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Norman Read

Norman Read
Norman Read

Norman Read was an Olympic gold medal-winning race walker who helped to popularise the sport in New Zealand.

Born in Portsmouth, England, Norman Read spent his adolescence in the United Kingdom, emigrating to New Zealand in his early twenties. While in the UK he completed an apprenticeship as a carpenter.

Initially Read was an underwhelming race walker. However, when international rules changed to favour road walking over track walking, the longer distances better suited Read. In 1956 he won New Zealand titles in both the 20-kilometre and 50-kilometre races.

Even with this success, Read was left out of the New Zealand and British teams for the 1956 Olympic Games. He responded by winning the Australian championship that year, and was hurriedly added to the Olympics team. Despite nearly getting lost in the labyrinth beneath the Melbourne Cricket Ground, Read won the Olympic 50-kilometre walk, in conditions that saw six of the 21 starters fail to finish.

Four years later, at the Rome Olympics, Read decided to attempt walking both events. He came fifth in the 20-kilometre race, but failed to finish in the 50-kilometre, his speciality. Read was not selected for the Tokyo Olympics in 1964, despite having recorded his second-fastest time ever.

Read went on to finish third in the 20-mile walk at the British Empire and Commonwealth Games in Jamaica in 1966. He competed nationally until the age of 52, totalling 18 gold medals; he also won several Australian and British titles.

As a judge, he became only the second New Zealander to officiate at an Olympic Games – in Barcelona in 1992. He was awarded a diploma by the International Amateur Athletic Federation on its 75th jubilee in 1987, and in 1990 he was elected a foundation member of the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame.

Norm Read was voted New Zealand’s Sportsman of the Year in 1956.

Adapted by Patrick Whatman from the DNZB biography by P. N. Heidenstrøm

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Norman Read, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated