Hockey: Olympian welcomes Hall of Fame honour

By Shane Hurndell


In the late 1960s future Olympian Dianne Zorn sat in her Wycliffe Intermediate School classroom soaking up every bit of sporting advice teacher Margaret Hiha gave.

Although only in her early teens at the time Zorn knew she was on to a good thing. After all Hiha, now the matriarch of Hawke's Bay hockey, was a New Zealand hockey representative and by then was already a multiple New Zealand Maori tennis champion and a provincial representative in basketball and softball as well as hockey and tennis.

A little over four decades later Zorn, a two-time New Zealand Olympic Games athletics representative, or Dianne Rodger as she is now known, will join Hiha and other Hawke's Bay sporting legends in the Unison Hawke's Bay Sports Hall of Fame when she and Central Hawke's Bay softballer and fellow Olympian Rhonda Hira are inducted at the Hawke's Bay Sports Awards function in Taradale on May 18.

Hiha, 79, was thrilled to hear Rodger, 56, will be inducted.

"I'm very proud of her and her achievements. She deserves it," Hiha said.

Hiha remembers Zorn as "a wonderful individual in the classroom".

"She had a good work ethic and although Dianne was a top runner she never showed off her ability."

Rodger, who has been Hamilton-based with her husband and 1976 Olympic Games rower Dave Rodger since 1979, was surprised when she heard of her induction.

"There are other people who come from Hawke's Bay who have attained higher honours. I was quite surprised ... it's an honour," Rodger said after returning home from a day on the job as a primary school sector worker with Sport Waikato.

News of her induction sparked a flow of memories of her early days as an athlete in the Bay when she was coached by the late Roy Smith and his son Wayne who is still heavily involved with the Napier Harrier Club.

"There was lots of travelling to away events and plenty of fun," Rodger recalled.

She pointed out the Napier Athletics Club was known as the Napier Athletics and Cycling Club back then. It wasn't based at Marewa Park as it is now but at McLean Park and there was an indoor track in Centennial Hall.

Rodger, who attended Onekawa Primary School before Wycliffe Intermediate and Colenso High School, took up athletics at the age of 9.

"I also did crosscountry as well as harriers in the winter. So it was an all year round thing for me ... there were no other sports," Rodger recalled.

The hills at the back of the Mission Estate, the Poraite paddocks, Napier Hill and Marine Parade provided a variety of training routes.

"I got to know every pathway and staircase on the Napier Hill pretty well," Rodger said.

Her passion for athletics and commitment to the training regimes designed by the Smiths saw her win the national 3000m championship in 1976 and '77 and the national 1500m championship in 1981 and '82.

Rodger's personal best time for the 1500, 4 minutes 11.48 seconds, was set in 1981 and her personal best 3000m time of 8m 47.90s in 1984.

At the 1976 Olympics in Montreal she finished seventh in her 1500m heat and at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles ninth in the 3000m.

"1976 was a big learning curve. In 1984 I knew what I was there for," Rodger said.

She also attended the 1982 Commonwealth Games in Brisbane where she came fourth in both the 1500 and 3000. In 1976, she and her hubby were the first husband and wife to compete for New Zealand at the same Olympics; Dave won bronze with the New Zealand eight.

Rodger is still involved with athletics coaching.

She will be accompanied by her husband as well as Sport Waikato chief executive, former Magpie and All Black Matt Cooper, when she returns to the Bay for the May 18 function.

- HAWKES BAY TODAY

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