Defying the odds, overcoming adversity and winning with panache are how sporting legends are made in this country.
During the Listener’s 80-year existence, New Zealand has changed out of all recognition from being, as Belich put it, “homogeneous, conformist, masculist, egalitarian and monocultural” and “subject to heavy formal and informal regulation”, to ethnically diverse, lightly regulated and largely open-minded. Sport itself has changed as a consequence of that socio-economic transformation and the advent of professionalism and pay television. One thing that has remained constant is this country’s capacity for producing outstanding sportsmen and women and generating memorable sporting moments.
Here are eight examples from the past eight decades, selected on criteria that include athletic achievement, emotional impact and enduring significance. Apologies to those great athletes, from Valerie Adams to Valerie Young, who didn’t make the cut. As always, you can tell the quality of a line-up by those who missed out.
Peter Heidenstrom, the great chronicler of New Zealand athletics, raised eyebrows when he anointed Williams the New Zealand athlete of the century. However, her extraordinary versatility lends credence to this proposition: she won national titles in five different events, holding them for years in some cases, and won gold medals in the long jump, shot put and discus at the 1954 British Empire and Commonwealth Games in Vancouver.
This article was first published in the August 10, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.