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The most remarkable Bruce McLaren

It's 50 years since Kiwi Bruce McLaren became the youngest driver to win a Formula One grand prix.

For almost any given year, it's possible to go back in time to find great sporting moments well worth cele­brating that provide a pleasant diversion from the morbid tendency New Zealanders have for recalling tragic national or global events. Sadly, many of the former float past with little or no acknowledgement, although so many deserve to be relived - like the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games. It was their 25th anniversary in July this year, yet it was barely noted.

Those games remain New Zealand's most successful in history and will likely never be bettered. With eight gold, one silver medal and two bronze medals, the total of 11 ranked the Kiwi team a lofty eighth on the medal table (Australia counting just four golds). The kayakers hauled in four gold medals between them - three for Ian Ferguson alone - Mark Todd had the first of his back-to-back Olympic titles on Charisma in the three-day event, the coxless four of Shane O'Brien, Les O'Connell, Conrad Robertson and Keith Trask won rowing gold and sailors Russell Coutts (Finn class) and Rex Sellers and Chris Timms (Tornado class) also ­triumphed. Great days indeed.

Conversely, rugby union's moments in time are rightly hooked into zealously, as evidenced by this year's 50th anniversary of the memorable series between the All Blacks and the British and Irish Lions in 1959. Cricket also has a healthy habit of reliving its past when the opportunity arises, as it did in 2006 by bringing together surviving members involved in New Zealand's first test victory against the West Indies in 1956.

One of the most unheralded - yet most remarkable - achievements hit its 50th anniversary on December 12, 2009. Doubtless few Kiwis, other than genuine trainspotters, would associate the date with a breakthrough triumph by a Kiwi who now owns a place among the country's most extraordinary achievers in any endeavour - sporting or otherwise.

The man in question is Bruce McLaren, who was everything it was possible to be in motor racing - a quality driver in both Formula One and sports cars, a designer par excellence, an engineer, an inventor and a team owner. In short he was a phenomenal human being, all the more so because he overcame Perthes disease to excel in his field. His credentials were established at the United States Grand Prix at Sebring, Florida, on that December day in 1959.

McLaren was driving for Cooper then, doing his usual job as the team's No 2 driver and staying behind the great Jack Brab­ham, but two laps from the end Brab­ham's Cooper Climax started spluttering and he waved McLaren through to his maiden victory. That day McLaren became the youngest driver to win a Formula One grand prix, a record that stood until Spaniard Fernando Alonso bettered it in 2003 (and German Sebastian Vettel lowered it again this year).

McLaren was killed while testing at Goodwood on June 2, 1970. His name continues to prosper through McLaren Racing, second only to Ferrari as the longest-­surviving team in the Formula One ­mix. His is a name that should always be lauded and his life one that should always be remembered.