New Zealand's Greatest Olympians - Number 21: Paul MacDonald

By Brenton Vannisselroy

Paul MacDonald and Ian Ferguson raise their arms in the air as the line judge calls them in first and the gold medal in the K-2 500 at the Han Regatta Course. Photo / NZH Archives
Paul MacDonald and Ian Ferguson raise their arms in the air as the line judge calls them in first and the gold medal in the K-2 500 at the Han Regatta Course. Photo / NZH Archives

We're counting down New Zealand's 25 greatest Olympians. Today, kayaker Paul MacDonald. Scroll to the bottom to find out how we came up with the list.

• Gold: K-4 1000, Los Angeles, 1984
• Gold: K-2 500, Los Angeles, 1984
• Gold: K-2 500, Seoul, 1988
• Silver: K-2 1000, Seoul, 1988
• Bronze: K-1 500, Seoul, 1988

Paul MacDonald is half of the most successful team in New Zealand's Olympic history.

While overshadowed by Ian Ferguson for much of his kayaking career, MacDonald sits alongside his senior team-mate with five Olympic medals - no New Zealander has more. His three Olympic gold medals are second only to Ferguson and equal the number won by Sir Peter Snell.

Paul MacDonald won his first two medals at the 1984 Olympics in the absence of some of his major rivals, after most of the Eastern Bloc countries boycotted the Los Angeles Games.

After Ferguson started kayaking's gold medal splurge by winning the K1-500 he teamed up with MacDonald to comfortably win the K-2 500. They finished almost a length clear of crews from Sweden and Canada.

The next day Ferguson and MacDonald wrapped up New Zealand's golden haul on Lake Casitas by winning the K-4 1000 with Grant Bramwell and Alan Thompson, who also won gold in the K-1 1000. The quartet finished just half a second ahead of the Swedish combination, with France a further second back in third.

MacDonald got a chance to step out from Ferguson's shadow after the LA Games. He won gold in the K-1 500 at the 1987 world championships in Duisberg, Germany, earning the right to compete in the boat at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

Having led the final at the 250m mark, MacDonald faded and had to settle for bronze, missing out on silver by just .08s.

Hours later, Ferg and Macca, as they were now known, won their third Olympic gold together. Having proven they could beat the top Eastern Bloc crews at the world championships, they held off the Soviet Union combination of Igor Nagaev and Viktor Denisov by .17s in the final of the K-2 500.

They returned the next day to claim their final Olympic medal together, silver in the K-2 1000. They missed out on another gold by little over quarter of a second.

While now in the twilight of their partnership, Ferg and Macca attended one more Olympics together, the Barcelona Games in 1992. They managed to record their best time in the K-2 1000 and made the final, a feat that wasn't achieved by a New Zealand kayaking crew for another 12 years, when Ferguson's son Steven and Ben Fouhy returned the black paddles to the Olympic stage in Athens.

Biography: Paul Macdonald

• Attended three Olympics (1984, 1988, 1992)
• Also represented New Zealand in surf lifesaving
• Shared the Lonsdale Cup with Ian Ferguson in 1985 and won it outright in 1987
• Inducted into the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame in 1997

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.

List so far

No 25: Alan Thompson, gold medal kayaker
No 24: Norman Read, gold medal walker
No 23: Ted Morgan

No 22: Sir Russell Coutts

- NZ Herald

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