New Zealand's 43 Olympic Games gold medals - Part 3

By David Leggat

Paul MacDonald and Ian Ferguson. Photo / Paul Escourt
Paul MacDonald and Ian Ferguson. Photo / Paul Escourt

David Leggat recounts how New Zealand has won each of our 43 Olympic Games gold medals. Today - Russell Coutts wins on the water to the Ferguson/MacDonald show.

16) Russell Coutts (1984, Los Angeles, Finn sailing)

The sailor who came to dominate America's Cup sailing for two decades first sprang to fame when he won gold at the Los Angeles Games in the demanding Finn class. He had not been expected to vie for the title at the start of the regatta off Long Beach. He had a world youth title to his credit, and he proved himself over the seven races of the Games regatta. Racing with painful boils on his backside, Coutts finished the final race with a 3.7 point advantage over American favourite John Bertrand. However it wasn't as cut and dried as that. Sailors must have their wet gear weighed before confirmation of the final placings and initially Coutts' was fractionally over the 20km limit. He rearranged his gear, had it dried out and, after two more attempts, it proved enough to get him under the limit. Gold was confirmed. It was to be Coutts' only Olympics. He went on to win the America's Cup four times.

17) Rex Sellers/Chris Timms (1984, Los Angeles, Tornado sailing)

Lobster fisherman Sellers asked his long time rival Timms if he fancied teaming up for the two-handed catamaran class off Long Beach. They were distinctly different personalities; Timms forthright and outspoken, Sellers more reserved. As a combination on the water it worked perfectly. They produced a sequence of 3-2-1-2-1-3 finishes and were so far ahead were able to skip the final race and still win by a wide margin over Americans Randy Smyth and Jay Glaser. Sellers was asked the night before the final race if he and Timms would start the finale anyway. ''If we're still standing after tonight's celebration," he replied. New Zealand were not on the startline the next day. Timms died in 2004.

18) Mark Todd (1984, Los Angeles, individual eventing)

That Mark Todd was an uncommonly gifted eventer was apparent in 1980 when he won the prestigious Badminton horse trial in England as a 24-year-old. In Los Angeles, riding Charisma, the horse he affectionately called Podge, Todd was second after the dressage and endurance phases. As the last rider, and leader, American Karen Stives and her horse Ben Arthur entered the showjumping arena, she knew a clear round would give her the gold, and the United States the team gold. As Todd puffed nervously on a cigarette, Stives cleared the first 10 obstacles before the horse clipped the top rail of the penultimate jump, handing gold to the Waikato dairy farmer. No New Zealander had ever placed in the top 20 in an individual event.

19) Les O'Connell, Shane O'Brien, Conrad Robertson, Keith Trask (1984, Los Angeles, coxless four rowing)

This was an unexpected gold medal at a regatta where the strong tip to be a gold contender was New Zealand's eight. But things went wrong for that crew, who finished fourth, 3s behind winners Canada. Instead it was the unfancied four who stole the show. They were three-quarters of a length ahead of the United States with 500m to race and simply eased clear. Stroke Keith Trask lifted the momentum and at the line New Zealand were over a length ahead, winning in 6min 03.48s, almost three seconds ahead of the US. It was New Zealand's third Olympic rowing gold medal.

20) Ian Ferguson (1984, Los Angeles, K1 500m canoeing)

When New Zealand's canoeing team pitched up at Lake Casitas, they were the cream of a small sport within the country, and had come from a surf lifesaving background. The Soviet and East Germans boycotted the Games in retaliation for the West staying away from the Moscow Games in 1980 over the invasion of Afghanistan. What followed was an unprecedented New Zealand domination of an Olympic sport. Ferguson got the ball rolling in the K1 sprint event. He was second in his heat but was fastest in the semifinals. Racing in lane nine, Ferguson was out of the blocks smartly, was always close to, or at, the head of the field and won in 1min 47.84s. Sweden's Lars-Erik Moberg was second .34s back with French paddler Bernard Bregeon third a further .23s behind. Ferguson punched the air in delight. A golden week had begun.

21) Ian Ferguson/Paul MacDonald (1984, Los Angeles, K2 500m canoeing)

Ferguson had already won his individual gold when he arrived at the start line with Paul MacDonald for the K2 sprint event. They had won their heat and semifinal, although Canadians Hugh Fisher and Alwyn Morris, who won the 1000m final, shaped as strong rivals. Ferguson and MacDonald made a strong start from lane nine, with the Austrians in lane one and Romanians in lane six duelling hard. The New Zealanders eased clear in the final 150m to win comfortably by almost a length from the Swedish and Canadian combinations in 1min 34.21. New Zealand's dominance of the regatta was gathering momentum.

22) Alan Thompson (1984, Los Angeles, K1 1000m canoeing)

The one event Ian Ferguson was not part of in 1984. But that didn't mean an easing of New Zealand's controlling hand at Lake Casitas. Gisborne paddler Alan Thompson had competed in the small New Zealand team at the boycott-plagued Moscow Games four years earlier and had won two silver and one bronze medals at the world champs of 1982 and 1983. Having won his heat and semifinal, Thompson was simply supreme in the final. Starting in lane two, he had his nose in front as early as 200m out from the start, and maintained his grip on the race to the finish line, where he crossed almost a boat length clear of Yugoslav Milan Janic, who had sat on his tail in lane one through the race. American Greg Barton took bronze. Thompson won in 3:45.73 in a majestic display of power and endurance.

23) Ian Ferguson/Paul MacDonald/Grant Bramwell/Alan Thompson (1984, Los Angeles, K4 1000m canoeing)

The last of New Zealand's golden haul on Lake Casitas, and a fourth name on the dais, Gisborne paddler Grant Bramwell. New Zealand won their heat and semifinal, both in the fastest times, but they had to dig deep in the final. Swede Lars-Erik Moberg had won the K1 500m silver behind Ferguson, and he was there again hot on New Zealand's heels. New Zealand won in 3min 02.28s, just .53s ahead of the Swedish quartet, with France taking the bronze in 3:03.94. Thompson had won his K1 1000 gold a couple of hours earlier. A fabulous day. So ended the greatest collection of single sport gold in New Zealand's Olympic history.

- NZ Herald

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter


© Copyright 2016, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf03 at 21 Oct 2016 09:05:12 Processing Time: 814ms