20 NZ Olympic Moments: No. 8, National anthem moved crowd to tears

By David Leggat

Herald sports writers Dylan Cleaver and David Leggat continue to count down New Zealand's great Olympic moments. Today, at number eight, we reflect on the men's rowing eight victory in the Munich Games of 1972.

Set aside the achievement of being Olympic champions a moment and ponder the emotional side of it.

If you then analyse all New Zealand's finest Games moments, it's a fair bet the victory by the men's eight in the Munich Games of 1972 would sit at, or very close to, the top. Certainly those who were at the Feldmoching course that day will aver to that, as the hairs stand once more on the backs of their necks as they retell the story.

When the eight coached by the famed Rusty Robertson arrived in Munich, they were defending world champions. They were well regarded for the Olympic regatta. They had won the European title the previous year - effectively the world crown - but those were the days of state-sponsored eastern bloc nations. It would still be a tall order.

As it happened, the eight, stroked by Tony Hurt, coxed by Simon Dickie, were out smartly and dominated the race, heading home the United States and East Germany.

That was brilliant enough, New Zealand's prowess in the blue riband event of the rowing regatta maintained from the previous year.

So the rowers - Hurt, Wybo Veldman, Dick Joyce, John Hunter, Lindsay Wilson, Athol Earl, Trevor Coker, Gary Robertson and Dickie - once more stood at the top of the dais.

The medals were presented not by the appointed International Olympic Committee official, but instead by the IOC boss himself, American Avery Brundage. The fierce defender of the amateur ethos was so moved by the deeds of a group of genuine amateur sportsmen he said "leave this to me" and did the honours.

All terrific stuff so far. But what clinched its place high on the emotional pedestal? The rowers stood awaiting the national anthem. Ever since New Zealanders had won gold at the Games, God Save The Queen had been the anthem played to mark the occasion. That was expected again this time.

Instead for the first time, the strains of God Defend New Zealand rang out. The rowers were visibly moved, tears trickled down cheeks, in the crowd and on the dais. Another hurdle had been cleared. The nation had its Olympic voice.

The Munich Games, sadly, are best remembered for the massacre of Israelis by the Black September Palestinian terrorist group.

Olympic innocence was lost for good. For New Zealand, Olympic glory had a special sound to it.

- NZ Herald

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