New Zealand's Greatest Olympians - Number 14: The 1976 men's hockey team

By Rikki Swannell

We're counting down New Zealand's 25 greatest Olympians. Today, the only New Zealand team in Games history to win a hockey medal.
The New Zealand players rejoice at the end of their gold medal hockey match against Australia at the Montreal Olympics.
The New Zealand players rejoice at the end of their gold medal hockey match against Australia at the Montreal Olympics.

Their story is one of New Zealand sporting lore. They didn't quite have a butcher, baker or candlestick maker as part of their number, but the men's hockey team of 1976 certainly had an everyman feel.

Some were top academics, others became successful businessmen, but all are the sort of guys you'd stop and have a yarn to in the street and certainly ones you'd buy a beer for, particularly once you realised exactly who they were and what they'd achieved.

It's the underdog tale that New Zealanders love, the one that lends itself to hackneyed phrases like "put us on the map" and "punching above our weight", but somehow they seem okay in this instance.

From the heroic deeds of goalkeeper Trevor Manning, who played on in the final with a smashed kneecap, to the missed penalty stroke by the young tyro Ramesh Patel and ultimately Tony Ineson's match-winning goal, it remains the seminal moment in New Zealand hockey history.

Yet, while the team itself went to Montreal thinking they had a good chance, no one here really thought so.

Television New Zealand had only booked three live satellite slots for the entire Games - the opening ceremony, John Walker's 1500 metres final and the 5000 metres featuring Rod Dixon and Dick Quax.

And after New Zealand's 5-2 loss to Pakistan to start the hockey tournament there was little to suggest that was the wrong call.

However, New Zealand ground its way through group play with two draws and a win, beat Spain in a playoff and then upset hockey powerhouse The Netherlands to reach the final against Australia.

New Zealand hadn't beaten Australian in 13 meetings, but one win is all it took for 16 men to be etched collectively among our greatest Olympians.

It's the only Olympic medal New Zealand has won in a true team sport, and while that may change this year with the addition of sevens and the potential of the women's hockey team, the boys from '76 will always hold a special place in history and hearts.

Biography: The 1976 men's hockey team

• The feats of the team have been immortalised in a book, Striking Gold, by former Herald journalist Suzanne McFadden.
• The men and women of the squads travelling to Rio have each been given a copy of the book.
• The two team reserves Neil McLeod and Les Wilson never received a medal.
• Coach Ross Gillespie was a two-time Olympian as a player.

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 only 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
No 24: Norman Read
No 23: Ted Morgan

No 22: Sir Russell Coutts
No 21: Paul MacDonald
No 20: Hamish Bond and Eric Murray
No 19: Rob Waddell
No 18: Bruce Kendall
No 17: Mahe Drysdale

No 16: Hamish Carter
No 15: Sir Murray Halberg

- 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 bpcf04 at 28 Oct 2016 16:32:32 Processing Time: 674ms