For a small country from the edge of the world, achievements on the Olympic stage are badges — silver fern-on-black — of national pride: precious moments where we gained notice (even if it was Mum’s anthem playing on the dais). This legacy collection draws on archive footage, some rarely seen, to celebrate the stories behind Kiwis going for gold.
This film comprehensively surveys Kiwi Olympic success to 1968. Footage includes triumphs from running men Lovelock, Halberg and Snell (trying a celebratory haka), and long-jumper Yvette Williams; and podium efforts from Marise Chamberlain, Barry Magee and John Holland. The John O'Shea-made doco then meets athletes training for the upcoming Mexico Olympics. Reigning Boston Marathon winner Dave McKenzie runs on deserted West Coast roads and Warren Cole rows under snow-capped mountains on Lake Rotoiti. Cole would go on to win gold as bow of the Men's Coxed Four.
This NFU classic tells Peter Snell's story up to just prior to his triumph at the Tokyo Olympics (he had already won 800m gold in Rome and held the world record for the mile). Snell's commentary — focused, candid — plays over footage of training and racing. "It always gives a feeling of exhilaration to run in the New Zealand all black singlet." He offers insight into the methods of coach Arthur Lydiard (15 miles a day, 100 miles a week). Includes priceless footage of Snell running in the Waiatarua hills, through bush and leaping farm fences.
This documentary follows the efforts of the New Zealand rowing eight to win gold at 1984’s Los Angeles Olympics. The eight, coached by the legendary Harry Mahon, had won the past two world champs and were expected to repeat the triumph of the 1972 Kiwi eight at Munich. Amongst training at home, the infamous six minutes of pain — the “erg test” — is featured; one of the most demanding trials in sport. The action then shifts to LA for the Olympic finals. The film offers a gripping insight into the extreme lengths the amateur athletes go to in their quest for gold.
This epic Lee Tamahori-directed promo for the 1990 Auckland Commonwealth Games imagines the stirrings of Games spirit in the mud of the Western Front, 1917. Behind the lines, soldiers from various 'British Empire' nations (Bruno Lawrence, Tony Barry and a young Joel Tobeck) lay bets to see who is the fastest. After racing they pledge to "do this again sometime eh brother" (referring no doubt to the shared joy of competition, as opposed to 1,115,597 Commonwealth war dead). The first Commonwealth Games were held in Hamilton, Ontario (Canada), in 1930.
Jack Lovelock won New Zealand’s first Olympic athletics gold medal. He did so in spectacular fashion, winning the 1500m at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. In front of Hitler and 110,000 spectators, the famous ‘Lovelock kick’ unfurled into NZ’s sporting and collective consciousness: from Timaru to Oxford to Berlin triumph. Yet Lovelock was an enigmatic achiever. In this short film, the race — the supremely judged apex of a sporting career — is contrasted with his mysterious and tragic death, falling in front of a train from a New York subway platform in 1949.
This film showcases legendary running coach Arthur Lydiard's training methods through the example of his acolytes, including reigning Olympic 1,500m champ John Walker. 'Arthur's boys' (Snell, Halberg, Magee) scored attention by winning unheralded medals (two golds and a bronze) at the 1960 Rome Olympics. Lydiard later led the 'flying Finns' to similar success. His method revolves around building stamina to complement speed, and was influential in popularising jogging globally. Beautifully filmed, a doco highlight is Jack Foster's exhilarating scree slope descent.
This chronicle of the Christchurch Commonwealth Games marked one of the National Film Unit's most ambitious productions. Though a range of events (including famous runs by John Walker and Dick Tayler), are covered, the film often bypasses the pomp and glory approach; daring to talk to the injured and mentioning that most competitors lose. The closing ceremonies of the "friendly games" feature the athletes gathering to — as the official song's chorus put it — "join together". The directing team included Paul Maunder, Sam Pillsbury, and Arthur Everard.
In September 2000 New Zealand's greatest athlete was surprised with the 'Big Red Book'. Paul Holmes reunites Snell with figures in his life, from the Rome 800m silver and bronze medallists, to Opunake locals, and influential coach Arthur Lydiard. The tribute to his peerless career includes footage of Olympic triumphs and world records, and revelation of a performance enhancing drug: Fanta. Snell expresses pride in his academic achievement, where — despite a faltering start at Mt Albert Grammar — he is now director of the Human Performance Lab, University of Texas.
Set amidst the 'friendly' 1974 Commonwealth Games, The Games Affair was a thriller fantasy series for children. Remembered fondly by many who were kids in the 70s, the story follows three teenagers who battle a miscreant professor who's experimenting on athletes with performance enhancing drugs. Alongside the young heroes the series featured John Bach as a grunting villain, a youthful Elizabeth McRae, and SFX jumping sheep. It was NZ telly’s first children’s serial, the first independently produced long-form drama, and an early credit for producer John Barnett.
