Olympics: New Zealand's foreign legion

By Andrew Alderson

Dunedin's 12th Cadbury Chocolate Carnival opened yesterday with a number of paintings, in chocolate, of Kiwi Olympic greats unveiled. This one is of the 1972 gold medal-winning eight from the Munich Games. Photo / Supplied
Dunedin's 12th Cadbury Chocolate Carnival opened yesterday with a number of paintings, in chocolate, of Kiwi Olympic greats unveiled. This one is of the 1972 gold medal-winning eight from the Munich Games. Photo / Supplied

More than one in seven New Zealand athletes going to the London Olympics were born overseas.

Statistics provided to the Herald on Sunday by the New Zealand Olympic Committee show 27 out of the current tally of 181 athletes began life elsewhere.

Eight of the 27 were born in Britain, five in South Africa and three in Australia. Others were born in India, Zimbabwe, Nigeria and South Korea.

Most of the athletes, particularly those from Africa, came with families seeking a better life in New Zealand, sometimes from what might be considered oppressive regimes.

Others were the results of conception while Kiwis were on their OEs.

And in British-born Star sailor Jim Turner's case, he earned the moniker "Kiwi Jim" when he married a New Zealander. He has resided in the country for more than eight years after initially arriving for the 2003 America's Cup.

In a breakdown by sports, eight footballers were born overseas, as were four rowers, three swimmers, both female boxers and the two taekwondo participants.

The list of overseas births includes a couple of top medal hopes.

Rower Mahe Drysdale was born in Melbourne, Australia. The five-time world champion and Beijing bronze medallist has a birth certificate that reads Alexander Mahe Owens Drysdale. The 33-year-old was conceived when his parents visited the Seychelles and enjoyed their time on the main island, Mahe.

Cyclist Linda Villumsen is another born offshore, in Herning, Denmark. The 27-year-old became a New Zealand citizen in 2009. The ex-Dane shapes as a medal contender in the 29km road time trial. Her last three world championship results have been silver in 2011 and bronze in 2010 and 2009.

Former New Zealand Olympic Committee secretary-general Barry Maister said he never gave such matters a thought during his tenure.

"That's a fascinating piece of research. I'm not sure if it's a trend over time because we used to just pick the teams on merit and didn't go to that level of detail. Our main objective was to ensure they had a New Zealand passport, which made them fair game for selection.

"It probably reflects general demographic trends with the arrival in recent years of a number of South Africans, but also people's migration due to sport. Take Linda Villumsen. She could appreciate New Zealand had developed an excellent cycling programme and realised it was a place she could further her career."

NZOC's Ashley Abbott said the research echoes current trends in New Zealand society.

"We are becoming more cosmopolitan. Most of the athletes came here as children, were brought up to believe they were New Zealanders and are proud to wear the silver fern."

Forty (22 per cent) members of the team were born in Auckland, 34 (19 per cent) in the Waikato and Bay of Plenty and 18 (10 per cent) in Wellington and Wairarapa. Twenty-nine athletes (16 per cent) were born in the South Island.

- Herald on Sunday

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_a2 at 18 Apr 2014 11:20:20 Processing Time: 478ms