that cast a long shadow over the Olympics. The All Blacks’ recent tour of South Africa, in defiance of the UN, sparked a black African boycott of the Montreal Games. But despite the added pressure, Montreal was a memorable Games for New Zealand. More...

John Walker wins gold in Montreal (1976)

John Walker

Following in the footsteps of Jack Lovelock and Peter Snell, Walker won gold in the Olympic 1500 m. Black African nations boycotted the games in protest over the All Blacks’ tour of South Africa. Walker’s medal was the first Olympic track gold won by a New Zealander since Peter Snell’s 800-m and 1500-m double at Tokyo in 1964. More...

The Moscow boycott (1980) 

Moscow Olympics

The Moscow boycott was larger than that led by black African nations in 1976 and more damaging to New Zealand’s athletes. New Zealand was among the 80 countries eventually represented at Moscow but with a much diminished team and without many, if not all, of its medal hopefuls. More...

Amateur ideals and Olympic realities


For most of their history, the Olympics welcomed only those who competed for pleasure and spurned all monetary rewards. Until the late 20th century, officials pursued professionals far more vigorously than drug cheats. Only in the 1980s did the IOC acknowledge that all elite sportspeople were in fact being paid in some way. More...

Measuring Olympic success

Measuring Olympic success

Australians’ self-image as battlers punching above their Olympic weight began in 1896, when their only athlete won two events. Others can play at this game: thanks to Danyon Loader and Blyth Tait, New Zealand topped the golds per capita rankings at Atlanta in 1996. But how accurate were predictions for 2008? More...

Best of the best

Rowing eight cartoon

In Our Olympic century (2008), well-known sports writer Joseph Romanos ranked New Zealand’s best individual male and female Olympians and our top Olympic teams. Peter Snell, Barbara Kendall and the 1972 rowing eight were his top picks. Add your comments or alternative choices in the Community Contributions section. More...

How to cite this page

16 Olympic stories, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated