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 1500 metres 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, in front of a train on the New York subway 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."
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.
This film showcases legendary running coach Arthur Lydiard's training methods, through some of his most famous pupils — including John Walker and Heather Thompson. 'Arthur's boys' (Peter Snell, Murray Halberg, Barry Magee) scored attention by winning unheralded medals at the 1960 Rome Olympics. Lydiard later led the 'flying Finns' to similar success. His method revolves around long runs that build stamina to complement speed. It was influential in popularising jogging globally. A highlight of the footage is Jack Foster's exhilarating descent of a steep scree slope.
This National Film Unit film visits Christchurch roughly four years before the main event, to promote the city’s readiness to host the Commonwealth Games. A comical potted history of New Zealand precedes a montage of young women cycling around Canterbury environs and a split screen catalogue of NZ tourist attractions, before getting into a survey of the venues. As the opening demonstrates, “there’s always a traditional welcome awaiting our friends!” In 1973 the NFU completed a second film called Christchurch 74, before covering the games themselves in the feature-length Games 74.
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 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.