The Herald continues its countdown of New Zealand’s 25 greatest Olympians. Scroll to the bottom to find out how we came up with the list.
Gold: 50km walk, Melbourne, 1956

Norman Read ranks as one of our most surprising - and underrated - sporting success stories.

Read walked his way into New Zealand Olympic history in 1956, the bolter who stunned the field in the 50km walk in a gruelling race under the Melbourne sun.

It was a feat of exceptional endeavour - but in many ways his greatest effort had been getting to the start line.

Read was one of the last athletes selected for the 1956 team, finally winning over the selectors on the eve of the Olympics with a strong race on the Melbourne course. But that was only the final chapter of a long journey to Olympics glory.

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Read, a native of Portsmouth, England, was a competent race walker but was ignored by the British selectors and in 1953 decided to move to New Zealand, as an assisted immigrant.

As recounted in Our Olympic Century, upon arriving in New Zealand, he found there were no road-walking events, only shorter races on the track. But he got a job in the Ruapehu district and kept in shape by regularly hiking across the Tongariro National Park.

By 1956, the 20km and 50km walks were included in the national athletics championships for the first time, and Read won both by comfortable margins. But the times were not quite quick enough and Read shifted across the Tasman in a final bid to make the New Zealand team.

He worked as a bank teller in Sydney before moving to Melbourne to work as a gardener for the city council. All the time he continued his training, before competing in a Melbourne 50km race that doubled as the Australian Olympic trials. He won, in an Australian record, and finally nabbed selection for the New Zealand team.

But Read was still a virtual unknown as the 50km event got underway on Saturday, November 24, 1956, barely mentioned by pre-race pundits.

With No.10 on his black singlet, Read kept in touch with the leaders as pre-race favourites Yevgeniy Maskinskov (Soviet Union), John Ljunggren (Sweden) and world record holder Mikhail Lavrov (Soviet Union) set a cracking pace. Read trailed Maskinskov by more than two minutes at the 30km mark before the severe Victorian heat took toll on the leaders.

Lavrov was disqualified and Read passed Ljunggren before catching Maskinskov just after the 40km drink station and pulling away unchallenged.

He entered the Melbourne Cricket Ground to rapturous applause from 117,000 spectators and crossed the line more than two minutes ahead of Maskinskov.

At the time Read was the youngest man to win the 50km walk and claimed New Zealand's fourth gold medal (after Ted Morgan, Jack Lovelock and Yvette Williams).

"Today I saw Kiwis crying," wrote Noel Holmes in the Auckland Star. "They were grown men, and they wiped their eyes unashamedly as below them a slight black figure pounded his way round the oval track of the main Olympic Stadium, heel and toe, heel and toe..."
In December 1956 Australian PIX magazine said it was "the greatest walk by any New Zealander since Sir Edmund Hillary went to the peak of Everest and back and the huge Melbourne crowd was enraptured by its climax".

Four years later in Rome Read was unable to finish due to cramps. He had earlier finished fifth in the 20km event.

He was a surprising omission from the 1964 Olympics team but claimed a bronze medal in the 20 mile walk at the 1966 Empire Games in Jamaica.

Biography: Norman Read

• Gold medal in 50km walk, 1956 Olympics

• At the time, youngest winner of the event in Games history

• Claimed New Zealand's fourth Olympic gold, after Ted Morgan (1928), Jack Lovelock (1936) and Yvette Williams (1952).

• Had a stamp issued by the Dominican Republic in his honour

• Also won bronze in the 20 mile walk in 1966 Empire Games

How we did it

This list was drawn up by expert Herald and Radio Sport journalists from our team covering the Rio Olympics.

It wasn't easy, partly because of the number of fantastic feats over the last century or so and partly because of the difficulty of comparing performances across sports and eras.

The first ground rule was that only gold medallists would be considered. That was tough considering the likes of Nick Willis (silver, 2008), Dick Quax (silver, 1976), Paul Kingsman (bronze, 1988) and Bevan Docherty (silver and bronze, 2004 & 2008) provided some of our most memorable Olympic moments.

We also agreed potential success in Rio wouldn't be taken into account. The list was also restricted to the Summer Olympics, otherwise Annelise Coberger, our own Winter Olympics medallist may have featured quite prominently.

Each member of the panel wrote their own list before we came together to thrash it out five at a time. It was a head-scratcher, but in a good way because it was a celebration of success.