After days of elaborate subterfuge, host Bob Parker, with his trademark red book, ambushes champion middle distance runner John Walker at a dinner at Trillos nightclub. A week earlier, Walker had become the first person to run 100 sub-four minute miles. Parker leads him through a career that also includes his mile world record, the epic 1974 Commonwealth Games 1,500 metres final and Olympic gold at Montreal in 1976. Those paying pay tribute in person or via satellite include athletics superstars Filbert Bayi, Sebastian Coe, Steve Scott and Peter Snell.
In this TVNZ doco — made for the 1990 Auckland Commonwealth Games — Keith Quinn looks back at the last time the Games were hosted in New Zealand: Christchurch 1974. Largely an on-field survey peppered with Kiwi athletes’ memories of ‘The Friendly Games’, moments featured include Dick Tayler’s 10,000m victory sprawl, weightlifter Graham May’s face-plant, and the epic 1,500 race between a long-haired John Walker and Tanzanian Filbert Bayi. The NZBC coverage showcased colour television, which had recently launched in New Zealand.
"New Zealand congratulates Peter Snell, one of the fastest men in the world." Middle distance runner Snell sets two world records on the grass track at Lancaster Park, Christchurch, in the 800 yards and half mile. "I was almost horrified at the pace ... I was had it by the time I reached the back straight ... I just went on on the thought of that world record." He reflects on a relaxing trip to Milford Sound, and champion coach Arthur Lydiard is interviewed. Also featured is the 1962 swimming champs at Naenae Olympic Pool under floodlights.
This TVNZ doco chronicles New Zealand’s participation in 18 Empire and Commonwealth Games — beginning at Hamilton, Canada in 1930 when a Kiwi team of 18 participated in four sports. A cavalcade of gold medallists (including Yvette Williams, Dick Tayler, Anna Simcic and Neroli Fairhall) recall their glory days at the event which was set up to be “merrier and less stern” than The Olympics. Special emphasis is placed on the three New Zealand-hosted Games: at Auckland in 1950 and 1990, and Christchurch in 1974 (which hastened the local arrival of colour television).
Now called the Commonwealth Games, the 1950 British Empire Games was held in Auckland, at Eden Park, Auckland Town Hall, Newmarket Olympic Pool and Western Springs, with rowing at Lake Karapiro. This remarkable footage starts with the arrival of the teams, on silver-hulled flying boats, DC-3s and cruise ships and features the opening at Eden Park along with athletics, boxing, swimming, rowing, fencing, the men's marathon and more. Future-Olympic champ Yvette Williams wins the ‘broad jump’ (clip four). NZ finished third on the medal table, out of 11 nations.
Members of the NZ team for the 1954 Vancouver Empire Games are profiled in this edition of the Pictorial Parade series. Yvette Williams demonstrates the long jump technique — filmed in slow motion — that had made her an Olympic champ and world record holder (and would win her the gold medal at Vancouver), and there’s a brief shot of a young Murray Halberg. Other features are a piece about the canine star of Dick Campion and the NZ Players' production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, and a multi-national approach to treating children with cerebral palsy in Rotorua.
Olympic champion Mark Todd is the first recipient of the big red book as host Bob Parker launches the NZ edition of this show. Weeks earlier, Todd and mount Charisma had won NZ's first ever equestrian gold medal at the Los Angeles games; and there's footage of Todd's agonising wait, cigarette in hand, for American rider Karen Stives to make a mistake that would give him victory. Guests include Todd's parents (who recall him as a "lovable horror" as a boy), Captain Mark Phillips (then husband of Princess Anne), Stives and bronze medallist Virginia Holgate.
Bernard Kearns presents a survey of NZ life in the 30s in this episode of the National Film Unit series The Years Back (“people and events that shaped the New Zealand of today”). The documentary includes a wealth of footage taken from NFU stock: the aftermath of the 1931 Napier earthquake, the Depression (as Kearns bluntly states, “there was a lot of misery in the 30s”), and runner Jack Lovelock’s gold medal triumph at the Berlin Olympics. There’s also editorial flair as King George VI’s lavish coronation ceremony is juxtaposed with the A&P show back home.
On the eve of the 1976 Olympics, this Keith Quinn-scripted NZBC profile traces the career of champion athlete John Walker from a training averse teenager at the Manurewa Harrier Club to his world mile record triumph in Göteborg, Sweden. Walker still smarts from his second place to Filbert Bayi in the 1500m at the 1974 Commonwealth Games, but what are euphemistically referred to as "political implications" (NZ sporting ties with South Africa) have prevented further match-ups — and will ultimately remove the Tanzanian from the race so keenly anticipated here.
This instructional film for runners — fronted by Olympic 5000m silver medallist and world record holder Dick Quax — looks at implementing the techniques of coach Arthur Lydiard. From fostering world champions on Waitakere hills, Lydiard's method evolved into a system of building stamina to complement speed. Quax, Dr Peter Snell and other Lydiard protégés look at the science and practice, from training — the high mileage mantra, fartleks, catapults — to race-day strategy: front-running and 'the kick' (with John Walker's 1976 1,500m Olympic win used as an example).
Fronted by Paul Holmes, this doco looks at the New Zealand Paralympic team at the 1996 Paralympics in Atlanta. It was the most successful team to date with a haul of nine gold medals, six silver and four bronze (and 44 personal bests). Triumph focuses on several disabled Kiwi athletes, from their arrival in the States to victory on the track, in the pool and on the field. The first Paralympics were held in Rome in 1960 with just 400 competitors. In Atlanta 3,500 athletes competed, 35 of them kiwis. Triumph broke ground screening in a primetime slot on TV One.
The first movie written and directed by playwright Anthony McCarten is a portrait of a family melting down under the media spotlight. The comedy/drama stars Danielle Cormack in two roles — as a swimmer on the cusp of Olympic glory, and as the twin sister back home, looking on as her family descends into spats and bickering as they find the pressure to perform too much to bear. Via Satellite showcases a topline cast, including Tim Balme, Rima Te Wiata, and a scene-stealing and heavily-pregnant Jodie Dorday, who won an NZ TV and Film Award for her work.
This documentary comprehensively traces the history of skiing and winter sports in New Zealand. From Mannering and Dixon, who used homemade skis in an almost-successful ascent of Mt Cook and the hut-building pioneers of recreational ski clubs in their pre-Gore-tex garb, to commercial ski fields and lifts, superb archive footage shows the advances. New Zealand teams at the Winter Olympics in Oslo in 1952 and Sarajevo 32 years later had come some way from the days when carrier pigeons were used to report snow conditions from Canterbury's ski fields to Christchurch.
This Pictorial Parade visits the Auckland Athletic Champs at Eden Park, where a water-logged grass track makes the going tough. Peter Snell wins the half-mile and Murray Halberg the three-mile ("you know Mother I think he'll win" deadpans the narrator); then heads to the Bay of Islands for the 1st Underwater Fishing Champs, where a 235lb stingray is the biggest catch; and finally to the Turn and Gymnastic Circle of Hamilton, an acrobatic family fundraising for a world tour by scrub-cutting and pie-baking: "no job is too small or too big."
Attitude is a weekly series looking at the issues and interests of people living with a disability. This Attitude special follows the Wheelblacks wheel chair rugby team over four years as they prepare for the 2008 Paralympics in Beijing. Four Wheelblacks were on the production team of Attitude at the time, and player and associate producer Curtis Palmer hosts the programme. The doco follows the team from their gold medal win at the Athens Paralympics in 2004, through their various international competitions in the lead-up to Beijing.
This excerpt from a 1962 edition of the National Film Unit's magazine film series features reigning Olympic 800m champion Peter Snell participating in a charity road race on Auckland streets. "Any one of 20 charities stands to make a hundred pounds as 20 roadsters hot-foot it around Auckland's Top o' the Town course." Roadsters also include Bill Baillie and Barry Magee. National hero Snell is in the bunch early on, but coming down a crowded and wet Karangahape Road he is of course, "the man to watch".
This National Film Unit magazine film meets the NZ team for the 1948 London Olympics as they prepare to depart by boat (accompanied by a manager, and a chaperone for the sole female competitor). Each of the seven members is profiled in this reminder of an era when athletes had day jobs, training was 'several hours a day' and swimsuits looked more like impediments than performance aids. A nicely-shot demonstration of weightlifting technique by Maurice Crow is a highlight. Despite the enthusiasm of Selwyn Toogood's voiceover, the team failed to win any medals.
Alex is a champion teenage swimmer determined to win selection to the 1960 Rome Olympics, in this adaptation of the award-winning young adults novel. Written by ex Empire Games swimming medallist Tessa Duder, Alex was the first in a quartet of books exploring the vicissitudes of the high achiever freestyler as she deals with rivalry, ambition, first love and the pressures of growing up. Lauren Jackson, who played the title role, later appeared in vampire movie Perfect Creature. The film was a co-production between NZ and Australia.
This edition of the NFU’s long-running Weekly Review series firstly looks at making of apparel for the 1950 Empire Games, including singlets "dyed in the traditional black". Then it’s down to Wellington Zoo to meet their new elephant, Maharanee; and across the harbour to examine earthmoving efforts to alter the Hutt River's course and save Barton’s Bush from being swept away. Lastly, it’s up Mt Egmont (aka Mt Taranaki) to follow good keen rangers trapping possums and shooting goats — some hiding up trees — to protect the native forest and slopes from erosion.
Presented by Paul Holmes, this documentary follows the team of 13 kiwi competitors at the Barcelona 1992 Paralympics. Swimmer Jenny Newstead won four gold medals and broke world records, but for this small team the focus was on personal bests as they headed into a more professional era. There's triumph and disappointment mixed with the message that these were elite athletes competing strongly against the rest of the world. The lessons learned in Barcelona would lead to a much stronger showing four years later in Atlanta.
The race to build a new hotel at Mount Cook to replace the original Hermitage (which burnt down a year earlier) leads this edition of the National Film Unit's magazine series. A two year construction job was finished in just eight months and Prime Minister Walter Nash cuts the cake at the grand opening. The recording industry is booming and sales of LPs soaring as the cameras visit a pressing plant to find out "what's behind putting the chatter on the platter"; and the NZ team for the 1958 Cardiff Empire Games gets ready to fly out with high hopes for medals.