New Zealand’s rowing eight wins gold

2 September 1972

New Zealand rowing eight team, Munich, 1972 (New Zealand Rowing)

Many regard the ‘eights’ as the glamour event at any rowing regatta. In 2008 the sportswriter Joseph Romanos chose the victory of the 1972 rowing eight as the best team performance by New Zealanders at an Olympic Games.

Romanos described the ‘emphatic’ victory as ‘one of New Zealand’s all-time Olympic highlights’. It was also one of the most-publicised: elderly International Olympic Committee President Avery Brundage was so elated by this victory of ‘amateurs’ over ‘professionals’ that he presented the medals himself.

The New Zealand crew arrived in Munich as favourites, having won the world title in 1971. Despite this the Kiwis faced stiff opposition in the final. East German crews had already won five gold medals that day, while the United States had won the eights at 11 of the 15 Olympics at which it had been rowed. Somewhat surprisingly, the Kiwis had been beaten in the semi-final by West Germany. They were determined there would be no such upset in the final. Buoyed by the performance of the coxless four, which had won silver earlier in the day, the eights exploded from the starting line. They led by a boat-length after 350 m and surged again to double this advantage by halfway (1000 m). The United States and East Germany reduced the lead to a length with 500 m to go, but the Kiwis won by nearly 3 seconds from the Americans.

The crew that memorable day was: Trevor Coker, Athol Earl, John Hunter, Tony Hurt, Dick Joyce, Gary Robertson, Wybo Veldman, Lindsay Wilson, Simon Dickie (cox).

Dickie and Joyce had already tasted Olympic success as members of the coxed four that won gold at Mexico City in 1968. Many attributed the success of the team to its outstanding coach, ‘Rusty’ Robertson.

The achievements of competitors at these games were overshadowed by what became known as the Munich massacre. On 5 September a group of eight Palestinians belonging to the Black September terrorist organisation broke into the Olympic village and took 11 Israeli athletes, coaches and officials hostage. All the hostages, five of the terrorists and a policeman were killed, most during a botched rescue attempt by West German authorities.