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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
John Barry Fenton was just 15 when he joined the New Zealand Navy in 1949. When the Korean War broke out the next year, Fenton was part of the crew aboard the frigate HMNZS Pukaki, as it headed north for patrol duties. He describes the monotony of shipboard life in a war mostly fought on land. Returning to New Zealand, Fenton undertook further training before returning to Korea for a second tour of duty, this time aboard HMNZS Hawea. The ship mainly patrolled the area around the mouth of the Han River to stop enemy ships entering or leaving.
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.
This NFU classic tells Peter Snell's story, up until just before his triumph at the Tokyo Olympics (he'd already won 800 metres gold in Rome, and beaten the world record for the mile). Snell's commentary — focused, candid — plays over footage of training and some of his key races. "It always gives a feeling of exhilaration to run in the New Zealand all black singlet." Snell offers insights into the marathon-style training of coach Arthur Lydiard (15 miles daily, 100 miles a week), and there's priceless footage of Snell running through bush and leaping fences in Auckland's Waiatarua hills.
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.